Getting your startup off the ground means getting moving, and we mean that literally. If you've finally escaped the cubicle, you'll need to be prepared to work from pretty much anywhere.
Whether you're working from home or taking to the road (or even the skies), a fully equipped tech toolbox is an essential companion. In that toolbox, you'll likely need a mobile workstation, a phone, a reliable web connection and a number of other tech gadgets.
Luckily, you don't have to break the bank to survive in the digital hinterlands. If you're willing to shop around, you'll find plenty of affordable yet high-quality options for telecommuting like a pro.
Here are our picks for creating an all-terrain office experience.
1. Acer Aspire S3
Forget the flashy MacBook Air or the pricey Sony Vaio Z--this super-thin laptop from Acer sets a new standard for affordability when it comes to ultralight laptops. At a little more than half an inch thick at its thinnest point and weighing less than 3 pounds, the Aspire S3 matches its rivals for portability but bests them on price, with entry-level models starting at $899.
The basic Aspire S3 has a 13-inch screen, compared to the 11-inch MacBook Air, and comes with a 320 GB hard drive, compared to the MacBook Air's 64 GB flash storage. (And the Air costs $999.) The Aspire S3 may not be able to compare to the slim and powerful Vaio Z, but while Sony's powerhouse is loaded with features, it also starts at about $1,850, putting it out of reach for many startups. With its light weight and relatively speedy Core i5 processor, the Aspire S3 should be fast enough to tackle your basic business tasks admirably on the road.
2. iPad 2
With an add-on keyboard, the flexibility of this ubiquitous tablet makes it a handy and lightweight option for business computing. The iPad 2 is probably the cheapest productivity tool in the Apple line, starting at $499 for the basic 16 GB version. With a bit of effort, the iPad can serve as a convenient on-the-go laptop replacement. It's small and thin enough to easily fit into a briefcase or a large purse, but powerful enough to handle basic word processing and other business functions that are inconvenient with a smartphone.
And for consuming content, the iPad is king. Perusing e-mail, PDF files and other documents feels more natural on a handheld tablet, and the iPad display looks flat-out great. But be warned, the iPad is no multitasking tool. The App Store offers thousands of business-friendly applications, but switching between apps is clumsy, and arguably none of them are as powerful as the business software that can be run on the iPad's laptop rivals. Serious content creators will need a device with a little more oomph.
3. LTD Tools case
This stainless-steel casing will not only render your iPhone indestructible, but its flip-top lid can be used to turn it into a handy second display for multitasking. You can also stick money or business cards into a band on the carrying case and use it as a wallet. We found the industrial look to be the right mix of professional and no-nonsense. The cases cost $81, including shipping.
4. Tiki by Blue Microphones
This USB microphone can make you sound like you're in a fancy office when you're actually sitting in a parking lot. For $59, the Tiki offers voice isolation, noise-canceling technology and intelligent muting that brings a new level of clarity to garbled conference calls and other conversations. It can prevent some big headaches for the mobile worker communicating by laptop where background noise, computer fans and the constant clacking from the keyboard can muck up even a simple Skype conversation. It's also cordless, which is a big help in reducing your wake of wires on the road. For an affordable way to add some professionalism to your videoconferencing, Tiki is a good bet.
5. Line2 App
Want a professional-looking business phone number, but can't afford one? Line2, a handy smartphone app, projects a second number on top of your primary cell phone number. Basically, the app lets you make and receive business calls as well as send and receive text messages on your personal mobile device, but using a different business number. Line2 lets you place and receive business calls over wireless internet, so you can also save on carrier minutes. Plans start at $9.95 per month, but that includes unlimited calling (provided your device is connected to a Wi-Fi network). This can be a handy way to save a few dollars for entrepreneurs who might be maxing out phone plans doing double duty for home and work. Employing a second line takes some getting used to and it can be clumsy to deploy in larger groups, but for a handy professional phone presence, there's no beating Line2.
6. Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4g Touch
The iPhone and Droid are cool, but they have nothing on the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch. With a huge, 4.5-inch diagonal screen, a near-TV-quality display, unbelievably fast processors and access to Sprint's 4G network for super-speedy web browsing, this is the mobile business tool of the moment. And it's a road warrior, with up to 8.7 hours of talk time per battery charge. The phone costs $199 with a two-year contract from Sprint, but if you're willing to splurge for a fully loaded smartphone, this is the one to buy.
7. Sprint Overdrive Pro 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot
Remember, Wi-Fi is almost always cheaper than cellular data when it comes to connecting your tablets, computers and smartphones on the go. But Sprint's uncapped cellular data plans change up the equation with the perfect mobile hot-spot tool.
The Sprint Overdrive Pro lets users split their 3G or 4G connection among up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices, more than enough to support a small staff on the road or back up a small office in case a landed connection fails. The Overdrive Pro retails for $249, but can be had for as low as $50 with a two-year data contract. It's an appealing option for taking your web connection just about anywhere.
8. Sony Alpha Nex Camera
This thing may look like a basic camera, but Sony has baked interchangeable lenses, HD video features and unparalleled image quality into its Alpha Nex line. The 16.2-megapixel model starts at $499, performs well in low light and sports an impressive feature set for a non-DSLR offering. This is a sharp unit for producing do-it-yourself promotional materials and product shots. Once it dawns on you that your smartphone camera isn't so smart, you'll carry the Nex wherever you go.
9. Marshall Minor Headphones
These slick headphones come from the folks at Marshall, and let's just say an amp company that's good enough for Jimi Hendrix is good enough for the rest of us. Surprisingly, they also make some of the most business-friendly headphones around. Marshall's Minor headphones, which start at $59, boast great audio quality and a mic and remote for convenient hands-free calling. The unique "EarClick" design includes earbuds in different sizes that can be swapped out for a custom fit. The fabric cords are also more tangle-resistant than the cheapo headphones you'll find at the local big-box store.
As headsets go, these are definitely worth a listen.
10. Swiftpoint Mouse
If you're finger-sore from the constant swiping and dragging on your laptop trackpad, get your hands on a Swiftpoint mouse. This palm-size wireless mouse, which you grip similarly to the way you grip a pen, can be used next to your trackpad, on your laptop palm rest or on any flat surface. It sports a three-week battery and, if that's not enough, a 30-second quick charge will keep you scrolling for another hour. A magnetic strip also lets you "park" the mouse on the laptop if you're working at an angle or otherwise don't have room to put the mouse off to the side. That makes it great for working on an airplane or in other cramped quarters. At $69, Swiftpoint is the best mobile mouse available, period.