- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

It has been another one of those weeks: on the road between two cities, 2,000 miles apart, lugging a laptop, two PDAs and other stuff. Some random observations:

Something special in the air? A couple of years back, much of the "rage" in mobile computing was the idea of getting in-seat power adapters on airline flights at least in first and business class, if not coach. The idea was to use an adapter similar to that made for cars, which would allow you to work from Los Angeles to London without draining your PC's battery.

Well, on flights between the two coasts, and down and back to Albuquerque, there was nary an outlet to be found on board. On reflection, I wonder if that isn't a good thing.

For one thing, it seems that the last thing folks need while flying around are more wires and cables to get tangled up in. I'd hate to think of what I'd have to step through trying to get to and from a window seat with two laptop users between the aisle and me.

Then, there's precious little room on US Airways and Southwest Airlines in coach to open and use a laptop. American Airlines added five inches in coach is nice; one seatmate on Southwest said the extra room is really noticeable. But there's still the dilemma of having the person in front lean back, catch the lid of your notebook and crack the frame or the screen. I've seen this happen; it is not pretty.

And, finally, what are you going to do for Internet connectivity when you get set up? Those airplane phones charge enough per minute to pay for a new deck at home, and the top speed is around 14.4 kbps. That's OK for e-mail, but not for Net surfing.

Boeing Corp. plans to answer this with an airborne antenna capable of receiving high-speed data traffic from satellites, as well as live broadcast feeds. That'll be a plus, but given the speed with which in-seat power has arrived, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Something nice on the ground: I've written before about the in-room data service available at Marriott and other hotels from STSN of Salt Lake City (www.stsn.com). For $9.95 per day (plus tax), you get a high-speed Internet connection without a phone call, and with excellent service.

What I didn't know before is that the Marriott chain has extended the STSN service to its Fairfield Inn group of moderately priced hotels. That was a nice feature to encounter recently.

Also, while the STSN service can use an Ethernet connection to make its link to your PC, it will also work on USB ports, with a separate cable at least on Windows machines. You need to load a special USB driver, but the CD-ROM with that driver is in the hotel room. Load up and go. It's a great way to connect and I noticed no degradation in speed when connecting via USB vs. Ethernet.

I can't say enough good things about the STSN service. It was the best $30 I'd spent during one trip; you will likely find a similar experience.

But I need a lighter portable: The all-in-one machine I've been carrying these past few months is great, but it's too darned heavy. I was really feeling it at the end of my last run.

The folks at Acer America are promising a solution: Their new TravelMate 350 should have enough technology to meet my needs, including support for Bluetooth and smart cards, as well as an Intel Pentium III running up to 800 MHz. The computer is supposed to be about one inch thick, and weigh only 4.1 pounds. A unit is promised for review, and if my back holds out, you'll see the results here, in due course.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected] or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com.



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