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    More roadworthy gear to keep you plugged in while on vacation

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver July 29-August 4, 2008; issue 979

    High Tech Office column

    Two more for the road: gadgets I’ve tried out that, while very different, both have the promise of letting you take it all with you.

    Belkin makes products that range from cords, hubs and connectors to accessories for laptops and iPods. The company’s lineup stands out in a crowded market through stylish design and attention to detail. You’ll pay a little more, but you’ll end up with a product that’s more pleasant to use and more functional.

    Driving with an iPod can pose problems. You could just leave it in your pocket and listen through the headset, but that’s unsafe. Besides, a long car trip drains the iPod’s battery. And with the iPod in a pocket you can’t see the song name or artist information. An investment of $500 or so would let me buy hardware to plug my iPod into the car music system, displaying track information.

    Alternatively, there are lots of gadgets that let the iPod transmit to an unused FM frequency. Other gadgets use the car’s cigarette lighter to charge the iPod. Still others mount the iPod to the dashboard or hold it in a car cup holder.
    Some devices manage to combine two of those functions in one device. Belkin’s TuneBase FM ($80) does all three. It plugs into the lighter, keeping the iPod charged up, while transmitting the music to the FM frequency of your choice. A button quickly finds a clear, unused frequency, while others store up to four frequencies and easily switch between them. A cradle holds your iPod. Adapters allow users to support a variety of iPod and iPhone models, while a flexible steel arm lets you position the iPod for easy viewing.


    Internet access is more available than ever on the road. Smartphones like Blackberries and iPhones deliver web access anywhere you’ve got a phone signal, and WiFi is standard in all laptops. Still, accessing the web on a smartphone means compromising screen size and ease of keyboard input, while WiFi simply isn’t available everywhere you might take a laptop.

    Bell Canada is marketing Novatel’s Wireless U727 wireless modem ($300 or $99 with a three-year plan). It gives laptop users data access to the company’s EV-DO network, which is arguably the country’s highest speed mobile network.

    The U727 looks like a somewhat oversized memory stick and plugs into a USB port on a Windows (XP or Vista) or Mac computer. It can be used as a memory stick with 128 megabytes onboard along with a slot that can hold MicroSD cards for up to eight gigabytes more storage.

    The U727 provides reasonably high-speed Internet access anywhere Bell offers EV-DO coverage; outside of major metropolitan areas, it will continue to work, but at slower speeds.

    Be careful, though: it might be too easy to use. While writing this column, I’ve been using up valuable bandwidth by listening to my favourite Internet radio station (New Orleans’ WWOZ) in the background, connecting with the U727. Bell’s MobileConnect software shows your data use upstream and down: an hour of music-listening ate up about 20 megabytes of data. Watching a YouTube video gobbled another 10 megabytes in under four minutes. Do that every day, and you’ve pretty much used up Bell’s base $65 one gigabyte/month plan – without ever checking your e-mail, browsing the web or getting any work done.

    Bell includes a little note with the device that (in ALL CAPS) comments “FEES CAN BE HIGH.”

    Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Better budget for more bandwidth: plans ramp up to $100/month for five gigabytes, with additional data priced at $0.10/megabytes. The U727 can be used across Canada and in the U.S. and Mexico, but it’s not usable in the rest of the world. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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