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Gadgets for Travelers

In this post, we will focus on various useful electronics gadgets needed for a traveler. The important criteria for selecting any gadget for the traveler are
  1. Usefulness: It should be very useful and make your life easy while away from home to justify carrying it. Multipurpose devices are preferred.
  2. Light and small: It should be very light and should have a small foot print and easy to carry.
  3. Ease of Use: It should be easy to use irrespective of the location ex: Type of Power socket and voltage compatibility (220/110V)
  4. Rugged and reliable: It should not be flimsy or easily damaged in transit
  5. Should work in tandem with other gadgets you carry, (ideally should complement each other.)
  6. Reasonable cost
  7. Internet enabled /Network enabled: It should be able to connect to Internet or Cloud so that you have access to your essential data
It is a good idea to carry an iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air (discussed in TG Guru #29 20th Sep ’11) which complement each other and seamlessly share the media and data across the entire 3 platform. Each one of them is designed best to serve you in different scenarios. The beauty of all these devices is that you can work any one of the device and switch over to any other, thanks to iCloud support. ex: Use iPhone while on the move, iPad after you settled down in your seat and MacBook air in the hotel room for serious content creation. You take photo on iPhone and it automatically appears in your iPad and MacBook Air, thanks to the new feature called Photo Stream. You can start putting together a presentation on your iPad while travelling and once you check in the hotel room boot up your MacBook Air and continue the work from where you left in the iPad. These are some of the things I have highlighted you can do with these seamless integration. Similar things are available in other platforms too but it is not exactly evolved to this extent. It is more off saving and retrieving docs from the cloud.

The following accessories will enable / compliment these Apple or Android devices you may have already.

Personal Hotspot

First thing you need while travelling is a decent Internet access. You cannot rely on hotspots everywhere; it is hard to find one at least in India. So it is better to carry your own personal hotspot which provides you a good connectivity.

You need to have a personal hotspot in your pocket. You can achieve this in many ways.
  1. Get a smart phone which supports the personal hotspot feature – ex: iPhone / Android / Windows smart phones. Easy to carry and use but it drains your mobile battery
  2. Get a Mi-Fi router from one of the service providers (ex: Vodafone / Tata DoCoMo/ Airtel / Idea Mi-Fi routers): It is independent of your mobile.
  3. Get a 3G to Wi-Fi generic router which supports a 3G dongles. (Huawei 3) It is generally costly and not supported
  4. Get a generic Mi-Fi router which accepts 3G SIM from any service providers.
Mifi Routers

Mi-Fi is nothing but Mobile Wi-Fi. It is a dedicated Personal hotspot device unlike smart phones so that you can expect more features and better control over it. You can connect any Wi-Fi enabled devices within the range of 10mts to Mi-Fi router to access Internet. MiFi devices were an innovation from Novatel USA. Later many such devices have come into the market. Some of them accept 3GM SIM card and some of them accept 3G USB dongle. Most of the service providers give unlimited 3G data only plan whereas similar plans for your 3G Phone may not be available.

MiFi Router from various service providers

Vodafone Mi-Fi R201 cost you Rs 5500/- and support 72.HSDPA. You can connect up to five Wi-Fi devices plus a physically tethered client at any instance. This has a monochrome OLED display for setup and is stylish in appearance. It has a nice feature of HTTP files sharing. It comes with micro SD card storage option too. For wired connectivity, you need to install a desktop client (compatible with PC and Mac; It is highly recommended. The only issue I could fine is that you cannot disable the cellular access to save battery when you are using it as USB storage device.

Tata DoCoMo has a similar device called Photon Wi-Fi 3G Wi-Fi hub - http://www.tatadocomo.com/photon-3g-wifi-hub.aspx

Huawei S5830 Mobile Wi-Fi

Huawei S5830 is a very small Mobile Wi-Fi router which can be carried in your pocket. It accepts a 3G signal (3G SIM) and outputs a Wi-Fi signal. It comes with a USB charger (mini USB), 5 LED indicators and 3 switches in the right side On/off, Wi-Fi on and another for enabling internet connection. LED indicators will change colors, blink /static to function as a status indicator. Sometimes it is little confusing to distinguish between colors, a single line LCD display would have been nicer. It has a chargeable 1500 mAH battery which will last for 5 to 6 hours of browsing. It also has a mini SD card slot so that it can be used as USB storage too. USB connector is the old fashion thick (V1) mini USB.

