Business travellers intent on arming themselves with the very latest in mobile technology must be having an expensive year. New and improved devices have been appearing with head-spinning frequency.
They have included a whole range of new laptops fitted with Intel's new dual-core processor which comprises two processors on a single chip and is designed to reduce power consumption while allowing much faster use of simultaneous applications, enhancing graphics and improving wireless capability.
BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) has produced a new version of its supremely successful handheld, claiming to have radically ramped up its performance.
New versions of tablet-style PCs, which are particularly popular with travellers needing to make PowerPoint presentations, are appearing with new operating software. Storage space on thumb drives is increasing all the time. Though small enough to slip into your pocket they allow you to carry all your files, enabling you to access them simply by plugging the device into a USB slot or port on someone else's computer. With four gigabytes of capacity the latest versions would allow you to carry around your entire operating system.
Apple claimed to be first in the market with a portable powered by the Intel Core Duo. This speeds up applications, particularly when users run several at the same time. It should also extend battery life, though according to one expert a user multitasking might get only an extra 20 minutes.
Apple is offering two Macbook Pro laptops, one with 1.82GHz, the other with 2GHz, upgradeable to 2.16. The latter incorporates a camera enabling users to organise teleconferences while travelling. The manufacturer claims they are about four times as fast as earlier notebooks. The company also recently launched a public trial of software that will enable Intel-based Macs to run Windows XP.
Samsung has also launched its first dual core notebooks, one of which is the X60. The manufacturer says it offers a battery life of five hours and 30 minutes and weighs 2.4kg. Besides wireless capability and Bluetooth it has embedded PCI-Express Gigabit LAN (local area network) technology, claimed to guarantee a stable network connection without the use of a PCI device.
Travellers already using the light, compact Sony Vaio sub notebook may be tempted by the SZ series, which also incorporates the dual core, has 13.3-inch screens and weighs only 1.69kg. All but one version also have built-in cameras for video conferencing. Security technology includes fingerprint recognition. High-end versions have carbon fibre cases.
It is not that the latest version of the BlackBerry, the 8700g, performs any startling new tricks – more that it handles the old ones more quickly. Users will still need a good deal of patience to access internet sites but RIM claims that it functions more quickly than its predecessors, especially when accessing e-mail. The device also has a much improved colour display. When I recently tested it, I was able to open a JPG photograph, e-mailed from my Picassa program, in about five seconds and to zoom in and out while viewing it.
You could do without a desk or laptop altogether by investing in the OQO model 1+. which runs on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC edition 2005 and weighs only 420g. Its screen measures just five inches and its keyboard is fiddly, but it can be plugged straightforwardly into a full-size version of both. It supports resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024 pixels, the same as that needed for a 17-inch flat screen monitor. The device has a 1 gigahertz processor, a 30 gigabyte hard drive and 512 megabytes of RAM. Its handwriting recognition function, which includes automatic translation into several languages, works very efficiently. And it can be used to make PowerPoint presentations, enabling users to edit slides on its screen as they are shown to other participants at a meeting.
A new breed of cheaper, slightly large tablet-style PCs should be available soon, employing Microsoft's new Origami system. Critics argue this system is not exactly revolutionary, though it does provide an unusual, on-screen keyboard, with the keys arranged in two part circles on either side – a little like geometry protractors – allowing the user to type with the thumbs. These devices will provide the same advantages for PowerPoint presenters.
For travellers needing quick, foolproof photographs, latest developments include the development of anti-shake systems which make it possible to shoot with less care and in poorer light. Sony, for example, claims the “double anti-blur” system developed for its Cyber-shot T9 digital camera not only makes it easier to catch moving subjects but is the “next best thing to a tripod” when it comes to eliminating the effects of an unsteady hand. Those contemplating using a laptop to make VOIP (voice-over internet protocol) calls, may find that the built-in microphone does cope adequately with ambient noise, particularly on an aircraft. A combined headphone and boom microphone set is one cheap and lightweight solution. In the UK, they retail for as little as £7. Better still is a VOIP USB handset or a Bluetooth earpiece and microphone.
Travel essentials do not all have to be hi-tech. For example, laptop locks can be used to secure your computer to a table leg in a coffee shop.
And they don’t just have to be for work. Recent research suggests nearly one in four UK-based business travellers now takes portable music devices – either iPods or MP3 players. It is not hard to see why. They are now so tiny they slip into the pocket without adding any inconvenient bulk or weight. It is worth upgrading the headphones beyond those that come with the player, perhaps spending extra in a noise cancelling pair that can improve the experience when flying.
And Zagat to Go - the electronic version of the eponymous guides which can be downloaded to handheld devices including versions of the Palm Treo and BlackBerry - continues to expand the range of cities covered. A guide to eateries in Shanghai has now been added to the list of those that subscribers can now download.