Road-warrior productivity boosters for laptops blessed with USB-C but no Ethernet

Posted by Paul Braren on May 15 2017 (updated on May 18 2017) in
  • Laptop
  • Productivity
  • Windows
  • Working in hotels with your laptop can be a pain, sometimes literally. I mean really working, and producing content. Here's just some of the issues commonly noticed when traveling for work like I do:

    1. no secondary display, man do I miss having one
    2. way-too-high desktop to type comfortably on
    3. terrible Wi-Fi speeds
    4. no mouse, and having to leave home row to reach the Trackpad

    This article features devices that resolved all 4 issues for me, completely. I've been using them for some months now, in my job, and in my leisure. Carefully TinkerTry'd and tested when actually out-and-about, both alone in hotel rooms, and in front of customers doing presentations. A big productivity boost, without a huge cost in dollars or travel weight, and easily stowed in my laptop bag that can already fit a 15.6" laptop like my Dell Precision 5510. This premium system is very similar to the Dell XPS 15, and pretty much any premium new laptop arrives with at least one USB-C connection these days, with all laptops featuring them soon.

    A second display for your laptop, no batteries, just one cable.


    See also the video unboxing and testing below. If you don't have USB-C on your system, ASUS also makes a USB 3.0 version that I have not tested.

    ASUS MB169C+ 15.6" Full HD 1920x1080 IPS USB Type-C Powered Eye Care Portable Monitor. About $200.


    Shorter, more flexible Thunderbolt 3 cable.


    Much more supple than the longer cable the monitor comes with. See the Photo Gallery below for how it all fits together.

    [Certified] Plugable Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps USB-C Cable [1.65'/0.5m, 3A/60W, Thunderbolt and USB Compatible]. About $20.


    Keyboard that can use at a comfortable height.


    For a much more comfortable typing position, right on your laptop, sparing you the annoyance of typing up high on those hotel desks. And honestly, not a big fan of Dell's use of Fn key combinations just to use Page Up / Page Down, along with the reversal of Fn and Ctrl keys at the bottom left. I simply rest this keyboard over the original, and TaDa, I have myself the latest generation of the legendary ThinkPad keyboard back. I though I wouldn't like the chicklet spacing, but I was wrong, I actually like it better than the original ThinkPad keyboards with keys all tight against one another.

    Of course, as a 21 year IBM veteran who touch typist, I'm rather accustomed to being very productive with the TrackPoint pointing stick red nubbin. And you don't have to trust Bluetooth, it comes with a micro USB connection and cable too. Or you can buy the same keyboard without the Bluetooth for about $12 less.

    Here's what Veeam's Anton Gostev had to say about this keyboard in his October 9 2016 issue of the weekly Veeam Community Forums Digest:

    As far as peripherals go, I am currently using Bluetooth keyboard and mouse – but being a TrackPoint freak, I will be buying this keyboard to have a single unit that can do it all. There are a bunch of alternatives with TrackPads too, but I am actually so good with TrackPoint that sometimes I feel I am more productive with it than with a regular mouse due to being able to keep both hands on keyboard all the time. Yeah, it takes some practice – but once you "get it" you will be stuck with buying ThinkPads for the rest of your lives like me (because IBM/Lenovo owns the patent for TrackPoint).

    ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint - US English. About $62.


    Skip that crummy Wi-Fi wherever possible, use Ethernet.


    Use that hotel Ethernet whenever you can, tends to be faster than Wi-Fi. Also handy to have a VGA connection, for those podiums and customer projectors that just don't have HDMI. One current gotcha with Windows 10 Creators Update is that auto-installed driver V17.01.0413.3192 can cause Windows stability issues. Instead, before plugging in, get the backlevel driver v16.09.1121.3179 installed first, at least until J5Create gets a new driver out on the product support page.

    USB 3.0 Multi- Adapter VGA & Gigabit Ethernet JUA370. About $60.


    Get a thin and light Cat6A 14' network cable that can reach anywhere.


    Everybody who sees these 10GbE capable cables in action at one of my user group demos is impressed by how thin they are, why not keep one of them in your travel bag, to stretch to whatever crazy place you locate an RJ45 jack on the hotel wall?

    Monoprice 5-Pack, Slim Run Cat6A Ethernet Network Patch Cable, 14' Black [115145]. About $12.

    If there's no Ethernet jack, and the Wi-Fi is crummy, I use a USB tethered connection to my Personal Hotspot function of my iPhone, but most iOS and Android phone plans offer such robust LTE connections nowadays.

    Get yourself a good mouse, with smooth scrolling.


    Yeah, I'm fond of the Logitech M705, as pictured below. Now that I'm used to smooth scrolling my way through the web, I can never use another brand of mouse that only have ratches wheels.

    In Logitech Options, turn on Smooth scrolling.

    I wrote quite a bit about convincing it to get along with Windows 10 nicely here. But Logitech seems to have no interest in updating that aging SetPoint 6.67.83 driver from Sep 2015, and lately in Chrome the smooth scrolling and any scrolling periodically stops working. With the very similarly designed new Logitech M720, it all "just works" with Windows 10 Creators Update, including multiple desktop switching, and that amazing smooth scrolling that I demonstrated here. The new 6.50.60 version of Logitech Options supports the M720, and not the M705. Just be sure to uninstall SetPoint if you have it already, along with the Logitech Smooth Scrolling 6.65.62 Chrome extension. Once Logitech Options is installed, turn on the Smooth scrolling option. Yeah, hardware obsolescence due to drivers that no longer get developed drives me a little crazy too. Hopefully I can keep using my M720 for many years

    Logitech M720 Triathalon Multi-Device Wireless Mouse [910-004790]. About $38.


    This mouse pad will get your mouse to work on anything, even glass desks.


    and you'll get that single-pixel-at-a-time precision required for those careful image crops.

    Fellowes PlushTouch Mouse Pad/Wrist Rest with FoamFusion Technology, Black [9252001]. About $10.


    Everything packed up in my 15" laptop bag, nothing getting damaged.


    Unboxing and testing recorded in 4K! In this video, you'll see me trying out the onscreen menus on this IPS matt anti-glare LCD panel and using the carrying case/stand. Produced on my 12 core SuperServer Workstation, as seen rendering here.

    Unboxing and testing the ASUS MB169C+ 15.6" Full HD 1920x1080 IPS USB Type-C Powered Eye Care Portable Monitor.

    Intended to be run fullscreen, get started by simply clicking on any of the photos below, then right arrow your way through.)

    Dell Precision 5510, hotel arrival simulation, with way too high desk.
    Fire it up, check a web page. TrackPad OK for light use/short durations.
    Doing some content creation, mouse required, mousepad handles any [too high] desktop surface.
    TrackPoint for single-pixel-precision image edits, and wireless use over Bluetooth lets me point and touch-type from comfort of lap height.
    Uh oh, battery low, time to plug in, got lots of things to accomplish, going to be here a while.
    This hotel Wi-Fi sucks, time to hard-wire, handy adapter has VGA for VGA-only projectors.
    Like-sized 15.6" USB-C powered travel display with AR coating, huge productivity boost.

    See also at TinkerTry

    Logitech Hyper-fast scrolling demonstration