Listen to this article
Life was easy when my mobile office was an Olivetti portable typewriter, and not much more complicated when I graduated to a Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 with an eight-line display, built-in 300 baud modem and run time of weeks on a single set of flashlight batteries.
Today, it is a different story. I now travel with a laptop, tablet, two smartphones, MiFi personal hotspot, noise-cancelling headphones and enough cables, connectors and adapters to all but guarantee a bag search as I go through airport security.
Like many frequent travellers and mobile workers, I abandoned full-size laptops for an ultra-lightweight notebook several years ago. I usually carry a MacBook Air, although I have recently been testing two of the latest generation of Windows-based Ultrabooks – a gorgeous Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Fujitsu’s equally svelte Lifebook U772.
Whether you are a Mac or Windows user, the key considerations in choosing a laptop for mobile working are weight, battery life and connectivity. Most Ultrabooks for example, will deliver about seven hours of battery life and weigh in at less than 1.5kg.
To ensure I have WiFi connectivity almost anywhere, I have a Boingo WiFi account. Boingo gives access to some 500,000 hotspots worldwide, with prices ranging from from $9.95 a month for North and South America, or £9.95 a month for the UK and Ireland, up to $59.00 a month for the full global access package.
It is also a good idea, for security, to use either a corporate VPN (virtual private network) service or a personal VPN such as WiTopia if you regularly log on to public WiFi hotspots, including those operated by hotels.
Because I sometimes find myself without access to a WiFi connection – for example, on my daily train commute – I also carry a Novatel Wireless MiFi 4620L mobile hotspot device, which delivers mobile broadband speeds over Verizon’s LTE cellular data network in the US.
Using the MiFi I can also connect the iPad I carry with me when I don’t need the versatility of a laptop and am in media consumption – rather than media generation – mode.
I also find the iPad much more convenient than a smartphone for casual web browsing and email, particularly if it, or an Android-based equivalent such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab family, are paired with a wireless bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard/folio case combination.
When I travel outside the US, I also carry a high-speed packet acess-capable USB dongle for my laptop (which improves 3G service) and plug a local data SIM into it to minimise extortionate overseas roaming charges.
Whether I am travelling locally or overseas, I also carry an office-issued BlackBerry Bold 9900, which I believe – despite its limitations in browsing and app choice – is still the best mobile wireless email device and therefore an essential tool for mobile workers.
I often carry a second smartphone – either an Apple iPhone 4S or a Samsung Galaxy SIII – because of the huge variety of business and other apps that are available for the iOS and Android platforms, including excellent navigation apps from TomTom, Navigon and Google. Having access to one of these turn-by-turn navigation apps dispenses with the need to carry a separate GPS navigation device to find your way around strange towns.
I also use my non-BlackBerry smartphone as my primary portable music player when I am travelling, rather than carrying a separate iPod. I usually take a set of noise-cancelling headphones such as the Bose QuietComfort 15s or AKG 495s, which produce excellent sound quality and are very good at blocking out distracting and tiring background noise such as that from aircraft engines.
For long-distance video and voice calls, I often pack a wired Plantronics USB headset with microphone for use with Skype, or a wireless headset with a USB Bluetooth dongle plugged into my laptop.
Other nice-to-have rather than essential items in the mobile worker’s toolkit include a Bluetooth mouse, such as Logitech’s V470, which works on almost any surface, and a rechargeable battery pack for smartphones or other portable devices, such as the Mophie Juice Pack or iGo Charge.
I also generally carry a spare micro SD card and adapter so that, in an emergency, I can transfer a file from my laptop to my smartphone and email it back to the office, and a USB data stick that I can use to transfer files to a public desktop, such as those in a hotel business centre.
Finally, a flat, retractable ethernet cable sold by Belkin or Targus among others, and a range of plug adapters for use overseas are also a good idea, along with a small power strip with built-in power surge protection that enables the user to plug multiple devices into a single power socket.