Best Travel Gadgets 2012
T+L took hundreds of products out on the road to determine the best of the bunch: the latest gadgets that promise to change the way we travel.
Pack my tablet or my laptop? It’s a dilemma those who travel lightly have faced—until this year.
The emergence of convertible PC laptops, such as the HP Envy x2, which has a touch screen that attaches and detaches from its keyboard, eliminates the need to choose. It’s one of the winners of the Travel + Leisure Tech Awards, the result of a year’s trials to determine the most useful and innovative travel gadgets.
The laptop-meets-tablet trend kicked off in October 2012 with the touch screen–optimized Windows 8 operating system, the first designed to work on both computers and tablets. But even non-hybrids like the iPad can take on laptop-like functionality thanks to the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which connects seamlessly via Bluetooth and doubles as a screen protector.
On vacation, however, the last thing you may want is a device that reminds you of your office computer. Dedicated tablets will reach $1.2 billion in 2013 sales, according to technology research firm Gartner. A few leisurely ways to use yours: reading a potboiler on the beach, catching up on TV episodes back at the hotel, and posting photos to social media right in the moment.
There are more tablet sizes and features than ever, as evidenced by the Nexus 7, with a seven-inch screen and mobile broadband connectivity. It runs Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android. Google Now automatically informs you of nearby venues, and Google Maps offers unparalleled navigation, even for walking.
Smaller and more prevalent still are smartphones, now with innovations like the iPhone 5’s Passport, which lets you store virtual loyalty cards and electronic boarding passes in one place. With features like HTC One X’s burst mode—taking up to 99 shots in rapid succession—smartphones continue to replace cameras for an increasing number of travelers.
Photo buffs and those setting out on a dream trip will still appreciate the flexibility and nuance of a DSLR camera like the Pentax K-30. It’s waterproof, shockproof, and dust-proof, so don’t think twice about carrying it along on a ski trip, cruise, or safari.
And for the peace of mind that comes with a smooth flight, add one of the latest portable headphones to your travel gadgets wish list. We’ve done the research for you.
Pocket Camera: Samsung MV900F
This pocket-size point-and-shoot has a 3.3-inch touch screen that flips around 180 degrees, making self-portraits and other tough-to-capture images (and high-def videos) a cinch. Upload photos to your phone, computer, online storage service, or Facebook via built-in Wi-Fi. $350; samsung.com.
Over-the-Ear Headphones: Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000
These active noise-canceling headphones inched ahead of the pack for their superb sound quality and ability to block out external noise such as airplane engines, while a convenient detachable cable makes it easy to get up from your seat mid-flight. $300; polkaudio.com.
T+L Tip: This model can’t be recharged; you’ll need two AAA batteries.
Windows Tablet: Microsoft Surface
Those who want a tablet to double as a computer need look no further than the Windows RT–optimized Microsoft Surface, one of the first hybrid tablet-laptops on the market. Even though it’s just 0.4 inches thick, the Surface has a touch-sensitive wide-screen HD display, a physical keyboard, a built-in kickstand, and stereo speakers. Price not available at press time; surface.com.
Portable Charger: Innergie PocketCell
Compact Professional Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Part of the burgeoning category of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC), this 16-megapixel model is about a third smaller than the average digital SLR, yet has all the flexibility and much of the picture-taking power (e.g., a big sensor). We like the Olympus for its fast auto-focusing, numerous scene modes, and an ever-growing collection of add-ons, including wireless adapters for sending images to your phone. $1,000; olympusomd.com.
Portable Mouse: Microsoft Wedge
iPad Accessory: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover
For business travelers who need a physical keyboard to do any serious work, Logitech’s keyboard accessory is user-friendly (pairing with Bluetooth is a cinch), well designed (it doubles as a metallic iPad cover), and responsive (keystrokes appear simultaneously on the screen). $100; logitech.com.
iOS Smartphone: iPhone 5
Rivals may be slimmer and feature bigger screens, but the iPhone still offers the best (and most) apps. Its latest iteration has upped the screen size by half an inch, while the faster network speeds make for quick data uploading. Plus, it’s almost an ounce lighter than the 4S. We like the new Passbook feature, which lets you store your virtual boarding passes and frequent-flier information in one easy-to-access place. $199–$399 with two-year contract; apple.com.
Rugged Camera: Sony TX200V
Most durable cameras look the part—they’re clunky and hard to stuff in your pocket. Sony’s sleek, glass-paneled TX200V changes the game by staying small while still managing to be dustproof, shockproof, and waterproof up to 16 feet. It can capture 18.2-megapixel images and has fast focus for action shots; it also has an HD camcorder and a large viewing screen, so it’s a top-notch point-and-shoot, too. $500; store.sony.com.
Earbuds: Logitech UE 900 Noise Isolating Earphones
They may be a splurge, but these portable earbuds are almost as good at keeping out external noise as bulkier, over-the-ear models. They stand out for their accurate projection of midrange vocals and video dialogue, as well as for their durable, tangle-resistant braided cable and built-in mic for phone calls. $400; logitechue.com.
