I don't often quote poetry in this column, but indulge me a bit of leeway when I steal from T.S. Eliot when he wrote, "April is the cruelest month" (first line of "The Waste Land"). If he were around today this might be a reference to the technology trade show travel schedule, in which conferences seem to hit particularly hard in April once winter doesn't have its hold on flight delays.
Luckily, gadget-makers understand the cruelty of travel, and are always creating new devices that help the mobile worker/road warrior ease the pain of a hotel room with few outlets, or expensive in-room Wi-Fi. Here are three gadgets I've recently tested that can help you on your next trip:
The scoop:Trek (N300) Travel Router and Range Extender (model PR200), by NETGEAR, about $60.
What is it? This small box acts as a miniature travel trotter that can connect to hotel wireless and public Wi-Fi hot spots, providing a bridge connection for multiple devices via Wi-Fi. When you return home, you can use the device as a Wi-Fi range extender (to fill in any wireless holes you may be suffering from), or even as it's own router (if you don't yet own one). The unit comes with a built-in power plug, two Ethernet ports (one for a WAN, the other for a LAN), a USB port for attaching a storage device, and a USB cable (if you want to power the unit from a USB port instead of the wall outlet).
Why it's cool: The multiple functions of the Trek make it more useful than a single-function travel router, extending its value. But the main reason you'll love it is to extend wireless connections for multiple devices (PC, phone, tablet) when you travel. With hotel Internet service costing $15 per day or even higher ($20+ per day in some cities), this router can help you maximize that connection by allowing Wi-Fi to multiple devices. If you tried to connect three devices, for example (PC, phone and tablet) to the hotel's wireless, you might end up paying three different charges for that access.
Having tried several travel routers in the past, I was a bit skeptical with the Trek, mainly because hotel wireless setups usually involve browser authentication (you can't get to the wider Internet until you pony up the cash). However, I was very pleased to see that the Trek device and NETGEAR Genie software could easily set itself up for the multi-device sharing. After plugging in the device to a power source, I flipped the switch on the Trek to "Wireless", then connected my computer to the Trek's SSID (both the SSID and the password are on a sticker on the unit). This triggered the Genie software to scan available wireless signals, letting me choose the hotel's wireless network. Once the Trek connected to the hotel network, it opened up another browser window/tab to let me authenticate, at which point additional devices could connect to the Trek without having to worry about additional charges. As long as any new device connects to the Trek instead of the hotel network, you should be fine.
Some caveats: It's likely that you'll only be using this device as a travel router, as you probably already own a home router. You might want to use this as a wireless range extender if you don't yet have/need one of those, but then it could cause some worries if you then have to grab it for your next trip. If you really need a wireless range extender, the best bet is to buy a separate one. At least NETGEAR is giving users the option for the additional features, so it's hard to ding them too much for this.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five)
The scoop:Voyager Edge Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics, about $130. What is it? The latest Bluetooth headset for mobile phone users, the Voyager Edge is smaller than the company's more professional Voyager headsets, yet maintains many of the modern features we expect to see these days in a headset. This includes voice instructions for pairing, a slider power button, and easy-to-reach buttons for call activation and volume control. The Voyager Edge also includes a carrying case that doubles as a power charger, so you can recharge the headset while keeping it in a laptop bag, purse or in your car. Lights on the charger indicate power levels for both the headset (when it's docked) and charger.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD 12 Bluetooth gadgets for geeks + Why it's cool: I liked the smaller design - while I enjoyed using the company's Voyager Pro headsets (including the UC models for taking calls at work or using them for VoIP calls), I can see how the smaller version would appeal to people who are out and about more and don't want to constantly wear their headset. Pairing the headset to my phone (it supports iOS and Android) was simple - just put the headset on and listen to the instructions.
In addition to making voice calls with the headset, you can keep it on your ear and listen to streaming music or podcasts while you're commuting. I wouldn't use this while exercising - the fit inside the ear is pretty tight (it's designed that way to stay on your ear, with three ear loop sizes and a plastic hook for more stability). The comfort on the ear lasts for about the time of an average commute - after about 30 to 45 minutes, you'll want to take it off.
Some caveats: The Voyager Edge comes with a mini-USB charging cable and a car power adapter, but nothing that plugs into the wall - if you need to recharge the unit, you'll need to find a USB port or head to your car. It's not a huge deal, as most mobile workers will have one of those two options available, but I found it odd that a wall adapter was not included. Also, if you like using the plastic hook in order to get more stability on your ear, you have to detach it when recharging the unit via the docking charger, giving you a greater chance of either breaking the plastic hook, or losing it (like leaving it on your office desktop or home office).
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)
The scoop: DoubleUp dual USB charger for iPad, iPhone and iPod, about $40. What is it? About the size of a hockey puck, the DoubleUp gives you two charging ports for USB devices (2.1-amp/10.5-watt) that can plug into a regular wall outlet. Small LEDs on the unit let you know when the mobile device is fully charged.
Why it's cool: Power outlet space is often at a premium in hotel rooms, so any device that can give you extra charging capabilities is appreciated. In the case of the DoubleUp, you can basically get three devices charged instead of two (or even four if you use two of these units in a regular two-outlet wall port). If you need to recharge an iPhone and an iPod (or iPad), this handy device makes it slightly easier. While the marketing says it's for the iOS world, you could certainly plug in another device via the USB cable (as long as the device supports that wattage/amperage). The unit is also small enough so you don't have to bring one of those big power-strip extenders.
Some caveats: No cables are provided, so you have to bring your own. But at least you don't have to bring along the power-prong brick.
Grade: 3.5 stars