Every time there's a launch event or conference, it offers us an opportunity to reevaluate the gear we carry that helps us do our job. CES and MWC gave us two chances to tune things up, and now we have Google I/O 2017 down in Google's own backyard — Mountain View, California.
What I'm carrying to I/O this year hasn't changed a ton from my pre-CES gear bag evaluation, but a few key parts have been swapped out and I'll have some extra gear with me specific to this event. As I get everything packed up, let's take a look inside my gear bag.
The bag: Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
I picked up my Timbuk2 Classic Messenger (size large) over two years ago, and I've been very happy with it as both a daily carry bag and for traveling. Most of the bag inside is just open space to use as you please, minus a divider in the back to fit a laptop. You get two internal side pockets that are great for bigger items, plus two zipped pockets for small things and a couple more open pockets for essentials.
The bag can go anywhere and take a beating.
Most days I have the external straps tightened down, which collapses the bag for a slimmer profile since I don't have much to carry. But you can also loosen those straps out and fit a weekend's worth of clothing and gear or a full set of camera equipment for a day of shooting. The versatility of the big open bag is great, even if I'm carrying the same things most of the time.
The bag has held up to years of travel, but you just can't beat Timbuk2's warranty, particularly if you have a store where you live. You'll never have to worry about being caught without a bag or being charged for replacements if manufacturing-related issues arise.
Also inside: Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Insert
I use this bag for photography gear on a regular basis, so I also invested in a Timbuk2 "Snoop" camera insert; and I went for a medium size for my large bag so that I have extra room for non-camera gear.
This is a fully-contained zip-closed camera bag with two movable dividers and a soft cloth interior that can easily hold my camera, two extra lenses, cables, batteries, and usually another phone or two. It has a handle on it so you can quickly yank it out of your bag, and because it's self-contained it means I can quickly turn my messenger back into a standard carry-all bag in a snap.
And finally: Peak Design Capture Camera Clip
The Peak Design Capture Camera Clip came as a recommendation from several people, and I just don't carry a camera without it anymore. It's a simple and secure way to mount your camera on a bag strap or belt, letting you quickly remove the camera for shooting and then clip it back on the bag until you need it.
No more camera swinging around your neck from a strap, and no more stashing it in your bag where it's hard to reach. This thing is absolutely crucial for trade shows, but I've started to use it any time I carry a camera with my bag.
The laptop: MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch)
I've had my new MacBook Pro for nearly five months now, and after initial bumps with my first model having a defective keyboard I'm well into the swing of using this laptop.
There have been plenty of complaints about what's wrong with the new MacBook Pros — many of which I agree with. Yes I miss MagSafe. Yes the lack of USB-A ports can be frustrating. Yes the battery life can be a little finicky. But that being said, I'm still happy with it overall.
It isn't the laptop for every power user, but it's great for me so far.
The screen is absolutely gorgeous, the power on tap here (I have a 3.1GHz Core i5 and 16GB of RAM) is immense, Touch ID is a great addition and it's actually a smaller overall package than my four-year-old MacBook Air. I've fallen in love with using USB-C to charge from any of my myriad wall chargers and battery packs. The extra-shallow keyboard isn't an issue for me at all, and the non-clicking trackpad is just fine as well.
Is the new MacBook Pro a dream machine for every professional and power user out there? Hardly. But it's more machine than I need (even without maxing out the specs or getting a 15-inch model) in terms of internal hardware, and fits my needs very well as someone that most of the time relies on a laptop as my primary machine and travels upwards of 100,000 miles a year.
The phone: Galaxy S8
I'm a few weeks into using the Galaxy S8 as my primary phone, and I'm still enjoying it. The hardware and display are great, the software is quick and I feel like I have things dialed in as best as I can get them in terms of disabling unnecessary apps and getting Samsung's features scaled back so they're not in my way. I expect the camera to get the job done on my travels as well — most of the photos you see on Instagram at Google I/O will be from the GS8.
I tossed a thin case on it to protect it from the eventual bumps and scrapes of travel and to give the fingerprint sensor some separation, and I'm ready to see how the battery life can hold up to the rigors of travel.
The carrier: T-Mobile
I've had a personal T-Mobile line for several years now, and it's the SIM that lands in whatever phone I'm using that isn't my Pixel. T-Mobile has great service in the big cities that I travel to, and my North America plan gives me full-speed service for free when I travel to Canada and Mexico a handful of times a year.
The rest of the industry has improved its international offerings to the point where I don't jump to T-Mobile as my primary SIM to use outside of North America, but it's great to know I have access to those free 2G speeds on the phone as a backup wherever I am in the world. I'm not sure how I'd feel about T-Mobile's offering if I was paying some $20 more per month on the new T-Mobile ONE plan, but on my current plan it's worth keeping around.
The other phone: Google Pixel XL
Ideally I'd be using the smaller Pixel because it's easier to manage in one hand, but unfortunately its shortcoming in battery life just isn't practical for travel. The bigger screen and extra battery of the Pixel XL are crucial for long days with lots of screen-on time and bad wireless signal, and so that's the one I'll have in my bag.
The camera on the Pixel XL is still proving to be fantastic, and Google's software is still stable and quick even several months on. I keep my Pixel XL charged, updated and ready to go at all times, no matter what other phone I'm using primarily. (You may also notice my Places Live Case ... it's working a bit better than before, so I'm keeping it around.)
