Best New Travel Gadgets
Like thousands of fellow travelers pining for home’s creature comforts, Atlanta resident Karyn Meltz anticipated spending many happy hours with friends and relatives this holiday season. But having recently accepted employment at Washington State, she wondered how to share the holiday magic with little vacation time and even less flexibility.
After buying an HP 311 Mini ultra-portable PC with a built-in web camera, though, she realized she’d inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect solution. Instead of sacrificing much-needed R&R, she decided to bring the entire extended family to her instead.
Related: Best Travel Accessories
“I love what you can do with technology today, even just a simple notebook computer and webcam,” says Meltz. “Using free or inexpensive online calling and videoconferencing programs, my husband and I can share special moments with everyone, even friends in Paris and London.”
The moral of the story for modern travelers: wake up and smell the silicon, because the road, skies, and seaways have suddenly become a wired wonderland. Given a dizzying array of new high-tech gadgets—from Internet-surfing smartphones and pocket-friendly camcorders to touch-sensitive video game systems—seasonal adventurers hardly need strings of cheap bulbs to stay awash in flashing, multicolored lights. Consider that not only are four in five adults planning on gadget shopping this holiday season, but that they’re also expected to spend $222 (8 percent more than last year) on cutting-edge gizmos, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
The evidence of a boom is everywhere. To date, more than two billion iPhone/iPod touch apps have been downloaded, including 85,000-plus programs available for instant online purchase that now include sightseeing guides, foreign language translators, and restaurant reviews. Even major airports and air carriers (American, Delta, United, more) are finally realizing you can’t fight forward progress, with many now offering in-flight and on-location Wi-Fi services. Google, too, is bringing free in-flight wireless networking to Virgin America customers and to 47 U.S. airports through January 15, 2010.
Regardless of whether it’s the simple desire to stay in constant touch with family and friends, or merely the irresistible urge to tweet at 30,000 feet, everyone’s starting to tune in.
“No matter your level of technical proficiency, high-tech gadgets deserve a place in any carry-on,” agrees Nick Mokey, staff writer for technology lifestyle site DigitalTrends.com. “Between catching up on last week’s shows, sourcing instant flight-status updates, and chatting with friends while waiting for sightseeing tours to start, they provide countless practical everyday uses.”
Ready to upgrade to the hottest new technology toys? From the all-purpose, video-camera-equipped iPhone 3G S and T-Mobile’s android-powered myTouch 3G to eBook-compatible Sony Reader Touch Edition and brilliant battery life–boasting Toshiba NB200 laptop, rejoice in the tech revolution. Read on for the scoop on 2009’s hottest holiday gadgets, each guaranteed to make every day feel like Hanukkah or Christmas all over again. —Scott Steinberg
Verizon’s new Tour has quicker Web browsing, international dialing, and a built-in GPS chip. It’s also our favorite phone for business e-mail because of the evenly spaced keyboard and top-notch text-messaging options.
Best app: VZ Navigator ($9.99 per month), with a built-in GPS system that offers 3-D maps, turn-by-turn directions, and real-time traffic data. verizonwireless.com; from $149.99. —Adam Baer
T-Mobile’s latest iPhone competitor (known as “the Google Phone”) is a touch-screen mobile using Google’s Android operating system. Its virtual keyboard is a bit unwieldy for drafting a quick business update, but it works well for dashing off a short e-mail.
Best app: Google is set to launch a host of new ones next year. For now, we like Wikitude (free), which loads Wikipedia information on landmarks you are viewing through the phone’s camera lens, turning your live image into an annotated map. t-mobilemytouch.com; from $149.99. —Adam Baer
In the smart-phone category, nothing tops AT&T’s touch-screen iPhone when it comes to entertainment. But the newest model has also become a go-to device for business travelers, thanks to its wide array of travel apps.
Best apps: Users love Urbanspoon (free), which recommends restaurants in English-speaking countries based on location. Other excellent options include Worldmate Gold ($19.99 per month) for flight status reports, maps to your hotel, and currency conversions, and Gate Maps ($0.99 per month), which gives you everything you need to know to navigate an airport. wireless.att.com; from $199. —Adam Baer
This Sprint-compatible model combines the best features of the iPhone and BlackBerry with an intuitive interface and a slide-down keyboard.
Best apps: More are on the way, but currently, Pandora (free) turns your phone into a wireless Internet radio; its Translator (free) works for more than 45 languages; and FlightView (free) provides flight information and hooks up to the Pre’s calendar—so you can track your plans even as they change because of delays. now.sprint.com; from $149.99. —Adam Baer
Sony Vaio W
The matte surface of Sony’s 10-inch model makes it more comfortable to type on than most netbooks, but the tiny keyboard is better for smaller hands.
Best feature: Although the steeper price point may not appeal to the budget-conscious, the Vaio’s high-resolution glossy screen is excellent—perfect for people who work with digital images and video. sonystyle.com; $499.99. —Adam Baer
Shiny hinges, powder-coated finish: descriptions of Toshiba’s 10-inch NB200 read like ad copy for a luxury car. But they fit. Despite its affordability, it feels more expensive than other netbooks, with extremely responsive keys and a glossy frame.
