- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

ABOARD FINNAIR FLIGHT 6 TO HELSINKI - Dinner completed, I was anything but underfed. Finnair, the national airline of Finland, offers a level of service unimagined by denizens of Southwest Airlines or JetBlue.

The computer I was using, a Toshiba Portege 3500 Tablet PC, was looking a little bit hungry — its battery was running low. So, I plugged it in for a recharge, and took a nap.

By the time I awoke, the Toshiba’s lithium-ion battery had been charged fully.

Having “in-seat power,” as it’s called, is not the newest thing in airborne computing, but it helps. The 4,105-mile flight from New York to Helsinki lasts just over 7 hours.

There’s enough time to recharge all the batteries: yours and your computer’s.

On Finnair, as on most carriers, the power outlets are in business class, not economy. An upgrade could give the determined road warrior enough “juice” to hit the ground running at his next stop.

Having the power available would be meaningless if I didn’t have a new briefcase, the “TravelPower Case” from American Power Company, or APC, of Rhode Island, and the firm’s built-in adapter and connectors.

The adapter transforms any sort of power: AC, DC, and any voltage, into the stuff your computer, cell phone and PDA can use.

While the computer charges, I’ve got a Sony Ericsson T68i cell phone — a backup — plugged in for a recharge.

At the same time, I hooked up a Palm Tungsten W PDA/phone for a quick boost.

APC has assembled ably all the necessary components: The briefcase has pockets to handle everything; the adapter offers connectors for the computer.

Sadly, the range does not cover Apple Computer’s PowerBooks.

The power pack also connects to a USB charger that, in turns, hosts specially designed cables for cell phones and PDAs.

Those USB cables, by the way, also could plug into a desktop or notebook computer for direct charging.

There are small holders to help keep the cables in place. The transformer’s power cable can use interchangeable plug adapters for a wall socket (including European ones), a car’s cigarette lighter and the MD-11 aircraft’s electrical system.

Given that in-flight transformers can cost from $80 to $130, the $129 price tag for the larger, nylon-version APC briefcase is a substantial bargain as you get a roomy, useful case with your power converter.

The USB cables for phones and PDAs, as well as plugs for overseas electrical systems, are sold separately, with the cables ranging in price from $15 to $20.

But together such a setup beats paying roughly the same amount for just the transformer.

I first set everything up in my office, including the Toshiba portable, put it all in the briefcase, extended the cord from the case to a power strip and, boom, everything charged.

Then, one night coming home from work, I switched connectors, hooked up the ensemble to a cigarette lighter, and the Toshiba was refreshed fully by the time I pulled up to my home.

Now, on the Finnair flight, I’m working and seeing the computer recharge.

It’s amazing, not least because I’m able to leave three power transformers and chargers at home and have everything hooked up in one place, with one “outgoing” cord to external power.

APC deserves kudos for such a well-designed product, as well as encouragement to support Macintosh users.

Finnair gets a thumbs-up for having power available on board — would that more airlines did this, especially on U.S. domestic flights and in coach.

If frequent travel and lots of devices are routine for you, you might consider getting the APC case/transformer combo.

You’ll have less stuff to carry and, therefore, less stuff to misplace. It’ll take a lot of the struggle out of being a “road warrior.”

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