Extreme mobility: Tools and tips for smartphone-only travel

You can enjoy the liberation of traveling without a laptop -- if you have the right equipment and plan ahead.

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The talking cure?

Vlingo app
The Vlingo app responds to voice commands, letting you bypass the phone's onscreen keyboard for some tasks. Click to view larger image.

Another way to get around the limitations of a phone's onscreen keyboard is to take advantage of a voice recognition app. Why type an email or Facebook update when you can simply speak it? Such apps also let you use voice commands to make calls, open apps and perform other basic tasks, saving you a few taps along the way.

While Android has basic voice actions baked in, I turned to the Vlingo Virtual Assistant, available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile devices, for more advanced help. Vlingo's Android app is a freebie that's ad-supported; it costs $2 for an ad-free version of the software.

The app is similar to Apple's Siri for iPhone 4S in that you speak to it and it takes action based on what it thinks you said, but Vlingo lacks Siri's advanced natural language comprehension. Vlingo has only a limited vocabulary of tasks such as "email," "search," "get directions" and "update [social network]."

To alert the Android version of Vlingo to listen up, you tap a bar at the bottom of the screen. It worked well for simple tasks like opening the Web browser and searching for a copy shop but was frustrating for sending texts and emails, making the same mistakes over and over again.

I had mixed results when asking Vlingo questions. For example, when I asked, "How many feet are in a mile?" it brought up a Google search results page with links to several online sources that answer the question. Unfortunately, it didn't do as well when I asked, "When does baseball's spring training start?" Its response? "No answer found."

If you're looking for more Siri-like functionality, a few Android apps including Speaktoit Assistant, Eva and Jeannie are worth checking out, but they aren't quite ready for prime time. (See "Siri for Android -- sort of.")

Giving presentations

A common task for business travelers is making presentations. You'll usually find a projector in the conference room at your destination, but how do you get your presentation from your phone to the projector? I've found a couple of ways that work very well.


Most projectors that are less than two years old, and some older ones as well, have an HDMI port. (Call ahead and find out for sure.) If so, you might be able to plug your phone directly into the projector.

Some high-end smartphones, such as Motorola's Droid 3, have an HDMI port for sending images to a projector or external display. Unfortunately, my Nitro HD doesn't have this, but it does support Mobile High-definition Link (MHL). This interface can send images, video and audio from the phone's micro-USB port through an adapter and separate HDMI cable to the HDMI port on a projector or TV.

MHL cable

An MHL adapter can send images, video and audio from certain smartphones to a projector or TV with an HDMI port.

Click to view larger image.

You can find the connectors in electronics stores and online for prices ranging from about $10 to $35. I used a no-name MHL adapter and cable that cost $10.50.

There's no software to load, and for now, you need to power the MHL cable using an AC adapter. (The MHL standard includes a provision for the adapter to draw power from the projector or TV it's attached to, but as yet very few devices support this function.) The good news is that the MHL cable can use the phone's power adapter, and it simultaneously charges the phone it's plugged into.

After plugging one end of the MHL cable into the phone and the other into the projector's HDMI cable, the connection is automatic, and the images show up on the big screen at 1280-x-720-pixel resolution. Regardless of how you orient the phone's screen, the big-screen image stays right-side up, but you do have to keep the phone from going to sleep.

Using the MHL cable and a Mitsubishi projector, I gave a presentation using the OfficeSuite Pro app without a hitch.

Of course, MHL is still an emerging standard, and only a couple dozen smartphones support it today, but that number is expected to increase over time.

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