Gadling Gear Review: Pelican Elite Tablet Backpack

When you see the baggage handlers hurling your suitcase on the car or you watch a fellow passenger trying to crush their carry-on to the already packed overhead bin, you start to ask yourself: is it time to switch to hard-sided luggage? Pelican makes super rugged packs that are something of a compromise. Your heart won’t lurch in your throat as you remember that you left your tablet in your pack at the same moment that the bus driver hurls it up on to the luggage rack, but there are some tradeoffs.

The U140 Urban Elite Tablet backpack is built around hauling your tablet from A to B and getting in there in one piece. It’s got a hard-shell, a plastic case built right in. There’s a divider to keep it separate from your keyboard, if you’ve got one – it’s removable or you can keep it as a little extra padding. The compartment clamps shut – it is not going to fall open, but you could add a cable tie or a padlock, if you’re feeling extra security conscious. Your iPad or netbook will be well secured; that’s for sure.

The rest of the pack has your typical daypack features. The front pocket has lots of compartments and sleeves for your phone, your business cards, the kind of stuff we all carry around. There’s a sleeve-like middle pocket where you could stow any paperwork or a sweater, but it’s a little shallow – you’re not going to get a lot of bulky stuff in there. If you pack carefully, you might be able to stow a change of clothes, but it’s going to be tight and you’ll have to be a master folder. You can strap your jacket (or beach towel) on to the bottom of the pack and there are lash hooks on the side that do not feature a water-bottle pocket.When you flip the pack over, there’s another compartment at the back. You could absolutely stow a minimal photography kit in here. There are no dividers provided, so you’ll have to figure out your own system, but I was able to get my DSLR with the 300 lens in there, no problem. You will have to take off the pack to access that pocket, but it’s a great place for things you’d like to secure and don’t need ready access too.

The back of the pack (where that lumbar pocket is) and the straps all have comfortable padding on them. Everything is adjustable for fit. There’s a chest strap, but no waist strap – I’m a little surprised by that given that you could be carrying quite a bit of weight.

The weight is the thing you’ll sacrifice on with the Tablet Elite pack. It’s heavy. The built-in case, the plastic handles and grips … it weighs just short of seven pounds. There are scenarios where it’s worth making the trade off around weight. Any traveler who’s mentally inventoried the contents of their pack while watching it sail off a roof or hearing it slide around in the bus hold or… let’s just say it’s not a good feeling. I watched the backpack holding my camera drop to the floor from a coat hook once. There was a sickening crunch and later, I unpacked a shattered telephoto. That would not have happened with a hard side extreme conditions pack.

The pack retails for about $250, though I’ve seen it for about $100 less, so shop around. When you add up the potential replacement value of the gear inside it, you may find that spending the money on the pack gives you peace of mind. The gist? Pricey. Heavy. Your sanity could be worth it.

Related – I rather liked the Gregory Border day pack, gear guy Kraig Becker had favorable things to say about ECBC’s Javelin day pack.

[Images courtesy of Pelican]

How To Replace Anything (Anything) Lost On A Business Trip

What’s the independent business traveler’s worst enemy? It’s not hotel Wi-Fi. It’s Radio Shack. Have you seen how much they charge for a micro-usb cable? Twenty bucks. Same cable at monoprice? About a dollar.

Forgetting simple things like power bricks and phone adapters is one of the most frustrating side effects about business travel. Often the frustration doesn’t even come from the inconvenience – it’s always nice to have a backup phone charger – the problem comes when the charger is four times the cost that it should be. Case in point? That combo meal at the Burger King in LAX isn’t supposed to be $12. Captive audiences breed captive prices.

It’s happened to all of us, but there are a few ways around the frustrations of shopping on the road.

If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s always handy to check the lost and found. Travelers leave all sorts of things behind, and according to the Sheraton staff in Philadelphia, what’s not picked up at lost and found gets donated or distributed among the workers. It’s not just electrical widgets either. Lost contact lens case? Forgot your tennis shoes? Check downstairs. And in case you have any issues with stealing something that might eventually be claimed, you can always bring it back.Airport and airline lost and found is also a great place to find lost trinkets, just bear in mind that most repositories are outside of security, so arrive early and with plenty of patience.

If you’re hell bent on buying your replacement though, make sure to stay away from chain stores like Radio Shack or even Best Buy. Discount box stores like Marshalls and TJ Max are a great alternative source of small electronics. The headphones that I picked up in the San Juan Marshalls last Saturday for $5.99 were $14 cheaper than the ones at the airport – and the quality was just the same.

It’s also a decent idea to keep an eye out for a local Salvation Army or Goodwill, similar in concept to the discount box store but with a more random, used assortment of goods.

Not interested in making the capital investment? It’s easier than you think to rent a wide range of electronics while in transit. Cameras are a great example. Here in Chicago you can walk into a Calumet Photo and walk out with either lenses or a full rig for shooting all weekend. In New York there’s Adorama. Online, you can even use lensrentals. And the costs are fairly modest. For a five-day rental of a $1600 16-35mm Canon Lens over Labor Day, I only had to shell out $100. Shipping was included.

But what if you’re stuck in meetings all day? There are actually a few neat services that will outsource your shopping. Zaarly is a great example. Need a new power supply? Post a note in Zaarly asking for someone to pick up your electronics at the local best buy, shell out the cash and offer an extra ten bucks to have it delivered. There’s a decent chance that some poor college student is willing to help out for the beer money. Barring the new fancy Zaarly, Craigslist is always a backup.

