Traveling in the mobile age can be an exercise in trying to pack all of your tech gear so that it's easily accessible during the journey. For short trips, you might be able to get away with as little as a charging cable and an external battery pack for your favorite iOS device. For longer journeys, you might need to carry a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPhone, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and more in addition to the aforementioned items. Accessory manufacturer HooToo has just the solution, packing a dual USB wall charger, a 6,000 mAh battery pack, and a combo personal cloud/travel router/Wi-Fi hotspot into one package called the TripMate Elite (US$59.99).
- Dimensions: 3.2 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches (82 x 82 x 28 mm)
- Weight: 7.15 ounces (203 grams)
- CPU: Ralink RT5350
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n, 2.4 GHz, up to 150 Mbps
- WAN port: RJ-45 Ethernet, 100 Mbps
- Battery capacity: 6,000 mAh
- Charging time: Through built-in wall plug, 3.5 hours. Through micro-USB, 8 hours
- Output: 1 x 5V/1A, 1 x 5V/2A
- Personal cloud capability can address up to 4TB of storage
Not too much to say about the design of the TripMate Elite, which is about the same size and shape as one of the old Apple AirPort Express devices. On one corner is a foldable US wall plug for charging. On top is a single power button and LEDs for battery level, Internet connectivity, and wireless status. The back side is covered with ports -- the two 5V USB ports, an Ethernet jack for connecting to a wired network, and a micro-USB connector if you want to charge the TripMate Elite that way. There's also a reset button on the back. All of this is wrapped in shiny black plastic, the kind that picks up fingerprints way too easily.
A small gray felt carrying case is included, not only for protecting the device, but it also does a bang-up job of cleaning off those fingerprints. There's also a flat USB to micro-USB cable for charging the battery pack if you choose not to just plug the TripMate Elite into a wall socket, and a small user manual with instructions.
As a battery pack and charger, there's not much to say -- you plug the TripMate Elite into a wall socket and charge the battery pack, and you can also connect an iPhone and iPad to the device at the same time for charging. The battery pack will give an iPad Air about 1/3 of a full charge, but can charge an iPhone 5s about 2.5 times.
The Personal Cloud feature really attracted my attention as a way to back up photos and video from iPhone or iPad to a USB flash drive or to be able to watch movies or browse photos without taking up a ton of space on my iDevices. It's simple: you just plug a flash drive (or really any USB drive) into the outermost USB port, turn on the device by holding down the power button for three seconds, and the TripMate Elite starts broadcasting. To send files from the USB drive to your iPhone or iPad (or vice-versa), you just need to have an app called HooToo TripMate (free) installed on your device and sign onto the Personal Cloud network with a default password.
Unfortunately, for looking at photos the app doesn't work too well. It is obviously a bad port from Android or something -- the app doesn't fit the full screen of the iPhone 5 series, and when you look at photos in landscape view, there's no way to tap on the photo and go to full screen. The controls are always in view. When watching videos, it is possible to get the controls to go away, but I found that streaming was so slow that it was better just to transfer the movie file to my iPhone or iPad, then watch it. So much for storing everything on a USB flash drive.
The TripMate Elite works well as a travel router. There are three different modes: Access Point (AP) Mode, in which you turn an Ethernet connection into a shared Wi-Fi connection; Router Mode, where you connect the device to an existing DSL or cable modem to act as a wireless router; and Bridge Mode, where you take an existing Wi-Fi connection and re-broadcast it with a different SSID. Setup is quite easy; it's done from any web browser by pointing at a specific IP address, then using a web front end to make the appropriate setting changes.
For $60, HooToo's TripMate Elite is priced about $40 less than Apple's travel-friendly AirPort Express, although the latter supplies dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi but doesn't have a battery pack or dual charger built in. While the hardware itself is pretty cool, the HooToo TripMate app leaves a lot to be desired. Use the device as a travel router, battery pack, and charger, and you'll be happy. As for the Personal Cloud capability? Meh.
Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible