The Electronic Entertainment Expo is coming around again in just a few short days (tomorrow for some!), but like any conference it requires a lot of planning, packing, and preparation to get ready for so journalists can do the best job possible. Thus far I’ve been blessed with living in the City of Angels, so no packing or travel required while everyone else in the industry shuffles into LAX at the wee hours of the morning. With all respect, colleagues, at this time of year (unless the company you’re working for is cool and puts you on a well timed flight, a nice hotel, and actually pays you more for the service), sucks to be you.

This year I’m doing E3 a little different, a little old-school. The first year I attended E3 was for a site called Game-Spectrum, a now-defunct site run by two guys who later became good friends, and myself as the up-and-comer. Eight months later I’m in Santa Monica, the year after they moved out of the Convention Center and closed it from the public, and that year I produced 41 stories in five days. I’m going to break that record, but not without better tools than sheer determination and the spirit of youth and exuberance I had when I went to my first E3. Here are my armaments:

iPhone 4S

The iPhone has, since every convention and event I attended after E3 2008, been the lifeblood of my journey. The original iPhone, cracked screen and all, up to the current generation, has served as my calendar, my main cellphone, my secondary internet connection, my email hub, and my grounding force. The simplicity of the phone’s design, especially when it comes to all of those factors (save for internet nowadays; I won’t be relying on the hotspot feature to save money), is above and beyond anything else that Android can offer. Windows Phone 7 devices are very close though, which is why I have a strong secondary backup for the software portion alone.

The iPhone 4S is my rock. When Android apps crash or the WP7 phone slows down, the iPhone doesn’t. When suddenly I forget where to go next, the iPhone is already pre-programmed to alert and tell me what my next move is. Thanks to Google Calendar integration I have no problem getting about either, or quickly updating my schedule from any change. And, if necessary, I can even begin articles on the phone itself thanks to the WordPress app, so I get a jump start on articles on hand.

Spyder i4 iPhone Case

There are iPhone battery cases, and plenty of them. The Spyder is the only one I’ve found that offers the simplicity of a 2000mAh battery case with a charging dock and a plug-anywhere MicroUSB connector for convenience of use. The massive battery can also nearly fully charge the iPhone 4S while still in use; I’ve generally filled it up from 2%-82%, all while still using the phone. With the number of calls, emails, and general phone use during E3, the Spyder will be a lifesaver. Best of all, when I get home, I just throw the whole thing into the dock charger and in the morning, both the phone and battery will be fully charged for the next day’s onslaught.

iPad (2012) + Logitech Keyboard Case

This year I’m not bringing a laptop. As much as I enjoy my MacBook Air or a handful of Ultrabooks I could bring, they all have one thing I am avoiding this year entirely: weight. Even a few extra pounds over a long period will start to feel like a boulder on your shoulders. After my first CES lugging around a 14″ Lenovo Thinkpad, DSLR, and most of my things, never again.

No, this year I’m opting for light and functional. The iPad, as I wrote about in my review, doesn’t have the best battery life, but I’ll still get a full day’s charge even if I’m just writing the whole day. Throw in the Logitech Keyboard case, which isn’t the best keyboard but it is by far the most convenient one around, and you’ve got not only an extremely comfortable typing solution, but a very light one at that.

Does not bringing a laptop worry me? Only slightly. Pictures I take from the show floor can be transferred effortlessly with the camera connection kit or online. Screenshots, however, if they come in the form of a website to download from, may prove problematic. Then again, I’m going to be on the show floor most of the time, so anything I end up writing during the show hours won’t need screenshots that I can’t already get very easily. And with flash drives as the standard, I can still fully use any photos with the USB adapter.

Olympus XZ-1

This year I’m not bringing my massive and awesome Nikon D7000, the mainstay of my photography. The reason? I’m going light, and furthermore, photos won’t be such a big deal at a videogame convention. For the few hardware products I’m set to see, I don’t need a full-fledged DSLR, I just need a camera that can take great shots. The Olympus blah blah does exactly that, and it’ll even shoot in RAW.

