Travel Tech 101 by Phil Baker

December 21, 2006: The Best High-Tech Products of the Year
With 2006 drawing to a close, it's time to look at some of the year's best high-technology products. Among my favorites: a smartphone that is a virtual pocket PC; low-priced multi-function printers; the fastest data card yet; a range of new media players and GPS devices; and many more.

December 14, 2006: A Tale of Two New Cellphones
I've been trying out two new mobile phones that are worlds apart in functionality. Each targets a totally different audience. What do they have in common? They both do an excellent job in satisfying their respective markets. One focuses on users who crave simplicity. The other is a virtual pocket computer.

November 30, 2006: One Call Does It All. Really.
Having more phone lines is supposed to make us more accessible. In reality, it means more confusion and much greater difficulty for people trying to reach us on the road. Now a new Web-based service goes a long way to solving the multiple-number problem. It offers a single phone number that people can use. When they call, all our phones--office, home, mobile, whatever--ring and we can answer the nearest one.

November 9, 2006: Unlock Your GSM Phone for Overseas Savings
Cingular and T-Mobile GSM cellular phones are perfect for international use, right? Unfortunately, it turns out to be more complicated than that and, if you're not careful, a lot more expensive. You can realize big savings if you use an unlocked phone and a local cell company when traveling internationally. But that's something neither GSM provider is anxious for you to know.

November 2, 2006: Where to Dine in and Around San Diego
I'm more skilled at reviewing high-tech products than restaurants, but I know the difference between mediocre and exceptional regardless of whether I'm testing a phone or dining in a restaurant. The dining scene in and around my home base of San Diego offers lots of fine choices. Here are ten places I can recommend to any visiting business travelers.

October 26, 2006: The Blackberry Pearl, the 'Best' Smartphone Yet
I've been trying out the new BlackBerry Pearl, and, if size matters, it may the best smartphone yet. Of course what constitutes "best" depends on your needs. For me, it's a phone with all of the functionality of a Treo or Blackberry, but no bigger than an ordinary cell phone. The Pearl proves that the nearly impossible cannot only be done, but also done just about perfectly.

October 12, 2006: Reversal of Fortune in the Laptop Market
In the market for a new laptop? How quickly your impressions have probably changed. A year ago Dell could do no wrong, while Hewlett-Packard could do nothing right. Now it's the other way around. Phil explains what caused this startling reversal of fortune.

September 28, 2006: Life Without Laptop
With the never-ending changes in the carry-on rules around the world, maybe it's just time to leave your notebook at home. But can it really be done? And what's the best way to cope if you choose to live your life on the road without your laptop?

September 21, 2006: So Many Phones, So Little Time
The wireless trade show in Los Angeles last week was all about mobile phones and I've rarely seen a collection of so many "gotta have" new products. There was a wonderful assortment of new smartphones of all sizes as well as tiny pocket-sized phones with finishes more like jewelry than technology devices. But a dark note: Many of the best new devices arrive here late or stripped of features because U.S. cell-phone providers want to sell us add-on services rather than fully equipped phones.

September 7, 2006: Where2? To Avis and Budget for Better GPS
Where2, the new in-car navigation system from Budget and Avis, is by far the most advanced system GPS offered by any rental-car company. It's certainly worth the extra fee of $9.95 a day or $49.75 a week. And after testing the Where2 for a few weeks, I'm convinced it's so good that it could convince you to change your preferred rental-car provider.

August 24, 2006: Why 'Net Neutrality' Is Worth Fighting For
The growth of the Internet has been a result of its availability to all users as a free and unencumbered electronic highway. It has also flourished thanks to the mutual cooperation of the content creators and the Internet service providers (ISPs). Now the ISPs want to change the rules and charge fees to the content providers for using their "pipes." That's very bad for you as a user.

August 10, 2006: Paper or PC? How Do You Organize on the Road?
How do you stay organized? Do you rely on a paper-based planning system like a Filofax? Or do you use a PDA, PC or smartphone? An electronic device may be better for keeping a schedule and storing contacts, but sometimes paper works better for things such as spontaneous note-taking, keeping a call log, planning your day or tracking expenses.

July 27, 2006: Worldwide Radio Is (Finally) a Reality
Remember shortwave radios that promised to let you listen to broadcasts from around the world? Didn't you once stuff a tiny portable shortwave in your carry-on bag? I always found the promise better than the reality. Now, however, there's a new product that receives the world's radio stations. It's neither a shortwave nor satellite radio nor from a big electronics firm.

July 13, 2006: Are Business Travelers Prisoners of Technology?
There are thousands of self-help books covering all sorts of addictions, but Lisa Whaley's Prisoners of Technology may be one of the first to address addiction to high technology. Whaley's 130-page paperback opened my eyes to my own routine high-tech activities that others could categorize as obsessions. I guess it's time for a lifestyle change.

