Tech Shows Unplugged

Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:00 AM

Fifteen or so blog postings, eight video clips, two radio appearances, two columns and one Web chat later, I've survived my tenth Consumer Electronics Show. It's been a busy week, to say the least.

If you missed it, watch and listen to most of the coverage in the Post I.T. blog.

Macworld From Afar

Unlike the last few years, I wasn't able to cover Macworld Expo due to its overlapping schedule with CES. So, I've only seen the iPhone in pictures and video on the Web; and the Apple TV remains untouched by my hands.

But from my online inspection, I can say this was the oddest Macworld in recent Apple history. The company did not unveil any new Mac desktops or laptops, did not show off a new version of Mac OS X, did not release an update to iLife or iWork and did not make any changes to the iPod lineup (unless you count the iPhone as a new iPod, which I don't). I've been to five or six Macworld shows, and I've never seen a Steve Jobs keynote omit all those things.

I plan on reviewing both the Apple TV and the iPhone as soon as possible (which probably means "not before next month" for the former and "not before summer" for the latter, considering their respective shipping schedules).

Power Hungry

The mission: Arrive in a strange city with a phone that's down to two-thirds of a charge, a laptop with two hours of use left on its battery, and no way to plug in either device. Now report and write for the next four days straight.

Sounds like a fraternity hazing ritual or a reality TV show's contrived contest?

No, that was my CES experience.

This year, I managed to do something that I'd never done before on any business trip -- something so stupid that I can't believe I'm writing it here: I left the laptop power adapter at home.

I didn't notice this oversight until I was walking to the security checkpoint at Dulles International Airport. My bag felt unusually light, and I was about to congratulate myself for a more efficient packing job when I realized what I'd done. A rough translation of my thoughts at that instant: "Nnnnnnooooooooooooo!"

Somehow, I refrained from erupting into a stream of curses. (Never a good idea to do that in front of a security checkpoint in these post-9/11 days.)

Not only did I have four of my busiest reporting days ahead of me, I had also been planning to recharge my Treo smartphone off the laptop, using the Treo's USB hot-sync cable instead of packing a separate power adapter.

I would have to cope without my own source of power for at least the next two days. (I knew I could ask the people at our Web site to send a Dell power adapter along with the Sony camcorder dock they already were planning to FedEx to Las Vegas -- the fact that the camcorder could not connect to a PC without this part had escaped our collective attention until too late.)

My first move was to activate every power-saving option available on both devices. I felt like an Apollo 13 flight controller as I rigged each device to consume as little electricity as possible, shutting off every form of wireless connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, infrared and dimming the screen as low as possible. It helped that my first laptop's battery life had been so weak (an hour in normal use) that I learned most of these routines more than a decade ago.

I figured these were only temporary measures, as I'd be able to obtain a power adapter for the laptop at my hotel. But neither the concierge nor the business center had the right hardware.

That's when I had to get creative. Whenever somebody nearby had a compatible charger that I could plug either device into, I borrowed it. You can't hope to top off a phone or laptop battery in 30 or 45 minutes, but I wouldn't turn down a spare electron under these circumstances.

My thanks to the Garmin publicist who let me plug the Treo into his charger while he demonstrated some GPS hardware; the people at Sling Media, who loaned their Treo charger at a press exhibit Sunday night; the Consumer Electronics Association staffers in the press room, who let me plug my laptop into their power bricks, and the sales clerk at the Sprint store and service center outside the convention center, who unplugged a Treo on display so I could charge mine Tuesday morning.

Despite these efforts, both devices ran down Sunday and Monday nights. The loss of the Treo was far worse, since while I could take notes on paper if necessary, there was no replacing my phone (which was also my primary form of Internet access on the show floor). So on Sunday night, I sacrificed most of the laptop's battery to trickle some power back into the Treo over its USB cable.

The promised FedEx delivery had not arrived Tuesday morning before I had to head out to the convention center, but when I got back from dinner the box was waiting at the front desk. It was with a sense of overwhelming relief, maybe even giddy glee, that I plugged in the laptop and allowed it to drink the sweet, sweet electricity.

Should this sort of self-inflicted inconvenience happen to you, here's my advice:

* You'll get more life out of a phone's battery if you stick to text messages or e-mail instead of voice calls.

* Make sure you know in advance all the power-saving options on a device. That can be difficult, especially on Windows laptops where multiple layers of software control the same settings. At the very least, make sure you know how to dim the screen as low as possible, since LCD backlights quickly burn through batteries.

* Be aware of what functions eat up the most electricity. My Treo goes through the battery a lot faster when it's in paired mode with another Bluetooth device, and the laptop seems to do the same when I have a PC Card device active.

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