Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

[This is out of stock on Amazon. I can't find another source for this particular battery. If you know where to get them, please post in the comments. -- Mark]

I’ve been a road warrior for years now, and have gone through over a dozen different Portable USB batteries – they have all either broken (Looking at you, fancy LiPoly chargers!), I’ve lost them, or I outgrew their capacity.

Capacity is the name of the game with this little device! While it is heavy, weighing in at 247 grams (Slightly over a half pound), it packs in every feature that a road warrior would need:

* 8800mAH capacity
* 2 standard USB ports, one outputting at 5V-2A
* Charges via a standard micro-USB cable
* Simple On/Off
* A ring of LEDs around the power button show capacity remaining (Both charging and discharging)
* Comes with a handful of different adapters, though they aren’t needed

I picked it up at a local Microcenter for less than $20, thinking it would be trash — but it’s survived dozens of drops, hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, water, mud and more than enough to have me come to depend on this little guy!

The best part is the 5V – 2Amp output – this allows most devices to enter a fast charge state, which is noticeably quicker than with a standard socket.

On a recent 6-hour flight, I kept both my Android phone and my power hungry Nexus 7 plugged into it. I played games, listened to music, or watched movies the entire time on the Nexus and when we landed both devices were at 100% AND the little USB battery was still at 75%.

In fact, I have yet to drain it beyond 50%, and that includes a 12-hour day of Geocaching with my phone’s GPS on and the screen fully awake.

It also holds a charge for a long long time — I’ve left it alone for 6 months, only to come back and see it’s still at almost a full charge.

If I had an gripe with it at all, it’s that it lacks an attachment point, which is corrected with some epoxy and a trip to the hardware store.

-- Jeremy D Pavleck  

Diablotek 8800mAh Portable USB Battery

Available from Amazon

Calslock Portable Door Lock

I have owned this tool for approximately two years. It manually locks an inward opening door. Ideal for travelling, students or anywhere that you would want privacy and security and there is likely to be multiple copies of the door key in circulation. I am on the road most weeks and have been walked in on in several hotel rooms by people with duplicate keys. I did some research and came across portable door locks.
It will not stop a determined attacker, but that is not what it is made for. It stops someone sneaking into your room using a duplicate key or bypassing the lock. A lot of hotel rooms have security chains, but there are videos on the web showing how these can easily be defeated. It also works on doors with no locks, aslong as there is a recess in the door jam where the door catch fits you can use it.

I originally had a similar one to this that I lost. When I went to replace it they had stopped production. I tried having tried several other designs but was never happy, then came across the Calslock one. At the time I purchased they only appeared to be sold on eBay, which worried me, but having purchased one there was very good service and it is an excellent product. (Still on eBay and cheaper than their home page!)

What makes this a cool tool compared to other portable door locks is a combination of things:

- It is a very good design, slim enough to fit doors that have a very tight fit.
- Easy to operate quickly if you need to get out in an emergency.
- Very adjustable from the thinnest cheapest door to thick heavy fire doors, I have yet to come across a door that is outside it’s adjustment range.
- It is very simple, only two large parts so no small fiddly bits to lose or to go wrong.
- Finally it is cheap, only $9.95, including free postage in USA on eBay or $12.95 direct.
I have no affiliation with Calslock, but whole heartedly recommend their product.

-- Graham Simpson  

Calslock Portable Door Lock

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Calslock

Totes Compact Umbrella

When I got back from a trip to Europe, the one thing I felt I needed more than anything, was a good sturdy umbrella. After much research I found this small Totes umbrella. In my past experience, most small collapsible umbrellas were utter garbage. This is simply not the case here. I have had this thing for about 2 years now. I bring it with me any time there is rain in the forecast.

It’s slightly larger than most collapsible umbrellas (about 14 inches long when collapsed). The handle feels strong and sturdy in hand. It’s comfortable to hold for long periods of time. The auto open and close button works brilliantly and opens with strong force. When open, it is a full “golf size” umbrella, able to easily fit two people underneath. In the wind, there is a magical springiness to it that keeps it from being unwieldy. I’ve had absolutely no issues in heavy wind.

