July 23, 2008, 4:12 PM — As I mentioned last week, I recently tried limiting myself to just one carry-on bag when flying. I couldn't do it--and frankly, I don't recommend the practice. However, the exercise prompted me to re-evaluate all the gear and related accessories I normally pack. Here are two items that will continue to make the cut. Next week: three more, plus one just-for-fun accessory.
1. Belkin's Mini Surge Protector With USB Charger
Hotel-room power outlets can be difficult to reach. The outlets you want to use may already be spoken for by the TV, lamp, or bedside alarm clock. Finding an available power outlet in an airport departure gate can also be a challenge.
For these and other reasons, I pack Belkin's Mini Surge Protector With USB Charger (US$16 and up online) on every trip. The power strip offers three, three-pronged AC outlets for recharging laptops or other devices, plus two powered USB ports for iPods and such. It's also, as its name implies, a surge protector. I love the ability to rotate the power strip's plug by 360 degrees: If you're trying to connect the Mini Surge Protector to an already crowded wall outlet, you can position the power strip sideways.
A few downsides are worth mentioning. The Mini Surge Protector is thick and weighs 6.6 ounces, a bit more than other portable power strips. Given its bulk, you may not be able to squeeze it behind a hotel room bed or into other tight confines, regardless of the rotating plug. But attaching the power strip to a 1-foot extension cord, like one from Cables To Go will save the day in those circumstances.
Note: Kensington just announced the Portable Power Outlet (list price: $25). Like the Belkin product, it offers three AC outlets and two powered USB ports and offers surge protection. Unlike the Mini Surge Protector, the Kensington product has its own cord. I haven't tested this product, however.
2. StarTech WiFi Detective
StarTech's Wi-Fi Detective (about $54 and up online) helps you quickly discover Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity without having to start your laptop. (You can accomplish the same thing with an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch, or another Wi-Fi enabled handheld.) The device, about the size of a package of stick chewing gum, lets you view information about nearby networks on its small LCD, including each network's signal strength and security protocol (such as WPA, WPA2, and WEP). A handy Seek button, refreshes its list of wireless networks.
Windows users can plug the Wi-Fi detective into a USB port and use it as a wireless network adapter. Just about every laptop in the past few years has built-in Wi-Fi, so this feature is mainly useful for those with older laptops.
You recharge the device via USB connection. In fact, you can repower the Wi-Fi Detective by plugging it into one of the Belkin Mini Surge Protector's powered USB ports. My only complaints: The Wi-Fi Detective doesn't attach to a keychain, like some of its competitors; the Targus WiFi Scanner (starting at $53 online) comes to mind. Also, its USB connector is covered by a cap that could be easy to lose. But these are minor complaints.
If there's a gadget or accessory you always travel with, I'd like to hear about it. Please send me e-mail.
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
Where Does Your Old Cell Phone Go? The answer, according to a recent survey conducted by Nokia, is most likely "in a drawer." Most cell phones no longer in use--about 44 percent--are stored in a drawer, according to the survey. Only 3 percent of the 6500 people interviewed said they recycle their phones. About half of the respondents didn't know recycling was an option. But consider this: If every cell phone owner recycled an old phone, 240,000 tons of raw materials could be reused--the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road, according to Nokia.
New MacBook Air Bags: Marware's Sportfolio Deluxe ($80) bag accommodates Apple's MacBook Air plus its accessories. Another new MacBook Air bag from Marware, the Sportfolio ($50), can be used as a slim, briefcase-style bag with a shoulder strap, or you can remove the strap and use it as a protective slipcase inside a bigger bag.
Meanwhile, I recently tested Speck's See-Thru hard-shell case for MacBook Airs. The case consists of two pieces; each one attaches to a side of the MacBook Air. Together they give the Air a protective coating. The clear plastic model (about $35 online) enabled me to send my MacBook Air through airport X-ray screeners with an extra layer of protection. The case adds noticeable weight, however, and can be difficult to remove.
Seeing the World Without Packing a Bag: "Staycation"--a vacation spent at home--is the buzz word of the summer, given rising gas prices and air fares. Our Casual Friday columnist Darren Gladstone reviews inexpensive options for getting a virtual travel fix, including Test Drive Unlimited, a simulated driving game featuring about 1000 miles of Hawaiian roads.