Gear

Find out what Android tech and other gadgets Alex packs when it's time to hit the road

It's been almost a year since our last round of "gear bag" features, where we laid out the stuff we use in our day-to-day work, as well as covering trade shows and any other events we might end up at. That's a long time in tech, and so in the run up to IFA and CTIA this September, we're going to bring you an updated look at the gear loadout of each of the AC editors. Some is old, some is new. Some of it's Android, some of it's not. And some of it might just surprise you.

Head past the break to find out what's in my gear bag in August 2014.

LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5

Phones: The LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5

One of the perks (or perhaps pitfalls) of this job is that you find yourself using a lot of different phones. I end up switching handsets fairly regularly, and over the past few months I haven't really had much of a "daily driver" in the traditional sense. When it's time to hit the road, though, the two devices I'm favoring at the moment are the Samsung Galaxy S5 and LG G3.

Besides the fact that they're both just really solid high-end handsets, the G3 and GS5 have a few features that make them ideal for event coverage. Removable storage lets me easily cache a bunch of music for longer flights, and removable batteries mean I can go back to a full charge instantly when I land. It's also useful to have a couple of great cameras on-hand if I'm visiting somewhere new and potentially interesting — the GS5 is unmatched in daylight, whereas the G3 takes great low-light photos, and is pretty competent across the board.

Neither is running a custom ROM this time around, though the GS5 is set up in "Nexus" mode with the Google Now Launcher and Google apps like Calendar and Hangouts for SMS instead of Samsung's offerings.

LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5

SIM-wise, my main line is on EE, with unlimited calls and texts more LTE data than I'll ever need for £38 per month; I've also got a Vodafone line that I use as a backup for review phones and the like. If I'm traveling overseas I'll usually pick up a local prepaid SIM, especially if there's LTE to be had. Through covering countless shows and events for AC over the past couple of years, I've learned you can never have enough SIMs — data connections are patchy at the best of times, especially when you're packed into an auditorium with hundreds of other journalists.

I'm probably cheating in choosing just two phones here. Usually I'll bring one or two more depending on the event. (For IFA, for instance, I'll likely pack an Xperia Z2, as we're expecting to see the Z3 at that show.) Regardless, the GS5 and G3 are the devices I plan to use every day.

Nexus 7

Tablet: Nexus 7 (2013)

I'll be honest: When I'm travelling with limited bag space available, I'll often stick to phones instead of tablets. However when I want to pass some time on a long flight, the now year-old second-gen Nexus 7 is my slate of choice. There's fancier, more up-to-date tablet hardware out there, but the ASUS-built Nexus provides ample power for most of my tablet needs — mainly web browsing, movies and music playback. A larger display would be nice (and is widely rumored for the Nexus 8), but I'm reluctant to splash any more cash on a higher-end tablet in the meantime when the Nexus 7 fits my needs so well.

LG G Watch

Smartwatch: LG G Watch

LG's Android Wear-powered G Watch isn't perfect, and there's a good chance its position on this list will soon be usurped by that other smartwatch we're all waiting on. For now, though, the G Watch allows me to keep track of emails, calls, social stuff and other notifications without constantly pulling my phone out. That's not such a big deal in day-to-day use, but at major events it lets me track important notifications without becoming swamped.

Right now the G Watch is the best of a very limited selection of Android Wear devices. The hardware is basic — a black rectangle for your wrist — and the screen isn't particularly useful in bright daylight. Hopefully the Moto 360 can spice things up a bit with more premium design, as well as an auto-brightness to remedy some of the display issues.

MacBook Air

Laptop: MacBook Air (13-inch, 2012)

The 13-inch MacBook Air I'm using is almost two years old, but it's held up really well. It's a 2GHz Intel Core i7 model with 8GB of RAM, which provides more than enough power for most stuff I'll find myself doing for Mobile Nations at events, including RAW photo editing and light video work. While it doesn't offer the insane longevity of more recent Haswell MacBooks, the Air's near-perfect balance between weight, size and power leaves me in no hurry to upgrade. Battery life could always be better, but I've found the 2012 Air can generally get me through a full day of trade show duties with power to spare.

Tucano case

Case: Tucano Second Skin Microfiber sleeve​

The MacBook Air is a pretty sturdy laptop, constructed from aluminum in the trademark Apple style. If I want to protect it from scratches and scrapes, though, I use this microfiber sleeve from Tucano. It's designed for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but fits the Air just fine.

