Best New Travel Gadgets
Last week, more than 140,00 attendees and 2,700 exhibitors from around the world descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center to fill up every last inch of floor space—some 3.2 million square feet—for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), arguably the place to see what’s coming out, gizmo-wise, in 2011. With mobile phones and tablets increasingly becoming the essential go-to gadgets for any traveler, CES is also where to find out what to pack on trips this year.
Based on five days of scouring CES 2011, Travel + Leisure editors have come up with 15 favorite new travel gadgets—selected for their innovation, utility, power, and portability. The good news is that all of them are either out now or slated for release in the next 12 months.
Related: The Best Travel Tech of 2015
The iPad may have come out less than a year ago but the tablet has already become a must for any trip—it’ll hold maps, guidebooks, navigation services, translators, novels, music, and movies in one carry-on friendly device. Not surprisingly, more than 80 tablets were launched at CES, all of them promising full connectivity and convenience while at home or on the road. Manufacturers are obviously trying to capitalize on the Apple tablet’s success; after all, 1 in 5 Americans will own a tablet by 2014, according to Harris Interactive. Among the iPad’s competition is the Motorola Xoom, designed to run on Google’s Android platform.
Cameras also made a strong showing. Shutterbugs will revel in the better and more portable 3-D that’s showing up in camcorders, such as the new Sony Bloggie. Travelers can now literally add an extra dimension to their vacation movies.
Another trend was gadgets with dual or multi purposes. Take the rugged waterproof Eton Raptor, which delivers many devices in one neat package: an AM/FM/wideband radio, an LED flashlight, an altimeter, a barometer, an alarm clock, a bottle opener, and more.
Related: Cool New Travel Gadgets for 2014
Perhaps the ultimate travel technology debut came in the form of transportation itself. The zero-emissions Ford Focus Electric car—with its MyFord Mobile, a smartphone app that can find your car via GPS and tell you where the nearest charging stations are located—made waves at the show.
Read on for the top gadgets you’ll want to pack in your bags this year.
Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Digital Traveler.
Samsung 9 Series Laptop
Move over, 13-inch MacBook Air—the Samsung 9 series laptop is just as thin and a tad lighter (2.89 pounds), and it has a more distinctive wavy design (inspired by sports cars). Spec-wise, it’s state of the art, with a superfast i5 Core processor, HDMI outs (for showing your vacation photos on an HDTV), and two 1.5-watt speakers with a subwoofer. Battery life is 6.5 hours, but the real edge over the MacBook Air is the backlit keyboard, so you can work easily even when the airplane cabin lights are off. ($1,599; samsungusa.com)
Motorola Xoom Tablet
The iPad isn’t the only tablet in town. Running on Verizon Wireless, Motorola’s new Xoom has a cutting-edge processor that makes it superfast, a 10.1-inch HD screen, and cameras on the front and back for self-portraits and video calling on Skype. Best of all, it’ll run on Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, Google’s upcoming tablet-optimized upgrade that promises smoother and crisper video, better Web browsing, and easier toggling between apps. If you already own an Android phone, this could be a more compatible travel companion than the iPad. (not yet priced; March release; motorola.com)
Vivitek Qumi Projector
This paperback-size portable HD projector not only handles native 3-D but can also convert existing 2-D video to 3-D. Projectors of this size come in handy for traveling families who want to watch video content in the comfort of their hotel room, since laptop screens are too small for more than two people to watch a movie. The Qumi plays video directly off an SD memory card, as well as via direct connection to a laptop or DVD player. ($500; May release; vivitekusa.com)
Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot
Anyone who’s tried to find reliable Wi-Fi while traveling knows how frustratingly scattered available hotspots can be. Enter MiFi, which provides a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five computers. Samsung’s slick-looking, pocket-size MiFi hotspot will run on Verizon Wireless’s just-announced 4G LTE network, which is even faster than the current 3G, allowing basic websites to load in literally one second. (not yet priced; samsungusa.com)
Fujifilm FinePix XP30 Camera
This rough-and-tumble 14-megapixel point-and-shoot is waterproof, shockproof, and rustproof, which means it can handle any kind of vacation—and its accompanying photography needs. The camera’s powerful sensor allows for fast shooting in all kinds of light, while built-in image stabilization features make sure you get a clear shot (even if your subject is moving around, thanks to tracking auto-focus). It also has built-in GPS for geotagging your photos, so you can pinpoint exactly where you took them, allowing for easy search later or a Google mapped route of your travels. ($240; February release; fujifilmusa.com)
