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Published on July 9th, 2011 | by David

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Road Warrior Kit: Mobile Wireless And USB Gear

To­day’s trav­el­er eats and drinks wire­less and breathes USB pow­er. Whether you’re scroung­ing for out­lets at an air­port or cruis­ing for open wi-fi in your car, it’s tough to stay con­nect­ed and charged, which is why this trio of portable giz­mos from ZyX­EL, GE, and Alu­ratek makes us so hap­py.

The cen­ter­piece of the col­lec­tion is the ZyX­EL MWR211 Mo­bile Wire­less N Router, a portable wifi hotspot that sup­ports al­most ev­ery brand of USB mo­dem out there. Ob­vi­ous­ly if you pri­mar­i­ly con­nect with a lap­top this may seem a lit­tle re­dun­dant, but the beau­ty of the de­vice is al­low­ing mul­ti­ple users to ac­cess the In­ter­net through a sin­gle con­nec­tion. With a stan­dard 3G mo­dem you can on­ly ex­pect e-mail and brows­ing speeds with mul­ti­ple users, but new­er 4G modems such as Ver­i­zon’s LTE line can ac­tu­al­ly sup­port more than one video stream or band­width-in­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tion at once.

The oth­er pri­ma­ry use of the router is for serv­ing mo­bile In­ter­net to portable de­vices like iPods or tablets. Not on­ly does this save bat­tery life, but a router such as this one is the on­ly way to get 4G speeds on Ap­ple de­vices at this point. Sev­er­al folks at the of­fice ac­tu­al­ly use Ver­i­zon 4G hotspots with their iPhones, just to im­prove their da­ta rates. At around $90, this is a nifty way to get in­stant wire­less ac­cess for de­vices that need it, whether it’s a non-3G iPad or oth­er tablet, or just need­ing a net­work con­nec­tion to play games in the mid­dle of nowhere.

The fastest con­nec­tion in the world is no good if you run out of juice, how­ev­er. That’s what I’m al­ways pack­ing myAlu­ratek Mi­ni Surge USB Charg­er.

Why even both­er re­view­ing a USB charg­er? Af­ter all, they’re just a lit­tle plas­tic box that turns a pow­er sock­et in­to a USB port. That may be so, but the beau­ty of the Alu­ratek charg­er is that it not on­ly doesn’t take up one of your pow­er sock­ets, it ac­tu­al­ly *adds* three of them! With one on the front and two on each side, it can han­dle any cord or weird-shaped pow­er brick you throw at it. As an added bonus, the wall plug folds flat, so the unit can eas­i­ly be tossed in­to a bag.

This is one of my fa­vorite gad­gets when trav­el­ing- it lets me share any out­let I see, charge all my gad­gets at once, and not wor­ry about an oc­to­pus of adapters and ca­bles com­ing out of my lap­top. It’s al­so a great way to make friends- noth­ing en­dears you to a fel­low fli­er like of­fer­ing them a spare AC out­let.

If I had one gripe with the charg­er, it would be that it charges iPads un­re­li­ably. While it does charge the iPad, the tablet usu­al­ly dis­plays the “Not Charg­ing” sign, and charg­ing is slow­er than nor­mal. How­ev­er, you could al­ways plug the iPad wall charg­er in­to one of the AC sock­ets and do it that way. At $20, it’s a new must-car­ry to avoid wor­ry­ing about some of the ex­tra adapters that trav­el­ers need.

Fi­nal­ly, no road war­rior (or desk war­rior, for that mat­ter) would be com­plete with­out a USB hub. From phones to tablets, hard drives to print­ers, scan­ners to speak­ers, the 1 to 3 ports on a lap­top are nev­er enough to con­nect ev­ery­thing you want.

USB hubs are an­oth­er prod­uct that are ap­proach­ing com­mod­i­ty sta­tus, but still have a bit of vari­a­tion and in­no­va­tion. We’re fans of the GE/Jas­co line, which in­cludes 4- and 7-port desk­top hubs with de­tach­able stands, as well as a cool 4-port hub made of ro­tat­ing cubes.

A USB hub on­ly needs to do two things: work re­li­ably, and let you plug all your gad­gets in. Sur­pris­ing­ly, not all man­u­fac­tur­ers can do this. On the GE desk­top hubs, one side of the hub has ports spaced ex­tra-wide, to ac­com­mo­date large plugs and flash drives, while the oth­er side has nar­row­er ports to al­low more de­vices to be plugged in. The ro­tat­ing cube hub ac­com­plish­es the same thing, but in a dif­fer­ent way- by ro­tat­ing each cube so that the port faces a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, you can get all the clear­ance you need for any de­vice you plug in.

Each of the three ports can be charged over ei­ther bus pow­er or with an in­clud­ed AC adapter, which means your com­put­er does not need to be plugged in for gad­gets to charge. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the hub could charge 1-2 de­vices (not in­clud­ing flash drives or oth­er non-charg­ing gad­gets) while on bus pow­er, and as many as I could plug in when us­ing the AC adapter. Like all USB 2.0 gad­gets, it is back­wards com­pat­i­ble with USB 1.1, and works with any fla­vor of Win­dows, Lin­ux, or OS X you throw at it. They run be­tween $15 and $40, and are avail­able wide­ly.

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About the Author

David has been writing professionally since 2008, as a translator and product editor for Japan Trend Shop. Along the way he has worked in IT for Six Apart (and its reincarnation as SAY Media), Naked Communications, and Tokyo 2.0, as well as volunteering his nerdiness for dance events and organizations such as the Fusion Exchange and the Portland Swing and Jazz Dance society. After graduating Lewis & Clark College in 2010, David entered the Teach for America program, and taught Algebra and Geometry at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. When he's not educating young minds or buried in a computer screen, he spends his time dancing, and frequently teaches dance with fellow TrulyNet author Ruth Hoffman.



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