Olympus E-PL5

Cameras: Olympus E-PL5 and Sony RX100

Sony RX100

The Sony RX100 had been my go-to camera for much of the past year, and it's still a really great high-end point-and-shoot. (It's actually been superseded a couple of times since I picked it up — Sony now sells the RX100 M II and III.) But as we've started shooting larger, retina-ready images across all the Mobile Nations sites, it was clear I'd need to upgrade. I still carry the RX100, but mainly as a backup, and to have something more portable than my main interchangeable lens camera.

Once again I've decided against going the DSLR route — mainly due to hearing complaints about how heavy and unwieldy they are to lug around shows, from people like our own Phil Nickinson. Instead I've opted for a micro four thirds setup from Olympus, which hits a convenient balance between image quality and portability. The E-PL5 is a pretty versatile camera, especially for the kind of photography I tend to do for AC, and I've found the kit lens more than up to the task of taking photos and video footage of the various Android gadgets we cover. (Some examples here, here and here.) That said, I'll likely diversify my lens loadout soon, and maybe invest in a longer telephoto lens for the upcoming liveblogs.

These are both paired with a relatively inexpensive Vivtar tripod — nothing fancy, but good enough for the fews occasions I need a fixed camera.

urBeats

Earphones: urBeats in-ear headphones

I ended up buying these from McCarren International Airport on the way back from CES, having left my usual earphones... somewhere... during the course of the show. Attracted mostly by the crazy price difference compared to the usual UK markup, I decided to pick up these urBeats cans — renamed iBeats, essentially, launched back when Beats was still in bed with HTC — and take a chance that the naysayers were wrong. And I've been pretty pleased with the results. If you're driving them from a smartphone then in some cases it's easy to get way too much bass, but this is easily remedied by dialing back or killing whichever equalizer settings are enabled. On the whole, one of the better airport-based impulse buys I've made.

Batteries, cables and other stuff

Skross charger

Skross World USB Travel Char​ger

I have a bunch of European and U.S. USB chargers from various devices, but I never travel overseas without this Skross dual-USB power cube. It's a four-in-one charger that can power up a single gadget at 1.3A, or two at 650mA — not the fastest, but a great way to save outlet space if you're charging a couple of phones overnight.

Assorted microUSB cables

You also end up with a lot of USB cables in this job. Generally I'll grab a few before leaving for a show — whichever happen to be closest to hand.

Batteries

Spare batteries

If it's going to be a long working day, particularly at a show like IFA, I'll usually pack a spare battery for whichever phone (or phones) I'm using. Extra LG G3 batteries aren't widely available yet — I had to order my spare and charging station from a Korean eBay seller. Fortunately the GS5 is a bit easier — the official Samsung spare battery kit is sold by the fine folks at ShopAndroid.com

Huawei power bank

Even more batteries: The Huawei AP006 USB power bank

You can never have too many batteries, especially with airport security now treating uncharged devices with suspicion. I'm not entirely sure how I ended up with this Huawei USB battery — I suspect it was bundled with promotional stuff in a press goodie bag or something — but it does the job. The total capacity is 4800mAh, which should give you at least one full charge on most phones, and helpfully it also outputs at up to 2A for extra-quick charging.

What's more, it comes with a protective pouch to stop it getting scratched up, or scratching up whatever it's charging.

LG memory stick

LG MU2 USB/microUSB memory stick

This was included with a recent bundle of LG G3 accessories from Korea. It's a 16GB USB 3.0 flash drive with both USB and microUSB (OTG) support, and a slider to switch between the two. The full-sized USB side plugs into a PC or laptop, while the microUSB side can plug into a phone — handy if you need to quickly transfer stuff between a phone and a computer without messing around with cables. And when you need to send large files to someone sitting right next to you, plain old USB still trumps AirDrop or email.

I've yet to see this particular model on sale in the west, but Amazon has its predecessor, the MU1, which is a USB2 version of this stick.

Angel wings

Angel Wonder Wing Support smartphone stand

Ever wonder how we get those pictures of smartphones standing up on their own? This is what we use. The Angel Wonder Wing Support suction cup stand is a great way to prop any smartphone up, despite its ridiculous name. It's actually designed to hold phones up in landscape orientation for watching movies, but it works almost as well in portrait mode when taking device photos. Slap it on the back of a phone and it'll normally stand up for long enough to snap a few pictures.

That's a lot of gear

This gear isn't necessarily the best of the best, but it's what I'm using right now, and chances I'll be taking all of this with me to IFA in just under a month. That said, my gear loadout is sure to change over time, and so we'll probably revisit this list in a few months and see what's changed.

