The Road Warrior's Arsenal
Thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed wireless networks and smart phones that can run even the most sophisticated business applications, life for traveling executives is increasingly like life in the office; the only thing that's different is the view from the window. It's a far cry from the days when road warriors had to pack an additional suitcase to carry extra cables, wires, and phone jacks. Serious techies, especially those traveling internationally, even were known to throw in a pair of wire cutters and a soldering iron. These days, companies are working hard to make sure all of their applications can work on the small displays of cell phones. The future? More of the same. Working from the road is getting downright convenient. Here are six technologies that can make it even more so.
Best for… Keeping the power on
What it does: Packed with 120 watts of power, this AC/DC adapter has enough juice to run a high-performance notebook. But it weighs just six ounces and measures 5.6 by 3.1 inches, so it's 40 percent smaller and lighter than other power supplies.
What's cool: Offers both AC and DC power supplies. It also comes with an adapter for airplane-seat outlets. Purchase an additional $25 cable and it can charge up to six different devices simultaneously.
Drawbacks: The cable to split the devices is short--just 5.6 inches long--and you'll need to buy different connectors to support things such as music players, portable DVD players, and certain kinds of notebooks.
Best for… Avoiding traffic jams
What it does: Download this software to your cell phone and watch as it feeds you up-to-date traffic data for up to 94 cities.
What's cool: With Rand McNally Traffic, your cell phone or BlackBerry screen can supply current information about traffic accidents, congestion, and average road speeds as soon as they're updated in the traffic network.
Drawbacks: The software does not connect to a global positioning system, so you can't get alternative directions without using a different tool. In many cities, traffic systems don't report accidents as they happen, and the lag time can vary widely.
Price: $3.99 a month
Best for… Collecting business cards
CardScan Personal Version 8
What it does: Scans business cards and drops the information directly into your address book or contact manager. At 4 1/2 by 3 1/8 inches, it's not much bigger than the stack of cards you accumulate after a week on the road.
What's cool: CardScan synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express as well as with personal digital assistants like the Palm; it also has its own contact management software. Free online backup is available.
Drawbacks: CardScan works only with Windows. It cannot scan in color, and non-Microsoft e-mail systems, such as Lotus Notes, require a more expensive version.
Best for… Protecting your data
Synchronica MobileManager 1.0
What it does: Synchronica's software lets people who use smart phones update their devices wirelessly without having to go to the office. That means salespeople don't have to return to the home office, and people on the road get the latest software, updates, and other key data.
What's cool: The software can be set to send things like weekly price lists automatically. If the device is reported stolen, Synchronica's software automatically wipes its data, locks it, and directs the device to emit a screeching sound that might help catch the thief--or, at the very least, seriously annoy the culprit.
Drawbacks: Works only with Windows Mobile, Pocket PC devices, and Symbian-based smart phones. It does not work with any notebook computers.
Price: About $75 per device per year
Best for… Staying connected
Kyocera (NYSE:KYO) Passport KPC650
What it does: The Passport KPC650 is a PC card that you plug into your notebook computer to connect directly to a cellular network. Network providers for the Passport are Verizon and Alltel (NYSE:AT). Other carriers offer similar cards, and some notebook computers now come with built-in cellular modems.
What's cool: Essentially, the Passport puts you in a Wi-Fi hot spot almost no matter where you are. So you really can work in the park on a nice day, or get access on the Acela train. What's more, the cost of access is built into your data plan; most Wi-Fi hot spots, by contrast, charge by the day or the hour.
Drawbacks: Cellular networks have their dead spots, and the Passport works only where the network does; data speeds may be slower outside the Verizon network. And data access plans can be costly, compared with simple voice access plans.
Price: $150 after rebates from Verizon; $99 after rebates from Alltel
Best for… Reporting expenses
What it does: Takes the hassle out of expense reporting. This Web-based application has reporting, tracking, and management tools to let people file expenses from the road and be reimbursed automatically, sometimes even before they've returned home.
What's cool: Traveling employees can call up their credit cards online and drag-and-drop expenses directly into the reports they file. The software can be customized so your accounting department can set rules to warn people when an entry exceeds company expense policies. For international travelers, it converts foreign currency to U.S. dollars and supports electronic funds transfer for faster reimbursements.
Drawbacks: Firefox users cannot gain access to all the features.
Price: $9.95 per user per month