I don't normally consider myself a road warrior, but when my 92-year-old grandmother suggested I get an air miles card, I began to reevaluate. She's right — I've been out of town almost every week for the last several months, scuttling around on too-expensive flights and sleeping on trains. It's no wonder that two little mobile phone accessories have established permanent seats in my laptop bag, minimalist though I am. Those two gizmos: ARC Wireless's Freedom Blade, and Spracht's Aura Mobile BT.
The Freedom Blade is a delightfully simple, switch-less, button-less little mobile antenna that weighs practically nothing, attaches to my mobile phone, and gives me enough confidence to conduct phone interviews while cruising up the DC-New York corridor on Amtrak. The Freedom Blade connects to most phones, PDAs and mobile broadband cards by way of a litany of adaptors; I used mine with a Verizon Razr. There's not much to say about the Freedom Blade except that it does what it purports to do: gives you better reception in places you don't usually have it. I didn't have occasion to use it in its mobile broadband context, as my mobile 'net needs are filled by an OQO, which has lacks an external antenna port. However, in voice context, I noticed fewer dropped calls, better voice clarity — which on the crappy Razr is a boon — and generally better coverage, without any discernible change in battery life. The Freedom Blade works with all carriers, and even clips onto things (like laptop screens or car vents) for convenience. It's priced pretty well at $25, but the adaptors can cost up to $15; if reception is a consistent thorn in your side, it's worth it.
The second device that has become a frequent fixture in my hotel-hopping is the Aura Mobile BT, made by Spracht. It's a little ovate pod that serves as a Bluetooth-enabled, multi-purpose speakerphone device that can pair with your mobile phone, PC/Mac for VoIP calls, or cordless home phone. Spracht claims the Aura Mobile BT is small enough to fit "in your shirt pocket," but that's like saying you can fit an entire sandwich in your mouth at once. Can you? Yeah, probably. Would you? Likely not. The device is, however, quite light, so I was happy to toss it in my bag without feeling bogged down by yet another gadget. The best part: it has rechargeable batteries that last almost 4 hours per charge, so on shorter trips I could leave the power adaptor at home.
Spracht is quick to point out that this thing will pair with almost anything you've got without any software installation, and that's pretty much true. Even my finicky iPhone played nice with the Aura Mobile, although it wasn't smart enough to turn off its own microphone in favor of the Aura's, creating an echo effect that usually led me to toss the iPhone into the folds of my couch after dialing. Since the iPhone's speakerphone is absolutely horrible, I was content to do this, and the Bluetooth connection stayed solid up to 20 or so feet from the phone.
Pairing is easy enough, though not quite instruction-free, and the Aura Mobile BT seems like it would be equally at home in a car — with its clever, visor-compatible rear clip — as on a desk. Being a New York City resident, I didn't have occasion to try it out against any road noise, but with my apartment windows open at rush hour, callers on the other end still reported my voice to be loud and clear (and theirs, likewise.) That's thanks to dual speakers and a pretty beefy little 2-watt amplifier (which is definitely way more substantial than the driver in most other Bluetooth devices you'll find on the market) as well as noise-canceling technology. It's also worth mentioning that this thing comes with pretty much any attachment you could ever need, including a wired mic, a stereo mini-jack for connecting to your computer's mic and speakers, a cordless phone connector, a car power adaptor, and a good ole wall power adaptor.
The only hitch in the Aura Mobile BT's strategy to make my life easier was its price-tag: at $130, I'm not sure I would have been convinced of its necessity enough to buy before trying. I suppose the price is not unreasonable, seeing as there are a number of Bluetooth headsets that cost nearly the same, but Spracht has a bit of convincing to do before consumers will buy into the aftermarket speakerphone concept — at least when it's not embedded into their car's stereo. Of course, that battle will be made easier by the fact that the device works exceedingly well, has great battery life, and is nice and portable — not to mention that it has an array of great uses, from conference calling with a mobile phone to serving as a beefed-up speaker for my MacBook while I watch DVDs away from home. Now that it's worked its way into my arsenal of road gear, however, I'd have a tough time doing without it. In fact, it's the first device I've used in a while that has changed my lifestyle: I'm now accustomed to calling home whilst shaving, talking to my sister abroad while cleaning my desk, and calling to my girlfriend what she'd like for dinner even as I preemptively pour pasta into a pot.
As any "road warrior" knows, the key to traveling light is usually eliminating devices, not expanding a collection of them. But ultimately, the point of any business trip is to accomplish an objective — get an interview, check out a story — and whatever helps that end is fine by me. These are two devices that certainly qualify.