Over the next month or so the other AC editors will be showing off the tech they use every day and on the road, so keep watching in the weeks ahead. For a trip down memory lane, you might also want to check out last year's "AC on the road" features to see what we were using twelve months ago.

 

Reader comments

AC on the road: What's in Alex's gear bag in 2014

51 Comments

Sorry, I'm going to piggy back off the first comment here :) In these segments, I'd really like to see what kind of gear bag they actually use. I use an over the shoulder kind of thing that really isn't very big. Would like something a little bigger that isn't a full-blown backpack or laptop bag.

Great gear! I'd hate to lug all that stuff around but it goes with the job! But one thing though.....cover that blasted apple emblem with a Lloyd sticker! :)

Good phone and tablet choices. Only thing I'd like to point out is that DSLR's aren't that bad to lug around. Just get an entry level model, they're pretty light and still offer great image quality.

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/\ this...

Something like a Canon Eos 550D or 600D with kit lens is not heavy at all but offers phenomenal images and should offer better low light and dynamic range than the Olympus.

Actually, that Olympus offers better DR than most of Canon's DSLR, their sensors are pretty dated. If you had suggested a recent model Nikon, maybe, but it's still pretty close. Mirrorless is a really really obvious choice for a journalist.

Not to mention the wide variety of large aperture primes available for MFT bodies. Canon wants to push customers to full frame bodies ($2K+) so they keep a more limited selection of lenses for cheaper APS-C DSLR...

How many >f2.0 <50mm equivalent primes can you buy for a Rebel? I think the 35/f2 (equivalent to 56mm) is the widest affordable option? MFT has 24/30/34/40mm equivalent primes with f2 or better apertures (tho the 24 isn't very affordable and the 30 is borderline, there's also cheap 28 & 40mm equivalent f2.5-2.8 alternatives).

Having that kinda lens available can make a much bigger difference under low light than sensor performance. If you're not into primes, how about a 24-70mm equivalent f2.8 zoom that's weather sealed and about the same size as a 28-84 f3.5-5.6 DSLR kit zoom?

Uh... You can use any of the current Canon lenses, even ones intended for full frame, on the APS-C bodies. You can't use APS-C-only lenses on a full frame body, but Canon's entire line of current lenses can be used on the rebel series.

Right, and I didn't say otherwise, the problem is they don't make a wide variety of lenses originally meant for APS-C... Most are designed for full frame first, and thus when mounted on an affordable APS-C DSLR you get a different (longer) equivalent focal length... If you're looking for longer lenses that plays in your favor, if you're looking for wider lenses that means most lenses designed for full frame aren't really very wide on your APS-C camera, particularly the primes available.

The best camera for the image quality and size is the Sony "artist formerly known as NEX" Whatever they are called now, be it the NEX 7 that's still around, the NEX 5T that you can still fine, or the newer Alpha 500 and 6000 cameras, they all pack the same APS-C sensor you'll find in any entry to mid level DSLR and are significantly smaller.

My NEX 5N takes pictures at least as good as my dad's Canon 60D, probably even a bit better in low light. His camera is better in sports mode and pure shooting speed, but I wouldn't trade a few fps more for the size increase.

If I were buying a new camera that's smaller than a DSLR I'd buy a Alpha 6000 in a heartbeat.

If you're sticking with the kit lens, the Alpha 6000 is easily the best buy indeed, great action shooter which is uncommon for mirrorless cameras (that's now changing). If you're buying other lenses and/or prefer more variety of body styles (smaller and/or larger with DSLR-like styling and fully articulated screen) the decision becomes a lot harder, since Micro Four Thirds cameras from Panasonic and Olympus have a much much better selection of lenses available. Even Fuji's X system has lapsed Sony in this regard as they're now focused on their larger and more expensive A7 full frame system.

Disagree. SLRs ARE bigger, especially the lenses and other accessories. It all adds up quickly to a heavy load. Stay away if small size and light weight is top priority.

Olympus and Panasonic M43 are a good compromise nowadays between price, size and performance. There are incredibly good lenses available, and for less than something like the Sony a6000 and the Sony and Zeiss lenses. Although good, Sony and Zeiss lenses are more expensive and with a smaller selection.

