Road Warrior: Regional Operator
Power Tools: Panasonic CF-25, CD Wetsuit, DeLorme Tripmate Hyperformance GPS Navigation Device, AirCard from Sierra Wireless
Face it: if you're always hauling a laptop in and out of your car, its a sure thing that one day its going to crash (literally). You need the almost-indestructible Panasonic CF-25. For about $4,000, the CF-25 delivers a 150 Mhz Pentium machine with a 2 GB hard drive and a 12.1-inch screen. It wont fall apart if it gets some rough handling. The hard drive is set in a shock-absorbing polymer gel, and the entire system is wrapped in a magnesium alloy case. And you needn't worry about coffee spills anymore — the keyboard and stereo speakers are also sealed.
While the CF-25 can survive a heavy rainstorm, what about the other stuff you carry around? One accessory I've come to really appreciate are the CD Wetsuits from Kensington Sport. Done up in scuba suit neoprene, these cases carefully cradle from 10 to 36 CDs in separate shells to prevent scratches. They come in royal blue, black, and eggplant (for hipsters), and are priced from $12.95 to $26.95.
If you're doing some hard traveling and you're miles away from phone lines, how are you going to get urgent email? One of the best — but most expensive — solutions is the $895 AirCard from Sierra Wireless. Consisting of two Type II PC Cards (a cellular radio and a modem), the combination can use a cellular networks CDPD system to deliver email or even let you log onto the Web with Netscape Navigator. Its slow, darn slow, but receiving email is easy since you don't need to get a new address for your notebook or wireless account. When you're near a telephone jack, the AirCard lets you send files over its 33.6 Kbps V.34 modem; a Windows 95 software utility allows you to switch between landline, circuit-switched cellular, and CDPD transmission modes. The CF-25 includes three Type II PC Card slots, so you've still got one free slot with the AirCard installed.
Checking your email while driving might get you lost. But with one nifty little piece of computer equipment, you'll never be lost for long. The $150 DeLorme Tripmate Hyperformance GPS Navigation Device was made to answer women's complaint that men never ask for directions. (Hey, guilty as charged.) It includes DeLorme's Street Atlas USA 4.0 for Windows, featuring road maps for the entire country, and a banana yellow GPS receiver that plugs into your laptop computer via a serial cable. Don't know where you are? So what! Just pop open the Street Atlas software with the Global Positioning System receiver connected to your PC, and it will pinpoint your position to within 100 meters. (Whoops, you're on highway 1, not 11.)
Geek Factors: Never worry again about dropping your laptop — the CF-25 could survive a road trip with Bruce Willis. Using Department of Defense satellites, the GPS device will tell you the exact time and your driving speed — just in case you had to know.
Weak Factors: The CF-25 lacks a CD-ROM drive, so you'd be wise to spring for Panasonic's $399 Multimedia Pocket 10X CD-ROM drive, which fits neatly into the system when you take out the modular floppy drive. The AirCard can help you rack up expenses but quick. Additional CDPD data charges and monthly service fees can go as high as $90 for heavy users.
Coordinates: Panasonic Personal Computer Co., 800-662-3537, http://www.panasonic.com; Kensington Technology Group, 800-535-4242, http://www.kensington.com; Sierra Wireless, 604-231-1100, http://www.sierrawireless.com; DeLorme Mapping, 800-452-5931, http://www.delorme.com
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.