Travel Tech 101 by Phil Baker

December 22, 2005: The 2006 Outlook: Faster, Cheaper, Better
Two thousand and six should be an exciting year in travel and technology. New services and hardware are coming in personal computing, entertainment and communications. We'll be able to buy technology with amazing functionality at low prices unimaginable just a few years ago. Here's what's coming in PCs, personal entertainment and cell phones.

December 15, 2005: The Best New Products (and One Bad One) of 2005
With 2005 drawing to a close, now is the perfect time to look back on the year's best products. It hasn't been a year for a big blockbuster. Mostly, we've seen upgrades to existing products. So what will 2005 actually be remembered for? The emergence of the "new tech" firms like Google. It will also be remembered for the year's worst high-tech product.

December 1, 2005: Two Hot New Mobile Phones for Life on the Road
I've been kicking the tires on two of the hottest new mobile phones for business travelers. Each one offers a huge array of features and capabilities. The LG VX9800 from Verizon Wireless is primarily an entertainment device with strong phone capabilities, while the Motorola A780, for use on GSM networks, is one of the smallest smart phones around.

November 17, 2005: Two Notable New Notebooks for Life on the Road
An expanded array of wireless services is now available and notebook computer prices continue to drop. And the good news just gets better: One of the latest laptops has all of the features of a desktop machine in a 1.1-inch thick package. The other bears a remarkable resemblance to one of Sony's most-revered notebooks, but is 40 percent less expensive.

November 3, 2005: The Palm T|X: Smaller, Lighter, Cheaper, Better
The new $299 Palm T|X makes a lot of sense for those who prefer to carry a tiny phone, like the Motorola Razr, but still want a powerful organizer. It's also a good step up for those still using an old Palm III or V. While the T|X works much like the older Palm models and is compatible with many of the applications, it's worlds apart in what it can do.

October 20, 2005: How to Keep in Touch From Almost Anywhere
Like many business travelers, I'm addicted to my BlackBerry and I've been testing Research in Motion's latest and most popular version, the Model 7290. I'm convinced it's simply the best way to stay in touch from almost anywhere in the world. A series of smart improvements from earlier versions make it the perfect PDA and a pretty good world phone, too.

September 29, 2005: How Do We Cut Through the Charging Chaos?
The mobile electronics we carry are getting smaller, more affordable and richer in features, but there's been precious little improvement of the AC adapters that are needed to keep them running. We end up carrying too many. They often end up as a tangled mess at the bottom of a briefcase. And it's a pain to pair the proper cord to the correct product.

September 15, 2005: Apple Eyes an Even Bigger Slice of the Music-Player Pie
Apple's announcement of new iPods last week was both good news and bad. Good news for Apple shareholders, music fans, accessory companies and business travelers. Bad news for Apple's competitors in the portable music-player industry. Most notable: the nano, a skinny, scaled-down iPod about the size of a business card.

August 18, 2005: Finally! A Pocket PC That's Worthy of the Name
A San Francisco firm called OQO can claim to be the first, and so far only, company to develop a truly pocket-sized Windows computer worthy of the name. The Model 01 sells for $1,899. I wouldn't recommend it as your only computer because of its limited memory and slower processor, but it is an excellent second PC for traveling and mobile use.

July 28, 2005: Reorganization is the Mother of High-Tech Reviews
I recently reorganized my home office. Keeping in mind that office reorganization is the mother of technological reviews, here's a look at a selection of new gadgets that might be appropriate for the life you're living now. I'm impressed with a squid-like device that replaces a power strip, the Swiss Army Knife of nightlights and some stylish product cases.

July 14, 2005: Spreadsheets With Style--and Visual Clarity
Xcelsius lets you turn a dull, complex spreadsheet, as well as other types of data, into a cool, animated view. Xcelsius works with Microsoft's Excel and Macromedia's Flash Player programs, both resident on millions of computers. Excel provides the data, formulas and relationships. Flash Player provides the graphical interface. Xcelsius ties it all together.

June 30, 2005: IBM Hits a Home Run With Its First Convertible Tablet
With the introduction of its first tablet notebook computer, the ThinkPad X41 Convertible Tablet, IBM has hit a home run. It maintains the appearance and functionality of the superb X-series without adding significant size or weight. The X41 eliminates any reason not to buy a tablet computer if you're purchasing a new notebook.

