Here are some hardware secrets to enhance your mobile computing experience.
Listen to music and take calls
Using your notebook PC to listen to music or watch a movie in public may leave you tethered to the PC by the headphone cable. And when your cell phone rings, you have to take the headphones off to get the call--that is, if you heard the ring tone. You need to use a dual-purpose wireless headset that exploits Bluetooth's multiple-connection capability. Jabra's BT620s (US$83) incorporates a microphone directly in the stereo headset, so with the touch of a button you switch between listening to audio playing on your laptop and taking calls on your Bluetooth-enabled phone. When you get a call, whatever is playing automatically pauses. Touch a button on the side of the headset to accept or refuse the call; when your conversation ends, the PC sound returns. The headset's battery life is about 14 hours for listening and talking.
Print without your printer
Notebooks free you from the office, but they also take away easy access to your printer. Short of schlepping around a portable printer, getting hard copies on the road involves transferring documents to external memory--usually a USB key or a flash card--and then taking it to a hotel business center or a copy shop.
A number of Internet-based services take the drudgery out of printing on the road. PrinterOn directs you to a nearby network printer and lets you print files in over 100 different formats, including Office files, PDFs, and JPEGs. The service has partnered with major hotel chains such as Doubletree, Embassy Suites, and Hilton to let guests send free print jobs to their in-house business center. Free downloadable software from FedEx Kinko's lets you send print jobs to a virtual printer on your PC, and then either redirects the job to the FedEx Kinko's location you choose or delivers the printout to you via FedEx. You can preview the printout in your browser, and pay online (the cost depends on the file's size and the paper you use).
This dock's got you covered
Your notebook is designed for mobility, yet most of the time it sits on a desk in your office or home. A docking station (also called a port replicator) provides ports for such essential external devices as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, and printer. The Targus Universal Notebook Docking Station with Video lets you connect all your devices through a single USB port on your laptop. Two of the docking station's four USB ports have power even when the notebook is off or in sleep mode, making the device handy for recharging your phone, PDA, or wireless mouse; it costs about US$120 online.
Bonus tip: If your notebook has a large screen, the US$100 Logitech Alto docking station transforms it into an external monitor. The Alto's unique stand lifts the notebook screen to desktop-monitor height.
Contributor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Northern California.