The consulting business being what it is, it’s not unusual to spend a lot of time on the road, in airports, hotels, and at client sites far from home. And my addiction to technology being what it is, I have accumulated a sizable collection of software and hardware tools to make life on the road easier and more productive. Friends that know of my fondness for gadgets ask from time to time for advice on gear, so I thought I’d post what I’m carrying these days. No, sadly, none of the manufacturers of the products mentioned here is paying me a thin dime for an endorsement.
Windows Laptops – Unavoidable for getting work done. I currently carry two; one my employer’s and one my client’s. Both are nice HP business laptops: one an Elitebook 6930p, the other a Probook 6545b. When I was only carrying work machine, I would sometimes carry my Lenovo X61 Tablet PC as well for personal use. In recent months, though, that older tablet has been supplanted by… well, read on.
iPhone 4 – the indispensible center of my gadget universe, the iPhone is almost always with me, and I use it for everything when on the move: reading e-mail, managing my calendar, tracking flight details, GPS navigation, dictating text, social networking, surfing the web, playing games, and reading RSS feeds and books. Occasionally, I will use it as a phone. Some people decry the Apple hegemony, and sing the praises of Android. I mock those people. For what it’s worth, battery life and reception on my iPhone 4 are both vastly better than on my iPhone 3G, and in actual usage, I haven’t had any trouble with the so-called “grip of death.” Much ado about nothing, if you ask me. As I know you do.
iPad (WiFi) – My new tablet, of course. It took a few months to decide I wanted one, as I’ve lived happily with Windows tablet PCs for years, and found them perfectly adequate for my needs. I bought the iPad with some trepidation, wondering if I’d find enough to do with it to make it worthwhile. I needn’t have worried. Once I had one, it quickly won me over. I use it for many of the reading tasks I used do on the iPhone or the Tablet PC: its larger screen makes it better for such things than the phone, but its smaller size and ability to wake instantly makes it more practical for than the Lenovo. The lack of a decent stylus experience is still a major shortcoming in my book—I would use it for note taking if I could find a better way to do it—but it does other things so well that I’m still sold on it. I went with the WiFi model because AT&T already gets enough of my money. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how often I find myself in a WiFi hotspot, these days.
Rechargeable Backup Battery for iPhone – I picked one up at Brookstone about a year ago. It’s not as important to have on-hand as when I used the iPhone 3G, with its shorter battery life, but a spare battery is still handy for topping up when there’s no outlet around.
LiveScribe Echo SmartPen – this clever little computer in a pen uses specially marked paper to capture what you write and digitize it for future retrieval. It also has a built in digital recorder, which can be used to record what it hears and link it to what you are writing at the time. If you conduct interviews for a living and can get permission to record them, it’s the best way I know to make sure you don’t miss anything. Very handy.
Keyboard-Video-Mouse (KVM) Switch – As I said, I’m traveling with two notebooks at the moment. Even when I’m not, I often find myself using both a laptop and a client desktop. I prefer working with a full-size display and keyboard when I can, and a KVM let’s me use one keyboard and display with both machines at once.
Wireless Router – even today, I find hotels that offer free wired Internet in the room, but no free wireless. Except in my room. I use an old home router that wasn’t doing anything since I’d upgraded, but there are some nice svelte portable models on the market that I might consider if this one ever dies on me.
3M Scotch-Brite Microfiber Cleaning Cloth – anything with a touchscreen picks up fingerprints and oil quickly. I haven’t found anything that cleans up as quickly or completely as these things.
Mozilla Firefox – My preferred browser. It’s light and fast, and its add-on ecosystem makes it more flexible than Internet Explorer. Here are the add-ons I favor on the road:
- IE Tab 2 – for those times when you have to use applications that insist on Internet Explorer (which is quite common in an enterprise environment) this add-on lets you run the IE engine in a Firefox tab, or bounce a page to a separate IE session with a click.
- ReadItLater – Saves web pages for later reading—but you probably figured that out from the name. Most usefully, it lets you read when you’re off-line (like on a plane) and it syncs with an app on the iPhone and iPad.
- CoLT – Copy Link Text. Let’s you copy the text of a link, the URL, or both in a single action. Very useful for e-mailing and twittering.
- LogMeIn – lets me connect to my home computer from the road, for free. I don’t use this capability that much, but when you do need to, it’s very handy indeed.
- TabMixPlus – provides an assortment of tab customization features. My favorite is the ability to double-click on a tab and “freeze” it so you can’t accidentally close it or navigate away as you work with other tabs.
- ShortenURL – uses any of several online shortening services to shrink the URL of the current page. Handy for when you need to send someone a horribly long link.
