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The 8 devices I always take on work trips

When you travel for work like I do, second-best gadgets won't cut it. Here's my pick of the best of the best gadgets for 2023 road warriors.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
What's in SJVN's Laptop Bag

What's in SJVN's Laptop Bag

sjvn

It's 2023, and it looks like I'll be back to 100-thousand miles a year of business travel again. 

Also: Jason Cipriani's 5 must-have devices for work travel now

As I prepare for a year filled with multiple trips to Seattle, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Chicago, Spain, NYC, Monterey, and San Francisco, it's time again to go over the gear I'll be taking on the trip. 

My list is specific for me, but anyone who spends a lot of time on the road may find it useful.

 Acer Chromebook Spin 514 (CP514-3H) 

Acer Chromebook Spin 514
sjvn

I'm a Chromebook user for many reasons. First, ChromeOS and Linux, my favorite desktop operating system, go together well. Indeed, it's trivial to install Linux on any Chromebook

Second, even if something goes haywire with my Chromebook, or even if I leave it in a cab by accident, so what? I just buy another Chromebook, and I'm back to work in ten minutes. 

Also: How I revived three ancient computers with ChromeOS Flex

Finally, even if you are a Windows user, you've always been easily able to use Microsoft -- formerly Office -- 365 applications on a Chromebook. Going forward, you'll be able to install Microsoft 365 and OneDrive as Progressive Web Apps on your Chromebook. Chromebooks are today's do-everything laptops.

As for my newest Chromebook, I'm going with the high-performance Acer Chromebook Spin 514 convertible. This tablet/laptop is powered by new AMD Ryzen 5000 C-series processors based on AMD Zen 3 architecture and Radeon graphics. 

Also: The best Chromebooks

The Spin 514 has a 14-inch 1080p touchscreen, AMD's Ryzen 3 5125C, 8GBs of dual-channel LPDDR4X RAM, and 128GBs of NVMe SSD storage. It weighs 3.3 pounds and has a battery life of just over 10 hours. For networking, it supports Wi-Fi 6. Put this all together, and you get a system that's a good step faster than its 2022 ancestors. 

It also includes two USB-C ports, one of which you must use to power it. The Spin 514 also comes with a left-side USB-A port, and a headphone jack. You can also get it with an HDMI port. For a webcam, it includes a high-quality HD1080p cam with a privacy shutter and a Gorilla Glass-covered trackpad. 

Also: 5 reasons Chromebooks are the perfect laptop (for most users)

This is not a cheap Chromebook. It's a serious business Chromebook. Indeed it comes with business Chrome Enterprise already installed and ready to integrate with your Google-based office. The price tag reflects that. The Spin 514 lists for $579.99. You can, of course, get it for less. 

StarTech USB-C Docking Station, Multi-Monitor HDMI/DP/USB-C Video Output

Startech Docking Station
sjvn

There's only one thing wrong with my new Acer. It's the same thing that's wrong with all Chromebooks: They never have enough ports. Now for most people, that's not a big deal anymore. But, if you've got a lot of peripherals to hook up, such as one different projector after another, you need ports. In particular, you need all the graphic ports -- HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.4, and USB-C video -- you can get. That's where StarTech's Chromebook-certified docking station comes in. 

Also: 2022 was secretly the year of Chromebooks. Here's why

With all those video outputs, it can support triple 4K 30Hz displays or a single 5K 60Hz monitor. With the right cables, I'll never have to worry about an incompatible monitor again -- unless I find someone still using VGA, and that's why I carry HDMI adapters.  

It also includes 7 USB ports and more: 

  • A pair of USB-A 10Gbps 
  • 1x USB-A 10Gbps w/BC 1.2 charging 
  • 1x USB-C 10Gbps
  • 2 USB-A 480Mbps 
  • 1x USB-C shared 10Gbps & DP Alt Mode video 
  • 60W Power Delivery
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • a 3.5mm headset/audio port.

While this is serious IT-grade hardware, you can still buy this Docking Station from Amazon for around $250 at the time of writing and directly from StarTech for a list price of $330.99. 

Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder

olympus-recorder
Amazon

Most of what I'm recommending is brand new, but my Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder is an antique by techno standards. Mine is over a decade old, and you can still buy new ones today. Amazon will sell you one for $329. DS-30s are also available on eBay for a good deal less. You can also purchase a refurbished unit from Amazon for $199

Now, you may ask, "Why the heck would you buy one of these when you can use any phone for recording?" Easy. Its audio recording quality is better than any phone I've ever used. With its high-sensitivity microphone and over 60 hours of recording time, it's great for when you need a high-quality copy of a lecture, depositions, client interviews, or a conversation. 

