Behind the Screens is a weekly 9to5Toys series that takes you through our writers’ setups, be it mobile, desktop, gaming or home theater. Next up is Ben Lovejoy, EU editor at 9to5Mac, with his mobile gear.
I wrote a previous Behind the Screens piece on my home office setup, so this time I’m sharing my mobile gear.
Some sites call this ‘What’s in my bag?’ – but in my case it would be bags plural. I’m a self-confessed bagaholic, and what I carry in them tends to break down into three categories …
- Mobile working
- Out & about in the city
Let’s start with travel, which covers all the tech I ever carry, and then briefly list the subsets of gear I carry in the latter cases …
I used to do a lot of business trips, which taught me plenty of things about travel. First, travel with hand baggage-only wherever possible. This lets you skip check-in/bag-drop, and eliminates the need to hang around at the other end for your bag to arrive in the baggage hall. All told, it probably saves at least 45 minutes per flight.
Second, a good carry-on bag is key to effortlessly gliding through airports. Good roller bags aren’t cheap, but they will last forever. Combine the contribution they make to the art of travel (once beautifully defined as never having to break sweat) with their long-term value, and they are worth the expense.
I have the rather lengthily-named Briggs & Riley Torq International Carry-On Spinner. The is the largest carry-on size permitted, has a hardshell (offering greater protection to gadgets) and four wheels – which is the single biggest favor you can do yourself when choosing a travel bag. A two-wheel roller bag puts a surprising amount of strain on your arm when it’s fully-packed; a four-wheel bag with swivel wheels and top-quality bearings is just a joy in comparison.
One of the other nice features for gadgeteers is a lockable side pocket that’s perfect for a tablet, passport and a few other bits and pieces. Like the main compartment, this is protected by a hard shell.
The bag costs a little over $300, but its lifetime guarantee means it’s the last carry-on bag you’ll ever have to buy. And the company’s warranty is the best in the business.
Our simple as that guarantee means if your bag is ever broken or damaged, we will repair it free of charge, no proof of purchase needed, no questions asked.
15-inch MacBook Pro
Inside the bag, my 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar forms the heart of my mobile tech. Not just because it’s the most important piece of kit I carry, but because it also serves as my charging station for everything else.
I carry it on every trip because, for me, an iPad isn’t a true laptop substitute. I tend to work during a lot of my trips, and there’s no substitute for screen size and multiple windows when it comes to writing. I like to do my photo editing in the full version of Lightroom. And if I shoot video, I edit in Final Cut Pro.
Yep, I travel with both a laptop and a tablet. The MacBook stays in my hotel room, while I tend to carry the iPad Pro around with me. For me it’s the perfect compromise between a phone and a laptop for most mobile tasks.
When using it as a map, for example, the screen size makes it far more useful than a phone when it comes to orienting myself for a walk around a city – though I tend to leave the actual navigation to my Watch. It’s also my eBook reader. Much as I adore the Kindle Paperwhite, I found it was just too much trouble carrying both an iPad and a Kindle, so the iPad does it all.
My 10.5-inch model is about to be replaced with the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
I also take a Brydge keyboard (review of older model) for the iPad. I carry that with me if I’m expecting to do a significant amount of writing on the iPad while I’m out and about.
For example, my most recent trip was to San Francisco, and I took a day trip to Yosemite. This was quite a long drive, some of which was scenic, some of it less so. The iPad plus Brydge keyboard meant I effectively had a small laptop with me to do some writing in the minibus. Other times, I just carry the iPad on its own, the screen protected by Apple’s leather Smart Cover.
Of course, a phone completes the laptop-tablet-phone triad. I loved my iPhone SE for its compact size and classic design, but was unable to resist the lure of the complete redesign Apple did in the iPhone X. I didn’t, however, see any reason to upgrade to the iPhone XS – and definitely don’t want anything as large as the XS Max.
I have the 256G Space Gray model in a Mujjo leather wallet case. I find this both stylish and practical, offering a decent degree of protection. The card slot also means I can go out for the evening without my wallet.
Apple Watch Series 4
Completing my Apple kit is an Apple Watch Series 4. I was an early smartwatch skeptic, but it didn’t take too long to become a convert. My Apple Watch Diary series over on 9to5Mac tells the whole story if you want to know more.
For travel, I particularly value the ability to use the Watch to navigate around an unfamiliar city. Once my destination is set, I don’t need to stand out as a tourist by looking at a map on my phone screen, or even look at the Watch – I can simply navigate by the haptic taps on my wrist.
My go-to headphones for travel are my B&W P5 Wireless. They are great quality, comfortable for long periods of use (like long-haul flights) and I can switch between wireless use with my iPhone and iPad, and wired use with in-flight entertainment systems. They also fold flat for easy packing.
They’re not active noise-cancelling, but I find they provide the perfect degree of sound isolation – they let in just enough to hear PA announcements while playing a movie on my iPad, for example. However, if you prefer active NC, then the B&W PX would be the ones to go for.
Sony a6300 camera
I used to travel with a huge professional DSLR: a Nikon D3 and at least a couple of lenses, often more. That was a lot to get away with as a second carry-on bag, and a fair weight to lug around while exploring a city, but I like to take photos to remember my trips, and valued the quality.
However, camera tech has moved on dramatically. A bridge camera like the Sony a6300 may not have quite the same capabilities as a full-on DSLR, but an experiment on a combined trip to New York and Boston persuaded me that it was close enough that I wasn’t going to miss the difference. And it’s so much more portable!