They're still much heavier than mirrorless bodies, but the camera bodies aren't even the biggest deal... It's with lenses the the difference becomes even more significant. The 10x 28-280mm equivalent supertele I got my mother for her Panasonic G6 is smaller than the 3x 28-82mm equivalent kit zoom that came with my sister's Canon Rebel T3i. Her 24-105mm Canon L lens weighs more by itself than my mother's camera + lens... Huge difference.

Not entry level. They're not much heavier. Plus for an event like the one that was mentioned in the article you wouldn't need a big lens for device shots which is the primary shot that would be taken there. The kits lens or a prime lens would do.
Not much weight and you get the quality of a DSLR. (I still don't see mirrorless quite comparing in quality just yet. Almost though.)

I don't really have a problem carrying around a DSLR though so this is just my way of seeing it. Others might have an issue with it. (Like the author obviously.)
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There's still a big gap even if you're comparing kit lenses or primes, a 24-60mm or 28-84mm equivalent MFT kit lens can be as small as 1.5x1" thanks to recent collapsible designs... And mirrorless has a much better selection of primes because Canikon makes most primes for full frame rather than APS-C/entry level DSLR, so you never quite get all the focal lengths you'd want.

I'm not even sure what you're arguing about quality... If you're comparing MFT with a Nikon DSLR you might give a very very slight edge to Nikon, but they're on par or better than any Canon APS-C sensor since they've gone years without a significant update. If you compare any other kind of mirrorless (NEX/Alpha, Fuji X, etc) they're pretty much identical since they use the same freaking sensor size (APS-C) and half of them even use the same Sony sensors.

IQ is NOT why anyone that knows photography would favor a DSLR over mirrorless, like at all... Unless you're talking full frame DSLR but that's whole different price bracket. The main advantage of DSLR as they stand today are the optical viewfinder if you have a strong preference for that (tho EVF have their own advantages like exposure preview etc), and the fact that mid to high end DSLR still do better at tracking action, that's it.

You're not shooting action shots at a convention tho, you're shooting tons of product shots as you said, and being able to frame shots with the display without sacrificing AF speed is a big advantage for mirrorless there... Never mind the fact that CDAF on mirrorless is often much more accurate at actually nailing AF, PDAF on DSLR suffers a lot because the AF sensor is completely separate from the imaging sensor.

Pros can account for that by using micro adjustments and calibrating for every lens and multiple focal lengths but it's a big hassle.

Btw, the weight difference might not make or break a man, but the bulk difference in your bag and on yourself is still immense. 200g more is probably not gonna make a grown man cry, tho when it's around your neck all day every bit counts, but comparing the smallest DSLR in the market vs the smallest MFT is pretty telling:

http://camerasize.com/compare/#448,491

The difference is particularly stark when you view them from the top, and that's without lenses. Add another 3" (maybe a little less) to the front of the SL1 for a kit zoom, add 1" to the GM1 which literally fits in your cargo pants (with kit zoom or a prime). The kicker here is that GM1 actually has better IQ than any Canon Rebel, not to mention it's kit zoom goes wider than most kit zooms.

Honestly, for the kinda job they're doing (and for most uses outside of action photography really), mirrorless is just a better choice for a multitude of reasons. Whether you choose Sony, Fuji, or Olympus/Panasonic is another story.

You can think that if you want but a bit of creative thinking can get around any inconvenience of carrying a DSLR instead of a mirrorless.

And it's more than a very very slight edge in favor of Nikon. Especially if you go high-end. Canon though I'll agree has become a bit of a joke.

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It's a great camera, also take a look at the even smaller Panasonic GM1 if you want a small camera with DSLR quality, little pricier but it's gotten cheaper... They use the same lenses, which is one of the really great things about the MFT system, between Panasonic, Olympus, and third parties you've got a ton of choices.

I have a Panasonic GF6, whose sensor is a little worse than the E-PL5 but I liked it's feature set better (including Wi-Fi remote control and sharing, which is awesome). As small as it's kit lens is, I ended up swapping it for the GM1's collapsible kit zoom, which is downright pocketable.

I've got about five lenses by now but if I had to pare it down to just two it'd be simple: GM1's 24-60mm equivalent kit zoom + Panasonic 20/1.7. The latter is a 40mm equivalent prime that's just about as small but the large f1.7 aperture makes for amazing low light photos.

Nice thing about that combo is I can easily slip whichever isn't in use into my pocket, and leave the house with the camera on my shoulder and no bag if I wanted.

That is like what I typically carry when I have to be away for a few days right now. A few minor differences but that is my kit.

