Travel a lot and you'll find it's not the big issues — the delays and cancellations and lost luggage — that really bug you. It's the little things such as 'which power supplies do I pack' and 'how much do I have to pay for hotel wi-fi' — irritations that simply make life more awkward or complicated. But technology finds a way, and on a recent business trip I tried out a couple of devices that just made my life a little bit easier.
Anker PowerIQ 40W 5-port USB charger
I used to carry a lot of little USB power adapters: one for my UK phone, one for my US phone, one for a tablet and, well, the list goes on. And of course although a phone would charge from a tablet PSU, the opposite wasn't always true. Collectively those power supplies added up to a lot of space in my luggage, and there were never enough plugs in a hotel room — so I also had to carry a multiplug adapter.
At CES I talked to USB device vendor Anker about its new range of smart-charging USB supplies, and arranged to try out the 40W charger with 5 variable power USB outputs.This $49.99 device is about the size of a pack of playing cards, so it doesn't take up too much space in my kitbag. And as it uses a standard two-pin mains cable and comes with a lengthy power cable, it's much easier to find a plug hidden behind a bed or some curtains and then charge all your devices on a bedside table. The device delivers the right power to the right device, sensing the required power level and adjusting its output appropriately.
We were able to happily charge a pair of tablets (a Dell Venue Pro 8 and an iPad Mini), two phones (a Nokia Windows Phone Lumia 1020 and an ageing iPhone 4) and the Lumia's camera case battery, all at the same time. Because the USB ports in this latest version of Anker's charger are auto-sensing, it didn't matter what plugged in where — and Anker notes that it can charge up to five 8W devices at the same time, making it useful if you're managing a small fleet of tablets as well as if you're travelling with multiple devices.
If the charger problem has been solved, how about the wireless?
That's a more complex issue. Sometimes the problem is the available bandwidth (and sometimes the positions of the access point in the hotel). But more often it's restricted connections — perhaps with only wired connection on a desk, or wireless connections limited to just a couple of devices per room.
Netgear N300 Trek Travel Router and Range Extender
Another CES discovery comes in handy here — Netgear's N300 Trek wireless router. This is another small device that's designed to let you share a wired or a wireless connection with several devices, or just boost the signal of a low-powered wi-fi network. Designed to plug into a standard mains socket, the $59.99 N300 Trek can also be powered by a USB cable from your laptop.
Connecting the N300 Trek to a wireless network is easy enough. First choose whether you're connecting to a wired or wireless network, and slide up the antenna. The Trek comes preconfigured with a SSID and a randomly generated password, so all you need to do is connect your laptop or tablet to the Trek's SSID. Once you've opened the device's default web page you're given the option of saving a profile for the hotspot you're trying to connect to. You'll see a list of available wireless networks, so all you need to do is choose the network you're trying to connect up with the router. You'll then be taken to the network's log-on page, where you can enter any required credentials.
Once the router is connected to the network, you're using it as a NAT proxy and firewall for all your devices, so you can simply connect any other devices you want online to the Trek's network — without having to log in again. We were able to connect two laptops, a couple of tablets and four phones to one hotel log-in with no problems. You're not limited to wireless devices, as you can even use the Trek's Ethernet port to connect wired devices to the wireless network. It's all very simple to use, and with most devices saving wireless passwords, it's even easier the second time around.
With hotel room layouts predating our connected, multi-device lifestyles, it's clear that devices like these two are now essentials for anyone carrying their tech on the road — taking care of those two essentials, power and connectivity. It's an added bonus that neither breaks the bank nor, perhaps more importantly, those ever more draconian airline luggage weight limits.