While We Await the Dream Gadgets...

Road warriors can't have the tiny, perfect laptop, yet. Here are some gizmos to help until you can

Someday I'll have a 2-lb. laptop computer that does everything I want. Or maybe a wireless handheld so good that I can dispense with the laptop altogether. But I'm not holding my breath. And meanwhile, I have found an assortment of goodies that can make life easier for the technology-burdened traveler.

About the coolest device that I have run into in a long time is Presenter-to-Go from MARGI Systems Inc. (www.margi.com). It's a $299 module that slides into a Handspring Visor and allows you to make PowerPoint presentations without a laptop. You prepare the show for Presenter-to-Go by clicking a button in PowerPoint, then download when you synchronize with the desktop. When it's time to present, you plug an AC adapter into the module--computer video displays require too much power to run off Handspring's batteries--connect a special adapter cable to a projector, and you're in business. It even comes with a tiny remote control.

You don't have all the advantages of a laptop. You can't edit your slides once they are loaded. Although the resolution is 1024-by-768 pixels, Presenter-to-Go shows only 256 colors, and many slides won't look as good as when using a laptop that can display 65,000 colors or more. And you can't include audio or video. But you cut the weight of a presentation machine to a few ounces, and you can view your speaker's notes on the Handspring display while projecting the slides, a trick not all laptops can handle.

The AVerEPack300 from AVerMedia (www.aver.com) is a clunkier alternative. It's an 8-oz. unit that sends a PowerPoint presentation from a Compact Flash memory card to a projector or television. Unfortunately, it comes with a remote control and power supply that, combined, double the bulk and weight of the unit, and the software is far less elegant than MARGI's click-and-sync approach. Still, it produces a 1,024-by-768 pixel image, and at $250, it's a bargain.

If you can't escape from traveling with a laptop, how about taking along enough battery power to last easily through a flight across the Pacific? The Power Pad 160 from Electrofuel (www.electrofuel.com) is an external lithium-polymer battery about the size of a typical laptop, 1/4-in. thick, and weighing 2 lb. When plugged into your computer's AC adapter socket, it gives up to 16 hours of power. There are a couple of disadvantages. The most obvious is the $495 cost. The other is that when running on the Power Pad, your laptop will think it's on AC, so you will have to adjust your power properties manually to get maximum life.

BIG SWINGS. Power adapters can be the curse of anyone who travels with an assortment of devices. Jetta Tech Inc. (www.jetta-tech.com) offers an elegant solution--a series of $13.95 cables that allow wireless phones and handhelds such as Palms to recharge using your laptop's power. One end of the cable plugs into a universal serial bus port on your notebook, the other into the charger socket of the device. Charging may be somewhat slower than with a standard AC adapter, but it works fine. Two cautions: Charging stops when your laptop goes into suspend or hibernate mode. And you should always plug the cable into a port on the computer or a docking station, not a USB expansion hub, which may lack adequate power. Cables are available for Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Siemens phones, and Palm, Handspring, and Compaq handhelds.

Little things can make a big difference in the ease of using assorted devices. When I tried the $13.95 floating.point stylus from LandWare (www.landware.com), I was dubious of its claim that it could improve character recognition on Palms. But its skinny, stiff tip really does produce more of the feel of a pen on paper, and I got far fewer errors when using it. The floating.point is available for Palm III and VII--and you can unscrew the tip and use it on the styli of most other Palm and Handspring models. Finally, a forthcoming software add-on for the PocketPC called WordLogic does a terrific job of predicting what character you will type next on the on-screen keyboard, color coding the likeliest keys, and offering choices to complete your word. It sounds goofy, but it really works.

All the mobile devices we use today represent compromises--some better, some worse. But while we await the tools of our dreams, it's nice to know that there are a lot of helpful gadgets out there to make life easier.


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