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Sun, Jan 09, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Lightweight hardware invaluable to wireless travellers

By Susan Stellin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

When business travelers tell you they're trying to keep their weight down, they may not be talking about cutting back on carbohydrates or spending more time on the treadmill.

Often, the weight they're most worried about carrying around is inside their computer bags, where even an ultralight laptop, with all the accessories that pack on the pounds, can tip the scales.

Electronics manufacturers, it seems, are simultaneously correcting and compounding the problem, designing products that are smaller and lighter, yet offering more and more gadgets that travelers feel compelled to take with them.

"I feel like a third or more of what I have to carry on a typical trip is electronics hardware," said Katie Hall, a civil engineering consultant who keeps a box ready to pack with just travel hardware, including power cords, a phone cable, a portable scanner and a mouse.

But one product that cuts down on some of the weight in her computer bag is a US$60 DC-to-AC power converter made by the American Power Conversion Corp. It enables her to plug her laptop into the different types of power outlets available on some aircraft, as well as the cigarette lighter outlets in cars.

Although these adapters can eliminate the need to carry extra computer batteries on a long flight, one challenge for business travelers is that different aircraft use different types of power outlets, and the outlets are not found at every seat on planes that offer power to passengers. (The outlets are mostly in first- and business-class cabins, and sometimes scattered throughout coach.)

To make sure she gets a seat with an outlet, even though she typically flies coach, Hall said that as she is booking her flight she pulls up SeatGuru.com, a Web site that displays annotated diagrams of the planes nearly two dozen airlines fly. Travelers can see not only which seats have power outlets (and what type), but also find out which seats offer extra legroom, lack overhead storage or do not recline.

With the APC power converter, Hall said she still had to carry her laptop's power cord, but other products eliminate the need to carry multiple power adapters -- often referred to as bricks -- for all the devices business travelers typically take on the road. Paul Moriarty, an executive with a wireless technology company, said he cut down on his cords about a year ago by purchasing the iGo Juice universal power adapter, which can charge multiple devices using aircraft, auto or regular wall outlets.

"I've got a brick for my laptop, a brick for my PDA and a brick for my cell phone -- I figured if I could combine those all into one brick, I could save a lot of weight," Moriarty said, though somehow his computer bag still manages to weigh in at 11kg. The iGo Juice from Mobility Electronics Inc, which retails for US$120, comes with a set of tips that work with various gadgets; customers can buy additional tips as needed for their own gear, as well as a US$25 accessory that lets them charge a laptop and another device at the same time.

The only downside of this "one adapter fits all" solution, Moriarty said, "is if you lose the brick, you're back to paper and pencil."

Another computer accessory he said he could not live without is a thumb drive -- a portable hard drive also known as a flash drive that plugs into a computer's USB port, making it possible to swap large files between computers without the need to communicate over a network.

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