Basically Huawei sells this for 3G network in UK and in India we get this as an unlocked device so that any 3G SIM from any carrier will work. I have tested this using BSNL 3G SIM and found it is working. It has got nice range too. Since it is an unlocked device you need to be little tech savvy to change any default settings. Even without changing anything also it will work.

  1. You can share your 3G connections with many devices so that your friends can also connect’
  2. It support all latest Wi-FI protection even WPA2 personal.
  3. You can use your 3G SIM directly
  4. It can double up as a USB thumb drive, (mini USB to USB cable is required)
  5. Good Build quality
  6. Good Wi-Fi range
  7. Very small to carry around in your pocket
  8. It goes off to deep sleep when you are not using it, saving power
  1. You need to carry one more device and battery charger (typical USB charger, your blackberry charger may do)
  2. You need time to understand the LED indicators.
Olive Nexus VR-9

This is Mi-Fi router is made in India and accepts 3G USB dongle unlike Huawei E5830. It is also small enough to put into your pocket.

Apart from the normal Wi-Fi support it has an Ethernet port. It is powered by 1700mAH Lithium Ion battery. It can be configured like a normal Wi-Fi router using a browser. There are too many features similar to what you find in a routine Wi-Fi router. Their website (www.olivetelecom.in) gives a list of USB dongles it supports. Unfortunately it did not work with my BSNL 3G Dongle (Indian make) which is not mentioned in the list too. It is very cheap compared to Huawei, just Rs 3500/- . Its build quality is not anything great; they have used very cheap plastics.

3G to Wi-Fi routers from D-Link

D-link DWR-131 3G pocket router can be used for connecting both 3G USB modems as well as DSL broadband. So your primary connection can be DSL broadband and 3G can be a backup. This has a 1700mAH battery and cost around RS 4200 /- in India.

With dimensions (L x W x H) : 104 x 80 x 22 mm it is certainly not small. But it has many advanced features which smaller ones may not have.

Travel router TL-WR702N

The TL-WR702N is the claimed to be the smallest Wi-Fi router in the World. It is designed for use with tablets, smart phones, and other portable electronic wireless devices. It can be powered by an external power adapter or USB connection to a computer, can connect to the internet and share the connection around an average sized room at 150Mbps.The device’s tiny size makes it ideal for use on the road and is powerful enough to satisfy almost any basic wireless application requirement.

It is easy to use just plug in the broadband cable and enter the password and instantly it becomes a wireless hotspot.

It has a Micro USB port and can be powered by an external power adapter or via a USB connection to a computer. When traveling, users can plug the TL-WR702N into their computer’s USB port and share their Wi-Fi connection with family and friends. It has multiple operating modes.

It can be used as AP, router, and a repeater. It supports advanced features, g/n support and encryption WPA2 personal. It works in 2.4GHz and supports up to 150 MHz

Pico Projector

Milli Pico Projector will come in handy if you want to give a quick presentation to a smaller set of audience. It is designed to project images of up to 70” from a mobile phone. It supports 640X480 resolutions with a contrast ratio 100:1. It can ideally be used with iPhone (or any other phone with an AV out) with a hands free stand to support. It can be used to show videos or pictures on the wall. Use the chain wheel to fine tune the focal distance. It is available in Bangalore for RS 25K/-

Wireless Media Storage

You always wanted to carry your collection of movies, music, photos and books while traveling and play / watch it in your iPad or smart phone or Windows laptops. The products described below offers very easy solution for this. You can keep all your media files in your Backpack and stream to your iPad wirelessly. While traveling in a plane you can keep the wireless storage described here in your carry bag kept in overhead luggage space and stream your favorite moves to the iPad you are holding.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage

Seagate GoFlex Satellite is a 500GB mobile wireless storage which can be connected to iPad/ iPhones/ Mac or Android phones / Windows Laptop which are Wi-Fi enabled. It looks similar to other GoFlex portable HDDs from Seagate with small power button on one side. Just like other GoFlex devices from Seagate it has user replaceable

It comes with a 500GB storage and can be used for sharing media files (Video / Audio / Photos) and documents (pdf, ePub/ Mobi/ Chm etc.). It has a built-in battery life of 5 hours or 25 hours of standby. Its Wi-Fi supports g/n and has a range of 30 ft which directly connects with your Wi-Fi device (in adhoc mode) and stream media usingann app with full functionality or a browser with limited functionality. For iPad or iPhone you can download GoFlex media, free apps from iTunes stores and connect it to Satellite Mobile storage. Goflex Satellite can connect up to 3 devices to so while on the road your entire family can share media from a single satellite which will be charged using the car charger provided. The car charger which comes with the package can also be used for charging your iPad or iPhone with suitable cable.