Are those earbuds similar to the ones that shipped with the ReZound? if so, yeah they are pretty decent. I am still using mine for travel and my work space, mostly because I do not care if they get lost or damaged because of their age but they have held up well.

Thanks for the insights into your travel bag Alex!

I carry a external 4000 millamp hour battery with my s5 I also have a extra Samsung battery just in case mine breaks I got it for 20 bucks

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It's probably worth your while picking up a Panasonic 20 mm f1.7 pancake lens, a fair choice of them on eBay, it enables getting pictures in relatively poor light without using flash or cranking the ISO up and getting grain, perhaps £180. I don't use mine so often but when I need it I *need* it.
Maybe too get a Lumix GFx series body as your backup? Very compact.

GF series are about the same size as his E-PL, might as well just get a second E-PL or an E-PM as backup, but he has the Sony RX for that anyway. Switching between Panasonic and Olympus menu layout all the time would get aggravating...

+1000 on the 20/1.7 suggestion tho, everyone with a MFT camera should have one, I use mine a ton, often the only lens I use all night. The 40mm equivalent perspective isn't as close in as a normal 50mm but it's also not too wide so it's still ok for people shots from relatively close.

Might as well have a DSLR too, Alex. It won't add that much incremental weight to everything else you're packing. =]

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Huh, interesting he didn't mention the M8 at all... I might just go with the S5 if no other Android phones come out in the fall...

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I bet he likes the m8 but he mentioned that he needs phones that have removable batteries and good cameras.

Posted via My Ever-Bloated S4

Yup. M8 is a great phone, but for trade show duties being able to swap batteries is a big deal, as is having a high quality camera. For day to day stuff, though, the M8 is fantastic.

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Didn't I hear Phil rail against people who want removable batteries in their phones?

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Via HTC One

An extremely small number of people swap batteries because of easy and regular access to chargers.

Battery swapping is useful for circumstances like tech trade shows with signal crowding and long days on the move including in remote areas where the convenience of charging is nearly impossible.

Citation needed. Swapping batteries and phones with swappable batteries are becoming more common once again. You really do need it on the G3 pushing all those pixels (not that battery life is terrible on it). The Nexus 4 & 5 really could have used it

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So? Phil speaks for Alex now? Personally I never made much use out of my spare batteries when I had a phone with replaceable battery. The whole exercise of shutting down, taking the case off, swapping, then waiting to boot up was pretty frustrating (granted first and second gen Android phones took longer to boot), so I rarely did so even when traveling.

I much prefer carrying a phone sized 6000mAh USB battery from Anker (with built in cable! It's literally the same size as my N5) and mostly charging when it's convenient, if you don't wait until your battery's near dead it's much easier to manage. 6000mAh is good for two full charges on the N5.

THAT BEING SAID, this is a very personal choice and I can easily see why some would prefer removable batteries. For one thing they're smaller, and if you don't use a case then swapping becomes much easier. Plus if a full charge almost newer gets you thru the day (as I can imagine would be the case at a conference), then a relatively quick swap > charging of any kind.

You know what's great tho? Having a choice in the matter.

Choice is good. I consider the battery pack all the time but decided my time is worth more. It takes a minute to have a fully recharged battery vs waiting for it to charge.

Nothing wrong with it, just a preference

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I was wondering if we were gonna see updated versions of these articles. Guess I have more to look forward to.

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Kingston just came out with a line of USB 3.0 / mUSB OTG sticks similar to that LG MU2, only much smaller. There's dozens of those things around, from all the usual suspects (SanDisk, Patriot, etc), but Kingston's is the smallest I've seen and the price looks good (64GB for $35).

I'm probably gonna replace the mSD reader on keychain with that Kingston drive, it'll simultaneously replace my Meenova mSD OTG... The thing is tiny, picture a micro USB plug glued to the end of a full size USB plug and that's what you've got (with a little swivel cap).

That LG is pretty small as it is, but if it's riding my pocket all day I wanna go as small as possible. 70MB/s read speed on the Kingston btw (under USB 3.0 obviously).

Why would he want to go back to a phone that is two android versions behind?

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I really enjoy reading these "personal" articles. The normal reviews are great, but I want to see what you guys rely on given the choice of so many devices. And the added bonus of cameras, battery packs, bags, etc is just bonus.
Please keep these articles coming!

Why's that? Alex is hardly in the minority using a Mac... walk around any trade show in our industry and you'll see an overwhelming number of mac laptops — light, durable, consistent, good battery life, great for photo and (light) video editing. Everything you need as someone in our field.