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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cameras: Olympus E-PL5 and 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.
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 World USB Travel Charger
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.
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
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 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 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.
- Buy: Amazon UK
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.
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