Internet on the Road, part 2 – how to optimize your travel connectivity

rsts11 note: This is the second of a two-part series featuring mobile internet routers. The first part is posted over on, as it is a bit milder technology. The second part appears on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity.

Many venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups. Last time we looked at some battery powered routers with charging functions and other network features.

Today on rsts11 we’ll look at some choices for sharing a wired connection as well as a cellular modem. We’ll briefly revisit the Hootoo and Ravpower routers from part 1, and then dive into Meraki, Peplink, and Cradlepoint devices for the higher-power user.  Continue reading


Portable power for your mobile devices, and more to come, from #rsts11travel soon!

As you’re heading into the weekend, you may be leaving home for a day or two, or thinking ahead to upcoming travel and remembering a dead phone or tablet that dented your day on a past trip.

People have the power!

Our rsts11travel blog has two posts you may want to check out to prepare for any of the above.


Part 1, the cable edition, helps you upgrade your charging adapter and cable collection to handle modern devices.

Part 2, the battery edition, helps you separate from the wall with chargers that may get you 7 or more full charges on your phone, or three full charges on your tablet.

We have product recommendations for various categories, based on what we’ve bought and carried with us to road shows, conferences like Interop and Cisco Live and Strata+Hadoop World, and vacation getaways. Depending on  your shoulders, you might even choose some of these for everyday carry. We do.

So where do we go from here?

Coming up in the next two weeks, probably sooner, will be a two parter on mobile Internet connection handling, with the starter part (Hootoo, Ravpower, and more) on rsts11travel and the advanced part (Cradlepoint, Meraki, and more) here on rsts11.

Probably a couple of weeks past that, the travel side will have a hands-on review of the Invizbox Go travel VPN/TOR router, and over here we’ll try an interesting method for connecting up your Opengear Resilience Gateway. In the mean time, check out our friend John Herbert’s write-up on Opengear’s Remote Site Gateway (ACM7004-5).

Have a safe weekend, and we’ll see you on rsts11 and rsts11travel again soon.

Another look at mobile workflow – iPad Air keyboard cases

I have a bad habit of buying lots of accessories for an electronic device I’ll have for a year or so, and then they pile up because people don’t want to buy them with the old device. This is usually the case with mobile phones and laptops, but it also comes up with tablets. I have three keyboard cases and at least three regular cases for my iPad 3rd gen, including a Hello Kitty keyboard.

During a particularly nifty Target promo around their Cartwheel app, I got a 15% discount off any electronic device over a two day period. This included iPads, and since my 16GB 3rd gen iPad was full, I got a 64GB Air at nearly 20% off (with redcard discount). Then I went about looking for a case.

I need a case, just in case, you know

An article someone pointed me toward said the Case Crown Omni was the best on the market. I bought it to use while I searched for a keyboard case that would work. I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it was indeed a good case, better than any I found at local retail in a few days of looking.

Among the recommendations that came in was one from Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin (who also own the Linksys brand, in case you’ve been under a WRT54G for the past year).

He unsurprisingly recommended his firm’s “Qode” (pronounced as “Code”) line of keyboard cases, with the top-of-the-range Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case being well rated (albeit a bit pricey at $130). There’s also a Slim Style model (msrp $80) with a kickstand on the iPad holder, and a Thin Type model (msrp $100) that works as a stand when in use and clips over the iPad when not in use.

61gBQETEYkL._SL1500_[1]As an aside, the Belkin product I use the most (up until now, at least) is their swivel power adapter with USB and AC outlets. The SurgePlus model is the current one, with 2.1A charging on USB. I suspect the 3-4 of them I have are old enough to be the 1A versions (time to upgrade!). Great for travel, especially if you’re at an event where they think one power outlet per table is generous.

The Belkin Slim Style

I bought a Slim Style at Target, marked down from $80 to $71 and further discounted 5% via redcard (I think this was after the Cartwheel deal). I used it for a day or so before mentioning on Twitter that it was nice, but the kickstand design wasn’t very lap friendly. This is what you could call the Surface Dilemma, after Microsoft’s almost-there laptop-replacement tablet which hasn’t yet wowed everyone with its lap-friendliness.


My assessment of the Slim Style was that, on a desktop (or probably even on a roomier airline tray table), it would be good. The keyboard and its layout felt reasonable, and I felt it protected the iPad well enough that I could just drop it into my laptop bag without fear.

But I returned it, because of the lapability factor, and mentioned this on Twitter.