The other carrier: Project Fi
Whenever I'm using my Pixel XL I'm also using my preferred carrier, Project Fi. Sure it's a little on the spendy side in terms of raw price-per-gigabyte, but I love the consistency of the service and the extra flexibility afforded by its use of three different networks and Wi-Fi for calling.
You can't beat the simplicity and billing transparency of Project Fi.
The transparency of Project Fi in how it bills you and refunds for unused data is fantastic, letting me seamlessly use a large amount of data one month — like at a conference — and then go back to using less than 2GB the next with no fear about changing plans or managing data buckets. My average Fi bill is about $50 per month, and that includes some really big $125+ bills when I had to tether a bunch while traveling. I'd say the cost works out well in the long run.
As I regularly travel internationally I really appreciate how things stay exactly the same when I'm abroad. It's a real shame that Project Fi is limited to just Pixels and Nexuses, but when I'm using my Pixel XL there's no other carrier I'd prefer to use.
The tablet: Galaxy Tab S3 + keyboard
I don't normally travel with a large tablet in addition to a laptop, but in for this latest trip I'm actually traveling elsewhere leading up to Google I/O and like to have the tablet for long flights. Not only is it easier to manage in relatively small airplane seats, but it has a better screen and content selection than any in-flight entertainment screen can offer.
The Galaxy Tab S3 has replaced my Pixel C, for now, and part of that is because of how much lighter and more compact it is. Yet it still offers me a capable keyboard case, so I can use it to get a little work done if I want without pulling out my MacBook Pro. Because of its flexibility, the added weight in my bag is worth it.
The camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II
This is now my third Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, and the OM-D E-M5 Mk II really shows off what this format of camera can offer. Just like my E-PL1 and E-PL5 before, the E-M5 Mk II offers fantastic images from a really compact camera. Interchangeable lenses are great, the addition of a viewfinder is welcomed and the extra dedicated buttons and knobs compared to the lower-end model are useful.
Perhaps the nicest thing about these cameras is just how "point and shoot" they can be if you don't have a need for tweaking extra settings. In "Auto" mode with a prime lens it's tough to take a bad shot with the OM-D E-M5 Mk II, and that's super useful when you're in a tradeshow setting crowded in a group of people in bad lighting. I never feel like I need to manage my camera, but all of the manual controls are there if I need to.
While the OM-D E-M5 Mk II is a great camera with its 14-42 mm kit lens, it turns into an entirely different experience with a good prime lens on it. Olympus' own 25 mm f/1.8 lens (a 50 mm equivalent for a full-frame sensor) is my go-to lens and it's absolutely fantastic. It's extremely fast and bright, meaning you can go into point-and-shoot mode and never miss a shot, even in bad lighting. Whereas you have to work a bit with the kit lens, you don't even have to think about it with this prime.
Micro Four Thirds lenses tend to be dramatically less expensive than their counterparts from the likes of Sony, Canon and Nikon, which is really great. I often carry a 14-150mm for longer shots and a 12mm f/2.0 (okay, $799 is a bit steep, but it's fantastic) for some video shooting as well.
Other gear and accessories
I used to wear in-ear headphones as I traveled to/from/through airports, but now I've gone all-in on my Bose QC35s. Yes they're big, but they're just so damn comfortable that I have no issue wearing them from the moment I step out of my apartment all the way through to boarding the plane. I don't have to get tangled up with headphone wires, and the battery life is so long I never have to worry about charging even on the longest of travel days. The noise cancellation is superb for all sorts of environments, particularly on a big plane. Best $350 I spent this year.
Bose QC35s are the best $350 I spent this year.
My laptop bag has three USB-C cables: Apple's 6 foot charging cable, the excellent OnePlus charging cable, and a generic 6 inch USB-C cable. The combination makes sure I have a cable of different lengths for different jobs. Even though I still have a couple of Micro-USB devices hanging around (looking at you, Bose), I no longer carry a Micro-USB cable — instead, I bought these awesome USB-C to Micro-USB adapters that let me charge up these old devices with my new USB-C cables. What a life saver.
No matter how long I'm traveling for I bring the same wall charger: an Anker two-port unit that offers Quick Charge 3.0 tech on one port and up to 5V/2.4A on the other. It's just small enough (with a foldable plug) that it's not a burden to carry around in my bag every day, and the extra power output — a total of 31.5W — with the flexibility of two USB-A ports is necessary for me. This is a great charger to power up everything I travel with.
A battery this small means I can always carry it with me.
Anker also makes my current favorite daily carry battery pack, the 10,000mAh Power Core Speed 2. When it comes to mobile battery packs I just want the most capacity in the smallest package, and this one is just impressively tiny considering its 10,000mAh battery. It's smaller than some of my old 5000mAh batteries, and even though it only offers one USB output that's considering how easy it is to have on me all of the time. My only wish is that I could get one that charges over USB-C (which would then also offer two outputs at the same time) — perhaps Anker will update it soon.
We're often doing video voiceovers and podcasts while we're on the road, and for that reason I always carry my handy Samson Go Mic. This little USB-powered microphone is really small and has sound that'll blow away any laptop microphone or lapel mic, making it a perfect companion for the road.
So that's what inside my bag when I travel. Have any comments or thoughts on what you carry and how it differs? Shout out in the comments!
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