Post-CES travel-tech recap, 2013 edition

Last week was a little busy. I flew to Las Vegas to cover CES, walked several miles each day trying to stay on top of show events, wrote and spoke at length about it, ran into Vint Cerf (who, no kidding, asked for help getting on the Internet) and met Bryce Harper (I told him thanks and good luck). And I subjected various hardware and software to the cruel and unusual punishment of five days at the electronics show.

CES 2013 travel techHere’s how technology worked out compared to last year–and 20102009 and 2008.

This time, I left my 2011-vintage ThinkPad at home in favor of the lighter, faster MacBook Air I bought last summer. The battery life and backlit keyboard were great; I was not so fond of having to break out an Ethernet adapter (not Apple’s, but a $10 Monoprice model that worked just as well once I went to the trouble of installing drivers for it) when I didn’t want to take my chances with WiFi.

But–this is going to sound crazy–the WiFi actually worked at lot more often at CES this year. Even in the past-fire-code-packed Samsung press conference, where the Mandalay Bay convention center’s wireless somehow never dropped. I would love to think that we’re learning a few things about scaling this technology.

I did my standup computing on two loaner smartphones I’d packed, an unlocked Galaxy Nexus on a prepaid T-Mobile SIM and an HTC 8X Windows Phone unit on Verizon. Both were a lot better than the smartphones I took last year–even though one of them was a Verizon LTE Galaxy Nexus. (Yes, the VzW Nexus was that bad.)

I employed the HTC phone and its faster, more reliable LTE connection for a fair amount of tethered access. That worked fine in my hotel room but was almost unbearably unreliable in crowded settings like Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs’ bizarre keynote. As in, the one where Jacobs kept going on about how awesome our wireless future was going to be.

I took more photos with the 8X than with the Nexus, but I still spent more time on the Android phone. I blame Twitter–specifically, its buggy, clumsy excuse for a Windows Phone client. The Nexus also had slightly better battery life, but I was pleasantly surprised to see I didn’t have to recharge both phones by lunch every day.

The one application I used most often was Evernote. Once again, it was terrific to be able to start a note on one device, then seamlessly pick it up on another. And once again, I could not get through the week without a synchronization hiccup resulting in conflicting modifications that I had to reconcile by going over two copies of the same note to see which one was newer.

For photo editing, I used mostly iPhoto, with OS X’s Preview handling some basic cropping. My word processor? Don’t laugh: OS X’s TextEdit, combined with the free WordService plug-in, sufficed to generate copy to paste into an e-mail or a blog post.

I brought an old Canon point-and-shoot camera (some of its work is on display in the Flickr set shown after the jump). It was fine in most cases, but there’s no way I’d take that to another CES. Modern cameras have better resolution, low-light performance and telephoto reach, and now camera vendors also seem to have agreed that they all should support automatic picture transfers to cameras for on-the-go sharing.

The photo above shows the two other major pieces of technology I brought: the Belkin travel surge protector that avoided “who gets the last outlet?” awkwardness in various press rooms, and the nerdy Airbeltbag messenger bag that distributed the weight of my gadgets sufficiently well to keep my shoulder from feeling completely destroyed. Continue reading

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Weekly output: Bluetooth and cheap smartphone data, Galaxy Nexus and Nitro HD, recycling, Google privacy

I did more work this week than the list below suggests–oh, to think of the days when an article a day counted as a healthy, if not heavy, journalistic workload–but you’ll have to wait a bit to see those two longer features.

1/22/2012: Tip: Bluetooth not just for headsets, USA Today

I don’t know why more people don’t use Bluetooth to beam files between devices; it’s quicker than using a USB cable or a flash drive. So I used this tip to remind people of that–and to nag Apple for its continued failure to enable this feature in iOS. The rest of the column revisits a question I addressed in the Post two years ago: Can I get a smartphone without the expensive data plan?

1/23/2012: Galaxy Nexus and Nitro HD Get Torture Tested, Discovery News

I first intended to review Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus in December but then decided to try it alongside another LTE Android phone, LG’s Nitro HD. Then CES got in the way, and finally I had to figure out a glitch that kept the Nitro from using LTE. But the delays did contribute to a better-grounded review than usual. I also may have found an answer to the awful standby battery life I and others have seen on the Nexus: Turning off WiFi seems to allow the operating system to sleep properly.

