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The toughest part of travel is figuring out what to bring along. Long airport security lines, a greater likelihood of lost and damaged baggage, and tightly enforced weight restrictions make it imperative for road warriors to lighten up and travel smarter.
A year ago, I found seven gizmos and a few lightweight bags to help me consolidate the jumble of PCs, cameras, cords, adapters, music players, and other flotsam I travel with into a 10-pound tech payload. Today, sitting comfortably in my seat with my sturdy Tumi T3 Ducati Flip Flap briefcase ($225) and T3 Ducati Turn Transporter 22-inch roller bag ($525) stowed overhead, I'm happy I've replaced those seven electronic essentials with just five—weighing in at a hair over 5 lb.—for short jaunts of two or three days. For longer trips, the number of devices jumps to eight, though they still weigh less than the seven I carried a year ago.
I'm tapping out this story on Sony's (SNE
) ultraportable Vaio VGN-TXN15PB, a stylish 2.8-lb. notebook PC with a compact 11.1-in. LCD screen. After testing thin and light notebooks from Hewlett-Packard (HP
), Acer, and Toshiba (TOSBF
), as well as a new class of small handheld PCs such as OQO's model 02, I've settled on the Vaio as the go-to device for shorter trips, despite its somewhat cramped keyboard.
The Vaio has the travel-smarter mandate covered, too. Credit that to a built-in cellular radio modem that lets me tap into Sprint Nextel's (S
) high-speed data service ($60 a month). With its far-reaching coverage, the network gave me access to business news and MapQuest directions while I was sitting in a car moving along a highway, and let me log on to ABC's (DIS
) Web site to watch a missed episode of Lost over lunch. I can even make a voice-over-IP phone call with Kensington's (ABD
) credit-card-size Vo200 Bluetooth Internet Phone ($90), which slides into the PC card slot.A PIECE OF HOMEThe high-speed data connection also makes the Vaio a portal into my home while I'm traveling. I've attached Sling Media's Slingbox Pro ($250) to a TiVo Series 3 cable digital video recorder and used the Web and my home network to watch programs on the Vaio's bright screen. While the setup is not as easy as I would have liked, the technology substantially lightened the entertainment components of my traveler's load.
A downside to all the wireless access is that Wi-Fi, cellular broadband, and Bluetooth quickly take their toll on battery life, typically cutting it to two hours from four. What's more, all the new notebooks I've seen use the new Windows Vista operating system. Startup times are ridiculously long—often more than two minutes. Even shutting down can be a hassle, since the machine must first wirelessly install several "important updates," a seemingly daily occurrence. I also could not access corporate e-mail because that software was not yet compatible with Vista, forcing me to use my Samsung BlackJack smartphone to peck out and receive messages.
The 3.5-oz. BlackJack also allowed me to leave my iPod nano at home. BlackJack supports Cingular Video and Cingular Music, two useful high-speed data services. Using Cingular Video, you can watch clips of The Daily Show and Access Hollywood, ESPN sports highlights, and more. The smartphone also supports Yahoo!, Rhapsody, and other big music-subscription services. I downloaded the latest tracks from The Killers and other popular bands to a 2GB SanDisk memory card, and the music sounded as good as it does on the iPod. And the BlackJack's 1.3-megapixel camera was good enough for work-related snapshots, so I didn't need to pack my digital camera.
For avid readers, I suggest bringing along Sony's (SNE
) eBook, a 9-oz. "portable reader system" ($349). It takes the place of all the paperbacks I used to carry. The device can store up to 80 books that you download from a Web site. It also has a memory-card slot to play MP3s and Sony-formatted music, even while you're reading.THE SPACE PREMIUMFor the final items in my short-trip kit, I turned to well-known accessory makers. At 1.6 lb., Tumi's $195 universal power-adapter kit was slightly heavier than others I had tried, but the nice space-saving case it's packed in persuaded me to switch. For headphones, I chose Bose's Quiet Comfort3 ($349), which are more compact than earlier models but offer the same technology for tuning out droning engines and other background noise.
For longer trips, I leave the Sony Vaio behind and instead take Toshiba's Portege R400 Tablet PC notebook, with its larger 12.1-in. screen. With an extended battery that can last six hours, it weighs about 4 lb. but includes high-speed data, in this case from Verizon Wireless. I also add Logitech's VX Revolution notebook mouse (4.1 oz.), the iPod nano for getting my music fix without draining my phone's battery, and Shure's SE420 sound-isolating earbud headphones, which are more comfortable while walking around or working out. Those additions bring the total weight to 7.7 lb.PRICED LIGHTNo doubt some of you are wondering about the tab for all this. If you buy everything on the list, including the Slingbox Pro and luggage, it will set you back $7,687 before taxes. That's more than double what it took me to lighten up last year, but traveling smarter comes with a cost. On the good side, it left me room to grab some of Randy's famous L.A. doughnuts. Of course, now I need to lighten up for real. By Cliff Edwards