Greatest cellular tech 2021: A gadget professional’s prime journey picks

While I live in the Puget Sound area, I travel about once a month to places around the US to get work done. A two-hour daily train commute warrants a plethora of mobile tech and accessories to support those devices even at home. Over the years, I have found the following list essential for hitting the road.

There are alternatives for most of the gear listed here, so you can pick your favorite if you live in a certain ecosystem or have a preference for a particular brand. This list is intended to help make sure you don’t leave anything essential behind, as I have learned over the years…


Entertainment and work on the go

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Most travelers have a laptop with them to get work done, but I prefer using my iPad for quick tasks, entertainment, and handwriting with the Apple Pencil. It’s a perfect device for meetings where you want to stay engaged with others and treat your tablet as a digital notepad surface. It fits well with your snacks on an airline tray and can be outfitted with a keyboard if you want a reliable laptop replacement.

Apple’s 2020 iPad Air and 2021 iPad Pro devices are outfitted with a USB-C port for charging, which is a bit more universal for those who use more than iOS devices. There are capable cameras on the back so you can use the tablet to scan documents or capture other memories while on the go.

It’s tough to beat an iPad for the portable entertainment experience with excellent vivid displays and every media app you can imagine being right at your fingertips. You can load up your iPad with content from many subscription services and never worry about poor content at your travel destination.

The latest iPad Pro models sport the Apple M1 processor and soon iOS 15 (in public beta phase) will launch with further enhancements to make an iPad an extremely capable device for work and play.

Pros:

  •    Best tablet available
  •    Responsive and fluid user experience 
  •    5G options for connectivity at all times

Cons:

  •    Can be expensive
  •    Susceptible to breakage if dropped
  •    Apple Pencil is an expensive accessory 


$539 at Amazon


$599 at Apple


$600 at Best Buy


Travel in peace

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While over-the-ear headphones are the best at blocking out the world around you when you want to concentrate and focus on work, they can also be bulky for travel. Sony’s new WF-1000XM4 earbuds offer just about every function its high-powered cans do in a small form factor that fits in your front pocket.

Sony offers capable smartphone software and actually innovated a bit on the earbud tip. The tip offers a material that appears to be a combination of silicone and Comply tips with the look and feel of silicone, but with the rigidity of a Comply material. It’s fantastic, and the earbuds stay in my ears very well without having to squeeze down the tip to fit. They are also very comfortable for long-term wear.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are 10% lighters than the Mark 3 version with a 40% smaller charging case. An alternative to these is the Apple AirPods Pro.

Pros:

  •    Stunning audio performance 
  •    Very long battery life 
  •    Speak-to-chat option

Cons:

  •    Expensive 
  •    It may be a bit large for some ears


$278 at Amazon


Capture all of your travel adventures

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Your friends and family cannot always travel with you, and one way to share your adventures, whether they are for work or play, is with an action camera. The GoPro Hero9 Black was released in 2020 and is one of the best mobile cameras available today with a fairly reasonable sub-$400 price.

One feature that sets this GoPro apart from past models is the large front color display that is perfect for setting you up in the shot. It also supports an amazing array of still and video resolutions so you can capture the content you want in various levels of detail.

GoPro continues to advance the smartphone software that connects to your camera, and there is even a GoPro Labs capability that lets you explore future software features now.

Pros:

  •    Color front display for positioning
  •    20MP resolution photos
  •    Long battery life

Cons:

  •    Larger than previous GoPro cameras
  •    The rear touchscreen can be finicky at times
  •    Voice control not always consistent


$398 at Amazon


$400 at Best Buy


$369 at Adorama


Immerse yourself in a book by the water

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It’s been a few years since I bought my Amazon Kindle Oasis, but it still serves me well and is my constant travel companion. The newest model has an adjustable warm light function and is priced more affordably, starting at $250.

One major reason I purchased this model Kindle was the IPX8 water-resistant feature to enjoy reading books at the beach or by the pool. This model also has physical buttons, so it is easy to hold with one hand and advance through the book with a simple button press with that same hand.

You can also enjoy Audible books on the Kindle Oasis, so you are not limited to reading.

