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Smartphone ... or Brilliantphone? Mobile Devices Make Travel Hassle-Free

Traveling light with personal technology has never been easier. Smartphones are packing ever more horsepower and features into tight packages, and it's little wonder that other tools are losing market share to mobile devices. Two days in the life of my own current device have me pausing to appreciate the power in my pocket.

The back story, first: My wife and I are blessed with three wonderful kids. Our two teenage sons are physics majors in college, and are both off doing summer research work in places far away from our central New York home. The older lad is at CERN in Switzerland smashing atoms or something of that sort, and the younger one is starting a magnetics internship at Los Alamos. Our high school-age daughter is at home. Now, back to the point.

I write this from my hotel room in Los Alamos, as I help get my younger son settled into his first travel experience of this magnitude. We landed in Albuquerque, N.M., and had to find our way to his rented room in a Los Alamos home. We also needed to find a used bicycle, and I have a slew of work and hobby things I both need and want to advance on my long weekend before he starts his work. It turns out that my smartphone has been a key player in pretty much every major milestone of the trip.

The specific model smartphone I'm using is not important, as the focus is on capability. With the free Skype client lurking in the background, I have a conduit to my son in Switzerland always at the ready for no-cost, IP-based communication. My favorite navigation app got us to Los Alamos, as my son cruised bike-shop websites and Craigslist for his summer ride via the browser. After we got settled into our respective lodging, we headed back to a Santa Fe bike shop, guided through an unfamiliar city by the same navigation app. While my son test rode his wheels, I used the Weather Bug app for planning our next couple of days' adventure and fired off a number of tweets, texts and Facebook updates to my wife, daughter and others.

Northern New Mexico is visually stunning. There's a photograph waiting to be taken literally everywhere you look, and the 8-megapixel camera on my smartphone did a nice job at scenic overlooks along the way back to Los Alamos, feeding a steady stream of nice shots to various people via email and Facebook in real-enough time. The best images also went direct to my Google Picasa Web collections, where I store my "keepers."

So I'm doing some navigating, emailing, picture taking and social networking in another place--big deal, right? The smartphone features story gets bigger. Along with keeping tabs on a range of work issues while never unsheathing the laptop, I have also been able to leverage my smartphone in some pretty impressive hobby-oriented directions. On occasion, I'm one of those Geocaching people, using a handheld GPS to take you to treasure hidden by other cachers. Except this time, my Garmin GPS is on the shelf at home, while my smartphone and the c:\geo app keep me in the game in Los Alamos. I'm also a licensed amateur radio operator, and, you guessed it, there's an app called EchoLink that lets me use my phone in place of the radio gear I didn't bring.

I could also get into the digital signing, FM radio app, remote desktop capabilities, e-reader functions, star-mapping and document scanning I've made use of on the smartphone in the last 48 hours, but I don't want to bore you. The bottom line here is that smartphones and mobile devices are transformative on many levels. Sure, I BYOD at work. Thankfully I also BYOD'd on this trip. When you pause and take stock of smartphone features and how they can help you replace a number of other devices, you realize that simply describing them as smart is quite the understatement.