When I go on an extended road trip, I like to take everything with me I need to be productive on the road without having to lug a lunky laptop. On a recent month long trip, I decided to use a Droid X as my mobile office to keep me productive and connected. I found it to be a super companion. It helped me process data, write, publish, communicate via email, sms, mms, and IM. It guided me and gave me valuable information along the way that made my trip more enjoyable. It also entertained me with music, eBooks, audiobooks, movies, and TV.
Even before packing for a trip, I think it’s always a good idea to create some lists: things to do before leaving home, things to pack, places to be visited, and electronic items needed, including apps. If you look in the Android Store, there are many, many list apps. Some are better than others. My favorite has always been ListPro, but unfortunately, it’s not yet available. I hope it will be soon.
Among the many choices that I evaluated, I finally decided on the Springpad app, which is free. In my opinion, it’s the best available, even among the paid apps because of its robust features. It automatically creates a copy of all your lists, task, memos, and links that are stored on the Springpadit.com Website that is always available from any computer or handheld anywhere. It allows you to make notes, and check lists in various categories such as business, restaurant, wine, products, books, movies, tasks, music albums, shopping, packing, and recipes.
You can also add photos, webpages, emails, or snippets of text with hyperlinks and then send them via email or SMS. You can add media by taking a photo, scanning a product, using an existing photo, or making an audio recording. The latter is a great feature while on the road.
However, it has one serious shortcoming that I hope will be remedied soon: it will not allow you to sort items within a list, but strangely it sorts lists. Go figure. Accordingly, for large lists, you may wish to find another application that will sort items internally. For just my shopping list, I chose a Shopping List for this purpose. It does the job, but does not allow imports/exports or additions by voice.
Here is another good reason to have a packing list. When I was in Albuquerque, my car was broken into and a couple thousand dollars worth of items were taken. During the shock of the moment, it was difficult to remember what was missing for the police report. My list helped immensely. Albuquerque is an evil place…stay away.
Another important item to take along is some kind of secure electronic wallet. My favorite has been eWallet for many years. Luckily, it’s now available for Android. It syncs with your desktop data so you have a backup copy. This program has saved my life more than once. When I got my credit cards stolen, I was able to contact the companies, cancel them, and get new ones in no time, thanks to eWallet. It’s a free app that could save your bacon.
As long as we’re talking about security and lost items, I highly recommend installing a copy of Where’s My Droid in case you lose or misplace your device. This remarkable app allows you to send a text message to your lost device. You can either cause it to turn up the volume and ring for a set time or it will return a text message with its latitude and longitude (provided GPS is turned on).
Navigation and Guidance
During the first half of the trip I used my trusty Mio dashmounted GPS, but I was relieved of it in Albuquerque. Droid X came to the rescue. I used the built in Navigation program with Google maps and enjoyed the amazing 3D satellite pictures that show you actual photos of the landscape as you travel, including actual buildings. With this program, a window mount, you don’t need anything else to guide you on a road trip.
Navigating and communicating hands free is a good idea while on the road. For this reason, I tried out some apps to help me. I guess my favorite was already installed on my Droid X. It’s called Car Home. Large buttons on the home screen are for Navigation, Voice Search, Contact Search, and Maps. But, you can install other apps of your choice as well. There is an additional screen with six large buttons on either side of the home screen where you can place apps of your choice to access easily while driving.
At the top of the home screen, in large red display, are a speedometer, a digital compass, and a weather report, which never worked for me.
A similar application is Car Dock available for free in the Store. The home screen appears with six buttons for Calling, My Location, Music, Add App, Voice Search, and Close.
After I was relieved of my Window mounted GPS in the robbery, I reverted to my Droid X using the built in Navigation system with Google. It performed flawlessly, rerouted quickly, gave voice guidance, and the 3D photo background is amazing. As far as I know, no other application has this feature. Go Google.
I was delighted to find out that one of my longstanding favorites, CoPilot Live, is now available for Android. I couldn’t resist getting a copy. It is a real asset to road travel with all the features one would expect. However, it doesn’t have the nifty satellite photo background offered by Google, and it does not have a panel with such information as time of arrival, distance to go, and so forth. You can view this information, but it takes some tapping to access, which isn’t too cool while driving.
In most places along the way, it was possible to connect to the Web to search for information on sightseeing, history, geology, restaurants, accommodations, and so forth. A handy offline resource for tourist attractions is Travel America, which is free and well worth having.
If you enjoy geocaching as you travel, I recommend a copy of C:GEO. It quickly displays a list of caches near you organized by distance. It has a map and a compass for guidance to the site. There are others available in the app store, but this one is my favorite, and it’s free.
If you track your travel expenses, it can be quite cumbersome with receipts piling up and tucked away in your glove compartment, pockets, suitcase, and so forth. My Droid X made it really simple with a free app called Expensify. Expensify lets you manually enter your expenses manually by category for reimbursement and tax purposes. You can even scan in receipts quickly. All records are backed up online and can be exported. It’s a great app.
There are many other apps in this category that you may wish to investigate some free, some not, but Expensify seemed to serve my needs the best.
If you are into keeping track of your vehicle performance, maintenance, and mileage there are apps for that as well. Try autoMOBILE for $.99.