The @belkincares account asked if they could help, and were very courteous even though they (luckily) couldn’t make my lap resemble a tabletop more. I’ve had a few good exchanges with @belkincares over the past year or so, from stacking cable inquiries around their older KVMs to some arcane questions about the wireless bridge line.

This keyboard case goes to ULTIMATE

About a week later, Belkin had generously provided a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for me to try out at no cost.  I plugged it in to charge and then started using it the next morning.

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case in use

The Qode Ultimate has a more contained layout, in that rather than a kickstand, the iPad shell magnetically “sticks” to the keyboard shell. It has three positions, as with the Slim Style, but they’re within the footprint of the keyboard, and thus much more convenient on the lap or on a tray table.

ipad-qode-shellThe keyboard shell is sort of a dark blue “aircraft-grade aluminum alloy” that I didn’t recognize as blue at first. It does pick up fingerprints and the occasional light scratch, but I only notice that when getting the iPad out or putting it away, since this part is on the bottom when in use, and also hidden when you’re using it in “reading mode” (i.e. folded back).

The iPad shell piece is black plastic with a leatherish inset that incorporates the kickstand “hinge.” The Belkin logo is on the “front” (i.e. bottom of the keyboard) and the Belkin name is on the leatherish hinge section and on the front of the keyboard.

The keyboard turns itself off unless the iPad is “connected” to one of the three kickstand positions. So if you flip it back so that the keyboard is behind the screen, it’s automatically powered off. Same with closing it up; the keyboard is off and the battery life is extended.

For some reason, Belkin have swapped two of the keys on their keyboards. I believe the Slim Style and Thin Style place the colon/semicolon key between “L” and “Enter” whereas the Ultimate places the quote key there. In each case the other key is to the right of the space bar.

Kensington to the semicolon’s rescue?

I’m slowly getting used to the keyboard layout. It’s very typeable except when I need a semicolon or a colon. However, I decided that if I was going to write a review, it would be good to make sure that I liked the Belkin keyboard case for reasons other than it being given to me at no cost.

So I picked up a Kensington KeyFolio Exact case, which I found on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. It includes a Google Drive offer (which is apparently processed manually by Kensington, as I haven’t received the code for the offer in the past week), so it was an inexpensive experiment.

The KeyFolio is bulkier, with a detachable bluetooth keyboard, a stylus holder in the hinge, a wider range of color options, and a lower price if you’re going to buy it at retail.

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

I found that the keyboard itself was brilliant, managing to fit both the semicolon and the quote key between “L” and Enter by making the keys a little bit smaller. And since the Kensington had a fixed “kickstand” mounting point in the case closer to the hinge, they had room to put separate number and function key rows on the keyboard. The Belkin Slim Style also does this, since it has most of the surface area to spend on keyboard real estate. And I actually found myself using the function keys on the Kensington, which I hadn’t done on the Belkin.

(Above photo is of the actual keyboards, Kensington Keyfolio Exact on the top and Belkin Qode Ultimate on the bottom.)

I used the Kensington for just short of a week, and while I loved the keyboard and almost got used to the stand layout, I found I had to go back to the Belkin Qode Ultimate. Why?

I preferred the Qode Ultimate’s ease of turning off the keyboard, the lightness and grace of the entire case, and its turning off the iPad screen and locking it when I closed the case.

I expect I will hold onto the Kensington in case someone I know needs a super-cheap case for their Air and doesn’t need lapability. I am tempted to try the Thin Style just to see how that style of keyboard feels as a case. But the iPad is back in my Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case, just in time to head off for a company sales meeting out of town next week. And maybe I’ll have to write with fewer semicolons.


All keyboards tested charge with standard micro-USB cables (included), and paired very easily with the iPad Air via Bluetooth. Battery times are based on the manufacturer’s website or packaging (YMMV of course). Prices found on 8/22/2014 online.

Belkin Qode Slim Style keyboard case – $34 at Belkin or Amazon.

Good design, great keyboard, excellent value for the cost, but suboptimal for lap work.
2.5 days working time, 60 days standby time

Kensington KeyFolio Exact keyboard case – $29-39 at Amazon, $40 at Marshall’s, includes a 65GB 1 year Google Drive credit (~$15 value)

Great keyboard, kickstand design could use some work, doesn’t seem to lock the screen when closed.
40 days working time, 180 days standby time

Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboard case – $129 at Belkin, around $90 at Amazon.

