Thoughts from the road: Tiny mobile kit works well on business trip

Thoughts from the road: Tiny mobile kit works well on business trip

Summary: Before heading out on a recent business trip I shared the mobile gear I was taking and why. Now that the trip is behind me, it's time to report on how well the gear performed.


I recently took a five-day business trip to San Francisco. Before heading out on the trip, I detailed the mobile gear I was taking and why. Now that the trip is behind me I am getting asked how well the gadgetry performed and for thoughts about how it went. 

JK Mobile Gear
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Those who missed the earlier article may want to give it a read to see what I took and why. Go ahead, I'll wait here for you. Now that you're back, keep reading for my thoughts from the road about my mobile kit. It just might contain useful information you can use on your own business trips in the future. It might also be pertinent for corporate types in deciding what gear might be good to deploy in the workplace.

See related: Hitting the road with the traveling gear bagTraveling with mobile gear: Tips from a veteran

The bags

The Staad backpack was a great traveling companion on flight days. It has a very thin profile which made it easier squeezing in tight places in the airport and especially on the full planes.

It handled everything I needed to carry with me, the mobile gear in particular, and kept everything within convenient reach. It got a lot of compliments for its good looks both going and coming home.

Once in the hotel the Staad backpack went into the closet and the Built bag went on duty. It's the perfect city bag given its light weight and thin profile. The MacBook Air went into the main pocket, as I didn't want to leave it in the hotel. The iPad Air and ZAGGkeys Cover went into the back pocket.

I was pleased with the utility both of these bags provided on the trip. I never felt bogged down with either gear or the bags, a very good thing. 

Note that Built, maker of my city bag, has been acquired by another firm and no longer makes tech bags. Just kitchen, baby, and wine bags, of all things.

The main work system

The iPad Air worked wonderfully for everything I needed. I attended a two-day working conference so the iPad was on all day and I didn't need to bring the charger to the workroom. It stayed in the room and only came out at night. Both days of the conference I still had over 70 percent charge left in the afternoon.

I ended up taking the ZAGGkeys Cover keyboard and left the Folio at home. The iPad Air with the Cover is as thin as a work system can be and I'm glad I chose to bring the combo. While this system may not handle everything some users might need, it was more than adequate for my use.

Before the trip I mentioned I would carry the MacBook Air, for redundancy as much as anything. I ended up using it just once for a work task I hadn't planned but that cropped up at the last minute. Since I was going to be working late into the night to get it done I used the MacBook so I wouldn't have any unforeseen issues given the tight schedule. I don't think I would have had problems with the iPad Air but didn't want to take the chance.

While the Apple gear performed as expected, I must sadly report that the Galaxy Note 2 did not. Rather, it was the Sprint network that failed miserably, much as it did on the business trip I took before this one.

Primarily, it was a matter of poor network coverage in the areas in San Fracisco where I spent all of my time. The best I got anywhere was low signal 3G, there was not 4G available the entire trip. This left me unable to reliably do anything with data, especially email. I ended up pulling the iPad Air out of the bag for any chores involving data.

The iPad Air with integrated LTE worked wonderfully the entire week. Outside of the conference area I found public wi-fi to be a mixed bag so I turned it off and just used LTE everywhere I went. My iPad is on the Verizon network and I found strong signal everywhere I went in San Francisco, just as I do in Houston.

The backup system

As already mentioned, the MacBook Air was only needed once and performed as expected. I'm glad I brought it given the special project I used it for, but I do believe that I could have left it at home and just brought the iPad Air and keyboard.


PlugBug from Twelve South (Image: Twelve South)

The mobile kit is smaller than ever before, and I didn't need much extraneous gear in the bag. The primary charger I brought served me well and I highly recommend it. The PlugBug from Twelve South worked great and charged both the MacBook Air and iPad Air. I only needed the iPad lightning cable in addition to the PlugBug.

I also carried the tiny Samsung adapter and cable to keep the Note 2 charged. I could have gone without this adapter and plugged the phone into the laptop to charge, but as small as it is I didn't mind carrying it.

Smallest mobile kit yet

The small size of the total kit is a testament to how far mobile gear has come in a short time. Having a full laptop and a tablet that fills in for a laptop in such a little gear bag is simply wonderful for traveling. 

All of the gear I took for a five-day business trip weighs less than five pounds and, as noted, I could probably have left the laptop at home. The entire kit would have weighed three pounds in that event. That's amazing for a full working system for a business trip of nearly a week.

The iPad Air may not serve as a working system for some, but the release of Office for iPad narrows the gap for many. Adding the keyboard to the iPad may serve well for many businesses, while some will find the tablet alone to be adequate. This lowers the expense to deploy iPads in the workplace compared to most laptops.

Reviews of gear covered:

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPad, Laptops, Samsung, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Software?

