How better tech makes for a lighter CES 2013 gear bag

I vividly remember my first International Consumer Electronics Show. It was 2006 and I was working with the talented Engadget team. I had no idea what to expect simply because one can’t imagine a million square feet of electronics in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Oh, and don’t forget the private meeting spaces at practically every hotel up and down the Vegas Strip. I’ve run three marathons and I swear those 26.2 mile jaunts were easier than the annual geek pilgrimage known as CES.

Toshiba M205What I remember most, however, is how much I toted around with me during those early shows. This is my eighth consecutive journey to the show and I’m taking far less this year. That’s good for my back and my feet, of course, but the more interesting point is that we can do so much more with fewer, more capable mobile devices.

Some of my 2006 memories include trying to find electric outlets at every possible venue, for example. Why? Because my Toshiba M205 TabletPC was only good for two or three hours on a charge. Today we have tablets that run for 10 or more hours; double if you add a keyboard accessory with integrated second battery.

XV6700 smartphoneSmartphones of the day were clunky beasts, although my XV6700 with Windows Phone and QWERTY keyboard served me well enough the first iteration of EVDO for mobile broadband. Fallback was the obscenely slow 1xRTT that was barely good enough for email. And the “huge” 2.8-inch screen boasted a 320 x 240 resolution that is outshined by even the cheapest feature phones of today!

I remember capturing video back then with a heavy camcorder that might get an hour of recording time on a single charge. Fast forward a few years and I switched to a very compact high-definition camera, then to a Flip camera and this year, I left the video camera at home. There’s just no need for it when you consider most smartphones today double as an HD video camera and weigh even less.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. (See what I did there?) As a result of our more connected, smaller, lighter and yet more powerful mobile devices, I’m taking less than ever to CES. Everything fits in a small backpack that’s meant to hold a 13-inch computer; and when I say everything, I mean everything: Charging cords and small accessories too. Here’s a rundown of my gear bag this year:

Computer: 13-inch MacBook Air(s aapl) (late 2010 model) This skinny device still runs for at least 6 hours on a single charge, which is very important since outlets can be scarce or fought over at CES. I’ve used this machine for blogging since I bought it, although for the past six months, it has generally collected dust as I moved my work effort to a Samsung Chromebook(s goog). I really wanted to take the Chromebook. Why take the Air then? One key reason: Video editing is still far easier and faster on the Air than via a web-based method on the Chromebook. And connectivity — a near-necessity for Chromebooks — is highly variable during CES.

Communications: Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. I could certainly get away with one handset, but I like to have a backup because the airwaves get jammed up good when 150,000 CES attendees are vying for the same phone service. I have an AT&T SIM(s t) in the iPhone and a T-Mobile-compatible SIM (through Straight Talk) in the Note 2. Both can act as hotspots if needed. I’ll use these for tweeting from the show, sharing pictures, managing my schedule, and trying to check email as time allows.

Video: Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. I don’t see the need to add the extra weight and the battery anxiety of a handheld video camera these days. Will I miss the optical zoom of my dedicated shooter? Maybe, but most video I share from CES involves close-up looks at gadgets. Hopefully, this choice to leave behind the video camera isn’t a mistake.

canon-s95-620px-dosStill images: Canon S95 point-and-shoot. I considered leaving this behind as well since both phones are more than capable of capturing usable images. The S95 rivals the size and weight a playing card deck, however, and it provides the optical zoom that my phones don’t have. This can be handy for the massive press events where a “good seat” is still 30 meters or more from the stage. The camera was one of my favorite gadgets of 2010 and is still a super performer.

Accessories. Again, I’m taking the less is more approach. I have one small 3,000 portable battery with a USB output, so it can recharge either of my handsets. I have two USB cables: One for the Note 2 and one for the iPhone. A spare battery for the Canon and the required charger are with me. And, of course, the power cord for my MacBook Air.

That’s it. Everything fits in the old Booq bag I bought in 2005 for my Toshiba TabletPC. Compared to my first few CES events, this amount of gear is probably one-third of what I used to take in terms of weight and bulk. It’s all because of how far the mobile industry has advanced in terms of hardware, software and cloud services. Everything is lighter, runs longer, has faster connectivity and has more capabilities than ever before.

As I get older, I doubt I’ll make it through eight more CES events. It will, however, be interesting to watch the devices and services evolve during that time. Who knows: Maybe by CES 2021, the show will come to me via virtual reality instead of me trekking across the country and up and down the Vegas Strip!