Slim and sturdy case, very lap-friendly, no dedicated function key row, semicolon key is on the bottom row.
11 days working time, 180 days standby time

The final word:

The Qode Ultimate turns your iPad into a laptop, although it comes at a premium (which I feel is worth it). The Qode Slim Style and Kensington KeyFolio are good keyboards for tabletop use, and come in at a lower price.

Disclosure: Thanks to Kieran Hannon and Belkin for providing the Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case at no charge to me. Other than a twitter inquiry of “and the verdict?” they did not require or request a review, blog post, or any other consideration.

Brain power and device power for your holiday weekend and beyond

As some of you know, I’ve recently moved across town (why did I want my own yard again?) and flipped my commute from northwest to east-northeast by way of joining Cisco Systems. I will still be blogging here, and possibly more on other sites (like the Perspectives Blog at Cisco) but it’s been a period of resettling lately.

I do want to bring a couple of promotions to your attention… things I like and want to share (see disclosure below).

Packt Publishing $10 for 10th Anniversary

First, if you’re heading into the holiday weekend and looking for some development reading, Packt Publishing is celebrating their 10th anniversary with a $10 deal on all of their eBooks and videos through July 5 (Saturday).

Packt is a smaller publisher of tech materials… they engage writers from the community and bring out books on new and updated topics a bit (or sometimes a lot) faster than the larger and more official tech presses. They cover a broad range of topics and most likely have something you’ll enjoy reading. And if you have unique expertise on your social media or LinkedIn profile, you may hear from them about writing and reviewing opportunities as well.

One of the books they released recently that I’ve been looking forward to is Implementing Cisco UCS Solutions. There is a reliable rumor that Cisco Press is coming out with an updated official UCS tome in the next year (the previous version is about 4 years old now), but in the meantime, you may find this book useful for learning in more detail about Cisco UCS.

So check out this link and see if they have anything you like. The deal goes through Saturday, and their eBooks are DRM-free so you can read them almost anywhere (maybe not your 90s Nokia phone, but hey) and even print from them if you like.

PowerQube Mini portable power strip and charger

Second, for those of you who travel, or like unique outlet strips… take a look at the PowerQube Mini that’s on Kickstarter for the next week.


About a year ago, these folks from Indianapolis came out with the original PowerQube. This is a stylish power cube (in the 2d sense, it’s an inch or so tall) with six regular AC outlets and three full power USB charging ports. The PowerQube has integrated electronics letting it send the right power to your devices, whether a little rechargeable speaker that needs 300mA or your iPad or Transformer T100 that wants the heat of a thousand suns. Or 2A. Whichever seems more practical.

I backed the project and got one of the white PowerQubes for $30. It’s a little bit big for solo travel, although I’d bring it with me if I were spending a weekend or a week in a vacation home. And as far as home use, well, it powers my home office desk, and I’m going to get another to power the home network from.

You can find the original PowerQube at Fry’s for $69.95, or order one from Amazon for $59.95. But if you compare what I paid for my Kickstarter model, with the retail price, you may be thinking “how can I get in on this kind of deal?”


Well, that’s where the PowerQube Mini Kickstarter comes in. The Mini is a lot smaller, with two AC outlets and three full-power smart USB ports. It also has a detachable IEC power cord, so you could hang this off an underused datacenter PDU or just replace the cord if you need shorter or longer drops.

pqmini-usbIf you pledge, and if they make the goal, you can get one Mini for $35 (estimated shipment is September 2014). I went for the silver bundle to get 3 of the Minis at $100 total. But they’d appreciate the support at any level, and I think a lot of my readers would benefit from something like this.

But wait, you’ll get a charge out of this…

Ever wonder what you’re plugging into when you use a public charger? Feel a little paranoid at trade shows or airports but your phone is at 5% and you can’t put it in B&W mode like the new Samsungs?

It turns out there are some unique cables out there that don’t have data connectivity at all. They bridge the lines so you get as much power as your phone or tablet can handle, which means pretty much no risk of having your data accessed surreptitiously, and your phone or tablet may charge in half the time to boot.

I’ve recently stocked up on PortaPow cables from Amazon. PortaPow is a UK company that uses what they call the “Dumb USB specification” to provide charge-only cables in various lengths for MicroUSB devices.

Got an iDevice? Get the MicroUSB to Lightning (or 30pin) adapter from Apple and use it with this. Alternately, PortaPow has a Fast Charge USB Adapter (some people call it a USB Condom) that you put between the source and your existing USB charge cable. Apparently you need the Apple version to get 2A charge through the adapter; I would expect either to work with Android and other standard USB devices.

