Recharging Laptops, Netbooks, Gadgets Abroad

Traveling within the U.S. can be stressful and expensive. When it's time to dig out your passport, there's no telling what will happen (other than you'll wish you hadn't had your passport photo taken at Walgreens). Packing a laptop and other gear doesn't make international travel any simpler, either.

So, to make your upcoming globetrot a bit easier, this week I'll focus on what you need to know about recharging electronics abroad. Next week: using your mobile phone overseas.

Get Ready to Adapt

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Google Voice for iPhone: Missing in Action

Big Brother is a little late in arriving, having been expected by 1984 at the latest. But he has shown his face twice recently in the world of mobile technology: First, in the mass removal from Amazon Kindles of George Orwell's 1984 (oh, sweet irony) and Animal Farm e-books. Second, when Apple banished all Google Voice-related apps from its App Store--including one excellent app, GV Mobile, which Apple had approved and which had been available in the iTunes store since early May.

Amazon's move was by far the more outrageous of the two. If you'd purchased Orwell's e-books from Amazon's Kindle store, you'd have awakened one fine July morning to find that an entity more powerful than you had spirited those e-books away in the dead of night, like dissenters in a totalitarian regime.

Okay, so that metaphor is a bit over the top--but so was what Amazon did. Amazon says it took this drastic action because Orwell's publisher changed its mind about distributing the late author's works as Kindle e-books. People who downloaded Orwell books to their Kindles received a refund--and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ate a big slice of humble pie after the public hue and cry. But the point from this escapade was clear: Through digital rights management, your ability to read, view, listen to, watch, or use a digitally downloaded product can go poof at any time.

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Virgin Mobile 3G Mobile Broadband, Zero Contract

What price freedom? In terms of 3G wireless Internet access, it's about $40 to $60 per month, with a two-year contract. But unlike most other mobile broadband services from U.S. wireless carriers, Virgin Mobile USA's new Broadband2Go service doesn't shackle you while setting you free. You can use the wireless mobile broadband service as needed--no contract required.

Despite some set-up difficulty, I found the Broadband2Go service easy to use, mostly reliable, and reasonably fast (depending on location). I recommend it for anyone who needs a mobile broadband connection a few times a month or so but doesn't want to be tied to a data service contract.

The Back Story

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Three Ways to Reduce Your Communications Costs

In San Francisco, where I live, the miserable month of Fogust is nigh. Every August, the fog and wind perpetually blow through town, raising goosebumps on the exposed limbs of unsuspecting (if not astonished) tourists. Elsewhere, most of the U.S.--particularly the East Coast--is trapped in the bell jar of stagnant, humid dog days. In short: Wherever you live, August is the ideal month to get out of Dodge. And if you've got your Internet access strategy figured out, you and your virtual office can stay out of town for an extended absence, while still keeping up with business.

This week I've got three strategies for keeping phone costs as low as possible when you're away, while still making it easy for others to reach you. By the way, these tips are for U.S. residents while within the country. In a future blog, I'll offer tips and strategies for keeping communications costs low while traveling internationally.

1. Don't Call, Skype

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Pay-as-You-Go Internet

The recession isn't likely to take a vacation this summer, but there's no reason you can't. In fact, if business is slow, this may be the perfect time for a month-long home swap, or to hit the road with your camper and French poodle, Steinbeck style. Either way, with a little planning, you can still get work done by taking your virtual office with you. And if you're careful, you can set up your virtual office without spending a lot of money.

The first item on your to-do list is to figure out how you'll get broadband Internet access while you're away. This week let's take a look at your options, including two new contract-free, pay-as-you-go 3G mobile broadband services. Next week, how to keep your communications costs down when you're away from home.

Planning Your Internet Access

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Three Reasons to Travel With a Kindle

I've owned an Amazon Kindle 2 since the e-book reader became available in February. I've traveled with it on several occasions. And though the jury's still out for me regarding reading fiction on a Kindle, I strongly recommend it for business travelers who need to keep up with newspapers, magazines, and business documents on the go. Here are three reasons why.

1. You Don't Have to Sprint to the Airport Newsstand

Before a recent flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, my partner and I faced an abysmally long security queue. I was worried we were going to miss our flight. And making a quick dash to the newsstand to pick up reading material was out of the question.

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