-- Sam Rosenblum  

Totes Golf-Size Auto Open Auto Close Compact Umbrella

Available from Amazon

Vapur Collapsible Water Bottle

One of the problems with water bottles is their bulkiness, especially when empty. The Vapur water bottle collapses and rolls up into a tiny package about the size of a change purse. It’s BPA free and dishwasher-safe. It weighs about 1 oz, you can fill it with water and freeze it. There’s a carabiner on it so you can attach it to stuff to carry it. Capacities range from 0.4 liter to 1 liter-sized bottles. The manufacturer sells replacement caps and carabiners, and a new kind of bottle with whose flip-top cap has a built-in carabiner (I do not have personal experience with, but looks like an improvement on the older style). There’s even a variety with a built-in filter for outdoor use. I’ve had a couple of these for about a year and it’s become my gym bottle of choice.

-- Amy Thomson  

Vapur half-liter water bottle

Available from Amazon

Mono EFX Producer Bag

Having tried many other “messenger” style bags over the years, none of them seemed to find the balance between sturdy construction, flexible space, and affordable price. Discovering Mono bags about 3 years ago was a godsend. Geared towards those in the music industry, Mono has created bags, instrument cases, and other portable storage solutions that have unparalleled design, build quality, and comfort standards. Built with military specs, Mono bags feature a waterproof shell, anti-skip zippers, solid rubber sole, and rugged stitching.

I have used their Producer bag for the last 2 years with minimal wear and tear. I can throw a laptop, power cords, cables, hard drives, and sheet music in there, with plenty of room to spare. The main compartment can be reconfigured with 2 removable padded dividers.

If the Producer is too much bag for you, they have plenty of other sizes and styles of bags to choose from, all with the same high-quality construction. Guitar and bass players should also check out their new Vertigo gig bags. I own an older M80 model for my 5-string bass, and it’s been so sturdy, I’ll never use another brand for my instruments. Unbelievable quality for a great price.

-- Greg Mazunik  

Mono Case EFX Producer Bag

Available from Amazon

Ulmon Offline Mobile Maps

When I travel to another city in the US, I use my iPhone’s Maps app to guide me, especially when I’m on foot. It’s great knowing I won’t get lost as I wander through the streets.

Using online maps when I travel outside the US is too expensive, though, because they consume data, which costs a lot of money. Fortunately, I learned about Ulmon Mobile City Guides. These are free, well-designed offline maps that work with your phone’s GPS to show you where you are and your desired location, without needing a data connection. Just make sure you install the city guide you need before leaving for your trip.

Ulmon maps also include interactive subway maps, Wikipedia articles attached to points of interest, restaurant guides, and other useful travel features, such as the ability to drop pins and add notes to the places you want to visit. I’ve had excellent results using these guides in London, Paris, and Rome (Tokyo, New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Vienna, Venice, and 18 other cities are available).

The one thing they won’t do that online maps will do is draw a route from point A to point B, but that has not been a problem for me, since I haven’t driven a car in the countries where I’ve used the maps.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Sample Excerpts:


Uber Car Service

Uber is a car service that’s much better than a taxi in almost every instance. I’ve used Uber for seven months in different cities in the US and have never had to wait more than five minutes for a car to arrive.

Download the Uber app on your iPhone or Android. The app displays a map and you are in the center. You can see nearby Uber cars waiting to pick up customers. Click the “request” button and the nearest driver is dispatched to your location. It feels like a video game.

Why is Uber superior to taxis? Here’s a list of reasons:

1. The app sends your GPS coordinates to the driver so you don’t need to know your address or intersection.

2. You can see the driver (represented by a symbol) on the map as he comes to get you. I dislike wondering whether or not a taxi really was dispatched when I need to go the airport.

3. The app shows you a photo of the driver and the make, model, and license plate of the car so you can be sure the right driver is picking you up (and not a so-called “gypsy cab.”)

4. You can communicate with your assigned driver by phone or text before he gets to you, in case you have special pick-up instructions. (“I’m wearing a blue jacket.”)

