Earlier this week, I covered a tip for lightening your travel load by making your AirPort Express Base Station serve double duty as a USB charger. But another place you can cut back is cables, which, collectively, can add a surprising amount of weight to your laptop bag—not to mention more than a little clutter.
The challenge for me—and for many road warriors, I’d bet—is that I hate to be on a trip and realize that I don’t have the right cable for something I need to do. So as much as I want to leave certain cables at home, I’m paranoid that the one I leave behind will be precisely the one I desperately need just before my big presentation.
Fortunately, there’s a good middle ground. Instead of carrying fewer cables, I carry smaller cables. A 6-foot FireWire cable? Try 6 inches. A tangled-up iPhone cable? I prefer a 3-inch connector. Swap out a couple bulky, lengthy cables for smaller versions (or just-as-capable adapters) and you’ll cut down on a bit of weight and bulk. Swap out all of your cables for travel-friendly versions, and you’ll be amazed at how much lighter your laptop bag is—and how much neater it is, as well.
Savvy road warriors know you can find USB-charging cables for many portable devices—iPods, iPhones, Bluetooth headsets, game systems, you name it—and then charge those devices by connecting them to your laptop’s USB ports or to a “universal” USB charger. (Some vendors even make portable surge protectors with built-in USB-charging ports; I've covered such devices from Belkin and Kensington.) But many laptops don’t supply power to their USB ports if the computer isn’t on and awake, and a USB charger is just one more thing to carry.
If you regularly bring Apple’s AirPort Express Base Station on your travels—say, to create a wireless network in your hotel room—this tip on Mac OS X Hints suggests a clever dual use for the Express: use the Base Station’s USB port, officially designed for sharing a USB printer across your network, as a USB-charging port. Just plug the USB cable for your iPhone, iPod, or other device into the Express while you work (or sleep), and the gadget will be ready to go the next morning.
Move over, notebooks. Netbooks may soon become the personal computer of choice for millions of end users, according Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs. In a Bloomberg interview at the CTIA Wireless Show in Las Vegas, Jacobs predicted the netbook’s rise could happen “relatively quickly,” although he declined to give a specific timeline.
Qualcomm has a vested interest in the netbook’s success. Its upcoming Snapdragon line of processors, designed for netbooks and other ultraportable devices, will debut in consumer devices later this year. Snapdragon will challenge Intel’s Atom chip, which currently dominates the netbook market and is slated to appear in other mobile Internet devices as well.
Many road warriors carry a spare laptop battery with them so they can extend their work time away from a power source (assuming their laptop uses a removable battery, of course; two of Apple’s recent models do not). But while multiple batteries are useful when working, they present a challenge when charging: You can charge only one at a time inside your laptop, and if you’re actually using your laptop, charging takes longer because the laptop itself grabs a good amount of the power.
This makes a standalone battery charger a useful accessory that ensures you always have a fresh battery on hand. Unfortunately, most chargers I’ve seen are bulky desktop gadgets. FastMac’s TruePower U-Charge, on the other hand, is a portable battery charger that’s about the same size as the current MacBook’s AC adapter and weighs less than six ounces. Two models are available: a 14.4V version that works with batteries for the original iBook, the original iBook 3G, and the Titanium PowerBook G4; and a 10.8V version that works with batteries for G3 PowerBooks (Pismo and Lombard), all other iBooks, Aluminum PowerBook G4s, and all pre-unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros. (It’s important to use the correct U-Charge model. Because Apple has used the same connectors on most of its laptop batteries for the past decade, both U-Charge versions will fit most batteries; FastMac warns that using the wrong U-Charge model can result in permanent damage to both the battery and the charger.)
When I wrote about notebook cleanup and protection, one of the accessories I recommended was a keyboard cover or “skin.” These thin, silicone (or similar material) covers are generally custom-fit for each laptop and prevent nasty stuff—dust, crumbs, hair, liquids, you name it—from getting into the guts of your keyboard. Although covers are also available for desktop keyboards, they’re especially useful for notebooks, given that anything that falls between your keys ends up inside the computer itself. (Plus, with a laptop you can’t just throw your keyboard in the dishwasher and let it dry out afterwards.) As an added bonus, these covers often make typing quieter, which helps ensure domestic tranquility if you tend to be up at night, typing in bed, while your better half is trying to get some shuteye. Finally, keyboard covers can be hand-washed with water and mild soap; after letting them air-dry, they’re as good as new.
(I should also point out that if your keyboard has seen so much use that its key labels have worn off, a keyboard skin is also a relatively inexpensive way to figure out which key is which.)
But not all keyboard covers are equal. Over the past few months, I’ve been taking a few for extended spins on several different laptops. It turns out that despite their apparent similarities, keyboard covers actually differ in a number of ways, including appearance, fit, and the feel of the material itself.
Longtime laptop- and messenger-bag vendor Timbuk2 recently entered the luggage market with a line of travel bags. Although the line includes rolling suitcases, carry-on bags, and totes, it also includes a unique backpack, the Patrol, designed to carry both your laptop and a weekend’s worth of clothes. I’ve been testing the Patrol for the past few weeks, a period that included a round-trip flight across the country.
At 19 inches tall by 14.5 inches wide and 8 inches deep, the Patrol is a good deal larger than most laptop backpacks—too large for placing under a coach-class seat, though compact enough to easily fit in an overhead compartment. These dimensions make the bag’s main compartment big enough to hold a pair of shoes, one or two changes’ of clothes, and a few other small items. (The bag is soft-sided, so this main compartment doesn’t look very deep. But once you zip it up, you’ll be surprised how much it can hold.) Also inside the main compartment is a large, zippered pouch, attached at only one side so you can flip it between layers of clothes, for storing dirty clothes or other items you want to keep separate. You also get two zippered, waterproof pockets. Four compression straps on the outside of the bag help keep the contents as close to your back as possible.
Back in late 2006, I reviewed Speck’s SeeThru Hardshell case for the MacBook Pro. Made of thin, rigid polycarbonate, the SeeThru was a form-fitting hardshell case that provided protection against scratches and minor bumps, as well as layer of bright color, without adding much bulk to your laptop.
Since then, Speck has produced SeeThru models for every Mac laptop (as well as a number of other devices). But with the release of the “unibody” MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, the company has released a new line of shells, the SeeThru Satin. The Satin offers the same protection and general design as the standard SeeThru, but with a less-transparent, matte finish that provides a very different appearance. I tested the black version for the 13-inch MacBook, but the Satin is also available in yellow, pink, red (“cranberry”), and purple.