Summer holiday gadgets

  • (Network World)
  • 16 August, 2012 10:27

When you travel, what tech do you take with you? I ask because I always wind up carrying way too much with me "just in case" and that always results in multiple cases of gear.

Each time I travel I try to pare it down but that's always a problem because I know whatever I leave at home will almost certainly be needed and whatever I could have left at home but take anyway almost certainly won't get used. Thus it is that my loved ones get to marvel at the humungous amount of gear I lug around.

This issue of too much gear is fresh on my mind as we just got back from a week's vacation which, for a pleasant change, didn't involve flying. We drove up to Glen Ellen in the Sonoma area of California and spent a very relaxing week hiking and indulging in a "small" amount of wine tasting.

MORE: Cool summer gadget guide

I must digress and recommend the Benziger Family Winery, which is amazing (sort of a Disneyland for adults) and offers outstanding wines, as well as the Audelssa Estate Winery, which has amazing Cabernets (the 2008 Tephra is fantastic!). And if you are ever in the area you have to try the Glen Ellen Star restaurant, which was excellent (their vanilla maple bourbon ice cream is incredibly good).

Anyway, while there was some gear I could have left behind, on the whole I was pretty happy with the utility of my tech take-alongs and many of these gadgets and apps are relevant to business use ...

One of the things I always have to take on any trip is my iPad. I really can't imagine going anywhere without it now and on a long drive (ours was about seven and a half hours each way) it's great to have good maps other than the car's nav system.

I particularly like Navigon (contrary to how it appears on the Navigon site, the app runs fine and in native resolution on iPads).

Unlike most other iOS mapping apps, Navigon it will work even where there's no cell service because it stores maps on your i-device. As these maps range from 1.1MB (the District of Columbia) up to just over 100MB (California) you'll most likely want to keep only those maps you actually need on board (the Map Manager feature lets you choose which ones you need and should you choose all of them they'll consume 1.5GB of storage, although you'd have to be a very frequent traveler to need all of them simultaneously).

Navigon's maps look good and the additional in-app purchases include realtime traffic information, photo-realistic depictions of junctions, 3D panoramic landscape rendition and U.S. radar information.

For those long trips, you'll want Navigon. Priced at $59.99 from the Apple iTunes Store, Navigon for iPhone and iPad gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

While I'm on the subject of maps and car travel there are two more apps that you'll want (I use both of them mostly on my iPhone). The first is called Waze (pictured at right), published by Waze Inc. Waze describes itself as "social GPS traffic and gas" and claims to have 20 million users.

What's so cool about Waze is that it provides routing (with voice prompts) and, using realtime traffic flow measured by speed and location data from Waze users, can re-route you to better routes to avoid slowdowns and other problems.

Using the Waze voice control interface users can also file reports on accidents, hazards, police traps, note gas prices and even get cheaper gas from stations participating with Waze. On my trip I had several warnings about police traps (such as around King City, Calif., where many of us have, at one time or another, been nabbed for over-enthusiastic velocity) but they were usually ten to twenty minutes out of date.

Waze supports community building so you can form groups to share, for example, your thoughts on your commute with fellow sufferers. There's also a "meet up" feature to enable friends to coordinate getting to a common location.

Waze, available from the iTunes Store as well as for Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and other devices, is free and gets a Gearhead score of 5 out of 5.

The other app that you need is INRIX Traffic (pictured at left). A big question that INRIX addresses is "when is a good time to travel to X?" For example, you might be in Saint George, Utah, and think that driving to Los Angeles via Las Vegas at 1 a.m. on a Sunday would be pretty painless ... but, and I speak from hard-won experience, you would be wrong as it will add at least another two miserable hours to your drive. With INRIX you can set your route and then see what the best window for traveling will be in the next 12 hours!

INRIX also offers realtime traffic and realtime routing, and can calculate your arrival time which you can share with others also via the INRIX app.

INRIX provides some social collaboration features so that you can report accidents, incorrect speed estimations and police sightings.

