Cushioned laptop sleeves, water-resistant keyboard shields and computer privacy screens may seem like Scrooge’s idea of a gift list, but the December holidays are an excellent time to consider thoughtful yet practical gifts that can help protect some of your loved ones’ most prized possessions. They’re like the digital-era equivalent of socks, ties and other stocking stuffers – and they really come in handy when travel mishaps happen.
I once got jostled as I climbed aboard a bus at Boston airport and dropped my carry-on bag containing a Dell notebook, destroying the machine. During a turbulent flight, I spilled a Coke on an Acer netbook, frying the device’s insides. Given that travel tech tragedies can be quite painful – both emotionally and financially – it’s worth considering the following products to help protect your gear from rough handling on planes and trains.
When you need to cushion a laptop from falls
G-Form, a company that primarily makes athletics gear such as knee pads for cyclists and skateboarders, offers the Extreme Shield for Laptops, made from a flexible material called Poron XRD that can absorb severe shocks. A reporter at the Boston Herald recently stuffed a laptop inside one of these sleeves and dropped it onto a concrete floor from waist height several times -- and the computer survived. Models are available for 13in, 15in and 17in laptops.
When your keyboard is prone to spills
Many laptops don’t come with spill-proof keyboards, which is unfortunate because liquid entering through the keys’ gaps is one of the most common causes of computer malfunction. But silicone and plastic covers – which are made for nearly every size and shape of laptop – slip over the keyboard to shield entry points while still allowing you to type as normal, though some people may need time to get accustomed to the feel. When shopping, keep an eye out for well rated brands such as Softleaves, Goliton and Zagg.
When your tablet is your travel workhorse
Some travellers use an iPad as their mobile computer instead of a full-featured laptop, but the iPad is a delicate device. Even Apple’s Smart Cover, sold separately from the tablet, doesn’t shield the back of the device. To protect a second, third or latest generation iPad, consider the dual-sided Joy Factory SmartSuit3, which safeguards the iPad’s aluminium backing against dents with its faux-leather cover, while a screen protector mimics Apple’s three-part flap Smart Cover by also folding back into a Toblerone shape to double as a support stand.
When you need to physically secure your laptop
Laptops and tablets won’t fit into standard hotel safes, which is why it is sensible to secure it to a physical object in your room using a cable lock. The electronic accessories company Kensington sells cable locks that attach to laptops and tablets (even those that lack the built-in security slots for attaching these cable locks), and the cables can be looped around a rod in a hotel wardrobe or fixed piece of furniture. Another company, Maclocks, has models for the MacBook Air and the newest version of the MacBook Pro, both of which are too thin to support built-in security slots.
When you’re using a laptop next to the wandering eyes of strangers
Made for notebooks, tablets and smartphone screens, 3M Privacy Filters use a thin plastic film to hide your on-screen information from anyone looking at device from a side angle, without interfering with its visibility as you look at it straight on. Having been available for Windows-based laptops for a few years, versions for Apple notebooks, tablets and smartphones became widely available this year.
When you’re carrying secure information on your device
Earlier this year we wrote about password-management tools that let you use encrypted passwords to prevent strangers from accessing your data. To make it impossible for a thief to read your laptop data, you can also encrypt some or all of your device’s files by downloading encryption software from companies like Check Point. An alternative, or supplementary, protective measure is to only keep important information -- or a copy of important information -- on a USB flash drive, which you can keep on your person, making it harder for others to steal or damage. Verbatim’s Tuff-‘N’-Tiny USB drive resists dust, liquids and static charges as well as falls from great heights. For testing, I dropped one in a mug of tea and later tossed it on the floor. It survived both calamities, which is impressive for a device that works with all Windows and Mac USB ports. Memory sizes range from two to 32 gigabytes, and prices vary correspondingly.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel