Stay Connected on the Road

What to include in your lightweight, high-tech mobile toolkit
BY BOB JENNINGS

  

 
 

When traveling on business, it would be great if you could receive and send e-mail and easily perform other simple office tasks, like sending and receiving faxes or scanning documents into your computer—all without lugging around a ton of equipment. It would be even better if none of these chores required high-tech skills. Follow along and we’ll show you how to put together a collection of easy-to-use, powerful high-tech tools for travel that cost about $3,600, plus monthly fees of less than $90.

COMPUTER
The centerpiece of your mobile toolkit is a laptop tablet computer. It should be powerful but small and lightweight. It also needs to have long battery life, built-in wireless, Ethernet and external video output capability, a DVD/CD drive, a PC card slot and the ability to operate two monitors (if needed for special projects).

That may seem like quite a hefty list of requirements, but we found that an Acer TravelMate C200 Tablet PC ( http://global.acer.com) with 2 gigabytes of RAM does the job. It costs about $1,312.

Tablet PCs offer the full computing power of a desktop, and can also translate notes and signatures written on the screen into digital documents.

To expand the computer’s functionality, install Microsoft’s free on-screen calculator, which is available at www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/tabletpc.mspx . This program allows the user to handwrite numbers on the screen with a stylus; the software transforms the script into digital format so it can be calculated.

Acer TravelMate C200 configured as a conventional PC, above left, and as a tablet, above right

PRINTER
We use the Pentax PocketJet 3 ( www.pentaxtech.com). Powered by a lithium-ion battery, it’s capable of printing about 100 pages before it needs a recharge. However, since it also can operate off the laptop’s electricity via its USB port, you don’t have to bring along its 1-pound electronic power adapter. The printer measures 10-by-1-by-2 inches and prints on readily available thermal paper. It costs about $373.


Pentax PocketJet 3

Casio XJ-S35

PROJECTOR
We use a Casio XJ-S35 ( www.casio.com), which is shaped like a thin laptop, so it fits easily in a computer carrying case next to the laptop. It weighs only 3.9 pounds and measures 10.6-by-1.7-by-7.8 inches.

Despite its small size, it produces images at 2,000 lumens, so presentations are easy to view in normally lighted rooms. It lists for $1,599.

SCANNER
Another essential tool is a scanner. Like the computer, it must be lightweight, small and highly functional. It must have minimal need for external power and it must be capable of scanning documents both in black and white and in color. When looking for a scanner, make sure it has a TWAIN driver, which allows it to work with virtually any image-capture software.

The scanner we use is the Ambir TravelScan Pro ( www.ambir.com), which retails for about $150. It measures 1.9-by-11.1-by-1.5 inches and weighs only 12 ounces. Since it can be powered via the computer’s USB port, there’s no need to plug it into an external power source. Because it’s portable, it’s not particularly fast: It scans black-and-white images at five pages per minute and color at three per minute. But it is very rugged, standing up well to our busy travel schedule. Another plus: It’s easy to use and install.


Ambir TravelScan Pro

INTERNET ACCESS
Getting and sending e-mail on the road is a must. While connections are often available at hotels, airports and client offices, a frequent traveler must have more options when none of those is available. We connect via Verizon’s Broadband PC Card PC5740 ( www.verizonwireless.com), which provides unlimited nationwide, high-speed access. In metro areas we can upload at 180 to 240 kilobytes per second and download at 360 to 400 kbps; in suburbs it usually drops to about half those speeds. When driving through rural areas, we get 56 kbps on uploads and downloads. We have found few locations where it couldn’t connect—even at 70 mph in the sparser-populated Western states. The service costs $59.99 a month with a two-year contract and a qualifying voice calling plan.

FAX
Although you certainly need to be able to send and receive faxes, you sure don’t want to carry around a bulky fax machine. And since there are no light, transportable fax machines, our solution is a software service. We use Send2Fax ( www.send2fax.com), which transmits and receives faxes and zips them to you via e-mail. Since we have a printer, we can produce a hard copy of the received fax, too. The service costs $11.95 a month, with each page over a monthly limit incurring an additional charge.

REMOTE-ACCESS SOFTWARE
Not only do we need Internet access for e-mail and faxes, it’s critical that we maintain direct access to our office computers at all times. Although there are many choices available, we find the best product for us is Citrix’s GoToMyPC ( www.gotomypc.com). The Internet connection directly to our headquarters’ network costs about $14.95 a month under an annual plan.

CALENDAR
Although the remote-access software lets us tap into our office computer network, where staff members maintain their Outlook calendars, sometimes we want to be able to review not just our own calendar but the schedules of others on the staff. So, in addition to our calendars, the entire staff uses CalendarHub ( www.calendarhub.com), a free Web-based calendar service. It’s accessible from any Internet source and it can import and export data to and from Outlook, PDAs and even cell phones that have calendar capability.

CAR TRAVEL
If much of your travel is by automobile, as is ours, we suggest two handy pieces of equipment:

Vehicle Mount Kits. Ram Mounts ( www.ram-mount.com) produces equipment that securely and safely mounts laptops, scanners and printers in a car so they are easily accessible from the driver’s or passenger’s seat. We use the mount to interchangeably hold those three tools.

The photo above shows our mount, which cost $225. The installation is done without drilling into the car’s frame.

Power Inverter. There will be times when you need to recharge your computer and other battery-powered devices. A power inverter is the answer. It plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter slot and transforms the current from DC to AC and boosts the voltage to 110, which is what a wall plug provides. We’re using a 350-watt, two-plug inverter mounted permanently under the driver’s seat, where it’s out of the way but easy to access. Such units cost about $50.


A MAXX 350-watt power inverter

Bob Jennings , CPA, CITP, is president of Jennings Seminars, Clarksville, Ind. His e-mail address is taxspeaker@gmail.com , and his Web site is at www.taxspeaker.com .

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