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My car, my office: Essential gadgets for the road warrior

Christopher Null | May 27, 2013
Commuting is tough. Working out of your car all day is tougher. From traveling salesmen to offsite service professionals to couriers, millions of people worldwide spend their nine-to-five hours behind the wheel. And they need to stay in touch--online, dialed in, and powered up--all day. That's not easy to do when you're constantly on the move.

Device Mounting

Getting online while in your car is one thing. Actually using your devices while you're wedged into the driver's seat is another. If you've ever tried to tap out an email while sitting in a parking lot, you know that cars weren't designed with computer users' ergonomics in mind. Fortunately, for workers who can't freely get out of the car to work, ingenuity has presented a simple solution: the steering wheel desk.

These trays attach to your steering wheel to create a simple shelf at (roughly) typing level. Some attach to the top of the wheel and are angled down (best for tablets and phones with touchscreens), while others attach to the bottom of the wheel and are designed to be used horizontally. A wide variety of styles and sizes are available, but most tend to cost between $20 and $30. Their efficacy seems to be roughly on par with an airplane tray table, so plan accordingly.

A device like the Kenu Airframe can mount tablets and phones at a more usable height, too, either on the dashboard or on your A/C vents. And don't forget the back seat. If you find it more convenient to climb in the back to get work done, you can use a headrest mount to put your tablet at more of a heads-up height (while doing double duty is an entertainment system when your kids are in the car). Again, countless designs exist, from simple strap systems to more avant-garde designs.

Printing and scanning

If there were ever a perfect time to go paperless, it'd be when your office is your car. I've already mentioned how printing in a vehicle can be challenging. With peak power draw of 800 watts or more, the typical laser printer can blow out fuses and leave you with none of your equipment operating.

Here are two alternatives: With a power draw of just 10 watts, a newer model inkjet such as the HP Deskjet 3510 e-All-in-One ($80) can comfortably work from any 12-volt adapter. This model even has an onboard wireless network adapter. If you're using a mobile router, you needn't bother running a cable to your computer to print, just put the printer in the back seat or the trunk (or wherever you have a power outlet) and you're good to go. You even get scanning built in. Battery-powered printers are also a possibility, but their performance can be iffy.

If you don't need printed pages in hand, your other choice would be to use a remote printing service, such as HP ePrint or Epson Connect. These services let you print to your compatible printer from anywhere, using a smartphone or tablet app or by forwarding a document to a custom email address. Print all you want on the road, and then pick up the documents when you get back at the end of the day.

 

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