As I mentioned last week, I recently tried limiting myself to just one carry-on bag when flying. I couldn’t do it–and frankly, I don’t recommend the practice. However, the exercise prompted me to re-evaluate all the gear and related accessories I normally pack. Here are two items that will continue to make the cut. Next week: three more, plus one just-for-fun accessory.
1. Belkin‘s Mini Surge Protector With USB Charger
Hotel-room power outlets can be difficult to reach. The outlets you want to use may already be spoken for by the TV, lamp, or bedside alarm clock. Finding an available power outlet in an airport departure gate can also be a challenge.
For these and other reasons, I pack Belkin’s Mini Surge Protector With USB Charger ($16 and up online) on every trip. The power strip offers three, three-pronged AC outlets for recharging laptops or other devices, plus two powered USB ports for iPods and such. It’s also, as its name implies, a surge protector. I love the ability to rotate the power strip’s plug by 360 degrees: If you’re trying to connect the Mini Surge Protector to an already crowded wall outlet, you can position the power strip sideways.
A few downsides are worth mentioning. The Mini Surge Protector is thick and weighs 6.6 ounces, a bit more than other portable power strips. Given its bulk, you may not be able to squeeze it behind a hotel room bed or into other tight confines, regardless of the rotating plug. But attaching the power strip to a 1-foot extension cord, like one from Cables To Go will save the day in those circumstances
Note: Kensington just announced the Portable Power Outlet (list price: $25). Like the Belkin product, it offers three AC outlets and two powered USB ports and offers surge protection. Unlike the Mini Surge Protector, the Kensington product has its own cord. I haven’t tested this product, however.
2. StarTech WiFi Detective
StarTech’s Wi-Fi Detective (about $54 and up online) helps you quickly discover Wi-Fi networks in the vicinity without having to start your laptop. (You can accomplish the same thing with an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch, or another Wi-Fi enabled handheld.) The device, about the size of a package of stick chewing gum, lets you view information about nearby networks on its small LCD, including each network’s signal strength and security protocol (such as WPA, WPA2, and WEP). A handy Seek button, refreshes its list of wireless networks.
Windows users can plug the Wi-Fi detective into a USB port and use it as a wireless network adapter. Just about every laptop in the past few years has built-in Wi-Fi, so this feature is mainly useful for those with older laptops.
You recharge the device via USB connection. In fact, you can repower the Wi-Fi Detective by plugging it into one of the Belkin Mini Surge Protector’s powered USB ports. My only complaints: The Wi-Fi Detective doesn’t attach to a keychain, like some of its competitors; the Targus WiFi Scanner (starting at $53 online) comes to mind. Also, its USB connector is covered by a cap that could be easy to lose. But these are minor complaints.
If there’s a gadget or accessory you always travel with, I’d like to hear about it. Please send me e-mail.
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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.