I mostly use the 18-50mm kit lens (27-75mm equivalent), but also carry a Kamlan 50/1.1 lens which is a real old-school thing – manual aperture control, manual focus – but allows wafer-thin depth of field and is a joy to use.
I also tend to take the Insta360 One camera (review). There’s no substitute for 360-degree footage when it comes to giving a real sense of being there, especially when shooting video. Finally, I also throw in a GoPro Hero 5 in case I decide to do anything adventurous where an action cam would come in handy.
I have two tripods, one full-size, one mini. The full-size is a Manfrotto MKBFRC4-BH Befree, which is extremely capable and lightweight thanks to its carbon-fiber construction. The mini is a Manofrotto Pixi, which is really small and light, yet rock-solid – and an absolute bargain.
I don’t often carry the full-size one as that can raise eyebrows at airport Security even though its lightness means it would make a lousy weapon. So generally I use the Pixi and look for something to stand it on.
DJI Mavic Pro
One thing I used to carry when travelling was my DJI Mavic Pro drone (diary) – but there are now so many restrictions on these, with flying banned in lots of the places you’d want to use them (like US National Parks) that I no longer bother.
I use my MacBook Pro as my charging hub, so all I need is a bunch of USB-C cables – plus one USB-A to USB-C adapter for my Apple Watch charger.
I’m pretty paranoid about backups. I subscribe to the philosophy that ‘a file doesn’t exist unless it’s in three places, one of them off-site.’ In the office, I have an 8TB hard drive as my Time Machine backup, plus my entire Documents folder is synched to Dropbox (with unlimited versions, to guard against accidental deletions).
When travelling, I don’t want to shoot photos and videos on a trip and then lose them all if my laptop drive fails, so I apply the same approach. Dropbox still syncs, of course, and I carry a G-Technology R-Series portable SSD (review) to backup my photos and videos.
When I’m working away from home, I carry my MacBook Pro, my iPad Pro, my iPhone X and Apple Watch.
Backpacks & shoulder bag
I have a few different bags, depending on whether I’m walking or cycling, and how much else I have to carry.
When cycling, I use a Brooks Moorgate leather briefcase with a frame to clip onto my Brompton folding bike. Sadly, the bag has since been discontinued, but you can still find them here and there.
When walking, and I have other stuff to carry (like gym kit), then I use a frighteningly expensive but absolutely gorgeous Saddleback Leather Backpack (review). The warranty doesn’t quite match the Briggs & Riley lifetime one, but I reckon a 100-year guarantee ought to be safe enough for most of us.
If I’m travelling lighter, then I opt instead for the Brooks Piccadilly (covered in the same review). This is another luxury leather backpack, but lightweight and minimalist. I also have a beautiful but now sadly discontinued Pad and Quill laptop case.
The MacBook Pro battery life is good enough to get me through most mobile working sessions (the 10-hour claimed battery life equating to around 5 hours of real-life use) but if I do need more power I carry a USB-C battery pack. These aren’t any less portable than a power brick, and I prefer the flexibility of not having to position myself close to a power outlet.
I have two of these: the the Mophie Powerstation USB-C XXL and the Anker PowerCore+ 26800 (comparative review), adding 2.5 hours and 3.5 hours respectively to my MacBook Pro usage. It’s very rare I need more than 7.5 hours total, and the Mophie is more portable, so that’s the one I tend to carry.
My three-copies rule still applies when mobile, so I carry a Chuyi 64GB USB key on my key-ring. This has a very neat reversible swivel connector for USB-C connection to my MacBook Pro, but a USB-A connection also in case I need to transfer files to or from anyone else’s laptop. I simply backup my work onto it when I finish. (The third copy is on Dropbox so long as I have a Wi-Fi connection, which I usually do in coffee-shops, with my iPhone providing a hotspot when needed.)
Out and about in the city
Even when I’m not planning to work, I still routinely carry my iPad (as well as iPhone and Watch, of course). This is my eBook reader, as mentioned, and I also prefer it for things like web-browsing, email and Facebook. I find it light enough that I’ll happily carry it even if it might only see 5-10 mins use in a coffee shop while waiting to meet a friend.
I have a shoulder bag made by a local leatherworker. However, that was bought with the 10.5-inch iPad in mind, so upgrading to the new 12.9-inch one will provide an excuse for a new bag …
For casual use, I swap my B&W P5 headphones for Master & Dynamic MW07 true wireless in-ear headphones (review). These are astonishingly good quality for in-ear, and of course way more portable.
Do share your own mobile kit in the comments – we love hearing the different approaches people take.
More Behind the Screens:
- Blair’s home office and standing desk setup
- Behind the Screens: Damien’s custom video editing workstation for 9to5Google
- Greg’s mobile photography suite
- Patrick’s UltraWide MacBook Pro RGB Setup
- Seth’s coffee shop mobile MacBook Pro setup
- Michael’s custom reclaimed wood garage setup
- Stephen’s health-oriented standing desk + weather monitor setup
- Trevor’s custom coffee and espresso bar
- Bradley Chambers’ Ergonomic MacBook Pro Setup
- Peter Cao’s dual HomePod blogging and podcasting setup
- Greg Barbosa’s MacBook-powered mobile workstation
- Haye Kesteloo’s content creation workspace for DroneDJ
- Justin Duino’s custom PC blogging & gaming workspace
- Ben Schoon’s blogging and video workspace
- Ben Lovejoy’s wire-free desk [Video]
- Trevor’s CES 2018 backpack
- Blair’s blogging workstation and at-home multimedia server
- Jeff Benjamin’s video editing workspace
- Zac’s blogging and podcasting workstation
- Michael’s space gray copy editing and blogging setup
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