Road warriors' essential mobile toolkit

What you should always carry in your briefcase or backpack -- or on your mobile device itself

Mobile's little helpers

Smartphones and tablets let you do more things in more places, but they often require a little help. If you travel a lot, you'll need to bring some of that help along, such as charging blocks and audio cables, to make the most of your mobile device in alien territory. The following are my picks for what you need for your iOS and Android devices, including specific tools I work with all the time and advice on using them for optimal effect.

iPad, iPhone, and Android chargers and sync cables
Charger block and charge/sync cables

When traveling, bring one charge/sync cable for each device -- you never know when you need to charge more than one simultaneously. Retractable cables can save space, but they tend to break easily, so using rubber bands to corral more-durable cables is a better idea.

Also bring a charger block that can power two devices -- most do just one device, so you need more outlets and chargers. And be sure it supports tablets' higher wattage requirements on at least one port. If you rent cars a lot, get a second charger block that plugs into a cigarette lighter port. I like PowerGen's dual-port USB wall charger and its car charger due to their compact size, nice design, and reasonable prices.

iPad and Android tablet covers
Protective cases, sleeves, and covers for tablets

Many kinds of protectors are available: sleeves, portfolios, cases, and covers. Choose one based on aesthetics and your usage patterns -- sleeves need to go somewhere while you work and are best suited as protection while in transit, for example.

I prefer the combination of a separate screen cover like the Apple Smart Cover and case such as Speck Products' SmartShell because I can put aside the cover while holding the iPad, reducing its weight. You won't find such magnetic covers for Android tablets, so your best option is a case designed for your specific model, such as the Samsung Book Cover. (I'm not a fan of screen films, as they're typically messy and not durable.)

iPad, iPhone, and Android audio cable
Audio cable

Although more and more cars support Bluetooth audio streaming or have a USB port for connecting a smartphone to a stereo, many do not -- especially not rental cars. But they have an auxiliary port, so carry around a standard 3mm audio cable. You'll also want it when watching a movie on a hotel or other older TV via a VGA cable.

If you travel with a companion frequently, consider getting an audio splitter so that you can watch the same movie from one tablet.

iPad, iPhone, and Android headphones and earbuds
Headphones and earbuds

For long plane rides, you'll no doubt want to listen to music or movies on your mobile device. Get a pair of good headphones if you travel a lot; unlike earbuds, they cut out a lot of the engine and cabin noise. Although it's pricey and a bit bulky, I especially appreciate my Bose QuietComfort 3 when going cross-country or overseas.

The rest of the time, keep a pair of good earbuds handy. Klipsch's Image S3 are very nice in-canal earbuds, with great sound and a nice array of colors. Apple's EarPods fit nicely if, like me, you don’t like the kind of earbuds that insert into your ear canal.

iPad, iPhone, and Android presentation gear
Presentation gear

An iPad or iPhone makes a great presentation device, thanks to the Keynote app and iOS's video-out and screen mirroring. You'll need a VGA adapter or HDMI adapter cable -- probably one of each. I also recommend Apple's Keynote Remote app so that your iPhone can remote-control your iPad (or Mac) presentation.

If you travel a lot, maybe carry an Apple TV for wireless presentations via HDMI displays, plus Kanex's ATV Pro VGA adapter.

Some Android devices support video-out, through a MicroHDMI or MHL-enabled MicroUSB port, via an HDMI cable or MHL cable. Samsung has a MicroUSB-to-VGA adapter, as does iKross. Samsung also has a MiniHDMI-to-VGA adapter.

Apple Lightning-to-Dock connector
Lightning-to-Dock adapter

Many hotel rooms now have clock radios with an Apple Dock connector for your iPhone or iPod. However, Apple abandoned the Dock connector for the Lightning connector in its new iPods, iPhones, and iPads released this fall, so you may want Apple's Lightning adapter if you have a new Apple device. That adapter may not fit in all cradles and Dock-equipped accessories, so you may also want Apple's Lightning-to-Dock cable.

Note that these adapters don't work with specialty add-ons, such as for video-out, MIDI, and even iPod control. They're for charging and data transfer.

iPad, iPhone, and Android camera gear
Camera gear

The iPhone and Android smartphones are fast becoming most people's digicams, thanks to their quality cameras. But SLRs remain critical for pros and even many amateurs -- and they like to transfer their photos to smartphones or tablets for image editing or simply to upload to Facebook or Flickr.

Some Android devices come with MicroSD slots to make such transfer easy. Otherwise, you'll need a MicroUSB cable that works with your camera or need a card reader adapter to use various media cards.

For iPhones and iPads, you'll need an SD or MicroUSB adapter. Apple's Camera Connection Kit provides both for the Dock Connector. For Lightning devices, Apple offers a separate SD card reader and MicroUSB adapter.

Bluetooth keyboard for iPad, iPhone, and Android
Bluetooth keyboard

Some people hate the onscreen keyboard of a tablet or find it suffices for only short bursts of typing. The answer to that is a Bluetooth keyboard. You can use any Bluetooth keyboard with an iOS or Android device, but you'll prefer one designed for your OS to get its specific keys. Get one that protects the keys so that they don't get damaged in transit.

I prefer Logitech's Tablet Keyboard (available for iOS and for Android) because of its sturdy protective sleeve that doubles as a stand.

Many users love the Zagg Keyboard Case for iPad. It protects both your keyboard and your iPad's screen, and it works as a stand.

Lantronix xPrintServer
The little printer box that the places you visit should have

Although some airlines provide electronic boarding passes that can be scanned from your smartphone, not all do. But you can't print the boarding pass at the hotel's business center, because its printers require a PC. You end up doing it at the airport. Printing agendas and maps when on the road can also be handy, but with a tablet or smartphone, you can't.

Road warriors should lobby the business centers at hotels and conference centers and the lobbies at companies whose offices they visit to install a simple device on their networks: Lantronix's xPrintServer. It lets any iOS device print to any printer on the network. There are three models: small office/department, home, and large office.

iPad and iPhone medical equipment
Specialty mobile hardware

People in certain professions can take advantage of specialty hardware for their work. iOS devices have the widest range of such options.

For example, the Square Credit Card Reader lets retailers take card payments almost anywhere, from farmers markets to concerts. And the Epson Mobilink P60 lets retailers print receipts via Bluetooth.

There's a wide range of iPad add-ons for musicians, from 1K Muktimedia's iRig MIDI connector to K&M's iPad holder for musical stands. Ben Harvell's "Make Music with Your iPad" book tours the options.

Physicians and nurses might want AliveCor’s Heart Monitor (which transmits its readings to an iPhone), the Withings blood pressure monitor, or the Agamatrix glucose monitor.