AC on the Road: What's in Derek's gear bag in 2016?

It's February, and that means between shoveling snow and writing blog posts, I have to get ready for the annual journey to Mobile World Congress. This year we're expecting big news (Galaxy S7 and G5) from big companies (Samsung and LG), along with a lot of jamón. So much jamón.

Seriously, if you ever find yourself in Spain, have some jamón.

But aside from the meats, we're there to do a lot of serious work, and so as Managing Editor of Mobile Nations I'm bringing along some serious gear. Here's what's going in my bag with me to MWC 2016.

The bag: Peak Design Everyday Messenger

Peak Design Everyday Messenger

I've been going to trade shows for five years for Mobile Nations, and I'm now on my fifth bag. I've not yet worn out a bag, mind you, I just keep jumping onto the newest bestest bag. And right now, that bag is the Everyday Messenger by Peak Design. And this is a bag that's just so damn good I don't see myself jumping to the next supposed better bag, because I don't know how they could top it.

Designed as a camera bag first, the Everyday Messenger is light and flexible, and yet can hold all my needed gear without weighing down on me too heavily. There are two key innovations in it. The first is the dividers, which fold and flex to expand as you stuff the bag, and also allow for easy stacking inside.

The second is the latch, a magnetic marvel that puts all other closure systems to shame. Let it drop close and it magnetically sticks to a metal plate embedded in the front of the bag. But for a more secure closing you can pull down and latch it onto the ladder rungs that run down that plate and it'll require a deliberate pull to reopen. It's simple, ingenious, and I love it.

And no, the Starfleet emblem isn't standard.

See at Amazon

The laptop: HP Spectre x360

HP Spectre x360

This is a big change for me, and for the most part I'm okay with it. For the past decade I've been a Mac user, and for the most part I still am. But my 3-year-old 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina has a failing battery. I took it to CES 2016, and in addition to killing my shoulder because it's big and heavy, I had to deal with it not even having a 3-hour battery life and inconsistent time remaining predictions. There's little more anxiety-inducing for a tech blogger than seeing a battery meter at 20 percent and knowing the laptop could just turn off at any moment. In the middle of a marathon live blog. That's not a good feeling at all.

I'm waiting for the next refresh of the MacBook Pro line, but Apple is taking their sweet time getting around to Intel Skylake process and Thunderbolt 3 and a newer and lighter design, so instead of buying an out-of-date Mac or lugging my undependable beast with me, I'm going with a laptop that's smaller, lighter, and works. And it happens to run Windows. That'd be the HP Spectre x360. I used it exclusively on a recent work trip and bust it out whenever I want to work away from my desk (the MacBook's a de facto desktop machine now), and it's been a surprisingly great experience.

For one, all of my Mac core apps have versions of functional equivalents on Windows 10 — Adobe Creative Cloud, Chrome, Slack, TextEdit/Notepad (yes, I do all of my writing in TextEdit on the OS X or Notepad on Windows). And as one who was scarred by HP's handling of webOS, it feels weird to say so, but this is a really nice computer. It has all the power I need, the screen's great, the hardware is phenomenal, and — unlike my Mac — it has battery to get me through the day and won't lie to me about how much is left.

See at Microsoft

The phone: Apple iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s

Yeah, I'm one of those people. I'm the Managing Editor of Mobile Nations, I need to use and be familiar with all the major platforms. But the simple truth is that I like the iPhone 6s. I like Android and Windows Phone too, but if push came to shove and I was told I could only have one phone, it would be iPhone. It has its issues, sure, but by and large it works great, it's compact, fast, has a good camera, and — most importantly — the third-party apps are all first-rate. It's the apps that really make the difference; there's just something about iPhone apps that makes them stand just a hair over other platforms. Android is catching up, but Windows Phone has a long way to go in closing the quality gap.

This phone's running on Verizon, and thanks to their new International Travel Plan it might actually end up being my primary phone while I'm over there. $10 a day and I get access to my entire 12GB data bucket on local LTE — plus my local U.S. number gets to stay in the game, with all the Google Voice perks that go along with that.

See at Amazon

The other phone: BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry Priv

What can I say? I love an underdog. And it doesn't get more underdog in 2016 than the BlackBerry Priv. BlackBerry's in a bit of a pickle, though it is a pickle of their own making, and it's hard to say if the Priv will be enough to pull them back from the brink. For all its faults, I can't help but like it — and that's probably mostly due to the keyboard.

See, as an old-school Palm fanboy, the Priv is almost entirely what I've wanted out of an Android phone. It's a close-to-stock Android user experience (especially having replaced the stock launcher), but with a quality slide-out keyboard. Sure, it's a little cramped, but I love me some physical buttons to mash. The camera is mediocre, and the battery life is just adequate, but on most days I carry both it (on AT&T) and the iPhone — and I find myself using it far more frequently than I did almost any other Android device before. When I get to Spain I'll be dropping the AT&T SIM for a prepaid one from Vodafone.

See at Amazon

What about those other phones? Well... it turns out that one of the things that we do at trade shows is compare old phones to new phones. So I'm bringing along with me some "old" phones, namely the iPhone 6s Plus (Why am I using the little one and not this beast? Because it's too darn big, that's why), a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, LG G4, HTC One M9. and a Nexus 6P. Along with those I'll be bringing both an Apple Watch and a Moto 360 (2015).

The camera: Olympus OM-D EM-5 II

Olympus OM-D EM-5 II

I'm a big fan of the Micro Four Thirds camera ecosystem, and no camera fits my needs in that system better than the Olympus OM-D EM-5 II. It's a rockstar of a mirrorless camera, with a relatively compact weather-sealed metal body around a sharp and fast 16MP sensor. Plus it's just a damn fine-looking hunk of technology. I'm a sucker for classic looks.

I'm pairing it up with two excellent lenses: the Olympus 12-40mm ƒ/2.8 PRO for general photography (it's my very favorite lens, though it's on the large and heavy side for Micro Four Thirds) and the Panasonic 100-300mm ƒ/4.0-5.6 for getting extra-zoomy in live blogs. The Panasonic's range is so ridiculous (200-600mm DSLR equivalent) that there are times I've had to back off in the middle of a live blog because I was getting up inside the presenter's nose. That said, I trying to figure out how to justify picking up the new Panasonic Leica 100-400mm or the Olympus 40-150 ƒ/2.8 PRO (other than that I want them).

See at Amazon

Other equipment in the photography and videography category include:

Other assorted items

And then there's everything else that I'm bringing. Since I'm going to be spending a good long time on an airplane, I'm packing my Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones for the trip. They're not my favorite headphones (that title goes to the Bang & Olufsen H6, but they feel great even for long-term wear and have truly excellent active noise cancelling that cuts the drone of a wide-body jet down to a hiss.

When it comes to power, I'll have two options at my disposal. The first is the Aukey 15,000mAh Quick Charge 2.0 USB battery, an utter beast of a battery pack — and it dumps out electrons like it's nobody's business. The other option is the Zolt Laptop Charger Plus. This compact charger is both smaller than the stock HP charger brick and packs a pair of USB ports for charging up all my gear. Right now there's only a U.S. plug version, but as it's a 110-220 volt charger, just toss a dumb Euro plug adapter onto the end and you're off to the races.

Oh, and my passport. I'm not getting anywhere without that.

Derek Kessler

Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm (the old one), and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.