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January 2001
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On The Road

Hardware for Road Warriors: An Argument for Toshiba Tecras, Palms and H-P Printers

Look for power, strong construction, solid support, and choose the type of pointing device you find the most comfortable.

By Ross Kodner

Hardware for Road Warriors: An Argument for Toshiba Tecras, Palms and H-P Printers AS A LEGAL consultant and technology educator, I spend most of my work days on the road. Or, to be specific, in airport lounges and airplane seats. I often present lectures on the whole range of mobile technologies, and at the end of the programs, it's not uncommon for attendees to approach and ask me, "What do you use?" Think of it this way: When you get advice on investments from your broker, do you sometimes wonder about which investments they make for themselves?

So here's a look inside my carry-on hardware:

Laptop

I currently carry a Toshiba Tecra 8100. I love Toshiba laptops -- so much that I've owned 16 of them in the last 15 years. (Obvious, that's not a normal usage pattern for the average lawyer. But I tend to keep laptops for about six months, then pass them onto clients.)

I choose Toshiba for several reasons including:

  • I don't like touchpads as pointing devices. I prefer "pointing sticks," the little "eraserhead" embedded between the lower two rows of keys. It feels more natural, and it keeps my hands on the keyboards where they belong instead of bending awkwardly backward and inevitably cramping up.

  • Tons of third-party accessories. Everything from internal ZIP drives to port replicators and everything in between.

  • Rock-solid reliability. Toshiba laptops are made like tanks with superb industrial engineering and vault-like construction. They just plain work.

  • I've had wonderful Toshiba support experiences in the few times I've needed help. Here's an example: With an earlier Tecra, a bizarre problem developed after a couple of days. The keyboard seemed to become a little schizophrenic: the "Ctrl" key wasn't working and some keys were acting as if they were "shifted" sometimes. I called Toshiba support around 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, not expecting any results or to even to talk to a human.

Instead, a pleasant voice answered within 45 seconds of being on hold. He asked, "your serial number please, sir?" to which I responded with the magic digits.

Expecting the usual indifference and incompetence of most modern tech unsupport, I was more than a little surprised to hear a chipper "Good evening, Mr. Kodner, how may we help you?" Within 10 minutes, I was able to download a patch file to fix some weird problem that only occurs after loading MS Office 97 on my particular laptop model. The fellow insisted on hanging on until he knew the problem was corrected. It felt like the kind of service previously thought to be extinct since the demise of the last Mom& Pop appliance store.

Back to my current laptop: I bought an 850 MHz Pentium III model with a 20 GB hard drive, 256 meg of RAM, a 14.1" active matrix display, a DVD drive, 56K modem, and dual media bays so I can have a second internal hard drive or second Lithium Ion battery (giving me dual battery run-time of about 5.5 hours), all elegantly packaged in a slim, svelte six pound chassis. As always, I bought it online, in this case from eCost.com. For at least a month, I'll have the fastest laptop on the techno.block! It has Windows 2000 Professional pre-loaded (I'm taking the plunge -- it's time now that the first service pack was released.) The cost: a little more than $3000. How times have changed since "high-end" and "laptop" in the same paragraph connoted a price point roughly equivalent to a fully-loaded Toyota Corolla. www.csd.toshiba.com.

Palm Organizer

Palm Vx -- enough said. No, it's not color. No, it doesn't play MP3 music files or MPEG movie clips. But what it does, it does superbly. This slim, sleek, aluminum-cased iteration of the market-dominant handheld platform is the Palm model everyone wants. Its buff-finish case is cool to the touch; at about half the thickness of a regular Palm unit, it fits in a shirt pocket. With 8 MB of RAM and rechargeable batteries, it screams "just right." I use it to carry my synchronized TimeMatters 3.0 calendar, address book and to-do list as well as to techno.lug a smattering of handy Web sites, cleverly transferred to my unwired Palm through Avantgo.

Palm Vx's run about $399.

I sync to my laptop via the handy Palm V Travel Kit. This includes a portable hotsync cable (serial), portable charger and several international plugs. Under $50 and worth every penny compared to lugging around the standard bulky Hotsync cradle and AC adapter. www.palm.com.

Printing

Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 350. I used to carry a Canon BJC-80 portable color bubblejet printer. I liked the Canon -- great output quality, lightweight, compact. But it had one serious drawback: it felt as slow as an 8 HP John Deere riding mower circling at about one lap every three hours.

Fast forward to the present and the latest version of HP's portable Deskjet. To be sure, it's not supermodel light, tilting the scales at a tad over five pounds, and thicker than two laptops stacked on top of each other.

But I don't travel with it all the time, only when I know I'll need printing capability. I don't want to be dependent on a pricey hotel "business center" that may or may not be open when I need it.

The H-P doesn't succumb to the compromises so typical of other portable printers. It prints at a good clip -- about seven pages per minute in black print/draft mode.

It has a paper feeder that will hold about 25-40 sheets of paper. If you need to print anything more than two to three pages at a time while you're away from the office, the H-P Deskjet 350 is worth the physical effort needed to haul it around.It can connect to your laptop either wirelessly via infrared or a parallel cable. It rings in at under $300.

Cables

Another tip: Carry a Belkin 2.5-foot IEEE-1284 parallel printer cable. When I'm not sure I need to print on the road and don't want to lug the Deskjet 350 around, I carry a short Belkin bidirectional parallel printer cable. Instead of the bulk and weight of the usual six- or ten-foot cables, try Belkin's short 2.5 foot cable.

It's far more compact and it's really all you'll need if you're going to plug into a hotel or co-counsel's laser printer to get your pages out. The Belkin number is F2A031-02 and they run about $8.

Drivers

One last suggestion: Don't forget to pre-install a collection of Windows printer drivers to let you kick out text from the printers you're most likely to encounter out in the field.

I personally install the last couple of year's worth of H-P Laserjet drivers and more recent Lexmark laser printer drivers. I also install an H-P Deskjet 500 series inkjet printer driver because it seems to work with almost any H-P Deskjet model you may encounter.

Ross Kodner is president of MicroLaw Inc., and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board.

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