Essential business travel tech: Speakers, power cells and backup

Essential business travel tech: Speakers, power cells and backup

Summary: As we look forward to trudging 30-40 miles around CES (we walked 37.5 miles at CES 2012 according to the Fitbit I was carrying), we've been turning out the bag of travelling technology to see what we can leave behind and what we need to add from recent products we've examined.

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What you need on the road these days has changed: storage is out, connectivity and power is in. We haven't travelled with a portable DVD drive in a few years because there's so little software we need to install that way, and we've replaced most UK-to-US travel adapters with US power leads, for example. And the Fitbit I was using last year has been replaced by the smaller Fitbit One.

Older Fitbits had a built-in clip; the Fitbit One slips into a silicone rubber case with a clip that might grip your pocket more securely. It still tracks all your steps and converts them into calories burned and miles walked (and like the second-generation Fitbit, it has a second accelerometer to detect when you're walking up stairs and counts those separately). As with earlier models, you can tuck it into a wristband to track your sleep patterns but now you can also use it as an alarm, too.

fitbit one
Fitbit One, plus silicone rubber case.

If you have a recent iPhone it can sync your steps over Bluetooth during the day so you can stash it in your most secure pocket and still get an idea of whether you're making your daily goals or you ought to pop down to the post box just for the walk. (That's also a feature of the new Fitbug, but I'm still finding that just too big, despite the extra features.) After all, the more visible the steps you have and haven't taken, the more likely you are to get in the extra bit of exercise that makes the difference. Without an iPhone, you need to get in range of the wireless USB adapter that goes in your PC (and once a week you need to connect to the USB cable that charges it — perhaps slightly less convenient than the all-in-one connector/charger for earlier models).

There's an official Fitbit viewer for Windows 8 and RT (and an unofficial one for Windows Phone), so I'll be able to look back at the end of CES and see if I've walked off Christmas lunch yet. Fitbit has an API so you can plug your data into other sites (compare your weight from a Withings scale to your walking habits to see if your exercise plan is having an effect, for example, or turn your steps into points and special offers with services like Earndit).

The Fitbit remains my favourite activity tracker for the simplicity and fun of it — let's face it, isn't it fun to get an email telling you you've climbed the height of a giraffe every now and then?

ishower
Water music: the iShower Bluetooth speaker.

Listen everywhere
The bathroom is the final frontier for streaming music (or the beach, or the hotel pool, or anywhere else you're close to lots of water). Usually I pop the Lumia 920 in a waterproof bag from Loksak and run TuneIn Radio or Nokia Music while I take a bath, but the Bluetooth-connected iShower speaker has been proving handy, in the house and on the road. Pairing with Bluetooth devices is easy or awkward depending on your smartphone — helpfully the iShower can remember pairings for more than one phone, and it works up to 200 feet away so you can leave the phone somewhere safe.

It's rather boxy, but it's water resistant (as in, don't put it in the bath, just next to it) and it has a stand you can prop it up on or swing round and use as a handle (it's big enough to hook over the door knob if there isn't a handy hook). We found it also fitted neatly between the seats of our last rental car so we could use it to listen to music and podcasts from our phones on road trips, and we propped it up on the hotel desk for listening to conference calls we'd dialled into. You can do that with just about any speaker, but it's nice to have one that can stand up to the travelling. And because it's paired by Bluetooth, you can pause your music when you get out of the shower or skip to the next track without getting out.

The second generation of Edifier's Sound To Go speakers, the Sound To Go Plus, is designed to be an alternative to the often feeble speakers built into a laptop. With two speakers per stereo channel, and a central bass radiator, there's plenty of audio power in the slim aluminium body — along with a hefty set of batteries that charge (sometimes rather slowly) over the speaker's USB connection. Unlike many speaker units, this is a USB audio device with its own amplifiers and digital-to-analogue convertors, so when you plug it in for the first time it downloads drivers and adds itself as a new audio output device on both PCs and Macs.

edifier-speaker
Sound To Go Plus: boost your laptop or smartphone audio.

There's also the option of using the Sound To Go Plus as speakers for a smartphone or MP3 player, with a bundled 3.5mm cable. Just charge up from your PC, and you can get several hours of playback anywhere. Hooked up to a laptop in a hotel room it's certainly a palatable alternative to built-in speakers when watching streamed TV or listening to Spotify — and they also add a splash of extra power to a PowerPoint presentation. We'd like Bluetooth support, but wired connections work just fine.

All this portable functionality needs power. Having been so impressed with Innergie's PocketCell smartphone top-up battery with its clever folding cable connector (which turns out to have the downside of also being easy to bend if you put your phone in your bag with the cable connected), we've added two other Innergie portable charging gadgets to the bag. One is a laptop power brick, the mCube Slim 95, while the mCube Mini 90 is an adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket in cars and the power sockets on planes that's also much smaller than competing adapters. And both come with multiple tips so you can use them to charge more than one laptop if necessary — or a phone or tablet from the built-in USB socket. Innergie continues to make sleek power accessories that are smaller than anything else with the same capacity, and are so neatly designed they're a pleasure to use.

Biometric bitlocker
If you keep important information on your laptop, you need to back it up — and if it's business information you need to encrypt it as well. BitLocker in Windows 7 and 8 is a good way to do the encryption for the drive in your laptop, but what about encrypting the backup? Imation's portable USB drives give you hardware AES-256 encryption, management (you can use Imation's own software or MacAfee ePolicy Orchestrator to manage the drives centrally, for up to 10 users per drive) and the convenience of fingerprint access (which is also more secure than most passwords as well).

imation
Imation Defender H200: 1TB of encrypted storage with fingerprint-reader access.

With 1TB of storage and a rugged case the Defender H200 is a good choice for travelling, especially as all the software you need to set it up and use it stays on the external drive so you can use it with multiple machines. For security, the drive partition isn't encrypted until you create the first user, which takes a few minutes, and then you need to enrol your fingerprints (swipe at least two fingers across the shaped reader five times each). After that, just scan your fingerprint to log into the drive and get at your files. With Windows 8, you can leave it plugged in and use it as a File History drive to get automatic backups and multiple versions of all the files you keep in libraries, or set up your favourite backup software to backup the files you need. And any files you copy off your office PC to take on the road with you will be protected as well.

At £399 or more for the 1TB model, the Defender H200 isn't the cheapest external storage but if you have valuable or confidential information, it's going to be worth more than you spend protecting it. And with the security so convenient, you'll probably actually use it. How's that for an easy New Year resolution?

Topics: Security, Hardware, Reviews, Storage, Travel Tech

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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