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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 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.

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