Best feature: The nine-hour battery that will outlast red-eye flights—it’s as powerful and efficient as they come. laptops.toshiba.com; $400. —Adam Baer
Asus Eee 1008HA
Asus—one of the first companies to release a small, inexpensive netbook with its famous Eee models—calls this 10-inch version Seashell. It comes with a superslim LED screen and nicely concealed connection ports as well as 10 complimentary gigabytes of online backup storage.
Best feature: At just one inch thick, the Asus Eee is the skinniest of our picks. eeepc.asus.com; $430. —Adam Baer
HP Mini 110
There’s more to consider than the floral surface design of this 10-inch netbook with an impressive antiglare LED display screen. The battery lasts almost four hours and lifts the device into a more ergonomic position, for easier typing.
Best feature: Full-size keys, uncommon on netbooks, especially for a computer with such a low price tag. hp.com; $329.99. —Adam Baer
Lenovo IdeaPad S12
Although Lenovo’s sturdy white laptop is not technically a netbook (it has a full-size keyboard, hefty 3 1/2-pound weight, and 12-inch screen), it’s still compact enough to compete in the category.
Best feature: Business travelers in particular will benefit from the inclusion of an ExpressCard slot, which allows for 3G wireless, Firewire, and extra USB ports, meaning you’ll be able to do work you’d otherwise accomplish only at the office. lenovo.com; $499. —Adam Baer
Sony Reader Touch Edition
Sony ups the ante on the Kindle with this six-inch touch screen that reads the most common file formats, lets you turn pages with the swipe of a finger, and can access more than 1 million public titles through Google. It’s ideal for people who want to make e-book reading a tactile experience.
Caveats: The device only stores 350 books (you can purchase separate memory cards to hold more) and doesn’t download from the Web wirelessly—although Sony Reader Daily Edition ($299) does. sonystyle.com; $399. —Adam Baer
Amazon Kindle II
The forerunner in its category, the Kindle has the capacity to store up to 1,500 files, including magazines, newspapers, and audio tracks. The thin and light Kindle performs wireless downloads quickly, surfs the Internet, plays audiobooks, and has an easy-to-read six-inch screen.
Caveat: Sure, the keyboard buttons could be easier to use when typing a search term or a note, but this is a minor complaint given that it’s the only e-reader on our list with a keyboard. amazon.com/kindle; $279. —Adam Baer
This affordable e-reader has a six-inch screen, the same storage capacity as the Sony reader, and a built-in MP3 player for audiobook and podcast fans.
Caveat: The eSlick only reads PDF and text formats (no Sony or Amazon titles), so it’s best for execs who need a dedicated document reader. foxitsoftware.com; $259. —Adam Baer
An option for the less serious e-lit consumer, the Cool-er is fun and affordable, though less fully loaded than our other picks. Like the eSlick, it only reads PDF’s, but does come with an MP3 player. We like its versatility: You can switch from portrait to landscape mode using the directional pad, which is located on one side.
Caveat: The device lacks Wi-Fi and a keyboard, and the screen isn’t as clear as other readers. coolreaders.com; $249. —Adam Baer
MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot
You can work virtually anywhere with this new personal Wi-Fi hot-spot device. Operating like a 3G modem, the tiny black gadget offers you and up to four friends in a 30-foot radius clear wireless Internet access for five hours wherever you can get a signal. verizonwireless.com; $99.99 with a two-year contract plus $39.99 a month for the basic plan. —Adam Baer
Mophie Juice Pack Air
Always leave your iPhone charger at home when you need it most? The Mophie Juice Pack—the world’s thinnest iPhone case—happens to double as an extended battery—with 4 1/2 hours of 3G talk time, 20 hours of audio play time, and six hours of video life. mophie.com; $80. —Adam Baer
Belkin Mini Surge Protector
Here’s the newest solution for setting up a mobile office in a hotel room that has just one available wall outlet. This three-plug surge protector, which could fit in an evening clutch, comes with two USB ports for charging a cell phone or MP3 player. belkin.com; $25. —Adam Baer
Callpod Fueltank Duo
The new half-pound Fueltank Duo has adapters for nearly every cell phone, camera, MP3 player, and GPS navigation system on the market. Even better, it allows you to charge two gadgets at once. callpod.com; $70. —Adam Baer
Super Talent Pico B 16GB
This water-resistant key-chain drive—it’s retractable and smaller than a postage stamp—comes with 16GB of reliable memory, quick download speeds, and a lifetime warranty. supertalent.com; $37.99. —Adam Baer
Bose QuietComfort 15
Previous versions of Bose’s ubiquitous noise-canceling head-phones may have left a lot to be desired, since they failed to cancel out all surrounding noise. But this new, richly balanced set really quiets an airplane’s clamor, thanks to sound-sensing microphones located on both the outside and inside of its ear cups. bose.com; $299.95. —Adam Baer
Iomega eGo Blackbelt 500GB
Wrapped inside a thick black rubber shell, this durable and portable hard drive functions without external power. Its storage capability exceeds that of most laptops (up to 500GB), and if you run out of space, you can get online backup free. go.iomega.com; $129.99. —Adam Baer