I'm not saying you and your business always need to have the latest hardware. That's impractical—and expensive. Besides, you have more important things to do than keep up with every whiz-bang gadget that hits the market. But I am saying, if you recognize any of the following devices from your briefcase you're seriously overdue for an upgrade.
Yes, we all know a few BlackBerry loyalists, which includes a friend of mine who swears by his BlackBerry Bold smartphone. Yet, there are many other BlackBerry users who also do a lot of swearing (ahem). Owning one now and waiting for your contract to expire is one thing; but buying a new model, especially when Android phones and the iPhone 4S offer so many compelling new features? That's just illogical. BlackBerry phones use a more cryptic operating system. Apps appear on the iPhone and Android models, but fail to materialize on the BlackBerry. Plus, few models offer a touchscreen. Need any other reasons?
At the risk of making another blanket statement about a smartphone, another risky brand is Nokia, which recently switched gears away from the Symbian operating system and will now start releasing Windows Phone 7 models. What is Windows Phone 7? That’s the re-designed Microsoft mobile operating system that borrowed heavily from the Zune media player. Now, Microsoft plans to make Windows 8 match the tile interface of their phones and even the Xbox 360. The problem? Nokia still sells millions of feature phones, many in developing countries (according to a recent NPD report), but have lost all momentum with business users. The brand is almost defunct in some offices, but may rebound.
If you’re in the market for a new tablet, make sure you avoid any of the Android 2.2 models. Viewsonic makes one called the ViewPad, as does Archos, and there are a few from lesser-known companies like Via. The problem is that these tablets use the Android version designed for smartphones, so while they may be cheaper, you can’t use newer apps like Evernote and Quickoffice designed for tablets. In fact, these older tablets do not benefit from the much-improved Android 3.2 operating system, aka Honeycomb, that provides a pop-menu to see open apps and quick access to settings and Wi-Fi.
For business users, a full-size notebook just doesn’t make sense anymore. For many years, the typical Dell or HP notebook used a powerful desktop-like processor, had loads of RAM, and sported a high-end graphics card. They also weighed as much as a small house. New ultrabooks use a fast Intel Core processor that’s nothing like the under-powered Intel Atom variants found in a netbook. Most use faster solid-state memory and come with just as much RAM as those full-size doorstops. And, the built-in graphics of an ultrabook work fast enough even for Adobe Photoshop and presentations.
You might not know this, but that new-fangled Android phone you just bought might have a hidden feature. While you may have to pay extra, it’s very likely that the phone can run in hotspot mode, which means you can share the data connection with (typically) up to five other users. Many new phones support hotspot mode. That means, a dedicated Mi-Fi device, which is also used to share a data connection with co-workers, is now superfluous. Okay, some might argue that you can use your phone for other purposes while a Mi-Fi hums along in your hotel room. The reality, at least from my business travel, is that when I am working on a laptop, all I care about is getting an Internet feed.
A few years ago, travel routers were all the rage. These palm-sized gadgets connected to the Ethernet feed in a hotel room and let you share the connection over Wi-Fi. They worked well because, once you pay for broadband in your room, or need to share a high-speed connection at a tech conference, you can avoid carrier fees for a data connection. The problem is that Wi-Fi is now much more prevalent—and it is often free. Libraries, restaurants (including the Perkins where I am working now), and may other public places offer wireless already, so the bring-your-own concept is outdated.
Tons of companies, like Dexim and Mophie, make back-up battery chargers for your smartphone, and they are a smart idea for business travel. Energizer and others also make back-up battery chargers for laptops, but here’s my advice on those: Avoid them. For one thing, it is smarter to just get an actual battery for your laptop you can bring along on a trip. The back-up chargers are heavy, hot, and expensive. Also, the instances where you can’t find an outlet are rare, unless you are flying to Austria.
That’s right, I’m a thumbdrive dissenter now. I used to be an advocate, until I realized a few things about these small gadgets you stick in a USB port for transferring files. For one, they are way too easy to lose. Many of them do not provide enough memory, but there is a much more nefarious problem. In a few cases, I started relying on thumbdrives for more than just moving files—I stored some files on a thumbdrive and deleted the original files. Big mistake. (Fortunately, I also have a Dropbox back-up.) The drives tend to go up in smoke. You plug in the drive and no files are listed or the drive stops working, or… you drop it off a cliff. They are just one more (tiny) gadget to manage. — John Brandon