Thousands of miles, tons of tech

The gadgets for this long road trip--from zoom lenses to an EV-DO card--prove to be mostly impressive. Photos: Gadgets pass road test

After 4,981 miles and more stops throughout the American Southwest than I can count, it's over.

Road Trip 2007, that is, which was my journey through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah--not to mention 30 seconds in Colorado--in search of the best science-, technology-, nature- and architecture-related destinations I could find.

But while I was visiting and writing about, or posting photos of, places like the , the , the and many more, I was also carting around a box full of high-tech gadgets to road test.

And on top of that, I was driving a vehicle, an Infiniti QX56--which was provided by the trip's sponsor--that itself had a nearly unending collection of high-tech features.

In the end, I wasn't able to test all the gadgets I brought with me, as I simply ran out of time running from place to place. When you drive almost 200 miles every day on top of spending two or three hours researching a story, processing photos, writing a story, eating and sleeping, there really isn't that much left over.

Still, I did get around to testing a number of them, and here are my thoughts on the ones I reviewed.

Verizon Wireless' V740 EV-DO card: This card, which plugged directly into my MacBook Pro, allowed me to connect to the Internet via the company's cell network. When the signal was strong--usually in cities or densely populated areas, but sometimes even in the country--I had a high-speed connection without any limitations. That meant if I saw something I wanted to blog, I could pull the car over by the side of the road and simply do it. I can't recall exactly how many times I did that, but it was quite a few. Even when processing photos, the speed provided by this card was impressive and I often ended up using it instead of the Wi-Fi networks in, say, my hotel.

Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 460wbt: This compact wireless printer is a little Bluetooth-enabled wonder. It lets you print from a laptop with no wires at all because it has a rechargeable battery. That meant that when I needed to print, I was free from any kind of geographic restrictions, and I proved that point one day by printing from the desert. It produced high-quality printouts, even in glossy color, though that kind of printing was extremely slow.

Canon's 10-22mm and 70-300mm zoom lenses: While I occasionally still used the kit 18-55mm lens that came with my Canon Rebel XT digital SLR, I began turning more and more to the 10-22mm ultrawide zoom lens Canon lent me for the trip. Though it was likely not the best lens for the job many times, I kept on using it because I loved the way it allowed me to take a much wider shot than with the 18-55mm lens. The 70-300mm telephoto lens, on the other hand, allowed me to do things like take high-resolution pictures of on takeoff. Of all the gadgets I brought with me on this trip, these are the ones that I most regret having to return to their owners.

HBO's The Wire: While I worked like crazy, producing a full story and photo gallery, plus many blogs nearly every day, I still needed some down time. That's where HBO's The Wire, a taut crime drama based in Baltimore, came into play. The company sent me the first three seasons of this show on DVD, and over the course of the trip, I went through all 37 episodes, often only stopping because I just had to get to sleep. This is one of the best shows I've seen in years, easily as good--OK, bring it on--as The Sopranos. It revolves around the standoff between a special crime investigation unit in the city's police department and gangs of street-level drug dealers, and its character development, writing and acting are top-notch.

Altec Lansing's iM600 iPod speakers: I didn't get to use these as much as I wanted--I listened to most of the 1,000-plus songs I heard in the car--but when I did, I was impressed. They offer great sound in a compact package and a low price. I own a previous version of Altec Lansing's iPod speakers; this new version outshines it by an order of magnitude. Plus, it offers an AM/FM radio and the ability to plug in auxiliary devices like a laptop. My only complaint is that when an iPod is docked with this device, it's nearly impossible to use the click wheel, making it hard to scroll through songs or playlists.

Iridium's 9505A satellite phone: I only used this phone a few times, but when I needed it, it provided a great signal, regardless of where I was. The quality is better than any cell phone, and though it requires an open sky to get a signal, that is something that was easily available in the Southwest, especially in places where the cell didn't have a signal. My only surprise was that Iridium hadn't put out a new model of satellite phone since I went on Road Trip 2006.

Infiniti QX56: This SUV provided by the trip's sponsor was a lot of fun, and it's a good thing since I drove nearly 5,000 miles in it. It was comfortable, powerful and extremely smooth. From a driving perspective, its V8 engine provided all the acceleration I could want, though I was a little surprised at first that its pickup doesn't really kick in until 40 miles an hour, and then not again until 60 mph.

The QX56 has a full passel of technological features. In particular, I used the XM radio, which came in nice and clear. And I also used its GPS car navigator, which seemed very smart, though it often took a couple minutes to tell me which way to go--something that was a problem a couple of times when I was trying to find a short route from point A to point B. But beyond that, the navigator always took me to where I needed to go, and with clear, concise spoken directions.

My only real complaint about this vehicle--and it's not specific to this one, since it's just one in a class of SUVs--is that it is a gas guzzler. On average, it got about 15 or 16 miles a gallon, which meant for some hefty gas bills.

UDG Producer Bag: This gadget bag, which is aimed at DJs, is a multifeatured bag with pockets for all kinds of things. I think, however, that it really is best used by DJs, as those pockets seem best-suited to holding things like CDs and cables. For me, trying to cart around a laptop, a camera, some lenses and lunch, it was kind of a stretch. But that was mostly my own fault for trying to get it to do something it really wasn't designed for.

All in all, the tech I brought with me was great, and most of it did just what it was supposed to do. I regretted not being able to get to several of the devices I brought with me, including a Sony camcorder, a BlackBerry 8800, TomTom One XL and Garmin StreetPilot car navigation systems and a few others. But there's always Road Trip 2008.

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