There are other brands, including Mediabridge (I have three of their cables to test with as well), and if you look for “fast charge usb” you should find others as well. But most of my experience, since buying an ASUS Transformer T100TA with its quirky USB charge requirements, has been with PortaPow, so that’s what I recommend.

So where do we go from here?

I recommend a safe and relaxing weekend of course. That’s my goal as well. Happy Fourth of July to all of you who observe a calendar, whether it’s a holiday or not.

But check out the links above and see if any of this can help with your brain power and device power needs.


I’ve bought some PacktPub books on my own, and received others on promotion. I will be getting a promo copy or two of their books for this post and related social media excursions.

My PowerQube was purchased through generally available channels (Kickstarter) with my own money, and my pledge for the Mini is out of my own pocket as well, although they may provide promotional consideration in the future.

And the fast-charging USB cables are not a promotion of any sort; I’ve paid out of my own pocket for the dozen or so I have from PortaPow and MediaBridge and others, and I’ll probably buy more since (like scissors and tape) they tend to disappear.

A bend in the road for Fitbit, and a year’s experience therewith

I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences with the Fitbit trackers for a while now, having just passed 12 months of using a series of three of their devices. With some new news coming out this week, this might be a particularly good time to share my thoughts.

Voluntary Recall On Fitbit Force Trackers

James Park, CEO and Co-founder of Fitbit, posted a note Yesterday on the Fitbit website (updating a note from last month) declaring a voluntary recall and end of sale on the Force tracker. Force is gone from Amazon already, and if you wanted one but didn’t get it yet, you may not be in luck.

For those of you who’ve bought the Force (a feat in and of itself) and found your skin irritated by the tracker, this is an opportunity to get a full refund directly from Fitbit and either go back to an earlier product from Fitbit, or move to a different product.

Their return page does not require that you prove or even claim injury, so if you were disappointed with the condensation issue, the clasp, or the announcement of a competing product the week after you bought the Force, you can still get a refund and move on with your life.

This move by Park and the Fitbit organization is an unexpectedly responsive action by the company. We’ve all seen companies hem and haw and blame the customer for holding the product wrong (iPhone 4 bumper anyone?), and while Fitbit did investigate the problem before ceasing sale, they’ve offered admirable support during the process.

I have not experienced the symptoms above (other than some annoyance with the clasp), so I will be keeping mine. If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s the best tracker yet, but I’ll be curious to see how long the recall/refund goes, and what’s next on the road map for Fitbit.

Let’s start with One, shall we?

In February 2013, I bought the Fitbit One tracker. This is a bean-shaped tracker that fits into a clip holder that you can clip onto a belt or pocket, a bra if you’re the sort who wears those, or probably a shirt or other clothing item.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fitbit, it’s a fitness tracker that communicates with select phones, tablets, and computers via Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy (BLE). A year ago, Android support was minimal, so you had to use the USB dongle on a personal computer, or a fairly current iPhone/iPod Touch (5th Gen, I believe). There is no direct cable sync like the original, and the charger is separate from the sync dongle.

Fitbit One holds a charge for about 7 days or 70,000 steps in my experience, more or less depending on how often you wake up the display, or use the silent alarm (with its vibration mode). It is available in different colors but most people won’t notice this so much.

Fitbit PanelThe Fitbit One tracks the usual stuff (steps, active minutes, estimated calories burned, miles walked), as well as flights of stairs ascended (walking downstairs doesn’t count), and the feature that sold me on One vs Zip: sleep.

Fitbit SleepBy placing your Zip in a wrist wrap strap, and setting it into “sleep” mode, it monitors your movement and steps (if you get up and move around during the night), and rates your sleep efficiency and duration.

The Fitbit app and website offer dashboards to show your progress. You can automatically share your daily/weekly results on social media, or with “friends” in the dashboard, or both, or neither.

The One was pretty cool, although I worried that I would lose it… three or four times the One itself came out of the belt clip, usually when getting into or out of the car. And finally, on a shuttle bus at Cisco Live in Orlando, it completely left my person. I struggled on with the Samsung S-Health tracker on my phone until I got home, and then I went hunting for another device. 

Flex your fitness tracker

The Fitbit Flex is a small device that snaps flexibly into a wristband. It uses the same connections (Bluetooth Low Energy with supported devices), and charges via USB albeit with a new charger. The device comes with a small wristband and a large one, and my wrist is just about at the overlap between the sizes. I wore the large, but that doesn’t impact anything about the device itself. Replacement bands in several colors were promised, and finally became available earlier this year.