5. When your driver reaches you, you get a text that he is waiting for you (I say “he” because I’ve not had a woman driver yet). This is good if you want to wait in a restaurant or hotel lobby.

6. You can enter your drop-off location and get a fare quote before you request a car. The price of an Uber ride is usually as much as a taxi ride. Sometimes it’s a bit less.

7. Payment is automatically charged to the credit card you registered with. There’s no cash involved and no tipping. When you reach your drop-off point all you have to do is say good bye to the driver and get out. Your receipt is emailed to you.

8. The Uber website saves your trip history, complete with fare payment and maps.

When is a taxi better? When you are standing on a curb and want to get somewhere nearby and there are plenty of available cabs driving by. Then it is easier to whistle.

Check here to find out where Uber is available (the taxicab lobby has delayed Uber deployment in certain cities).


-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Free app, price for rides depends on distance and location

Frost Pak Soft Coolers

I like the versatility of soft coolers, which can be more easily stored when not in use. This includes keeping one in the trunk of the car for unanticipated needs. Unfortunately, the few of these I have previously owned suffered from poor insulation, shoddy zippers and a tendency to leak as soon as the ice starts to melt.

I finally came across an especially robust and capable soft cooler called the Frost Pak from Seattle Sports. I liked it so much I purchased three of the four sizes available (ranging from 12 to 40 quarts).

They’e made of heavy duty vinyl with well attached handles and quality zippers. While not quite as insulative as a good hard cooler, these are more than sufficient to fit most of my needs within a day. While not inexpensive, the Frost Pak is a much better value than all those coolers which simply didn’t hold up.

-- Mike Pel  

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Seattle Sports

Four-Port USB Charging Station

While I rarely use USB for data transfers these days, almost all my portable devices use USB cables recharging. Now that I travel with my iPad instead of a laptop I needed an army of chargers to carry with me. Even if they all used the same connector, I wanted to wake up with all devices charged, meaning multiple chargers. I replaced the multiple transformer bricks with a $40 Antec USB charging station.

The USB charger provides 4 ports for simultaneous charging. Two ports can provide up to 2 amps, and two ports up to 1 amp. The 2 amps can fast charge devices that support it. I use them with an iPad 3 and an iPhone 5. The two 1 amp ports I use for other devices like my bluetooth headset and bluetooth keyboard. With devices charging on all 4 ports it barely warms up. The long (tranformerless) power cable can plug into power outlets hidden behind hotel TVs, desks or beds.

You can find cheaper USB chargers but you have to read carefully to ensure the power output meets your requirements. I found many of the cheaper ones would provide “2 amps of output power” in total. Meaning with one device plugged it the full 2 amps were available, but plug in one more and it would drop in half. Add a third and frequently iPads would no longer charge.

-- Kevin van Haaren  

[Above: a video review of the charger. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Available from Amazon

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo

I bought this 6000mAh USB charging unit because I have a lousy sense of direction. I get lost in buildings and in cities, even ones I’m familiar with. My iPhone’s GPS map is a godsend. I use it when I’m driving, walking, and taking public transportation.

When I was in Tokyo in June, I brought along a small Android phone installed with a local data SIM card. I used the phone as a wireless hotspot for my iPhone, and appreciated having access to the online map to guide me from my hotel to the subway station, and to attractions like the Tsukiji fish market and Kabuki-Cho. It was also nice to call home using Skype, and to post Instagram photos. The only problem was that the batteries on the Android phone and iPhone drained after a few hours, forcing me to ask people, chikatetsu wa doko desu ka? in badly-accented Japanese, to find the nearest subway station.

On my next overseas trip a couple of months later, I brought along a Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo. It’s a beefy battery pack that has two USB charging ports. I kept it in my daypack and my family and I used it to charge our phones while we were walking around London and Paris. It was like having a portable wall outlet, because it never came close to running out of juice, despite nearly constant use. It’s bulky — about as wide and tall as an iPhone 4 and nearly three times as thick (see photo below). I wouldn’t carry it in my pants pocket, but it isn’t a problem in a jacket pocket or bag.

If you want all-day smartphone Internet connectivity, the Mophie Powerstation Duo is what you need.


-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo

Available from Amazon