I also considered borrowing my brother’s Canon S95, which is smaller and also shoots RAW, and takes excellent shots

Knobo Saxby

Bags are a difficult choice, and frankly I’ve had a hell of a time finding one that works for me. The Knobo Saxby does. It’s comfortable, has a ton of space inside, and is very tight and crisp. It’s even got a geolocation chip in case I lose it, which won’t necessarily make me feel any better, but if it’s stolen I can track the SOB down like so many do with their iPhones.

Most bags have the space users require (that’s why we picked that particular bag, duh), but what I like most about the Saxby is how crisp the whole package is. The pockets are woven very tightly to the frame, the zippers shut strong and they are made of thick metal. It feels meaty, like a real man has to close it. That type of security is hard to find. The water-resistant leather surface also offers peace of mind against the hordes of clumsy journalists and analysts drinking their mocha decaf cappuccinos.

Phonak Audeo PFE 232

When it’s time to crank out an article or five, distractions have to be shut down instantly. I used to rely on a set of Klipsch earphones, but their sound cancellation was minimal. Now I use the Phonak Audeo PFE 232, which are supremely comfortable, double as a phone headset for calls, provide amazing sound quality, and act as a great sound insulator. That’s because Phonak has for over 50 years specialized in hearing aids, so they know the shape and design to best fit the human ear. And hell if they aren’t wrong. Not only that, but the non-stick cabling will save you the time of uncoiling (it feels just like a MacBook power cable), and it comes in a neat little carrying case.

Samsung Epic 4G Touch

It’s always safe to bring a second phone, especially if you can’t rely on the internet, don’t want to kill your primary phone’s battery, and only have so much bandwidth to spare already. AT&T will be swamped, as it is every year; I have no doubt about it. Sprint won’t be, since they’ve been bleeding customers to Verizon and AT&T, and in downtown 4G will be available.

Though if I had a choice for a secondary phone, I’d pick something from Verizon. It just so happens that this week I only have a few older handsets in my possession, and none with LTE capability except for the HTC Vivid. I’ll bring it along as well to see what sort of data transfer I can get while AT&T is beaten to a pulp by the horde of iPhone users, but the Epic 4G Touch will be my secondary phone.

Pens and a lot of pads

Not those pads, writing pads! While some opt for more expensive writing pads, I like the cheap ones, the $1 for 10 packs that are use and abuse only. One pen of my choice, which I like because it writes well, and extra writing pads to put down all of my notes for. I use these no-brand writing pads because they have a hard back and the pages come off easily enough for me to store in my bag with abandon. That may sound like a ludicrous system, but it works for me. And if you’re wondering why I don’t just record or type it all up, those methods are too slow and structured. Pen and paper offers the simplest, fastest form of note taking, and with a decent memory, it will prove to be the best method for any journalist to take, especially if you’re struggling for time.

Snacks (not pictured) and Water

There’s one thing no one tells you about E3, and most people just forget it outright: food on the show floor is like cigarettes in jail; they’re the only currency you have that’s less valuable than a business card (the jail equivalent to, let’s say, a shank). So bringing your own food can save the show for you; the last thing you need is to feel drained at 1pm because of a crappy breakfast of burnt coffee and stale doughnuts. Throw in some energy bars or healthy snacks too; sudden energy bursts with with candy or sweets will only give you a sugar rush for 10-15 minutes. The following low will suck the life out of you.

The other thing is water. Fountains are around, but you’ll want to bring a bottle for yourself. It’s easy to get dehydrated in the dry summer heat or even dryer air-conditioned show floor. While food can come and go depending on the booth, water is much harder to come by, and the availability of water fountains makes plenty believe they’ll be fine without a bottle. You won’t, unless you have a hump and spit too much.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.