June 16, 2005: High-Tech Heaven Is a Useful Hotel Clock Radio
I'm convinced that hotels purposely install clock radios so ungainly that no one in his or her right mind would steal them. As a result, few business travelers even bother to use them. But the Hilton Family Clock Radio works well, which makes it unlike many high-tech products that pile on the features but ignore usability.

June 2, 2005: Beyond the Laptop: the Tablet PC Comes of Age (Part II)
Tablet computers running Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 now work so well that it's worth considering one if you are looking to buy a new notebook. You'll find that some things are easier to do with a stylus and touch-sensitive screen than with a keyboard and mouse. Things like scribbling notes, E-mailing sketches and rearranging PowerPoint slides.

May 12, 2005: Beyond the Laptop: the Tablet PC Comes of Age
I've been testing an update to a computer operating system that's quite remarkable. And it's not Apple's new Tiger OS for the Mac. It's Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005. It's a huge leap forward in providing new functionality to the PC. Handwriting recognition has improved dramatically, battery life is longer and the hardware works better.

April 28, 2005: Treo Versus Blackberry: How Do You Choose?
One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is: "Should I get a Treo or a Blackberry?" The answer depends on what your priorities are. I've used both devices for more than a year and here are my findings: The Blackberry is a little smaller, a bit cheaper and much better for E-mail, but the Treo is better as a mobile phone and for PDA applications.

April 14, 2005: Reinventing the Wheel. The Wheeled Case, That Is.
Whether it's the long lines at the airports or all the high-tech gadgetry we carry around, the rolling briefcase has become a must-have item for many business travelers. I have been evaluating nine different models ranging in price from $99 to $475. My conclusion: Higher prices do not necessarily mean better cases for frequent flyers.

March 31, 2005: The Best Ultra-Portable on the Market
In my search for the best ultra-portable laptop, I've looked at numerous products, but I've found Fujitsu's LifeBook P7010 to be my favorite. It builds on the Sony's revolutionary design but includes a number of smart additional features, it's less expensive and it has more ports and connections than any other machine in its class.

March 10, 2005: Accessorizing Your Laptop
Computer accessories have become a multibillion-dollar industry with scores of companies that peddle millions of mice, keyboards, cases and many other gadgets. How do you wade through the thicket of competing paraphernalia? I look at several recently introduced accessories that are useful--or at least intriguing--for the business traveler.

February 24, 2005: Experimenting With Worldwide Wi-Fi Phoning
GSM-equipped mobile phones work nearly everywhere in the world, but Japan is a notable exception. Japan uses a proprietary cellular network and rental mobile phones are not readily available. I figured that I could make calls using a PocketPC outfitted with Skype as long as I could find a Wi-Fi connection. My results were mixed.

February 10, 2005: The Motorola Razr: A Few Flaws, But Very Sharp
The Razr phone, which deserves an award just for its name, has become Motorola's biggest hit since its 1996 introduction of the StarTac, one of the most successful mobile phones in history. I know devoted StarTac users who buy old StarTacs on eBay just to ensure that they'll always have one that works. Now they have a new product to lust over.

February 3, 2005: Free Software That's Worth the Price
Whenever I hear "free software," the skeptic in me looks for the catch and the fine print. But some free programs are even better than software that you pay for. Here are my current recommendations for the very best available free PC software to clean hard drives, browse the Internet better, find files faster and handle digital photos more efficiently.

January 20, 2005: Apple's Small, Savvy New Wave of Products
Apple announced two significant new products last week in San Francisco: the $99 iPod Shuffle, which uses a memory chip instead of a hard drive to store music, and the $499 Mac Mini, a new Macintosh that's about the size of a clock radio. Both are crucial cogs in Apple's efforts to woo new business users and counter Apple's reputation for pricey products.

January 6, 2005: The High-Tech Year in Review
I looked at more than 50 products last year. Some were well-designed and performed as advertised. Some were hard to set up or install and difficult to use. And there were others that should never have seen the light of day. Overall, high-tech products are improving, providing us with more value for our money. That's the good news. But there's still room for improvement.

These columns originally appeared at

These columns are Copyright 2005 by San Diego Daily Transcript. Reprinted with permission.