    It would be interesting to know which applications you used the most.
  • I did the same task you, but my kit weighed less than 1 lb

    Asus Vivotab Note 8.

    10 days on the road and it was my only device. Never needed to put it down, never needed another device to fill in the limitations of my tablet.

    I could have done the same with my Transformer T100 for 2.2 lbs, but I specifically needed something that would fit in my pocket. Either back pocket or cargo pocket.
  • Coverage?

    Great summary of the trip JK. Thank you for info.

    Now for cellular coverage questions I suggest using the Coverage? app from 2 Steps Beyond
    It's not available for Android but you can run it on your iPad. It'll show you ahead of time what kind of cell signal to expect.

    I'm not associated with the company I just think it's a great app for travelling.
  • Built bag alternative

    I have a cocoon bag that looks to be about the same size as the Built bag. I have used the Built bags in the past for wine, so I understand that that they may have a little more cushioning due to the neoprene construction, but the cocoon also includes a gripit "card" for your cables that provides extra protection as well. As the technology get better and more efficient, it is easier to take the tools you need. I always though take a few extra cables and adapters for hooking up to the hotel TV (if compatible) for a second monitor, but those are in my clothing luggage.
    I'm mostly dependent on apps that are only available on the Windows platform, so my mobile is the Surface Pro (old version still), my smartphone (Verizon LTE) and the use of pdanet for internet access if I can't get good or secure wifi.
  • Surface Pro 3

    I don't want to start a storm but your ipad air and MacBook air are exactly what MS were targeting in their recent demo of Surface Pro 3. One device to replace two and you are familiar with Win 8.1 already. You already mentioned you thought the SP3 too expensive but if you could do a two for one..............
    • IMO, the only stumbling block to the Surface Pro 3 scenario

      is the battery charge life of, at best perhaps, 9 hours, for the Surface Pro 3.

      Then again, by using both an iPad and a MBA, James has certain device synergy benefits, such as device redundancy benefits and so forth.

      One device saves weight .. two devices are like experiencing that old proverb, "Two heads are better than one." Grinl
      • I'm not sure how you get synergy from two different operating systems

        on two different devices.

        Take the same scenario, but use a notebook and a tablet both running the same operating system and you have real synergy, because they are actually using the same operating system and thus same programs.

        Two heads are not always better than one.
      • Or my way.

        Surface Pro and Windows Phone. This synergy is based on access to what I need and should one device, or the other, fail (or more likely get stolen) I still have all my data and even the programs I need to access, unless it was the Surface which went AWOL, in which case I would lose the upper-spectrum applications. But that could happen with any of these scenarios. However since I travel with another Surface Pro carrying companion I simply could borrow hers and log in to my profile and all my stuff will download onto her Surface Pro and other than a need to share the tablet we are all okay again.
        The Heretic
  • Macbook Air

    James, you say you took the MBA for "redundancy." Why couldn't you have just taken another tablet and saved yourself a pound?
    • because iPads have limitations

      iPads are nice, but many people carry around an extra laptop for those situations where an iPad cannot offer the functionality they need.
      • That's Not What He Said

        James said the MBA was for redundancy, which means he carried the MBA as a duplicate system to mitigate failure. I was simply pointing out that if he was carrying the MBA for this purpose, he could have done it with a lighter tablet. He has many of those.
  • Public WiFi

    Your cell coverage was spotty with Sprint, but I have found both AT&T and Verizon tethering are better than most public hotspots.
    Starbucks, McDonald's and others all seem to have become free and useless at about the same time.

    On their best of days in my local coffee shop, 4G is faster than the shared DSL.
  • what?

    It always amuses me when someone's "tiny" mobile kit consists of a laptop, tablet, and phone and all the accessories that go with it... My personal "tiny" kit consists of a galaxy note, Bluetooth stowaway keyboard that's almost the same size as the phone, small Samsung power adapter plug, USB cable, and HDMI cable with MHL plug. If I need the horsepower and screen real estate of a laptop, I plug the Note into the flat screen in the hotel room and use remote desktop. This entire ensemble fits in my pockets, no manbag needed, that's what I consider mobile.
  • Road warrior fail

    You packed TWO keyboards
  • My mobile kit is a Surface Pro and a phone.

    Yep, that's all. Once, overseas, I had a tethering problem. Purchased a local throwaway for $50 and they bought it back for $30 when I left. I don't even have a special bag anymore. The Surface charger even charges the phone.
    The Heretic
  • Asked? ROFL

    Who's asking, certainly you're not referring to anyone with an IQ of normal....hehehe!
  • My Mobile Gear

    My laptop never leaves my desk anymore. When I travel, I take my Surface 2 (RT before that) with Type Cover, my Nokia Lumina 1020, chargers, HDMI cable/adapter, and AT&T hotspot (sometimes I just use my phone to tether instead). I pack everything, including my clothes into a backpack and I'm good to go.