Android Tablet: Asus Nexus 7
At 8 by 4 inches and just 0.75 pounds, the Asus Nexus 7 is one of the most compact (and affordable) new tablets on the market. A large, 7-inch touch screen lets you comfortably surf the Web, read e-books, and watch movies, while the voice-activated Google Now service allows you to ask for everything from the latest traffic and currency rates to nearby Zagat restaurant picks. $199; asus.com.
E-Reader: Nook Simple Touch with Glow Light
The latest e-reader from Nook topped our list for its negligible weight (less than 7 ounces), compact size (6.5 by 5 inches), and long battery life (a whole month). And, for beach or red-eye reads, the optional backlight ensures minimal eyestrain. $139; barnesandnoble.com.
Portable Speaker: Braven 625S
Powered by wireless Bluetooth technology, Braven’s 625S beat out the competition with its travel-friendly features, including rubberized padding for shock absorption and the ability to charge other devices via USB. Tight bass and a clear midrange make it great for both Facetime calls and impromptu dance parties. $180; braven.com.
Mac Laptop: MacBook Air 11-inch
What’s not to love about a laptop that weighs just 2.38 pounds, is slender enough to fit in your airplane seat pocket, starts up in 15 seconds, and features a spacious, backlit keyboard and improved stereo speakers?
T+L Tip: The price tag beats the cost of many similarly equipped PC’s (unusual for a Mac laptop). $999; apple.com.
Professional Camera: Pentax K-30
If you’re hoping for pro-quality shots on that once-in-a-lifetime African safari, an SLR is still a must. For novices, the K-30 takes stunning, 16-megapixel images right out of the box on Auto mode; expert photographers will love the two e-dials—one on the front for shutter speed, one on the back for aperture. $900; pentaximaging.com.
T+L Tip: This model is water-, dust-, and cold-resistant for shooting in the rain, at the beach, or on the slopes.
iOS Tablet: New iPad
The third-generation iPad still can’t be beat for sheer volume of app options—more than 250,000 and counting. It may be slightly heavier and thicker than its predecessors and the new iPad mini, but we think its crystal-clear 9.7-inch, 3.1 million-pixel Retina display and superfast network speed give it the edge. The 4G LTE capability means everything from surfing the Web to sharing videos is up to 10 times faster than on the iPad 2. $499; apple.com.
Windows Laptop: Acer S7 Ultrabook
To take advantage of Windows 8’s tile-based navigation, this supremely sleek and distinctive Ultrabook has a large, high-def touch screen that can fold out 180 degrees so you can use it like a tablet. Other standout features: two state-of-the-art USB 3.0 ports that allow fast video and picture transfers and iPad charging, a durable, scratch-resistant lid, and—best of all—a 12-hour battery, ideal for long-haul flights. $1,400; acer.com.
Android Smartphone: HTC One X+
Slim and light, but with a large (4.7-inch), super-high-res screen, the latest Android smart phone beat out its rivals thanks to long battery life (more than a day with normal use in our tests) and the best camera experience we’ve ever seen on a smart phone (clear images even in low light, and a burst mode that lets you take up to 99 shots in rapid succession). The fast quad-core processor makes it easier to toggle between programs. $99 with two-year contract; att.com.
High-End Point-and-Shoot Camera: Fujifilm X10
Hybrid Tablet/Notebook: HP Envy X2
Can’t decide whether to bring your tablet or your laptop? No need to choose with the HP Envy X2, which looks like a conventional notebook—until you slide a latch and detach the touch screen. Besides the solid docking feature in “notebook” mode, the HP also stands out for its high-quality speakers, built-in tap-to-transfer capability for smart-phone images, and eight-hour battery life. $850; hp.com.
Cameras: The Nikon Coolpix S01 ($180; nikonusa.com) is smaller than a deck of cards, but packs in seven scene modes and high-definition video. The sturdy Canon PowerShot D20 ($349; usa.canon.com) takes 12.1-megapixel pictures—up to 33 feet underwater.
Smartphone: The Motorola Razr M ($99; razr.com) is slim and narrow, yet it has an enormous 4.3-inch screen, all-day battery life, and international roaming capability. Plus, its 8-megapixel camera takes stellar photos.
E-Reader: Readers with a big virtual bookshelf of Amazon titles will love the Kindle Paperwhite ($120; amazon.com), which has better contrast and resolution than earlier models, a built-in front light, and a two-month battery life.
Portable Speaker: Durable and capable of high volumes, the Jabra Solemate ($200; jabra.com) is a wireless stereo speaker with a rubberized “sole” that grips on to surfaces.
Laptop: Weighing in at less than 3 pounds, the speedy Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook ($999; dell.com) starts up in seconds and fits a whole 13-inch HD display into a body that’s just a little bigger than an 11-inch MacBook Air, its closest competitor.