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 are 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 your plugin.
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.