Mobile Computing: Protect Your Laptop, Part 2
Last week I offered tips on protecting your laptop and data when traveling by plane. This week, I've got additional tips for staying productive on the road.
Buy a Rugged Notebook
If you're a frequent flier who gives your notebook unusually rough service, a rugged or semi-rugged notebook is worth considering. These laptops are built with industrial-strength components and metals in order to better withstand drops, spills, bumps, shocks, and harsh environments. They are usually more expensive than traditional models, however.
Vendors such as Itronix (now part of General Dynamics), Panasonic, Rugged Notebooks, and Twinhead (which produces Durabook notebooks) offer rugged and semi-rugged notebooks. Panasonic's ToughBook is perhaps the best known line. ToughBooks come in a variety of flavors, including tablet PCs and notebooks with outdoor-readable screens.
Panasonic's ToughBook-W4 is targeted toward mobile professionals. The ToughBook-W4 has a magnesium alloy exterior that enables it to withstand bumps. The computer also features a shock-mounted hard drive designed to protect data. The ToughBook-W4 earned a PCW rating of 70 (good) earlier this year.
Nearly two years ago I wrote a feature on rugged notebooks. Though my specific product recommendations are somewhat dated, the overview still offers good information on the features and drawbacks of this type of notebook.
Another Option: A Second Laptop
For many of you, your laptop is your one and only computer. The benefit is that you've got all your files, applications, and e-mail with you when you're on the road. The disadvantage is if something happens to your laptop during a trip, you've lost the use of your own and only computer. And if you haven't backed up your hard drive, you may also lose your files, applications, and e-mail.
So here's a thought: Given the potential hazards of the road, maybe you should consider investing in a low-cost notebook that's strictly for travel. The idea is to travel with a computer that won't rock your world if it's broken, stolen, or damaged. Besides, it's always a good idea to have a backup in case your mainstay goes down.
The requirements for your travel notebook can be pretty basic, as you'll most likely use it only for productivity applications and wireless networking. Low-end laptops from major manufacturers start around $425. Generally speaking, these budget models are fine for everyday computing tasks but aren't likely to offer the fastest, most energy-efficient processors or the latest bells and whistles. For example, you might want to consider the Compaq Presario V2000Z or Dell Inspiron B130: The beginning price for a Compaq Presario V3000 was recently $450 (after rebate); Dell's Inspiron B130 starts at $489.
Consider a Notebook Alternative
You may be able to get by without a laptop entirely, particularly if you have a smart phone capable of sending and receiving e-mail, Web browsing, and viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents. For example, a Research in Motion BlackBerry or a Palm Treo, particularly when coupled with a full-size, foldable keyboard, may be all you need. Earlier this year I tested each of these smart phones to see how they'd do as notebook replacements; the resulting articles are archived online:
- "BlackBerry as Notebook Alternative, Part 1"
- "BlackBerry as Notebook Alternative, Part 2"
- "Treo as Notebook Alternative, Part 1"
- "Treo as Notebook Alternative, Part 2"
Several readers have written in praise of older, discontinued handheld PCs as notebook alternatives. These devices use the Windows CE operating system (a precursor to the current Windows Mobile OS), turn on instantly, are smaller than most laptops, and can run for five or more hours on a battery charge. Best of all, you can often pick one up on eBay for less than $200. For my story on handheld PCs, read "Ideal Laptop Replacements."
Intrigued, I picked up three handheld PCs on eBay recently: a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 720, a NEC MobilePro 800, and an IBM WorkPad z50. Next week I'll report on my experiences using them as laptop alternatives.