How does it work?

First you need to transfer the content you want to carry from your computer to GoFlex Satellite storage using a USB interface. You need to remove the side flap and attach the USB 3.0 USM adaptor supplied to the device as shown below and connect it to the USB port of computer. Just treat it as an external HDD while transferring files - you can drag drop files. Once the transfer is over, disconnect the USB USM adaptor and put back the flap cover. Charge the Satellite using the power adaptor supplied. Now you are ready to go. Put on the Wi-Fi and connect your iPad (or any other device) directly to the Satellite, no need for Wi-Fi routers.

Once it is connected to the iPad/ iPhone, open the media application (GoFlex Media) and you will get a set of menus from which you can access all the media contents and Documents. It can play only iOS supported formats like MP4, MPEG-4, and H.264. It will not support MKV or DivX but there is way out. You can use the built in browser of any media player (ex: O player) using the URL (http://goflexsatellite.com) to access these media files but with some limitations on performance.

The following picture shows menus given by GoFlex Media apps. The media files will be shown as thumb nails and can be played by clicking on any of them. Most of them are played directly within the apps, almost seamlessly the Apple supported formats. But for playing .divx and .Mkv you need to either convert these files to MP4 using third party programs like handbrake (handbrake.fr/) or open it within the media player which supports web access (ex: OPlayer) . The browser based players can handle only low bit rate videos and it is almost useless when it comes to HD videos. It is better to copy the movie from your collection to the iPad and play it using AV

Documents in ePub or Mob or pdf can be “open in” iBook / Kindle or any other supported reader.

There are a couple of drawbacks with the present solution of Goflex Satellite. Once it is connected you cannot access Internet since it uses a private network. One of the biggest irritant is that it cannot play .mkv or .divX files. I bought it for Rs 11800 from Bangalore.

  1. Large Storage 500GB
  2. Easy to setup and use
  3. Good GUI for Goflex Media Apps
  4. Good Battery Life
  1. Cannot play .mkv and .divx video files within the Goflex apps
  2. No internet while connected to Goflex Satellite storage
Kingston Wi-Drive

Kingston Wi-drive offers a similar solution, the main difference is that Wi-drive is flash based, so it has much smaller footprint, similar to an iPhone 4. But it comes with 16GB / 32GB of storage which is far less than that of Seagate Satellite’s 500GB. But surprisingly, apart from smaller size it does not take advantage of any other good attributes of a flash drive. Infact with USB 2.0 interface the data transfer speed is less than that of Seagate Satellite which is equipped with USB 3.0. Again it cannot boast of better battery life owe to its thin battery (some reviewers reported differently). With a price tag of $175/- for 32GB, it is much more costly per GB compared to even iPad internal flash storage. So Wi-Drive is meant for those who made the mistake of buying 16GB iPad instead of a 64GB iPad!

Wi-Drive comes with Mini USB connector to transfer the data from a PC or MAC. It GUI is really basic not comparable with Goflex Media apps. Over all I do not recommend this over Seagate Satellite which is a far more useful device for the price we pay.

While connecting to Wi-drive / Goflex Satellite you cannot access Internet even over 3G since both iOS and Android operating systems put preference for Wi-Fi over 3G for data transfer. Currently there is no way to overcome this issue.

Pogoplug Mobile

Pogoplug mobile enables you to create your own private cloud storage without any monthly subscription fee. Following photo shows the pogoplus mobile hardware. It comes with USB and Ethernet interface where you connect a USB hard disk of your choice of any size and hook up to the wireless router via Ethernet port and create an account with pogoplus server and you are done. Your private cloud storage is ready. You load the media files into the drive and it is available across the Globe to access. It is so simple. For copying photographs you have a SD card reader built into it.

Pogoplus cloud can be accessed via a browser or an application which can installed in your smart phone. You can access all your media files while on the move, what you need is just an internet connection and an iPad or an iPhone or Android Phone with the Pogo apps installed.

Following photo gives an idea of the PogoPlus Mobile package and iOS app.

It costs you around $79/- For common man it is easiest setup NAS which can be shared across Internet.