If you frequently need to get work done on the road, check out these 10+ mobile productivity tools. They’ll keep you on track, better connected, and more secure.
Small-business people increasingly find themselves on the road rather than sitting in the office. But you need to get work done no matter where you are, so it’s important to carry the right tools if you want to be as productive as possible during long stretches away from home base.
With that in mind, we offer the following collection of mobile productivity tools that can help keep you more efficient, better connected, and more secure—at a client site, in a coffee shop, at airport, or wherever you happen to be working. Among the products listed herein, you’ll find tools to expand your Mac or smartphone/tablet’s storage capacity, take better close-up photos with your smartphone, give and display presentations, use public Wi-Fi more securely, convert scraps of paper into digital documents, and monitor activity back at the office.
If your smartphone or tablet doesn’t offer expandable storage (we’re looking at you, Apple—though some Android devices don’t either) and want to keep your data a bit closer at hand than the cloud, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick may be just what you need.
Available in capacities ranging from 16 to 200 GB, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick is a USB Flash drive that’s also Wi-Fi enabled and battery-equipped. Compatible with either iOS or Android devices, it can automatically back up photos and videos from a camera roll as well as stream stored music or videos to three devices simultaneously.
Unlike many PC laptops, upgrading the internal SSD storage of a MacBook is not a DIY job. Expanding storage via an SDXC card is simple enough, but it leaves you with two separate storage volumes to manage. Not so with the TarDisk Pear an aluminum- and gold-clad storage expansion card.
It not only adds either 128 GB ($149) or 256 GB ($399) of storage capacity to a MacBook Air or Pro (the standard MacBook lacks an SDXC slot), but it also integrates its storage with the internal capacity so it all appears as a single storage volume in OS X.
PCs always seem to be getting smaller and cheaper, but they don’t come much smaller or cheaper than the Intel Compute Stick ($60 – $390). It’s about the same size as a pack of gum, and when you plug it into an HDMI port on a TV or monitor, it turns the display into a full-fledged PC with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB and Micro SD ports, and a copy of Windows (or Linux).
The diminutive size and light weight (barely a couple of ounces) make it ideal for presentations, digital signage, kiosks, or any other scenario where an easily transportable and zero-footprint PC would come in handy. (Note that Lenovo has a similar product that it calls the Ideacenter Stick 300. Be sure to read our review of that product.)
Got something on a laptop you need to display on a TV? Forget cables; instead try Microsoft’s Wireless Display Adapter($50). Plug the adapter into a TV’s HDMI and USB ports (the latter for power), and you can wirelessly project anything on Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 laptop’s display from up to 23 feet away.
And we do mean anything—not just certain apps or content services. The display adapter even works with most recent Android devices.
It’s a floor wax and a desert topping! (OK, we just dated ourselves by quoting a Saturday Night Live skit from 1976). Moving on…the ZTE Spro2 ($450-$550) is neither of those things, but it does combine two features that can be extremely useful when you’re working on the road.
First, it’s an Android-based, 1.25 pound, battery-powered DLP Pico Projector with a 5-inch touchscreen that can display 720p images via HDMI or Wi-FI. Second, it’s an LTE hotspot compatible with Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T networks. A version without the LTE hotspot but with JBL speakers is also available.
You probably know that using public Wi-Fi without a VPN can leave you vulnerable to the theft of personal data, but perhaps you don’t always use a VPN due to cost and/or inconvenience. It’s harder to have that excuse now that Opera builds a free, unlimited-use VPN into its Opera Desktop Browser for Windows and Mac.
No subscriptions or browser extensions required—and it also includes an ad blocker. You can also get the free Opera VPN for iOS, though an Android version hasn’t been released yet.
Today’s smartphone cameras offer excellent picture quality, but for close-up shots the digital zoom feature on smartphones is vastly inferior to the optical zoom you get with standalone digital cameras. (See these links for the difference between digital and optical zoom.)
Enter the Asus ZenFone Zoom ZX551ML ($399 unlocked); its 13 megapixel rear camera sports a 3x optical zoom. The rest of this Android phone’s specs—quad-core CPU, 4 GB RAM, 5.5-inch 1080p display, and aluminum body, among others—are equally impressive.
If you want to add optical zoom to a smartphone that you already own, consider the Sony DSC-QX30 ($349). It looks like a lens, but it’s actually a standalone digital camera with 30x optical zoom (but without the screen) that physically attaches (and wirelessly links) to an iOS or Android smartphone.
Need to give a presentation? The Logitech R800 Professional Presenter ($80) works up to 100 feet away from its USB receiver. This handheld, laser pointer also has large presentation control buttons that let you easily jump back and forth within your slide deck. An LCD display helps you keep track of time, and the pointer even provides vibrating alerts to keep you on schedule.
This lightweight, portable NeatReceipts scanner ($150) provides a convenient way to scan receipts, business cards, or most other paper documents that you accumulate while out on the road. And the mobile document scanner includes software that lets you export data to Excel, Outlook, QuickBooks, and tax programs. It gets power from a USB port, so you don’t have to keep a battery charged, tote around an AC adapter, or search for a wall socket.
If you need to keep your eyes on your business from afar, take a look at Netgear’s Arlo Wire-Free Security System ($330 for 2 cameras, $500 for four); it’s all about mobility. The wireless HD indoor/outdoor cameras run on batteries, so you can place them virtually anywhere using simple magnetic mounts.
Better yet, all recordings automatically upload to cloud storage, where you can easily view saved footage via the included app for iOS or Android. Bonus: the apps also alert you whenever motion triggers a new recording.
Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He’s written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the author of File Management Made Simple, Windows Edition from Apress.
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