'Tis the season when road warriors can hang up their backpacks and enjoy a little rest and relaxation. It's been a tough year. And to make things more pleasant – or at least more productive - here are a few goodies to slip under the tree that will ease the burden for next year's travels.
Defeat hotel Wi-Fi with the TP-Link Nano Router
If you’re trying to stay connected on the road"Wi-Fi" is often a four-letter word. Hotel Internet is notoriously frightful – slow, weak signals and sometimes restricted to one lonely device, at an outrageous cost.
Enter the TP-Link Nano Router, a palm-sized 802.11 b/g/n travel router with wireless speed of up to 150 Mbps. Plug it into the hotel's wired Internet (TP-Link also offers a 3G/4G model if you have a data stick), and you have your very own room-sized wireless network. It's powered either via USB, from your computer, or with the included A/C adapter.
By default, it functions as a wireless access point – that it, it just broadcasts the incoming Internet connection – but it can also be set up as a wireless adapter for devices that don't normally support WiFi, or as a repeater to amplify an existing network, or as a router that takes the signal from a DSL or cable modem and broadcasts it, or in bridge mode.
Setup instructions are straightforward and detailed; basically you connect the router to your computer and change its SSID (the name it uses to identify itself), set up security, and (although it doesn't tell you to), go into system tools and change the device's admin password. These are all one-time tasks; after that, it's plug and go. Pick one up for $19.99 ($39.99 for the 3G/4G model) at such retailers as Staples, Best Buy, or Canada Computers – there's a full list on the TP-Link website.
A translator on your wrist
With the number of wearable devices around, you’d think that it’d be hard to find something different. The SpeechTrans Bluetooth Wristband Watch may change your mind. It connects to any Bluetooth-equipped smartphone, letting you answer calls and listen to music, either though the speaker or through any standard headphones (there’s a built-in headphone jack). And you can install the SpeechTrans app (available for most platforms, including PC and Mac – check your phone’s store for current availability) that lets you carry on conversations with someone even if the two of you don’t speak the same language. The app handles the translation and speaks your language to you, and the other person’s language to them. The wristband comes with a lifetime subscription to the translation service.
The checkpoint pro's carry-on
Getting though security in the U.S. can be expedited with the $99.95 (U.S.) MobileEdge Checkpoint Friendly Briefcase. Instead of having to remove your laptop, you just zip open the bag, lay it flat on the belt, and run it through the x-ray. The TSA, and some other security agencies globally, allow this (sadly, CATSA doesn’t officially allow the bags, though sometimes agents permit them). But they’re still good bags, even if you can’t take advantage of the checkpoint-friendly features.
Keeping track of receipts while on the road, then entering them into expense reports, is the bane of many a road warrior’s life. It can be made easier with the $179.99 Epson Workforce DS 40 Portable Scanner. Tipping the scales at 1.1 lb, and powered by either battery or USB, it lets you scan those pesky receipts to your choice of cloud service, including Google Drive, Evernote, SharePoint, OneNote, SugarSync, OneDrive, Dropbox and others, or store them locally. It’s compatible with PC and Mac, and can scan things as small as business cards all the way up to documents 8.5 by 36 inches.
A keyboard for any mobile device
If you have multiple keyboard-less devices, but still need to type, the $79.95 (U.S.) Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard might be just the thing. You may not believe this, but Microsoft builds surprisingly decent keyboards. This one talks to anything that supports Bluetooth – Windows, iOS or Android – and can be paired with up to three devices. The keyboard lasts up to six months on a single overnight charge; a 10 minute quick charge will get you through a day if necessary. The cover does triple duty: it protects the keyboard, it’s a stand for the tablet or phone, and it automatically powers the keyboard down when it’s applied.
The best wireless mouse
Carrying an external mouse can be a bulky nuisance for those of us who detest touchpads. The $69.95 Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse has been around for a while, but this year’s model comes with a pleasant change: instead of needing to plug a dongle into the computer, it simply requires a Bluetooth 4.0 low energy connection. Admittedly, those are rare on older machines (though many new Windows 8 machines support Bluetooth 4.0 LE), but if your device supports it, you’ll get a decent mouse whose scroll strip responds to finger strokes, using haptic feedback to scroll vertically. As with its predecessor, there’s no need to find an on/off switch; curve the mouse into its working configuration to turn it on, and splat it flat to turn it off.