[Flickr image via Magic Madzik]

FAA To Study Use Of Electronic Devices On Flights

The FAA is reviewing the use of electronics in flight. Having a smartphone or tablet with me when I travel has been incredibly convenient over the past few years. Not only has it allowed me to stay in contact with friends and family, it has also allowed me to be much more productive while on the road too. That is except for those annoying 20 minutes between the time the airplane door is closed and the point at which we reach a “safe cruising altitude.” During that period of time I’m usually stuck looking at the back of the chair in front of me or paging through the “Skymall” catalog. That could all change soon, however, as the FAA has said that it will investigate the use of electronics in flight and possibly expand the options on what is allowed during takeoff and landing.

According to various reports, a new government-industry group is being formed to study how passengers use their devices in flight and what impact those devices could conceivably have on the aircraft. The group will examine the current technology standards and review the process under which gadgets are tested to determine if any dangers arise by allowing travelers to use their smartphones or tablets throughout the entire flight. Members of the group, which are expected to include representatives of the airline industry, will review the current policy to decide if there is any room for change.

While this is good news for travelers, the FAA is quick to state that there isn’t likely to be a change in its policy towards the use of cellphones for making voice calls. Passengers are currently prohibited from making or receiving calls once the plane door is closed and while the rules may change for how other devices can be used, this ban will probably remain in place.I for one welcome this news. As someone who rarely leaves home without his iPad, I now use that device to meet all kinds of inflight entertainment needs. Not only does it store my music, games and movies, but also books and magazines too. When I can’t use it during a flight, there really isn’t a whole lot for me to do to help pass the time. The fact that many pilots now use Apple’s tablet in the cockpit should be a testament to the safety of the device and the minimal impact it has on electronic equipment aboard the aircraft as well.

Besides, it’s not like all passengers are shutting down their electronics anyway. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been sitting next to someone on a plane who continues to send text messages, listen to music or check email, even after the flight attendant has asked them to shut off their device. I was once on an international flight where the guy across the aisle from me kept his smartphone on the entire way, stealthily taking a glance at it every ten minutes or so. What he hoped to find on his screen I have no idea. It wasn’t like he was going to get a phone call or text while over the Atlantic or something.

There is no time frame as to when the group will be formed or how long it will take for them to wrap up their investigation. It can’t come fast enough as far as I’m concerned.

Gadling Gear Review: Looptworks Laptop Sleeves

Looptworks Shan Laptop SleeveI slide my laptop into the outside pocket of my roll-aboard bag. I can never decide if this is ideal. I want there to be a bit more padding to absorb the crush of knocking up against seats in the aisle – or to protect it from the massive game of overhead bin Tetris. So far, so good, and the laptop seems to be doing okay.

I also want to throw it in my day pack sometimes. I have two day packs that have a sleeve especially for my laptop, but sometimes I want a different bag. This is where a protective sleeve really comes in handy – for in my bike bags or an overnight duffel.

Looptworks makes laptop sleeves (and some other accessories) from neoprene scrap – that stuff that wet suits are made of. They’re spongy and cute and add a little extra padding to keep your electronics contained and safe. I like the bright colors and the surface stitching as well as the contrasting details. Also, they’re cute. The Shan Envelope comes in either 10- or 13-inch sizes and has a magnetic closure on the flap. It holds your laptop and while your mileage may vary, I was able to get my power supply in there too. It’s nice to have that stuff contained.

Looptworks has a recycled materials message underlying their products and they market themselves – it’s on the product tag – as a Portland, Oregon, company. But my laptop sleeve says on it, very clearly “Made in China.” I went looking to see if they address this on their website and they do:

Where Do You Make Your Products? Do You Use Local Factories?

Our products are made in Indonesia, Malaysia, India and soon to be China and Peru.

WHY?

That’s where all the excess is. American and European producers have been going to Asia for a long time to make stuff as cheaply as possible without regard to environmental impact. LooptWorks is stepping in for cleanup. We feel that it’s our responsibility to follow the waste stream and clean up wherever we can.

That’s not to say that we don’t believe in lowering a carbon footprint by buying things made locally. We do. We are actively exploring ways to shift our activities toward regional production. Locally made products should be available in all parts of the world. It’s the next step for LooptWorks.

I’m not totally sold, but at least they answered the question.

The Looptworks Shan Laptop sleeve sells for $30.

FAA reconsiders use of electronics on airplanes

Anyone who has tried to use an e-reader or tablet on their flight in the last several years knows about the strict rules that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) places on their operation. Taxi, takeoff and landing are periods during which most electronics are prohibited, a rule that has riled up frequent travelers and tech lovers alike. Even “Mythbusters” has an episode exploring the use of cell phones on aircraft electronics (result: busted).

Given the changes to technologies and continuous pressure from consumers, that may soon change. The New York TimesNick Bilton on the Bits blog posted an interesting article this weekend in which the FAA admitted that they’re looking into revising their policy. The current policy in place, which puts the onus of testing on the airlines, is too expensive and time consuming for the industry to support. As a result, the agency is looking into methods to “bring together electronics ‘manufacturers, consumer electronic associations, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and passengers’ to figure out how to allow greater use of these electronics on planes.”

There’s no word on what sort of schedule the FAA has in mind or how serious they are about the initiative, but if we can believe this report, the tide may soon be turning.

[flickr image via Fly for Fun]

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