Lightweight Tech

Authored By Brian

This is the first post in my “Gear” category, which on the site appears like a “trip”, and in some ways finding the right gear to bring is harder than actually travelling!

My constraints for this RTW trip are to be in touch enough to take care of executive tasks and to be able to fix something in case of an emergency while someone else handles the day-to-day. That pretty much means regular email checks and once-in-awhile laptop use. Plus, I’d like to be able to spend some of the many hours we’ll be on buses and trains doing something productive like describing the minutiae of some irrelevant detail on our trip. However, I don’t want to be weighed down by 20lbs of electronics when I’m trying to enjoy Milford Sound or Machu Picchu. I’ll gladly sacrifice some usability for form factor.


To save time and space, I will simply list the hardware I looked at from start to finish:

  1. IBM T40 (my current laptop, ~4.5lbs)
  2. IBM X30/X40/X60 (~3.5lbs, IBM quality, can buy used or new, wide variety of performance based on model)
  3. Sony Vaio laptops (poor build quality in my past experience, not tough enough for serious travelling)
  4. OQO (so tiny, 15oz!)
  5. Sony Vaio UX180P (so tiny too, 1.2lbs!)
  6. Samsung Q1 (UPMC, 1.7lbs, interesting form factor)
  7. Asus R2H (UPMC, but not generally available yet)
  8. Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D (Sized like a hardback book)
  9. Sony Vaio UX180P (oh, I can’t decide!)
  10. Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D (purchased from Ebay)

The Lifebook ultimately won because it’s a real laptop. A tiny 6″x9″ laptop with a small keyboard and 8.9″ screen, but a laptop nonetheless. In the event of an emergency where I need to do some development work or fix a server, the OQO and Vaio would have required a bluetooth keyboard and suffering with an 800×600 resolution on a ~4″ screen. The way my eyes are going, that would have lasted about 5 minutes. The UPMCs have a better screen but they are so close in size to the Lifebook that I decided it was unconvincing middle ground.

The OQO and UX180P are both limited to 512MB of RAM and 30GB drives where the Lifebook has 1GB of RAM and a 60GB drive plus an extended battery that lasts 6 hours. It’s also a Tablet PC which means the screen swivels around and can be drawn on like a pad of paper. I think that will be great for sketching out ideas and using the touch screen to play some two-person games. And it weighs 2.5lbs with the extra battery.

Two other things swayed me about the Lifebook. First, it has a IBM-like joystick instead of a touchpad. Also, it has an SD card reader built in which means I can pop in my digital camera card without needing adapters or cables.

You might notice that not a single option above includes an optical drive. With a big USB stick or an Internet connection, I don’t think that will be a problem. All of the software I need will be installed before I leave and if I have catastrophic failure on the road (or it’s stolen), then a CD drive probably won’t be much help anyways.


When I was in Europe a couple of years ago, I needed to get a GSM cell phone and I bought a Sony Ericcson T637. It was pretty sweet. Except when I closed it in the sliding door of a U-Haul truck and broke the screen. I lived with that screen for almost a year until it stopped receiving phone calls. Then I “traded up” to a used, $25 unlocked LG3100C from Craigslist that wasn’t really unlocked. Worked great for about 24 hours until the screen started crapping out. I’ve had that phone for about 6 months and haven’t been able to retrieve a single SMS or view an incoming Caller ID. I’ve been using an Ogo for email, SMS and IM on the go.

It’s fair to say I’m not obsessed about phones.

There is, however, one phone I’ve lusted after. The HP HW6515. And just recently a new update, the HW6915 (AKA HW6945). It’s an all-in-one smart phone that does the obvious like make phone calls and check email but it also includes a GPS receiver and can act as a navigational system. That’s pretty sweet. Especially when you’re in a foreign country and trying to figure out what the signs mean so you can find your hotel and it’s 11 at night…

It’s a quad-band phone meaning it will work in New Zealand/Australia, Southeast Asia, India and South America as well as Europe and the United States. It has a POP3/IMAP client so I can check email from anywhere and I can use a pre-paid SIM card in any country for reliable access on the go. Lastly, it includes a 1.3MP camera that will auto-tag your photos with the latitude and longitude of where you shot it and map them for you. Nerdy, but fun.

HP just started selling them direct for $599 + tax/shipping. I grabbed mine off Ebay yesterday with an extended life battery and car charger for $585. That’s by far the most I’ve ever spent on a phone and I hope it’s worth it.


I’m also bringing my new 8GB iPod Nano Jennifer bought me for my birthday and my trusty Canon SD300 Elph.

With a single iGo charger an international plug adapter, I should be able to charge everything from a wall plug with a couple of interchangable tips and a USB cable or two.

4 devices, 1 charger, 1 plug adapter. This might sound like a lot to haul around but it’s well worth it in order to hit the road.

Have you done long term or single-bag travelling? If you had to stay connected, what did you bring?

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