I wish it didn't record only the WMA format, but I can live with that. It also needs a special USB cable to download into a PC, but, again, it's not a big deal. I also appreciate that it's powered by triple-A batteries. If you depend on getting the spoken word right, the Olympus DS-30 is for you.

 Habitat 360 Electrical USB

360-usb
Amazon

I carry a lot of electrical equipment with me, and that means I used to need a lot of power strips. I still carry one old-style strip just in case, but what I really rely on these days is the Habitat 360 Electrical with four USB ports.

With its 6-foot length, I can reach pretty much any outlet. At the same time, the round braided cord doesn't fray or tear. With its four USB ports and 4.8-amps, I can charge four USB-C-powered devices without trouble. And, for $24.99 from Amazon, it's affordable. 

Any phone with Google Fi 

Google Fi
Google

The phone in the top photo is my Samsung Galaxy S22, but I'm not here to talk to you about the S22, except to say it's a good phone, and I recommend it. But, what I'm really here to tell you about is Google Fi.

I do a lot of international travel, and if there's one thing I know, it's that most American carriers charge high rates outside of the States. That's where Google Fi can save you some serious coin. 

Google Fi has two plans: In Canada, the US, and Mexico, Google Fi has two worthwhile plans. The cheapest is its Flexible plan with its low price of $20 a month. It gives you unlimited calls and texts and 5G data at $10 a Gigabyte, but only in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. 

  • The Simply Unlimited Plan starts at $50/month for a single user. It includes unlimited texting and unlimited calling in the States. It also comes with 35GBs of high-speed data per month. Speeds slow down, however, after you use 35GBs. It comes with 5GBs of hotspot-tethered data. It also includes free international calling from the U.S. to 50 countries; other calls for 20 cents per minute; free Wi-Fi calling worldwide; and unlimited data in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

  • The Unlimited Plus Plan starts at $65/month for a single user. It includes unlimited texting, unlimited calling in the States, and 50GBs of high-speed data per month when traveling internationally. Speeds slow down after 50GBs. It comes with unlimited hotspot-tethered data. It also includes free international calling from the U.S. to 50 countries; other calls for 20 cents per minute; free Wi-Fi calling worldwide; and unlimited data in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

That still sounds like a fair amount of money, especially if you're not using it as your primary carrier. For example, Verizon is the best carrier for where I live in Asheville, NC. But, Google Fi is a winner for international trouble because you only pay for it when needed. 

Also: Flighty is a must-have iOS app for air travel

Instead of paying for Verizon and Google Fi for 12 months of the year, I only pay for Fi when I use it. I can do that because Google lets me pause my Fi service for up to three months. And, you can do that over and over again until you're heading out of the country and need it on again. If I need it back earlier for an unexpected trip, I log back in via the website or the smartphone app -- and ta-da! -- it's back on.

I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone who travels outside the country a lot.

Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones 

wh1000xm5-black-product.jpg
Image: Sony

If you're going to fly, you must have noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones. And, everyone agrees that the best of the best these days is the Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless. I'm still using an older wired Sony model, but when it finally gives up the ghost, I'll be switching to the WH-1000XM5. Currently, Amazon is offering this model for $398.

It's worth every penny. 

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

kindle-paperwhite-2021-signature-edition-3.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Now, my work colleague in travel, Jason Cipriani, likes to carry an Apple iPad Mini with him. And, if I needed to take a tablet with me, I'd get one too. I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend an Android tablet, but I can't. In any case, my Chromebook Spin 514 doubles as a tablet, so I don't need a dedicated tablet. However, I read a lot, so when I'm on the road, I take an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite with me.

Also: How to loan Kindle books

I use the 8GB model with its 6.8" display and adjustable light. I could buy one with more storage, but ebooks are small, and my entire Amazon library is only a click away. I could, of course, get an Amazon Kindle tablet. They're fine, but they're not great. And, what I really love about Paperwhite is the battery lasts for days and days. Try that with any other tablet! For readers, it's worth every penny of its $139.99 price.

Google Titan Security Key

Google Titan Security Keys

Like the Yubikey family, my Google Titan Security Key provides top-of-the-line two-factor authentication (2FA) for any computer. Ed Bott and I may disagree a lot on Windows vs. Linux, but we both agree: 2FA devices are a must if you care about security. The Titan Security key goes for $30. 

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