Olympus EPL-2 Camera
Most DSLRs are too big to lug around everywhere. This is why the reduced-size micro four-thirds camera—and its accompanying interchangeable lenses for capturing everything from candlelight dinners to portraits on the beach—was created. Olympus’s second-generation micro four-thirds model has a bigger grip; HD video recording with a dedicated movie button; and innovative new accessories, including the PENPAL, which lets you send images to your computer or a cell phone via Bluetooth, so you can, say, upload them instantly to Facebook. ($600; February release; olympusamerica.com)
Ford Focus Electric Car
Ford’s first all-electric car is a zero-emissions vehicle that looks exactly like the diesel and gas version. Cool features include MyFord Mobile, a dedicated smartphone app that’ll tell you how much farther your car can go before it needs to be charged, find your car via GPS, and tell you where the nearest charging stations are located. (not yet priced; late-2011 release; ford.com)
GorillaMobile Ori Case-Stand
Made of silver-colored polycarbonate, this case-cum-stand is the ultimate modular, adjustable accessory that will prop up your iPad in landscaper or portrait mode—handy because, let’s face it, you want to watch movies in landscape mode but read the paper in the portrait position. When you’re done using your iPad, the contraption folds up and serves as a case. ($80; joby.com)
Sony MHS-FS3 Bloggie 3D HD Camera
Why settle for Avatar when you can make your own 3-D movies? This handheld camcorder can shoot up to 240 minutes of high-def 3-D footage (viewable with glasses on a 3-D TV via HDMI and without on its 2.4-inch LCD screen). The device also captures 2-D videos and up to 5-megapixel stills. Bloggie is ready for the road too: since its flash memory doesn’t have any moving parts to break, the camera can handle shocks better than bigger, hard drive–based camcorders. ($250; April release; sonystyle.com)
Philips Fidelio Bluetooth Docking Speaker DS7700
Portable speakers usually aren’t big enough to give you satisfying audio, but these give big sound in a slim, portable package. Running on AC power or a built-in rechargeable battery, the clever docking dongle can prop up iPads or iPhones—even when they’re in cases. It can also connect to any Bluetooth-stereo-enabled mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. ($199; April release; philips.com)
iPhone 4 on Verizon Wireless
The iPhone 4 will finally be available to Verizon Wireless subscribers. The device is essentially the same as the AT&T version, with two significant improvements: it can create an external Wi-Fi hotspot that uses the phone’s data connection to get up to five computers online, and its antenna are located near the top to accommodate Verizon’s network (and presumably to address the reception issues that continue to plague the AT&T version of the iPhone 4). ($199.99, 16GB; $299.99, 32GB with a new two-year contract; February 10; verizonwireless.com)
Just because you’re on a long hiking, camping, or sailing trip and haven’t showered in two days doesn’t mean you still can’t rough it in style. The rugged Raptor combines an AM/FM/wideband radio, an LED flashlight, an altimeter, a barometer, an alarm clock, an audio-in, a charger for your gadgets, and a bottle opener—all juiced by a solar charger or USB. Oh, it’s waterproof too. (not yet priced; etoncorp.com)
Polaroid GL30 Instant Digital Camera
Named creative director of the storied instant camera brand last year, singer–cum–performance artist Lady Gaga recently unveiled her Grey Label line, which includes the GL30, a combination digital camera/mobile printer—or a modern-day version of the Polaroid instant camera. Whether you’ll want to lug one of these around with you as you hike around the Grand Canyon is up to you; it comes with a retro-faux-leather case and carry strap. (not yet priced; polaroid.com)
ION iTYPE Wireless Portable Keyboard
This portable candy bar–size wireless keyboard connects via Bluetooth to iPads and iPhones as well as other mobile devices and tablets, from BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 to Android and PlayStation 3. The reduced-size QWERTY keyboard includes a stand for your iPad or other device and a leather carrying case. Don’t worry about any long-haul flights—the iTYPE will run for up to 80 hours on a single charge. (not yet priced; ionaudio.com)
Sennheiser CXC 700 Earbuds
Most noise-canceling on-ear or over-the-ear headphones are big and bulky, taking up a lot of space in the average carry-on. Not so with these first-ever noise-canceling buds of the in-ear variety. Not only are they small, but they can be adjusted to one of three different settings depending on the kind of background noise you want to block out—in-flight airplane AC, train sounds, and more. ($319; sennheiser.com)