June 29, 2006: MacBook Is a Pleasurable Way to Replace a PC
When Apple announced a shift to the Intel processors that also power many Windows PCs, it offered the potential for more compact Mac notebooks that ran faster and had much longer battery life. The newly introduced MacBook fulfills that expectation at a bargain price. Starting at $1,099, MacBook is very well-equipped and a pleasure to use.

June 15, 2006: Treo's Newest Smartphone Get Even Smarter
Palm has introduced two new Treo smartphones for Verizon and Sprint and they are the most advanced models yet. The new 700p includes high-speed EvDO Internet connectivity and adds other incremental improvements not available on the Treo 650. And you can connect the 700p phone to your laptop and use it as your computer's high-speed modem.

June 1, 2006: A Window on the Future of Computing
The newest version of the Windows operating system, Vista, which is already two years behind, is now scheduled to be released early next year. But does it really matter? As high-speed access grows, Windows will become much less relevant and Net browsers much more important. That, in fact, represents the movement from Microsoft's business model to Google's online model.

May 18, 2006: Microsoft's Less-Than-Noble, Ultra-Mobile Failure
One of the dreams of the tech world has been to create a PC small and light enough to take everywhere with you, yet powerful enough to do everything that larger computers do. The high-tech highway is littered with noble attempts that were commercial failures. Now there's a new one poised to join the ranks of the notable failures: Microsoft's UMPC.

May 4, 2006: The Battle for Control of Your Cell Phone
Cell-phone providers are unwilling to allow competition for new services because third parties often have far better or less-expensive solutions than the phone companies sell. Cell-phone firms even oppose allowing third-party services that they themselves don't offer. This attitude raises serious competitive and even moral questions.

April 20, 2006: When High-Tech Companies Imitate the Airlines
Dealing with the airlines can be aggravating enough. But, frankly, dealing with the high-tech companies we need on the road isn't much better. High-tech firms go out of their way to get an extra buck from us, complicating our lives and just not treating us fairly. Worse, it's not the high technology itself that's to blame. It's low respect for the customer.

April 6, 2006: EVDO: The Anytime, Anywhere Wireless Web Network
An EVDO wireless Internet connection for your laptop computer will change the way you work. You won't need to search for a wireless hot spot or pay a fee for a local Wi-Fi connection. You just connect to the EVDO network whenever where ever you choose: hotels, airports, trains, cars, coffee shops and many other remote locations.

March 23, 2006: Fear, Paranoia--and Gadgets--at the Luggage Show
The luggage industry has fallen on hard times since 9/11 and you could feel the pain at this year's trade show in Las Vegas. The big complaint: Fewer business travelers than ever before are willing to pay $500 for a bag if they can buy something nearly as good for a quarter of the price at a department store or the local warehouse club. Phil Baker has a full report on the industry's fear and paranoia--and the best new bags.

March 16, 2006: A School-Bus Mirror That Can Save Lives
Gloria Buley is not a Silicon Valley inventor. Yet this mother of two with no technical training shows the very same creativity, inventiveness and perseverance. She's an example of what one person can do with an idea and the stubbornness to not give up. In spite of huge obstacles, she may successfully market a mirror that will save the lives of 20 children a year.

March 2, 2006: Fixing the Cracks in Windows With the Treo 700w
Microsoft has made several attempts to develop Windows for smartphones, but it hasn't been particularly successful. So now there is an unlikely alliance: Palm's new Treo 700w uses Windows Mobile 5 software, but adds its own improvements. The main motivation is Palm's desire to sell smartphones into large corporations whose IT departments use Windows.

February 16, 2006: A Great Little Sony Laptop With a Bad Name
Sony defined the ultracompact full-function notebook category with laptops that include a built-in optical drive. And it has led the category with its year-old T series and the very popular TR series before that. The badly named new VAIO VGN-TX670P is even better. If you want one of the smallest, yet very usable, notebooks with a great DVD player, it's the best choice.

February 2, 2006: Surprise! The iPod Isn't Always the Answer
The iPod is the Swiss Army Knife of the modern business traveler. But like the Swiss Army Knife before it, the iPod's biggest strength, being a jack of all media trades, is its biggest weakness. If a specific media activity is of primary importance to you, there are other products that can do a better job. Here's the lowdown on five of the specialists.

January 19, 2006: Form, Content--and, of Course, Gadgets--at the CES
The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year was about gadgets, of course. But it was also about the realization that information and entertainment have left their traditional containers behind. But Phil says beware: Content on demand on any portable device you prefer will mean confusion and frustration before it means useful products.

January 5, 2006: How Do the New Bluetooth Headsets Rate?
Sales of Bluetooth headsets for cell phones have taken off as their costs have dropped to as low as $50. And the promise is compelling: Eliminate the cord between your cell phone and headset using wireless technology. A year ago, however, I found the Bluetooth products inferior to wired headsets for sound clarity. But with many new models and a new release of Bluetooth technology designed to reduce interference, I set out to see if they've improved. I tried six new headsets and here's what I found.

These columns originally appeared at

These columns are Copyright 2006 by San Diego Daily Transcript. Reprinted with permission.