Go Bag grab bag: Analog accessories

February 22, 2013

Go Bag LogoBeing a successful road warrior isn’t just about electronics. There are a host of small items that aren’t flashy, but make mobile life easier. Here are a few useful things to help you can get more work done while on the go.
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Winter presents a unique challenge. When it’s cold outside you have to risk frostbite or wear special gloves to operate your smartphone and tablet, whose multi-touch screens respond only to your fingertips and materials that mimic them. I’ve tried a few different gloves, and the pair in my go bag is a recent acquisition: North Face e-tips.

These gloves work seamlessly with touchscreens; I type as well (or poorly) as I do without them. They are cinched at the cuff and long enough to stay tucked under a coat sleeve. The small rubberized dots on the palm and three fingers make it easier to keep a firm grip on your electronics (and good for driving). They keep my hands warm in the bitter cold.

I would recommend going down a size, as I did, so that they are skin tight. This allows for better accuracy and makes them akin to glove liners; you can wear a heavier pair of winter gloves over them during the coldest treks and still be protected as you tap away.

At $45, they are an expensive choice. But I’ve cut corners in this area before, and it isn’t worth it. I paid $13 (using a Google offer) for a $40 list price for a pair of Touch Screen Gloves & Co. woven wool gloves that don’t work well, pill like weaves will and were way too short (some of these complaints seem to have been addressed in 3rd gen). A pair of Isotoners I also own are cut too bulky to be of much use.

Small complaint: The e-tip gloves are branded and logo’d to death. There is a very prominent North Face logo on the backhands, the word “e-tip” on the thumbs and, inexplicably, the symbol for a power switch on the forefingers. But, those logos are a far better alternative than having to choose between communication and circulation in subzero temperatures.

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I stand during my hour-long rail commute, which is no problem because I’m able to work productively with a tablet or smartphone. But when I bring a beverage along it’s a little tricky. You can put it on the floor, but a sudden jolt (or an unexpected kick) can knock it over.

There is a horizontal and vertical rail near the door, where I stand. So I came up with a cheap, easy solution: A MiniSax bag. It’s a reusable plastic bag packs into itself, so take up no room in the go bag, (and can be useful if you’re picking up groceries or other errands on the way home). But that self-pocketing cavity is a perfect size for most drinks, even a large coffee. And if you’re day has been so bad you grabbed a 40 ouncer for the ride home, the larger compartment — the bag itself — will hold that.

The missing ingredient is a way to connect it to the hold bars. I found a rubber clamp (pictured) at Home Depot that holds the bag handles, but recently ran across what looks like a better choice.

The MiniSax has been in my go bag for months, and I can’t picture what could improve upon it.

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On a sleek, flat smartphone voice is just another app, and device design isn’t always optimized for audio communication. Many of us use Bluetooth buds or corded earphones as a workaround, but neither are particularly good solutions. BT buds are quirky, need recharging, and as far as how they look, well, even Brad Pitt can’t pull it off. Corded earphones have their own disadvantages. Many people find the “in-ear” variety difficult to take for long periods. And over-the-ear — well if nobody will see you using them to talk to someone, maybe.

A year ago or so I started sampling retro handsets, corded and wireless. The most obviously retro handsets — similar to the ones that look like the ones that came with standard AT&T phones through the 1980s — make a nice statement and work well by directing the sound where it’s supposed to go. They also do a little something to block out ambient noise by providing a tighter seal around your ear than your mobile phone.

After the family absconded with two of these I tried a “modern” alternative — the Native Union Travel Handset. It isn’t as easy to cradle on your shoulder as more traditional handsets — the original definition of “hands-free.” But it more than makes up for that in portability.

Among the features I prefer on the handset is the uncoiled cord — even more retro, since coiled cords on corded phones came much later. The advantage to road warriors is that there is less tug on your phone — spongy coils can pull the handset off a smooth surface, or even your charging stand. It’s a little long — about 46 inches — so I use a cord wrangler to customize the length.

Unadvertised benefit: The earphone is loud enough to put the handset down while on hold and still hear when the other part gets back on the line — much easier than switching to the phone’s speaker option and switching back.

I don’t use it in the wild — in other words, walking around or on the train, etc. But I use it slavishly at home, in the office, or once I’ve settled into a coffee shop booth: wherever I use my mobile phone to the exclusion of all else. This particular handset is thinner and lighter than the alternatives, so it’s tech that might actually get a spot in your go bag. It’s in mine

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What do you swear by that other road warriors may not have even thought of? Leave a comment or ping me on Twitter at @johncabell #GoBag and if I write about it, you get all the credit.

 

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