Feature: Plugging In After Taking Off
As I type this newsletter on my notebook, I'm on a cross-country flight. And unlike the guy next to me, who's also working, I'm not worried about running out of battery power: My computer is drawing juice from the power outlet at my seat.
Not every aircraft offers power outlets for every passenger, of course; but power outlets are becoming more prevalent. The catch: You need a special adapter to plug your notebook into an airplane seat's power outlet.
Though such adapters can be expensive ($80 to $120 or more), I highly recommend them for frequent fliers who work or watch DVD movies on their notebooks during long flights. Adapters are available from IGo, Kensington, Lind Electronics, Mobility Electronics, Targus International, and others. Each lets you run your notebook (and recharge its battery) from an airline power outlet, which is usually located in the armrest divider between seats. Most such adapters allow you to power your notebook from an automobile's cigarette lighter/power outlet as well.
There are differences among the auto/air power adapters on the market, however. Here are some tips for finding the one that's right for you.Be Sure the Adapter Fits Your Notebook
Some manufacturers sell adapters that work on selected notebook models only. For example, Lind Electronics sells an auto/air adapter that works with Dell Latitude XP4100 models ($100), another that works exclusively with Dell Inspiron 3500 and 7000 notebooks ($100), and so on. Judging by its Web site, Lind makes adapters for practically every major notebook manufacturer.
Other companies (such as Kensington, Mobility Electronics, and Targus) sell adapters that come with a set of interchangeable tips. Each tip is designed to fit the power port on one or more notebook models. Thus, one adapter can charge a variety of notebooks.
Targus's Universal Auto/Air Power Adapters ($120) include tips that fit notebooks from Apple, Dell, Gateway, Compaq, and Sony (model PA380U) or from Compaq/Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Toshiba (model PA360U).
Kensington recently introduced its Universal AC/Car/Air Adapter ($200), which includes ten interchangeable tips that fit notebooks from Apple, Compaq/HP, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, IBM, Toshiba, and Sony. Unlike the Targus models and most adapters that work with specific notebooks, Kensington's model can also act as an AC adapter. As a result, you can plug your notebook into a wall socket, an automobile power outlet, and an airline power port using a single device and interchangeable power cords or plugs that are designed to fit specific power outlet types. For the latest prices, check the PCWorld.com Product Finder.
Kensington also sells a Universal Car/Air Adapter, which lacks its previously mentioned adapter's AC power capability and comes with seven, rather than ten, notebook power tips. It retails for $130; for the latest prices, check our Product Finder.
Power tips for the IGo Juice ($120) support Apple, Compaq/HP, Dell, Fujitsu/Siemens, Toshiba, IBM, Sony, and Gateway notebooks. Like the Kensington model, the IGo Juice can act as an AC adapter as well. The adapter comes in two versions: one with power tips for IBM, Toshiba, and some Compaq/HP notebooks; a second comes with tips to power Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, Sony, and other Compaq/HP models. However, if you need a power tip that didn't come with the IGo Juice you purchased, the company will send it to you for free, according to a spokesperson. For the latest prices on IGo Juice models, go to our Product Finder.
See If It Can Charge Your PDA and Cell Phone
Some air adapters can power PDAs and mobile phones, too (though you can't use the cell phones in flight, obviously). Again, you'll need a specific power tip or cord for each device you want the adapter to power. This can be a huge convenience, because you don't have to unplug and pack the power adapters for each gadget you take. Just keep the auto/air adapter and necessary power connectors packed in your notebook bag, and you're ready to go.
Targus's Universal Auto/Air Power Adapters can also power PDAs, mobile phones, some printers, and a few portable DVD players. Power tips are purchased separately (about $20 each).
Mobility Electronics offers a Peripheral Powering System (PPS) for IGo Juice. The PPS is, in essence, a system of interchangeable cords that can power specific PDA or mobile phone models. A PPS cord can be attached to the main IGo Juice power cord--which enables you to simultaneously power two devices. That's an advantage IGo Juice has over its competitors. Each PPS cord costs about $20.
Consider the Size
Of the IGo, Kensington, and Targus adapters, the lightest appears to be the Kensington Universal Car/Air Adapter (which doesn't provide AC power). It weighs 3.85 ounces, according to Kensington's Web site. Next on the scale is the Targus adapter, at 5.6 ounces. The IGo Juice is rather bulky, at 7.5 ounces. The Kensington Universal AC/Car/Air Adapter offers AC power in addition to car and auto, weighs in at 9 ounces.
I've traveled with both the IGo and Targus models. The Targus adapter fits easily into a notebook bag, while the Juice brick occupies more space.
To lighten my load, I've traveled with the Targus in my carry-on notebook bag and my notebook's power brick in my checked suitcase. The downside: I have to unplug my notebook's power adapter, pack it in my bag, then unpack it when I return. Comparatively, I can simply leave the IGo Juice adapter packed in my notebook bag at all times.Make Sure the Plane Has Power Ports Before Booking
An auto/air adapter won't do you any good if the airplane doesn't have individual power ports. I've often asked airline telephone reservationists if the aircraft I'm traveling on has power ports, but I've found their answers to be unreliable. Here's how to get the information you need:
Check the airline's Web site before you fly.