The free version of INRIX allows for just home and destination locations, while the premium version (priced at $24.99) allows for unlimited locations and provides personalized routing. INRIX also gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Other gear I took? Well, I won't go over everything but let me mention a few highlights ...

Actually, my next gadget is one that I was going to take but it doesn't fit my car: The Satechi SCH-121 mount and holder for smartphones and tablets (pictured at right).

This is a cool idea: The fat end goes into a cup holder and then you turn the bezel on top of the fat end to lock it in place. After that you can change the angle of the "stalk" and the device clamp to orient your i-device as you please (it comes with clamps for both tablets and smartphones).

The result is a solid, reliable and safe mount that fits the Kindle Fire, iPad, iPad 2, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Galaxy 10.1, Viewsonic Gtablet and probably many other devices.

The problem with my car is the fancy cup holders in the front have a spring-loaded "gate" to allow for monster-sized cups so I need to find some kind of insert to reduce the overall size so the mount fits. I suspect my car isn't the only one with this problem but I have to award the Satechi SCH-121 (currently priced at a very reasonable $39.99) a Gearhead score of 5 out of 5 anyway ... check your cup holders to make sure that there's a maximum hole diameter of 3.375 inches before you purchase.

I wound up taking the Bracketon Universal USB Power Dock Pro Flex (pictured at left), which plugs into what used to be the cigar lighter socket (now, it seems, referred to as a "12V port") and provides not only a pretty stable holder for smartphones but also a standard 5V, 1.5A USB power socket so you can keep your device charged.

The Bracketon Universal USB Power Dock Pro Flex is a solid, well-made product and priced at $34.95 gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Now I always take at least one digital SLR camera with me when I travel and I've never found a camera bag that's quite right. Just before this trip, Booq sent me one of the best I've come across so far: The Python courier bag (pictured at right), which has a water-repellent ballistic nylon exterior, is not only designed to store a DLSR in a rigid compartment with dividers for lens and accessories but also has an iPad pocket with a water-repellent zipper!

The camera compartment can also be removed so you have a simple messenger-style bag with a gazillion pockets (you still also have the iPad pocket). At $$179.95 the Booq Python courier is not cheap, but if you're lugging a pricey camera along with an iPad it's worth every cent and gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Just in case water might have been involved while hiking (OK, it was unlikely to rain in Sonoma but there might have been streams to boldly ford) I also took along a neat product to protect my iPhone and iPad: The Joy Factory BubbleShields for Tablets and Smartphones (pictured at left).

These are like reusable Ziploc bags for electronics and while you can't charge the devices or use any connectors while they are "bagged," you can still make calls, use the touchscreen and, with a little difficulty, press the buttons.

The bags are waterproof, dirt-proof, greaseproof, and don't show fingerprints. I have yet to really test one of these because while they are demonstrably splash-proof I somehow can't bring myself to stick my iPhone into one and plunge it into a sink full of water. I have tried putting tissue paper in and submerging a bag (no problems noted) but my iPhone ... just not happening.

A five-pack of BubbleShield for Smartphones and a three-pack of BubbleShield for Tablets are both priced at $19.95.

The Joy Factory also offers the BubbleShield PRO, a waterproof sleeve specifically made for the iPad for $49.95. All of the BubbleShield products get a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

My final pick of gadgets I took on holiday was the Aviiq Portable Charging Station (pictured at right). When you're traveling you never need to charge just one device, you'll typically want to boost your smartphone, tablet, camera and music player all at the same time.

If that sounds like you, then you'll love the Portable Charging Station. The mesh nylon case includes an AC adapter that plugs into the USB hub that provides one data and power port as well as three power only ports. There are pockets for storing cables and devices and the whole thing zips up into one neat, manageable package that makes it easy to keep everything running.

The Aviiq Portable Charging Station is priced at $59.99 and gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

So tell me, what travel apps and gadgets do you take on trips?

Gibbs is back home in Ventura, Calif. Your baggage to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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