1/26/2012: Eyeing Your Electronics Recycling Options, CEA Digital Dialogue

Speaking of revisiting old Post stories, this one returns to the familiar topic of “how do I get rid of this old TV nobody wants”? The piece notes some progress on this front–my county now does curbside pickup of electronics and Best Buy stopped charging to recycle TVs up to 32 inches–but criticizes computer vendors for failing to provide fact0ry-reset options on a par with those available on most smartphones.

1/27/2012: Your Privacy On Google: Don’t Panic, Do Think, Discovery News

Google neatly solved the problem of “what do I write about?” by announcing a change to its privacy policy (first written up by my old Post colleague Cecilia Kang) that apparently freaked out a large proportion of the Internet–even though it’s not that big of a change. I tried to point that out in this post, written with the benefit of a day or two to reflect on the news and gather some context. Google still doesn’t seem thrilled with the piece but declined my invitation to leave a comment on it, so I added one summarizing their objection and then cross-posted it to Google+. The discussion that followed on the latter site is worth a read.

Post-CES travel tech recap, 2012 edition

One of the things I try to do after each CES–catch up on sleep, do laundry and cook for myself for the first time in a week–is note how the technology I took with me to the show worked out.

I did that in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for the Post, but apparently I was too wiped out after CES and the Verizon iPhone circus too repeat the exercise last year. This time around, I had a lot of new hardware on hand, and I was also able to switch out some of the software I’d used in previous years.

My laptop at this year’s show was the Lenovo ThinkPad X120E I bought in April. I continue to enjoy its light weight (3.3 lbs.) and extended battery life (four hours of nonstop work is no problem), and at a wireless-hostile show like CES it’s handy to have a laptop with a conventional Ethernet port.

But this ThinkPad is not a fast machine. At all. I’ve been planning to replace its hard drive with a solid-state drive, which should help a bit; in the meantime, it’s not a bad computer for writing and simple photo editing. And, hey, it only cost $500 or so.

About photos: After ditching Google’s Picasa a while back–it was too much work getting at edited photos from inside other programs–I usually alternate between Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery and Paint.Net. I used the latter app almost exclusively at CES for a reason irrelevant to most of you: Discovery News’s blog format requires specific photo sizes, and Paint.Net makes it easy to crop a photo to a set proportion.

The best photos I took came from the oldest hardware in the image above, the Canon A570 IS camera I’ve had since 2007. Once I got home, I used Apple’s iPhoto to upload everything to a Flickr set.

I carried my own phone, the battered HTC model at the bottom left of the photo, but used it much less often than the two review models above it, also Android-based: a Samsung Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and an LG Nitro HD on AT&T. I’ll save my full evaluation of both for later, but I will say I’m not the biggest fan of the Nexus for its battery drain, the two freeze-ups I could only cure by removing its battery, and its maddening failure to save a timestamp on several photos. The Nitro, in turn, suffered from LG’s puzzling and unnecessary alterations to the standard Android interface.

I took most of my notes on Twitter, which was terrific for real-time sharing but inconvenient afterwards. As noted before here, Storify is useless as an archiving tool, since I’d have to drag and drop 300 or so tweets one at a time; I may try TweetBackup instead. I didn’t use Evernote as much as in prior years, and this time around its utility was undercut when the app crashed a couple of times, taking my most recent input with it in each case. That raises a question: Why does its Android version have a “Save” button at all when the Windows and Mac editions save every keystroke automatically?

I took along one extra item, a Belkin travel surge protector. Being able to turn one outlet into three–plus two powered USB ports–simplified recharging everything in my hotel room. It was also an enormous help (and a good conversation piece) in crowded press rooms.

The luggage you see underneath is a messenger bag called an Airbeltbag that I got as a Christmas gift. Yes, that’s a real airline seat-belt buckle you see latching it closed. The TSA guy at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and a publicist for the Tripit travel-planning app got a kick out of that, but I also appreciated that this bag will not accidentally open once you insert the metal fitting into the buckle. I just wish the zippered pocket on the outside had some pouches on its inside for pens and business cards.

If you have questions about any of this gear–or, more importantly, my coverage of the show, including the wrap-up I did for the Consumer Electronics Association this week–you can ask me in real time at tomorrow’s Web chat. It runs from noon to 1 or so at CEA’s blog. This will be my first live Q&A since my finale at the Post back in April, so I’m looking forward to it. Talk to you all then?