Office in a bag: Basic 'musts' for the digital nomad

If you do most of your work out of the local Starbucks, consider taking some of these devices with you.

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Scanning

If you're doing field research in an archive or keeping track of receipts for your expense report, there will be times when you need to whip a scanner out and digitize whatever you're looking at. Fortunately, you can. And you have a couple of routes to take: Tiny and pricey and designed for the road, or cheap, designed for the office and whaddayaknow -- it fits in a laptop bag after all.

PlanOn has been making stylus-style hand scanners for several years, and they are a wonder to behold. You lay what looks like an elongated pen at the top of the page, press a button and draw it down the page steadily, keeping an eye on the speed warning light to make sure you don't go too fast. The pen stores the scan until you can plug it via USB into your computer. The PlanOn DocuPen RC805 is $300, capable of 24-bit color scanning at up to 400dpi and comes with PaperPort document management software. Other pen-type scanners out there include the IRISPen and the InfoScan 2.

NeatReceipts
NeatReceipts scanner

If your hand isn't all that steady, then you might want to take a look at the NeatReceipts mobile scanner. The 10.6 oz. scanner can handle anything from standard 8.5 x 11-inch documents down to those pesky cab receipts that you always lose. The $200 device is USB-powered, so you don't need to look for an extra power socket, and comes with software that will save your documents to a variety of formats.

CanoScan LiDE 200
CanoScan LiDE 200

If you can't do without a flatbed scanner, then one like the $90 CanoScan LiDE 200 could work as a portable device. It's relatively light (3.6 lbs.), inexpensive and powered entirely by USB -- why not slap it in a bag and take it along? It scans fast even at resolutions up to 4800dpi, and makes PDFs at the press of a button. At 9.9 x 14.4 x 1.6 inches, it's no bigger than a standard widescreen laptop, so it fits in the side pocket of a laptop bag quite tidily. And in field tests, it worked quickly and quietly in the reading room of a library without disturbing (too many of) the patrons.

Output

An office isn't an office without a printer. So an office in a bag needs to have some way of creating hard copy. Once again, the options are to go very small and light or to go a bit larger and heavier. The decider between the two isn't price, as with scanners, but the kind of printing you want to do.

PlanOn PrintStiks are so cool it's almost ridiculous. The PrintStik ps900 is smaller than a five-dollar Subway sandwich, weighs a couple of pounds, and prints on a roll of thermal paper that's tucked away inside the device. It costs $200 ($300 for a Bluetooth-enabled version), and its only consumables are thermal paper rolls, which cost $25 for a three-roll pack. Each roll is capable of printing about 30 letter-sized pages, or somewhat more if you print partial pages.

HP Officejet H470
HP Officejet H470

If you like your printouts sharper than something that uses the same technology as a cash register receipts, give the HP Officejet H470 a whirl. At around five pounds with a Lithium-Ion battery pack, it's bulkier and more than three times as big as the PrintStik. Its output won't win any prizes next to a desk-based inkjet, but it's certainly going to look better and last longer than thermal roll prints (which, like receipts from WalMart, will turn black if you leave them in the car dashboard on a summer's day).

Anything small enough to slip into a carry-on is going to cost more and compromise somewhere, but at around $249 for 1200 dpi color printing, the price of the H470 isn't too painful. And it can handle volume print jobs on the road using battery power and optional Bluetooth connectivity, which is nothing to sneer at.

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