At most hotels, it's all about the bed. At the Wyndham chain, it's all about the chair. Specifically, I'm talking about the Smart Chair--a new-millennium update of the easy chair.
With its rounded back, curved arms, and matching footstool, the Smart Chair has a slightly 1950s Father Knows Best thing going on. But here's the difference: The chair features a built-in power source for charging laptops or gadgets and an ethernet port for broadband Internet. The chair itself plugs into a power socket.
In early February, I stayed in the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Toronto, which had just been converted from a Ramada Inn. While there, I had the opportunity to try out the Smart Chair. To see a video demo, go to my blog Traveler 2.0.
In addition to Toronto, the Smart Chair is currently in Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, and Princeton, New Jersey Wyndham properties. Plans are to introduce the chair to all Wyndham Hotel and Wyndham Garden Hotel-branded properties by year end.
A Place to Plug In
Each armrest on the Smart Chair has a pivoting table. The idea is that you kick back, put your laptop on one of the tables, plug in, and check e-mail or surf the Web. On the other armrest table, you could have a snack or bottle of water.
Michael Graves & Associates, the firm behind a line of high-style home accessories sold at Target, designed the Smart Chair. The company also designed other items in Wyndham rooms, including the ice bucket, coffee maker, and clock radio.
At first, the Smart Chair seemed gimmicky. And I have no doubt some travelers will refuse to see it as anything else. But before long, I found myself spending most of my waking hotel-room time in the chair. It's firm yet comfortable, and it makes the hotel room seem cozier. I like the pockets on either side, into which you can slip newspapers or magazines. The pivoting tables are a great idea, too. Why don't all easy chairs come with them?
I have three minor gripes, however.
When I positioned the two armrest tables together, they didn't form a level surface. Instead, one table was slightly higher than the other, which made it awkward to rest my laptop across both. This was the case with four different Smart Chairs I tried at the Toronto hotel. (A Wyndham spokesperson said the armrest tables are supposed to be level with one another.)
The Smart Chair doesn't encourage proper posture. If you have a repetitive strain injury, I don't recommend spending much time working on your laptop in this chair. However, my room (as do most Wyndham rooms) had a Herman Miller Mirra chair, which does offer ergonomic comfort.
The Smart Chair is covered with a fabric designed to resist stains and bacteria, the hotel chain says. That's perfectly understandable, but it feels a bit stiff.
Amenities, Location, Rates
Internet access: In addition to the Smart Chair's ethernet port, my room had wireless Internet access. As is the case with many hotel Wi-Fi hot spots, signal strength can vary dramatically. In room 509, I couldn't get a decent wireless signal. Next door in room 511, however, I had no trouble going wireless. This is why it's always nice to have both wireless and ethernet options in a guest room--something not all hotels offer.
Business center: As of this writing, the Toronto Wyndham lacks a guest business center. A hotel manager said plans are to open one "soon." In the meantime, you can e-mail documents to the front desk for printing. They'll print up to five pages free; after that, it's 15 cents per page.
Security: The in-room safe, located in the closet, was large enough to accommodate my 15-inch widescreen laptop. But the closet lacked an overhead light, so at night it was difficult to enter my security combination on the safe's keypad.
Entertainment: My room had a 32-inch Philips LCD. At the time of my visit, no in-room movies were offered, though a front desk employee said they would be added in the near future.
Bed: As for Wyndham's Be Well bed, mine was like the chair--firm but comfortable. You get plenty of pillows, too, which I love.
Food: There was no minibar or fridge in my room. But I had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, which was surprising good. The lobby espresso bar/lounge helped me get going in the morning.
Workout: The Toronto hotel features an indoor pool that's long enough for lap swimming (though the water was cold), plus treadmills and other health-club equipment.
Location: Near the intersection of highways 401 and 404, the hotel is about a 30 to 40 minute subway ride from downtown Toronto and sights such as the CN Tower. The subway station nearest the hotel is a 10 to 15 minute walk or 5-minute, $5.50 (Canadian) cab ride away.
Rates: Rates at the Toronto property are quite reasonable. A recent check found rates as low as $89 (Canadian) for a room with a king bed. In Austin, recent rates at the Wyndham Garden Hotel Rates began at $143. The Wyndham Garden Atlanta's rates started at $116.
As of now, there are only 92 Wyndham-branded properties--not a whole lot, compared to chains such as Hilton or Marriott. Still, if there's a Wyndham near where you'll be going for business, I'd recommend giving it a try. Regardless of whether you ensconce yourself in the Smart Chair or dismiss it as a gimmick, Wyndham offers a solid mix of tech amenities and business-friendly rates.
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
One Way to Ditch the Laptop: Can you travel with a USB drive instead of a laptop? Yes, if you store the necessary applications and docs on the drive. You also need access to a PC at your destination (such as at a hotel business center). If you go this route, make sure your USB drive has a read rate of 1.9 megabytes per second or faster. Read other tips for traveling with a USB drive in "Carry a PC in Your Pocket."
A $4382 Cell Phone: It's easy to gripe about cell phone prices, with Apple's iPhone at $400 and $500. But this will make you feel better: A cell phone purchased in 1988 would cost $4382 in today's dollars. As for laptops, a Toshiba portable 20 years ago would cost $7182 today, when adjusted for inflation. Check out our tech retrospective for more mindblowers.
Will Laptop Batteries Be Banned In Flight? Laptop batteries can potentially catch fire or explode. What would happen if this occurred during a flight? What's the solution? Find out in "Will the FAA Ban Laptop Batteries?"
Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.