What's In Your Bag, Kevin C. Tofel?

Call me crazy, but I love to see what folks have in their gear bags. Personal computing is exactly that, personal. So I find gear bags like snowflakes: No two are alike. We all have differing needs in our travels, so that’s how it should be, right? After seeing Simon and others here at WWD spill the contents of their bags, I knew I had to jump in and share mine as well.

Unlike most people, my kit tends to change frequently. I vary the contents of my bag based on my  needs, and my gear has evolved as I’ve ridden the trend from notebooks to UMPCs to netbooks and back again. Let me give you a glimpse as to what I mean, as my bag has evolved many times in the past few years.

Tablet PCs and UMPCs

In late 2004, I decided to move away from traditional notebooks and try my hand at using a Tablet PC. That led me to a Toshiba M205 (s tosbf) convertible Tablet PC that I used the heck out of. It was my everyday travel computer that could be used with the keyboard, but could also handle handwritten input. At 4.5 pounds, it was considered reasonable to tote around. While it had integrated Wi-Fi, I’d often USB-tether a 3G Windows Mobile phone for EV-DO Rev 0 speeds. A computer and phone were all I needed.

That worked well for a while, but in early 2006, I got bitten by the UMPC bug. This disease affected me so profoundly that I purchased new Samsung devices as fast as they could pump them out. I started with a Celeron-powered (s INTC) Q1, upgraded to a Pentium-powered Q1P in 2007, and finally ended my run with an Intel Core Solo inside the Samung Q1-UP that I still own. Each of these devices offered a 7-inch touchscreen display and supported the Tablet PC features I embraced prior. The most recent model afforded me a higher-resolution display at 1,024×600 and also included a split QWERTY keyboard. It turns out that I didn’t need that feature, though, because my gear bag gained a very useful device in 2006: a Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard.

Stowaway keyboard vs. traditional notebook keyboard
Stowaway keyboard vs. traditional notebook keyboard

I took this keyboard everywhere with me because it worked with all of my devices: UMPCs and phones alike. It was a permanent fixture in my gear bag for months, although it was eventually replaced by a newer model in the Sierra. The main reason for the replacement? The newer keyboard added a dedicated row of numeric keys but didn’t really add much extra weight or size.

At the same time, my mobile kit was changing. The phone eventually got replaced in 2005 by a 3G USB modem card. While some folks prefer embedded 3G or PC Card/ExpressCard solutions, I like carrying USB WWAN adapters because they’re small and work with all of my devices.


Netbooks Come of Age

This type of setup worked great for me wherever I went. Unfortunately, the UMPC market generally dried up and heralded the coming of the current netbook craze. Like any good geek, I jumped on the trend right away and purchased the original Asus Eee PC 701 in November 2007, replacing  my UMPC and separate keyboard. Hence the gear bag consisted of a netbook, USB card for 3G connectivity and, occasionally, a small digital camera.

Netbooks really came of age in 2008, so it was time to say goodbye to the small keyboard of the Eee PC and hello to an MSI Wind U100 netbook that I still own. The Intel Atom CPU is much better suited to mobile computing: I routinely see five hours of run-time with the U100. It also offers a larger 10-inch screen and better keyboard than the Eee PC. Although I was able to cover the entire 2008 Consumer Electronics Show with my Eee PC, the Wind makes for a more enjoyable work experience. These days, when I want to travel light and only need to work for four hours, the Wind has a place in my gear bag along with a USB727 adapter for 3G. The cheap point-and-shoot I used to carry was replaced by a Canon EOS Rebel XSi (s caj) last year.

Back to Notebooks

Over the past year, we’ve been doing more video over at jkOnTheRun, so when I know I’ll be editing vids, I take a current-generation MacBook (s AAPL) with me. Like the Wind netbook, I can get four or five hours of run-time, so carrying my second battery essentially gives me an entire day. Videos are recorded in 720p high-def with an inexpensive Kodak Zi6 handheld. It has a USB interface, so I can easily transfer video files to the MacBook, edit them, and then upload them over 3G or Wi-Fi.

My gear bag has changed over time, but it has always met my needs. I’ve always made sure that I have the right tools for my tasks. If I simply need to write content, I can throw the MSI Wind in my bag and go. My 3G adapter is always in the bag; the only time it leaves is when I’m using it. When I want the comfort of a “big boy” laptop or know that I have video work, my Wind is swapped for my MacBook as it only adds 1 pound of weight to carry over the netbook kit.

Before I forget, I should mention the bag I carry. Sadly, it’s not one that most of you can get your hands on, however. Each year that we cover the Consumer Electronics Show as press, we’re given a padded backpack from the Consumer Electronics Association. It comes in handy to slog all our gear and also to hold the many pages of product documentation, datasheets and maps of the Las Vegas Convention Center. It turns out that this has become my bag of choice. Why? Simply because the oversized backpack has a removable messenger bag: I just unzip it and I can easily carry my small gear safe and sound!

What’s in your bag?