- LastPass – a password manager that makes it easy to use different, highly secure passwords on each web site you visit while reducing the risk that you’ll forget them all. (Check out Michael Kassner’s interview with Joe Siegrist of LastPass for more info.)
Evernote – a cloud-based notepad service. Integrates nicely with clients for the iPhone and iPad.
TripIt – a cloud-based travel information service. Mail your itinerary to them, and they post it on their web site, make it accessible through their iPhone app, and optionally post it to Outlook, Facebook, or Twitter.
VistaSwitcher – improves the Alt-Tab functionality in Windows, providing a better UI for switching between windows. The name notwithstanding, it works with Windows 7 and XP as well as Vista.
Switcher – Another Alt-Tab replacement, which I run alongside VistaSwitcher. This one works much like Expose on the Mac: when you trigger it, it reduces every windows to a thumbnail and lets you select the one you want to access.
TraxTime – I’ve been using this simple, inexpensive time clock program for years and years. It’s a lightweight Windows program that lets you punch in and out of tasks without having to mess with your browser. Very handy for keeping track of what you worked on when when dealing with juggling projects.
Microsoft Office – Again, inescapable; Word and Excel in particular are far more powerful than alternatives like OpenOffice, and I actually use many of the advanced features which aren’t readily available elsewhere.
Microsoft Project – a very handy tool for managing projects of all but minimal complexity, Project 2010 is a major upgrade from previous versions, and almost makes project management fun again. Okay, that might be going overboard, but it’s an excellent release. My favorite new features: the timeline view and improved formatting when copying and pasting into Excel.
Windows Live Writer – my blogging client of choice. Has a few features I like better than Typepad’s own web editor (the options for inserting pictures are particularly nice) and let me write posts off-line
and upload them when I’m connected.
Effexis Achieve Planner – I spent a looooong time trying out different time managers, looking for one that a) I liked b) that worked the way I wanted it to, and c) I could use to implement Getting Things Done time management approach. I had never heard of Achieve Planner until Google turned it up about six months ago, but it was exactly what I was looking for. It has a very Outlook-like look-and-feel, and syncs with Outlook’s tasks feature, but offers a long list of time management features Outlook lacks. It’s really good.
Copy Path to Clipboard – a ridiculously handy extension to Windows XP, it adds an option to do exactly that to your right click menu. (In case you are not aware of it, you don’t need an extension to accomplish the same thing in Vista or Windows 7—for them, simply hold down the shift key while right clicking on a file, and “Copy as Path” will appear as an option.)
iPhone/iPad apps – The apps you put on the iPhone largely define your experience with it. Here are the main apps I use; most on both the iPhone and iPad:
- Evernote – syncs with the Evernote service; handy for accessing or capturing notes on the go.
- Dragon Dictation – really good speech-to-text software. Great for breaking through writer’s block.
- TripIt – automatically imports my itinerary, then provides easy access to a summary and flight status info. I use this one every Monday and Thursday.
- ReadItLater – lets you access pages you marked with Read It later on your phone. Syncs with the PC version.
- Reeder – my RSS reader of choice, it syncs with my huge number of Google Reader subscriptions.
- Early Edition – also an RSS reader, but in a user friendly newspaper like format. I maintain a smaller list of full-text feeds here, so I can read while off-line.
- Zinio – the client for the Zinio magazine service. I just don’t buy paper magazines anymore; if it’s not available on Zinio, it doesn’t get bought.
- Amazon Kindle – my library on the go. I think it’s been over a year now since I last bought a physical book for entertainment reading.
- Dropbox – a cloud-based hard drive. I don’t use it that often, but it’s a nice capability to have available.
- LogMeIn Ignition – Expensive for an app, but let’s me use my home desktop remotely from my phone or iPad. As handy as the PC version is, being able to log on and work via my phone is just so much cooler.
- Tom Tom – essentially replicates the functionality of their hardware GPS devices on the iPhone without having to carry an extra device. I used to spend a lot of time getting lost in new cities; this has transformed the experience for me.
- Around Me – a fast points-of-interest directory that integrates with the TomTom app, and which is faster to use, I find, than TomTom’s own directory.
- JotNot – scanner software that lets you take pics with the phone, then send them to Evernote or convert them to PDF and mail. Works really well with the iPhone’s new high-resolution camara.
- Twitter – the official client (formerly Tweetie) is my preferred Twitter client. The only thing about it I don’t like is it doesn’t include support the old-style retweet. Lame, but livable.
How about you? Any favorite hardware or software that I’ve missed?