Pros:

  •    Ergonomic form factor 
  •    Waterproof design
  •    Fantastic display with customized reading options 

Cons:

  •    Expensive for an ebook reader


$279 at Amazon


Travel bags for your tech

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There seems to be an almost unlimited number of gear bag options available today. However, if you want something you can rely upon for today and decades into the future, you should consider a WaterField Designs bag. They are made in San Francisco with high-quality materials, excellent construction, and thoughtful design elements.

For the past couple of years, WaterField Designs has involved customers in the design process of some gear bags. Two recent launches that came about through this unique interactive design process are the Packable Backpack and Hip Sling Bag collections.

The Packable Backpack magically folds up into a very small form factor and then unpacks for use. The unique materials and design make this possible, and there is a lot to like in this backpack.

The Hip Sling Bag takes the idea of a fanny pack to another level with a couple of different options for horizontal or vertical wear.

Pros:

  •    Stunning, high-quality design and materials
  •    Optimized for your devices
  •    Attractive color and style options 

Cons:

  •    More expensive than other bags 


$169 at WaterField (Hip Sling)


WaterField (Backpack)


Power, light, and air in one package

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There are times in your life when things go wrong, and when you need help with an emergency, there is essential gear required to get you back up and running. Mophie’s new Powerstation Go Rugged with Air Compressor may be one of the best pieces of gear to have in your automobile, boat, travel trailer, or field office. This $159.95 compact package provides portable power, vehicle/marine battery charging, compressed air, and light to help you resolve several problems.

The Mophie Powerstation Go Rugged with Air Compressor weighs in at just 2.54lbs and measures 241 x 118 x 47mm in size. It is available now and is one of the most useful accessories I have ever tested. Mophie provides a two-year warranty with the Powerstation Go Rugged. All functions work as advertised, and it is the perfect emergency safety device for anyone who drives bikes, camps, boats and enjoys the outdoors.

Pros:

  •    Several use options in one battery pack 
  •    Very bright flashlight with red emergency color 
  •    All the tips you need to inflate your gear 

Cons:

  •    Expensive 
  •    Short jumper cables  


$159 at Zagg


Keep track of your gear on the road

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If you tend to misplace your keys, wallet, or other essentials, then you may have considered a Tile tracker in the past. Apple’s newest entry in the mobile space is the AirTag that uses Bluetooth and the vast worldwide network of Apple iOS devices to track the AirTag.

Apple has designed a secure tracker that can help you find missing items with an AirTag attached without disclosing to the people the AirTag is connecting to that you are looking for your lost AirTag. Things don’t even have to be lost, as you can use these to track a pet, child or other objects that have an AirTag attached.

The ultra-wideband chip inside your iPhone can also work with Precision Finding to locate your AirTag, including providing you with directions to your lost AirTag.

Pros:

  •    Long battery life
  •    Replaceable battery 
  •    Affordable 

Cons:

  •    No integrated key loop
  •    Requires iOS device 


$29 at Amazon


$29 at Best Buy


$30 at Target


Charge your gear in a hotel with one outlet

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Many years ago, I purchased a small device that provided me with three standard outlets and a small cord to plug into a single outlet since I learned that many hotels have limited outlets. I also found it easier to connect one plug to an international adapter for foreign travel.

The Belkin 3-outlet Mini Surge Protector with USB ports is a very affordable accessory that is sure to keep you and the family happy on a road trip. It is currently priced at just $29.99 and includes $75 000 in connected equipment warranty coverage.

In today’s mobile world, we often find the need to charge up several devices in the evening. Smartphones, tablets, computers, headsets, watches, cameras, and more travel with us and need to stay powered up for the next day.

Pros:

  •    Three standard outlets and 2 USB-A ports
  •    Direct connection to the wall outlet, with 360-degree rotation for tight spaces
  •    Affordable 

Cons:


$29 at Belkin


Charge USB-C and USB-A in your vehicle

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While some rental cars have USB ports for charging up your gear on the go, you cannot always rely on them when traveling. The Anker PowerDrive Speed Plus 2 car charger is one of the best I’ve seen. It includes both USB-A and USB-C outlets, and with more USB-C cables, including ones from Apple, this connection method is becoming even more standard.

