Road Warrior: The Top Flight Executive
Power Tools: IBM ThinkPad 560, Motorola StarTAC 6000, IBM WaveRunner, ThinkPad Deluxe Leather Case, DefCon 1
People at the top of their business game can't afford to be burdened with bloated gear. To move fast, they need sleek power, rapid communications, and no compromises. And that means IBM's ThinkPad 560.
Can a notebook computer ever be thought of as beautiful? The ThinkPad 560 comes close. Its slim (1.25 inches thick). Its light (4.7 pounds, including the power adapter). It slips easily into carry-on luggage. The 560 has stereo sound, a wide wrist rest with a full-sized keyboard, and a 12.1-inch screen that's so bright you can just about watch TV on it.
With a base price of around $3,000, the machine is driven by a 133 Mhz Pentium processor. It comes with a 1 GB hard drive, more than enough to handle any applications you can throw at it. For in-flight work, the ThinkPad runs for more than three-and-a-half hours without a recharge — way ahead of most notebooks in this class. The units floppy drive is an 11-ounce external model, but there's room for two PC Cards in the side. There are also lots of nifty design touches, such as a snap-on rubber port cover that wont break the first time you haul it out of your briefcase.
One missing item is an internal modem (this applies to most notebooks). Modem makers are currently pushing so-called 56 Kbps external modems. Don't buy one. The industry has not reached agreement on a standard that would enable all 56 Kbps modems to communicate with each other. For now, the best way to achieve maximum download speed is with a combination 28.8 Kbps V.34 analog modem and digital 128 Kbps ISDN adapter. IBM offers a WaveRunner PC Card for around $390 ($595 list) that will do the trick. Of course, to goose your download speed you'll need to find an ISDN or T1 connection away from the office.
If you're traveling across the pond, connecting to power and telephone lines can be a major hassle. That's because the American style telephone connection system — the RJ-11 — isn't used in many foreign countries. Consider getting PORT's SureLink Travel Connection Pack. The $199 package for European travelers handles incompatible phone jacks and power plugs with 21 telephone adapters that will get your modem running just about anywhere, plus three power adapters to handle the foreign standards.
With all this elegant mobile-computing gear, you don't want to ruin the look with a brick-sized cell-phone. But Motorola's glitzy StarTAC, stratospherically priced at about $1,500, might offend your bottom line. Fortunately, you can fake unalloyed ostentatiousness for the comparatively paltry sum of $500 and get a StarTAC look-alike, Motorola's StarTAC 6000. Its got the same breakthrough design as the original — a tiny clamshell that fits in the palm of your hand — and its almost as light (3.5 ounces versus 3.1 ounces). It does, however, make a few minor sacrifices to bring the price in line. The 6000 uses an older nickel-metal hydride battery that yields just 1 hour of talk time (versus the piggybacked lithium ion batteries on the $1,500 model that give you 4 hours), and it lacks a menu for adjusting the volume and other features. Then again, no ones going to notice but you.
Don't insult this cool black equipment by tossing it into a fraying Lands End canvas bag. A first-class option is PORT's $275 ThinkPad Deluxe Leather Case. Its soft sides conceal adjustable compartments and a shock-absorption system to protect your notebook. Easy-open magnetic clasps and a zipper panel that reveals an organizer compartment keep everything in order.
I wont blame you if you get a little paranoid carrying all this fancy gear. For the theft-conscious, there's the DefCon 1 portable motion detector. Also available from PORT for $49, the tiny 6.2-ounce device contains a 4.5-foot steel cable and lock. Hook it up to a chair and then to the security slot on the notebook, and you can snooze in peace at the airport gate. Anyone unfortunate enough to lift it sets off an ear-splitting 110-decibel alarm. Of course it wont prevent the guy in the next seat, who just might be a competitor, from looking over your shoulder as you work on that R&D report. So for seriously paranoid technocrats, I suggest PORT's $75 Private Eye Privacy Filter, which fits on top of your screen. Its transparent if you look at it directly, but it blocks out prying eyes that try to angle in on your hard work.
Geek Factors: The ThinkPad and the StarTac are state-of-the-art in mobile communications. They'll make you look like a first-class road warrior, even if you're flying with the polyester crowd in coach.
Weak Factors: To hook the ThinkPad 560 into a digital line, you'll need to haul around a $100 device called an NT-1. And the StarTAC 6000 doesn't come with a desktop charger, which costs an additional $142.
Coordinates: IBM, 800-426-2968 http://www.pc.ibm.com; Motorola, 888-782-7822, http://www.startac.com; PORT, 800-242-3133, http://www.portinc.com
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A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.