Whether traveling for pleasure or business, it’s always good to be able to travel lightly without being burdened with a bulky laptop and yet remain productive. With my Droid X, I was able to be just as productive as I wished to be without missing a beat. The most serious bottleneck to productivity with a handheld is an efficient means of inputting. The onboard keyboard just isn’t designed for productive inputting. I’m happy to report that with the Droid X it’s was possible for me to use my Freedom, full size, five row, fold-out keyboard connected via Bluetooth with the help of an app called KeyPro. KeyPro is available in the Market. You can download it and test it on your device for free. But, if it works, you will want to acquire the paid version at a cost of $9.95, a most worthwhile investment in your mobile productivity.
I’ll have to admit that I really struggled getting the keyboard to work. It was an ordeal of patience and persistence, but once I got the keyboard introduced to my Droid X, it was a perfect marriage. Once you get it set up, it is easy to connect. When I get time, I intend to write an article about the necessary steps to make it all happen quickly and easily.
Another drawback to non-Windows devices is that they are not able to read office documents. A partial solution may be to view items stored online in Google Docs. However, the key to true mobile productivity is the ability to not only to view, but to create and edit Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and PDF documents. What to do?
Luckily there is a marvelous third party app by DataViz called Documents to Go. The free version only allows you to view .doc and .xls file. To view, edit, and create .doc, .xls, .ppt, and .dof files, you will need the paid version, which only costs $14.99.
The new version 3.0 sports an all new user interface with many improved features. You can now access all the Google Docs and edit them. You can even create new ones.
This is a must have application if you want to be a serious roadwarrior. Don’t leave home without it.
There are times when it can be a matter of life or death if you need to access data from your home or office computer remotely. This happened to me more than once during my trip, and fortunately, there are apps for this. One I can highly recommend is PhoneMyPC. Take notice though, you must install it on your PC before you leave home. You cannot do it remotely. So, buy before you fly. It costs $9.95 and is another worthwhile investment in mobile independence.
With all the above productivity tools, you are ready to do battle and face any exigency while on the road and remain prolifically creative while traveling.
I will resist the temptation to talk about games because there are just too many and everyone has his or her own idea about suitable games. However, I noticed that a completely free full version of Angry Birds became available when I was on the road. I gave it a try and found it mindless but addicting. There is a companion program called Angry Birds Walkthrough that will give you a solution to every level.
One of the frustrations I face while in hotel rooms is that all the channels and times are different for my favorite programs. Even if I am lucky enough to find one I like, I still have to suffer through commercials, which I abhor.
My best solution is Slingplayer, which I’m pleased to report is available for Android. On my Droid X I am now able to access and control my home TV in HD and watch live or recorded TV from anywhere in the world with a Wi-Fi connection. It takes the pain out of traveling at the end of a long day. In order to use this marvelous source of entertainment, you must have a Slingbox installed on your home TV. Go to Slingmedia.com for details.
If you are hooked on viewing TV There are some free and paid apps that will allow you to view a limited number of selections. TV.com is a good one, free, but with few full episode available. You may wish to try the new paid version of Hulu for $9.95 a month. You may wish to check out SPB TV and Orb as well.
If you have already downloaded a bunch on your favorite tunes, you are all set to go for listening pleasure while driving or relaxing with the building player. Or you can download new tunes online. If you are really a tune freak, you may wish to carry an additional micro SD card full of music.
Of course there are all kinds of music listening opportunities from a plethora of online radio stations from all over the world. You should never be at a loss for music while traveling.
Hands down, my very favorite all time app is Pandora. It’s a free download and allows you to enter your favorite artists, albums, or tunes. It will find other similar music to play for your listening pleasure.
As it’s dangerous to use ear buds or Bluetooth headphones while driving, a better solution it to pick up a nifty little FM modulator at WalMart and elsewhere for ten bucks. All you do is plug your Droid into it and tune to an empty FM frequency on your radio to broadcast your phone’s audio over your car speaker system. This works great for audiobooks as well.
Speaking of audiobooks, if you don’t like the high price of purchasing audiobooks, which can be as high as $85 for unabridged editions, try Audiobooks for free in the Android store. I spent many pleasant hours driving listening to sold old classics. Audiobooks really make the time pass quickly and enjoyably. Be sure to use a Bluetooth speaker or FM modulator hookup though for safety.
If you’d rather curl up with a good book once in a while instead of watching the boob tube, grab a good eReader app from the store. Basically, you are all set to go because a copy of Kindle eBook reader comes installed on the Droid X. Kindle is semi-satisfactory but doesn’t begin to compare to readers I’ve known in Windows Mobile. There are other readers available in the Market, most are free. You can go to Amazon.com and download ebooks for pay for free. There are many other places on the Web with eBooks available. There are even some in the Android Market.
I don’t know about your library, but my local library features NetLibrary that allows you to download WMA and MP3 unabridged eAudiobooks. Of course, I can do this from anywhere while on the road, and it’s free. It worked flawlessly on my Droid X. Check it out at your library.
About the only time I would read a tree book would be if I were in prison. Thank goodness eBooks are available on the Droid. My mantra for years has been, “Ebooks rule; treebooks drool,” and I’m sticking with it.
I found no problem traveling with my Droid X instead of a laptop. I cannot think of anything I lacked in the way of productivity, entertainment, and making my trip efficient and enjoyable. It’s like having a concierge in your pocket at your beck and call. While I mentioned all the apps that made my trip more practical, there are probably many others that would contribute to one’s travel well being. I welcome your comments if you have any suggestions.