Laptop Battery Power Tips

In some respects, life as a laptop-carrying frequent flyer has gotten a little easier. Exhibit A: Though far from commonplace, it's not freakishly bizarre anymore to find a power port at your airplane seat--even in coach. Virgin America and American Airlines are among the most generous airlines in terms of supplying power ports to passengers.

But it's still way too easy to run out of juice in flight, or during the course of a long day away from a wall socket. Here are some tips for keeping your laptop running as long as possible when you're on the go.

Ditch the Peripherals, Tweak Settings

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Sync Your Phone Wirelessly--for Free

In early February, Google released Google Sync for Mobile, a free utility that lets you sync your Google calendar and contacts wirelessly with Apple iPhones, RIM BlackBerrys, and phones running Windows Mobile. (Currently, Symbian OS phones are limited to syncing contacts only.) I like what I see after two weeks of use, though there's some room for improvement.

The Back Story

Google Sync for Mobile, like practically every Web-based service the search giant offers, is technically in "beta." (Introduced in 2004, Gmail is still in "beta," too.)

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Long-Lived Laptops From Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo

My Apple MacBook Air has a lot going for it. Beauty, a svelte profile, the Mac OS. Unfortunately, long battery life isn't among its assets. (The Air's nonremovable battery lasts about 3 hours with full screen brightness and Wi-Fi networking on, in my experience.)

If you're in the market for a laptop that will last you from LA to New York, or longer, the Air's not for you. This week I discuss four other portables with batteries that probably won't run out of juice before you do.

By the way, if you're not in the market for a new laptop, you can buy external battery packs to keep you going. The Duracell Powersource Mobile 100 is a good option. It's about $116 and up online; go to PCW Shop & Compare for pricing.

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Share Peripherals Between Laptops and Desktops

A few years ago, my Dell Inspiron 3700 blue-screened right after I returned from a trip. I administered laptop CPR; no response. Suddenly, I faced multiple deadlines with no computer.

From that painful experience, I learned a valuable lesson: I needed a backup computer. I decided to use a desktop as my main computer in the office and a laptop for when I'm away, and to serve as a backup. Currently, my desktop is a Dell Dimension and my laptop is an Apple MacBook Air. I sync folders between the two automatically using Microsoft's free Windows Live Sync.

Recently, however, I've wanted to get more use out of my MacBook Air while in the office, especially for editing video in iMovie. I also wanted the Air to have the same ergonomic setup as my Dell.

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Cost-Justifying the Kindle 2

I didn't buy Amazon's first Kindle e-book reader when it premiered in late 2007 for two reasons. First, I rarely buy first-generation hardware. Why pay to be a beta tester? Second, I look at a computer screen all day. I didn't want to look at yet another screen for night reading.

But when Amazon's new Kindle 2 was announced, my first reason for holding out evaporated. And the Kindle's new features eroded my resolve: It can store 1,500 books; it can go for up to two weeks without a battery recharge; it has a crisper screen.

So when the Kindle 2 was announced on February 9, I preordered one. However, soon after, I read David Leonhardt's piece in The New York Times, "To Spend or to Save? Trick Question." The premise: Consumers can be frugal and help the economy, too, by spending money now that will save them money later. In one example, Leonhardt wrote: "Frequent book buyers who don't mind screen reading can buy the new Kindle. It costs $359, but most new books then cost less than $10."

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Cheap Laptops Offer Solid Value

The $500 laptop isn't news. Way back in October 2005 we tested three cheap notebooks and found they were quite capable. I reported last fall on laptops that cost between $400 and $700.

Recently I've noticed that finding a capable laptop for $500 or less has been getting easier. For example, a recent check on Best Buy's Web site uncovered no fewer than 16 laptops selling for $350 to $500. (Netbooks weren't included in my tally.) And those laptops were from major computer manufacturers, including Acer, Toshiba, HP, and Dell. When I checked PC World.com's Shop & Compare, I found several models for $500 or less from Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, and Toshiba. For example, the Dell Inspiron 1525 was $449 and the Dell Vostro 1510 sold for $479 when I checked in mid February.

So what do you get for $500 or less? I took a look at the specs of the laptops in this price category offered on BestBuy.com and on PC World.com's Shop & Compare to find out.

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Free Software for Mobile Professionals

Given the economic drought we're in, it's inevitable that some free software-as-a-service tools would turn to dust. Last week, I mentioned that Jott Networks discontinued its free, basic Jott service. Yahoo plans to shut down its free Briefcase online storage service by March 30. And not long ago, Google announced it was no longer offering Google Notebook, its free Web page clipping tool, to new users.

But there are still plenty of free Web tools available that are particularly useful for mobile professionals. Here are a few I use.

Gmail: Web Mail, Online and Off

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