For domestic flights, go to SeatGuru.com, a Web site that offers detailed seat maps and information on amenities (including power ports).
Targus's Web site offers a partial list of aircrafts with power ports.
See my newsletter article, "The Best Airplanes for Notebook Users," for more tips.
Which One's for You?
Based on my tests of the Targus and IGo adapters, here are my suggestions:
Buy an adapter that supports multiple devices. For maximum flexibility, shy away from dedicated notebook auto/air adapters. The Targus and IGo Juice adapters cost just about the same as many dedicated-device adapters, yet provide interchangeable power tips supporting a variety of devices. These two offer a better value for your money.
Light packers, go with Targus. I recommend the Targus adapter to anyone who wants to keep their carry-on baggage as light as possible. Because of its slim form factor, the Targus adapter is much easier than the IGo Juice to pack in a carry-on bag.
To quickly recharge multiple devices, go with IGo. With the IGo Juice, you don't have the hassle of packing up AC adapters for your notebook, PDA, and mobile phone. Plus, with Mobility Electronics' PPS, you can use an IGo Juice to recharge two devices at once. The IGo Juice also comes with a convenient carrying case, with fasteners that let you keep the cables organized. And the power base emits a soft blue light when plugged in, enabling the IGo Juice to act as something else every intrepid traveler needs: a nightlight.
NOTEBOOKS & ACCESSORIESReview: Low-Priced, Attractive EMachines
The EMachines M5305 offers a 15.4-inch wide-aspect screen and native 1280 by 800 resolution, ideal for watching DVD movies and, if you insist, working on a large spreadsheet. Despite the big screen, the M5305 is inexpensive ($1250 for the unit we tested). But the disappointing sound keeps the notebook from being an ideal DVD player, and there are no FireWire ports or built-in wireless networking, says PCWorld.com reviewer Carla Thornton. Go to our Product Finder for the latest prices.Tip: Protecting the Back-to-School Notebook
Computer portability is a blessing and a curse for a college student. You can take the PC anywhere--but so can a thief. To thwart dishonorable intentions, both Kensington and Targus sell antitheft cables ($30 to $60) that are ideal for dorm rooms. Also, keep in mind some colleges have programs for registering notebooks with campus security. Check out our "back-to-school" computing guide for more gems of wisdom.HANDHELDSNews: Palm's Tungsten T Sequel
Palm's Tungsten T handheld has been updated. The $399 Tungsten T2, available now, has double (32MB) the original T's memory; uses the Palm 5.2.1 operating system; includes software for playing MP3 and short video files and for viewing, organizing, and editing images; and features a built-in speaker and stereo headphone jack. Bluetooth is included, enabling you to use a compatible mobile phone to connect to the Internet, according to Palm. The T2's 320-by-320, 65,000-plus color screen is also used in the Zire 71 and Tungsten C. In addition to announcing the Tungsten T2, Palm dropped the price of the Palm M515 by $50 to $249, and the Palm M130 went from $199 to $179. (For the latest prices on the T2, go to our Product Finder.)News: Axim Alert
Dell stopped temporarily halted shipments of Axim PDAs with the new Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 operating system after discovering a software glitch. A number of problems have been reported as a result of the problem code, which resides in Dell-developed software within the Axim's firmware. For example: the Start menu often takes an unacceptably long time to show up. The glitch affects Axims purchased after June 23 (when Microsoft released Windows Mobile 2003). As of this writing, a Dell spokesperson said a "solution is on the way" but no details were available.News: Samsung's Do-It-All Device
For those of you wondering what's next in the multifunction PDA department, here's the answer: a wireless handheld from Samsung Electronics (launched in South Korea for about $800) that combines a phone, TV, camera, MP3 player, two-way radio--and camcorder. The MITs M400, based on Microsoft's Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition OS, is one of several Samsung you-name-it, it-does-it devices to be released in the United States and Europe later this year.WIRELESSNews: Sprint Plans Wi-Fi Network
The Sprint PCS Group is working to build one of the largest networks of Wi-Fi hot spots in the country. Sprint's wireless LAN service, PCS Wi-Fi Access, will provide high-speed local wireless data access in more than 2100 U.S. locations by year's end, the company says. PCS Wi-Fi Access is expected to debut by late September with some 800 hot spots at airports, convention centers, and hotels providing Internet access at speeds similar to DSL or cable modem service. Customers who use Sprint's PCS Connection Card modem for wireless Internet access via Sprint's PCS Vision cellular network can use a software utility to log onto either Sprint's Wi-Fi or cellular networks. Pricing wasn't announced as of this writing.News: Two Treo 600 Models Approved
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission recently approved two versions of Handspring's upcoming Treo 600 smart phone, which moves the anticipated devices a step closer to commercial availability. One version is compatible with the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) wireless standard commonly used in the U.S.; the other is compatible with the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless standard, which is more prevalent outside the U.S. Read "Treo 600 Moves Closer to Launch" for more details about the upcoming smart phone, which combines a Palm OS-based PDA, cell phone, and camera in one.Suggestion Box
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