Don't be scared off by microtechnology – the new portable gizmos are light, affordable and easy to use whether you're on site or in the car. So, what should be in your briefcase?
At last, electronic gizmos are worth more than the trouble they cause. Portable tools can now do a grown-up job of work. Low-power computer chips and better batteries mean that almost everything the average construction professional needs can be packed in a briefcase and toted around, without the need to develop the muscles of Sylvester Stallone to carry it all. Here is a selection of some of the latest gadgets designed to make your life easier.

In-car routefinder

Lost? Palmtop Software’s GPS satellite navigation system works out where you are to within 100 m and displays it on a map on the screen of your palmtop computer.

The unit sits on the car dashboard, powered from the cigarette lighter socket, and plugs into the palmtop on the passenger seat. Set-up is easy, and the price is a reasonable £169. or e-mail

Pictures in an instant

A digital camera can be a godsend for surveys or inspections. The lie of the land, damage to buildings or plant and 100 other things can be recorded instantly for downloading to a computer. Most cameras are rather pricey, but Creative’s Webcam Go! is a mere £85, and also acts as a video camera when perched on top of your monitor and connected to the computer by a USB cable that transmits the data in super-quick time. Picture quality is low, but good enough to display on screen and compact enough to be e-mailed to colleagues.

The indestructible PC

However tough the conditions on site, the Q-PC in-car computer will survive. After all, it was designed for use in the Hummer, the American military vehicle that is reputed to be able to climb walls. A basic design requirement was that it could withstand being dropped 1500 ft into a war zone. The Q-PC has a large liquid crystal display screen that goes where the vehicle radio usually is, and a keyboard that can be used either by the passenger or the driver (hint: typing e-mails while driving may affect your insurance cover). Satellite navigation is an obvious application, but the PC could also be used for editing and e-mailing digital photos on the spot, or accessing maintenance data at remote installations.

The Q-PC costs $4500 (about £2700) and needs to be installed by Q-PC in Huntsville, Alabama. or call 001-800-233-0839

E-mail in your car

Spend most of your time at the wheel? You could be listening to your e-mails while you drive thanks to e.Go, a gizmo that downloads unread messages from your PC and speaks them through your car stereo. It can also read out all that training material you never get time to wade through in the office. But what makes e.Go really cool is that it will also play MP3 music downloaded from the web, so you can hear it in the full majesty of the car stereo, instead of through the tinny earpieces of standard MP3 players. Just don’t tell the boss.

E.Go is only available to buy on-line, so the strong pound makes the $190 price (about £115) seem good value.

The web on your mobile

The hot topic in mobile phones right now is WAP, a dreary term for an exciting idea – surfing the web on your mobile phone. It stands for wireless application protocol, a system for compressing web sites so that they fit on cellphones’ tiny screens. They also work mainly by pressing buttons, without forcing you to enter reams of text on the phone keypad. Getting your up-to-the-minute bank balance will be a breeze, and even looking up train times on the Railtrack site should be simple. The sleekest WAP phone is the Ericsson R320, due out in April. A price has not been set, but it is likely to be more than £200. It has a large screen, a tiny lithium-polymer battery and an infrared link so you can surf the web using your laptop if you prefer. Head to the WAP Forum web site for more information on the benefits of WAP technology. or call 0990-237237

Walkie-talkies: the next generation

A team spread out over a site needs a better communication system than shouting and arm-waving, and this is exactly what the new private mobile radios provide. No licence, no call charges: once you have bought one (well, two) of the machines, that is all you pay. Eight voice channels are available, and each channel has 38 privacy codes, so up to 38 conversations can be held on it without anyone eavesdropping. The range is up to two miles, depending on the terrain. The new Talkabout TA288 from Motorola is one of the most stylish, and at £130 also one of the cheapest walkie-talkies on the market. The rechargeable battery gives a day’s worth of walkie-talking, and an optional pack for AA batteries can extend that.

Long-lasting palmtop

The latest from Psion – the Psion Series 7 – is a palmtop without the hassles of the Windows operating system. Press the on button and you are instantly at work. The large colour screen is easily readable, except in direct sunlight, and the batteries will power 10 hours of work – most laptops struggle to make three. Although Psion’s Epoc operating system cannot handle CAD, it comes with all the office programs you need, from word processor to web browser, and a huge variety of extra software is available as well. The machine is a lovely looker, with a wraparound embossed leather cover, like a book. And, at less than £700, it’s not that expensive.