Nowadays, well-equipped business travelers have so many metallic objects hanging from their bodies that a flight can take less time than passing through airport security. Too many of these gadgets sound great in theory but fall short in practice. Take the recently tested voice translator that kept saying "post office" every time it was asked to convert "Where is the bathroom?" into German. For all the duds, though, there are a few gadgets that can truly make travel easier for the techno-savvy executive, from a briefcase that calls you from afar to a charger that feeds on sunshine to a phone that thinks it's a camera. Here are seven of the most promising devices:
Sony Ericsson P800
Think of The P800 as the Swiss Army knife of the wireless set. Not only does this soon-to-be-available tri-band "multimedia smartphone" (www.sonyericsson.com)let the ober-connected business traveler keep in touch from just about anywhere in the world, but its built-in digital camera can even snap some photos along the way--and then transmit them home. The large color touch screen (up to 208 x 320 pixels, 40 x 61mm) displays everything from e-mail and Web sites to calendars, address books and document files. Included is a 16MB Memory Stick Duo that more than doubles the phone's already large storage capacity and clears room for fun things like video clips, MP3s and games. It's even Bluetooth-capable. One question: where's the corkscrew?
Handspring Treo 90
For those who love their PDA but hate scribbling and rescribbling on a tiny screen, the Treo 90 (handspring.com) may be just their "type." With the Graffiti writing area replaced by a built-in QWERTY thumb board that offers a more familiar and quicker way to input data, this curvy and compact organizer looks like the secret love child of a Palm and a BlackBerry. It also comes with a full-color display, 16MB of storage and Secure Digital (SD) expansion slots. This latest offering from Handspring lacks the wireless-communication capabilities of its more expensive sibling the Treo 270. But it's the smallest Palm OS organizer on the market to have a 70mm color touch screen, and at 115 grams it's also one of the lightest. For design alone, the device gets a thumbs up.
ISUN Portable Solar Charger
Tired of fumbling around with a half-dozen adapters each time you need to charge your cell phone or PDA in a new hotel room? Now you can make do with a little sunshine and the iSun Portable Solar Charger. About the size of a video-cassette, the iSun (isunpower.com) draws enough power from the sun to juice phones and most other small electronic devices that require up to two watts, and has adapters to fit the most common models. If you need to charge something larger, like a laptop, two or more iSuns can be daisy-chained together to produce more power. Of course, the brighter the sunlight, the faster your electronics will charge--so visitors to the British Isles may be out of luck.
Targus DEFCON Authenticator
The digital age has brought with it many wondrous things, but the wildly proliferating need for passwords surely isn't one of them. The Targus DEFCON Authenticator (targus.com), a small fingerprint scanner that attaches to a computer's USB port, lets people protect important digital content from prying eyes while freeing up some gray matter. Place one finger on top of the reader, and if it matches the previously stored print, the file opens. Best of all, at 143 grams and 76 x 51mm in size, it's small enough to take on the road. Targus also touts the fact that this is the first stand-alone biometric scanner that comes with two additional built-in USB ports, proving there's one other techno "P" that also continues to proliferate--peripherals.
Samsonite Hardlite Bluetooth
Losing a briefcase may soon be a thing of the past, now that Samsonite (samsonite.com) has developed the first "intelligent" bag. The newest model of the Hardlite, which will be available next year, will use Bluetooth technology to communicate wirelessly with mobile phones, PDAs and the like. When the briefcase is out of range from the connected device, an alarm will go off, ensuring that this carry-on won't be carried off by a would-be thief. Travel details and other personal information can also be stored in the Hardlite's chip and communicated to other Bluetooth gadgets. The sleek, durable and lightweight design, as well as conveniences such as guaranteeing that it always opens right side up, should make a strong case for this case.
Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-330
With more than five hours of recording time squeezed into the pocket-size DS-330 digital recorder from Olympus (olympus.com), this model is suitable for even the most long-winded meetings--or executives. It is the first dictation device in the industry to come with a USB docking station, making the transfer of audio files to and from a PC or Mac as fast and simple as the touch of a button. When connected to the computer, the recorder also functions as a microphone and speaker. The ergonomically designed DS-330 lets users access and edit previously recorded files over the course of a business trip and can store up to 199 messages in each of five separate folders. It even includes a scheduler and an alarm--just in case that dreary meeting puts you to sleep.
SiPix Pocket Printer A6
Jet-setting executives can't lug around bulky ink-jet printers, so those in the know take along the SiPix Pocket Printer A6 (www.sipixdigital.com). This paperback-size printer uses thermal technology--no need to "refuel" with new ink cartridges midflight--to produce anything from e-mails to spreadsheets and even 400dpi images. The mobile machine weighs only 250 grams on its own, or 400 grams with batteries and A6-size paper, and uses infrared technology or serial cables to print from virtually all computing devices travelers may have on hand-Palms, Pocket PCs, laptops or desktops. For those on the go, printing hard copies may not be all that hard anymore.