Flex removes tracking of flights of stairs, and replaces the digital display with five LED lights that can indicate mode changes (sleep, alarm, reaching your goal) as well as 10% increments toward your primary goal. For example, if your goal is 10,000 steps (the default), up to 1000 steps will show the first LED indicator blinking. From 1000 to 2000 will show the first LED solid, and so forth.

Flex also removes the need to change the mounting to track your sleep. Just tap the wristband a few times quickly and it goes into sleep tracking mode; do the same to take it out of sleep mode. It took a while to get the timing down on this, as opposed to holding down the button for sleep mode on One, but I didn’t have to carry an extra piece to track my sleep on the road.

Like the One, Flex has about a 7 day/70k step battery life.

The Justifiable Use of Force

Fitbit Force was announced in the fall of 2013. It only became readily available in the last month or two; in early November I had to call around and eventually drive over half an hour to find one of two within that range in Silicon Valley. But it was worth it.

Force brought back the clock display, with a button on the side to scroll through the various goals. It also restored tracking of flights of stairs, and while wider and heavier than the Flex, it is still light enough to occasionally forget you’re wearing it.

Force is “permanently” installed in a wristband. This forces you to make some decisions upon purchase, specifically the color (slate blue or black) and the size (small or large, as with the Flex band). It doubles the battery life to 14 days, and brings yet another unique USB charging adapter.

Alas, as of yesterday, the Force is no longer for sale. You might find one at a local Best Buy or other retailer if they haven’t been pulled/returned yet, but Amazon and Fitbit have removed them from their websites.

So what are Fitbits good for?

I won’t tell you that buying or wearing a Fitbit will make you healthier or lighter or more attractive to members of the appropriate sex. Buying one through the links above (i.e. a Fitbit One or a Fitbit Flex) might (okay, probably not), but I use the Fitbit trackers to encourage me to walk more and take the stairs instead of an elevator. The competition with some friends with trackers helps a bit as well, although it doesn’t help enough to get me to stay over 10k as often as I’d like.

It also gives me a sense of relative activity. For example, today I worked from home, ate at home instead of going out, and forgot to go check the mail. As a result, my dashboard dials are all disappointedly green  (845 steps, really?) and I know I have to get out more tomorrow. A day at Disneyland (graphed above) definitely shows a different picture, and explains why my feet were sore.

I forgot to mention earlier, but there is also a scale, Aria, that links via the same Bluetooth methods and lets you track your weight (gain or loss) in the same system as your step tracking. It’s $130, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy it yet, but I’m still tempted.

So where do we go from here?

The exact number of steps I walked isn’t as important to me–if it’s 10,300 vs 10,195 that is almost as important as which foot I started walking on this morning. But knowing how close I am to average/goal walk levels, and hopefully being inspired to keep up with my friends and my goals, makes a much bigger difference.

Could I do the same with Samsung’s S-Health app? Sure. But I have to have the phone in my pocket or on my person for it to work. They never came out with the S-Band in the US at least, so the only available sensor is in the phone.

There’s also a Moves app that tracks your travels, and I find it nice to see how long I spent driving vs riding or walking, but again, it’s based on the phone being on my person. If I walk down to the far end of the building and leave my phone on the charger, Fitbit catches that. Moves and S-Health don’t.

There are other devices as well, and you may find Jawbone or Withings or any number of other devices that will fit your needs. But I’d seriously consider Fitbit.

As the news on Force shows, they are responsive to their customers. They have been very generous in replacing failed or lost devices in the past (which is why I have a Fitbit One sitting here again). Keep your receipts, kids.

And they have been innovating regularly over the past few years. I expect that even with the Force withdrawal, they will have something similar in scope and even better in some way, by the end of the year if not sooner.

All things considered, I’ve been happy with my Fitbit experience over the last 12.5 months. I wish they’d standardize their charging connections, and get accessories (bands, clasps, etc) out to retail faster, but I’ve worked with companies whose growing pains were far worse. 

What has your experience been? Feel free to chime in below with your experience with these or other trackers.

Disclaimer: I’ve purchased three Fitbit trackers at retail with my own money. The lost Fitbit One was replaced by Fitbit at no expense to me, just by my filing a ticket and asking if something could be done. I may have gotten a discount on the first one at Verizon with my corporate plan (I don’t remember), but I’ve received no consideration from Fitbit or any reseller at any time.