The car charger is available in black or white, and If you are a regular traveler, I highly recommend buying the white model since you will be more inclined to grab it before you return your rental car. I’ve collected a couple of car chargers over the past year, black color, since the previous renter left it behind.

Fast charging is provided via the USB-C port with standard charging from the USB-A port.

Pros:

  •    USB-A and USB-C ports
  •    18-month warranty and Anker’s trusted design 
  •    Affordable

Cons:

  •    The charging port end is a bit large


$37 at Amazon


Keep your phone secure in a vehicle

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It is frustrating to find a place to secure your phone in a rental car, especially if you need to use it for GPS navigation. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been using various iOttie mounts and found them reliable, quick to release my devices, affordable, and built to handle the roads. We have been gifting them to new driver friends and family too.

The iOttie Easy One Touch 5 dash and windshield mount does not include any charging capability. The company does offer options for charging and mounting but has a telescoping arm to help fit into any vehicle. This is important when you travel since you never know what kind of rental vehicle you will be given until you arrive at your destination.

While the secure mount and options for mounting are great, I love the simple single-button where you simply place your phone into the holder and the one-touch button secures the side clamps to hold your phone in place. It even has a cool magnetic cord mounting clip to help you keep a clean look on your mounted phone.

Pros:

  •    Easy placement into the mount and easy removal
  •    Telescopic arm to adapt to various vehicles
  •    Rock-solid mount to keep your phone secure 

Cons:

  •    No vent mount option


$24 at Amazon

Out of the entire list, what is the one thing you must take with you?

Let’s assume that a smartphone is always in hand, and there is no option to leave that behind. Besides, a smartphone wasn’t listed in the list. BTW, make sure to check out our list of the 10 best smartphones.

Picking from the list above, the Mophie Powerstation Go Rugged Air Compressor is the one piece of gear that should always go with you on a trip when a car, RV, or boat (rental or personal) is involved. The powerful portable battery pack can keep all of your mobile tech and your automobile powered up while also providing essential bright lighting (red or white) during an emergency. 

In addition, you can use the air compressor to inflate floatation devices, tires (bike, car, or trailer), air mattresses, balls, and more.

What other headphones do you recommend?

Since smartphone manufacturers have removed the 3.5mm headset jack from nearly all smartphones, I’ve spent several years trying out several earbuds and headsets. You can check out our best wireless earbuds and the best noise-canceling headphones articles for a full list of options.

I personally like the earbud-form factor better than over my ears headphones and find the Apple AirPods Pro to be my second favorite, after the Sony WF-1000XM4. However, these are both expensive earbuds, costing more than $200 for a pair.

If you are looking for something more affordable, the new generation Amazon Echo Buds are half the price and offer a solid audio experience with Amazon Alexa integration.

There are a ton of bag options, why did you pick WaterField Designs?

Yes, it’s true; you can find a nearly unlimited number of various bags to carry all of your gear in with you when you travel, ranging across a large price range. WaterField Designs has been making gear bags in San Francisco for nearly 20 years, and the bags I tested 15 years ago are none the worse for wear. It’s actually stunning how well the materials, stitching, zippers, straps, and more stay together after years, or decades, of use.

Over the past couple of years, WaterField Designs has included direct user feedback through the design process of a few bags, including the hip bag and packable backpacks mentioned in the list above. The company also has a wide assortment of gear bags for all of your mobile tech so you can find exactly what you need and trust it will likely outlive your mobile gear.

There is an iPad and a Kindle in your list. Do you really still need a Kindle to read books?

It may seem at first that having an Amazon Kindle ebook reader in this list is unnecessary, given that you can read Amazon books on an iPad or smartphone. While this is true, and if I’m standing in line or waiting for a short period, I might continue reading on a tablet or phone.

However, a dedicated ebook reader is fantastic for distraction-free reading, evening reading in bed when you don’t want to wake your partner or hurt your own eyes, and enjoying a good book by the pool or on the beach. I can spend hours on my Kindle Oasis and never tire of reading while tablets and phones inevitably entice me down various rabbit holes of notifications and social-media temptations.

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