Coolest Travel Gadgets from CES
Yet some of the most innovative technology no longer fits in a suitcase. Consider the trailblazing Mercedes-Benz F 015 driverless concept car, or the next-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt, which can drive 50 miles before switching its gas engine, and the zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell–based Toyota Mirai, which can drive 300 miles before it needs refueling. The strong presence of such car companies at an electronics show reveals how integral technology has become, with more than $14 billion in revenue for automotive electronics expected in 2015, according to the Consumer Electronics Association’s U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecasts report.
Related: The Best Travel Tech of 2015
Parrot’s RNB6 is one of the first after-market devices that will put Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay into your existing vehicle—making it easy to get the state-of-the-art benefits of your smartphone’s travel apps without having to buy a new car.
Your smartphone can also coordinate with the Bragi Dash wireless earbuds to not only play music but also track your activity. Another great diagnostic use of your smartphone: the app that tells you how much power each of the gadgets charging in your AMPL SmartBag has, so you can redirect your energy resources wisely. Then there’s the Zano, an autonomous drone that will follow you (or, rather, your cell phone) and take pictures and HD video of you and your surroundings.
Related: Best New Travel Gadgets for 2014
As always for travelers, light and slim is preferred, which is why we’re highlighting the .23-inch thin Dell 87840 tablet and its impressive RealSense camera, which lets you focus after you take a shot list. And at 1.72 pounds, the new 13-inch Lenovo LaVie Z550 laptop is more than a full pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air. Just don’t leave it behind—it’s that unnoticeable.
Of the hundreds of products we got our hands on at the show, we’ve narrowed it down to these 20 gadgets for travelers. While most are real-world products coming out in 2015, a few are still concepts and prototypes that will nevertheless show up in some form or another in the coming years—and that suggest how technology will continue to shape our trips in the future.
Dell 87840 Tablet
The iPad may have finally met its match with Dell’s powerful 8.4-inch OLED-screen product—and not just because it’s .1 inch thinner than the iPad Air 2. This tablet offers one-of-a-kind features, namely, a RealSense camera that captures so much information that you can focus on the shot after you take it or run it natively in 3-D (much like the Lytro camera except built into a slim tablet). The in-tablet editing is unparalleled in terms of options and lever-based adjustments like blurring the background of a photo. If you’d rather not schlep a laptop, Dell Cast is an optional dongle that connects your tablet to any monitor wirelessly, then transforms it into an enhanced office-ready interface. $399.
Philips FL3X Wireless Speakers
At first glance, the Philips FL3X speaker is flat—about the size and shape of a cookie, and small enough to fit in your pocket. Connect it to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop via Bluetooth, and blast tunes for up to 12 hours via the USB-rechargeable battery. It’s when you want more bass that the gee-whiz factor comes in: yank on the sides of the speaker, and it expands upward, creating a sound chamber that enhances the bass. The speaker is water-, shock-, and dust-resistant and comes in four cool color combinations. $50; available March 2015.
Seagate Seven Portable Drive
That it looks like an old-school internal hard drive is a nerdy joke. But the world’s thinnest 500GB external hard drive is no laughing matter. It measures 7mm (hence its name) and has capacity for approximately 50 hours of HD video—freeing your laptop, smartphone, tablet, or SD cards from the inevitable too-much-footage syndrome on your next vacation. And if the day comes when you need to make space on this greeting card–size drive, not to worry, thanks to its superfast USB 3.0 transfer capability. $100.
DSLRs are still the equipment of choice for most professional photographers. Too bad they’re usually so big, heavy, and hard to share from. Not so the Nikon D5500, which is not only Wi-Fi-enabled for uploading directly to sites like Instagram, but is also about a third smaller than many DSLRs. It still manages to pack in a 24.2 MP DX-format CMOS sensor and a powerful processor, for those crisp and colorful photos and videos that only a DSLR can produce. The D5500 is also Nikon’s first DSLR with a vari-angle LCD touchscreen, which makes it easier to take shots from weird angles since you don’t have to reach all the way to the shutter button or focus dial. From $1,000 with an AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II lens ($900 without); available February 2015.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H8 Wireless Headphones
The design-forward Danish audiophile brand is releasing its first Bluetooth, active noise-canceling headphones. It’s one of the lightest on the market at just under nine ounces and, as expected, one of the best built, with lambskin earpieces and a durable, bendable leather head band. Before you sigh wearily about the touch controls on the anodized aluminum outer earcups, take note: the on-ear H8 has an ingenious, slightly raised control ring that makes it easy to know what you’re pressing and swiping on when adjusting volume or advancing the music. These are touch controls that are easy to use and actually respond. $499.
Light therapy has long been known to be effective against seasonal affective disorder, insomnia, and jet lag, but most light therapy devices come in the form of desktop lights. Hardly the sort of gadget you’d bring with you on a trip. The Luminette eyewear is portable and comes with its own protective carrying case. And while it has a style problem, you don’t need to wear the Luminette in public for it to be effective. Just 30 minutes in the morning should be enough to get your biological clock updated to a new time zone. The glasses are already available in Europe, with U.S. availability due in 2015. $239.
Equipped with this stylish, water-resistant backpack, you’ll never need to fight for an airport power outlet again: it contains a discreetly hidden charger that connects to up to seven devices simultaneously via USB. In other words, if you plug your device into the wall, you can charge seven at the same time. Away from the wall, however, it’ll charge, say, a smartphone three times before it needs to refilled. You can add more remote charging capability with up to three more modular batteries for tablets ($59, adds about 10 hours to an iPad Air 2) and laptops ($139, adds about 12 hours to a 13-inch laptop). An app shows you what’s charging and lets you reassign available power to the gadgets that need it most; the smartphone connection also means an alarm will go off if you accidentally leave the bag behind—handy on those jet-lagged mornings after a red-eye, when your mind is hazy. $299.
Lenovo LaVie Z550
Those who like to travel with laptops know the joys of the MacBook Air, which is so thin and light, it hardly makes a dent in a carry-on. Let us introduce a laptop that weighs even less, thanks to a lighter-than-aluminum magnesium lithium body. At 1.72 pounds, the Lenovo LaVie Z550 is the lightest 13-inch laptop in the world, and more than a pound lighter than the 2.96-pound 13-inch MacBook Air. And with a cutting-edge, dual-core Broadwell processor, the LaVie Z is fast and efficient, which should lead to a long battery life (though we didn’t have a chance to test that yet). $1,300.
Outdoor Tech Buckshot Pro
Multifunction devices can be gimmicky, but the 3-in-1 functionality of the Buckshot Pro truly helps travelers lighten their load. As a portable speaker, it plays tunes wirelessly from any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer. Meanwhile, the top section serves as a flashlight with three settings (torch, lamp, and strobe), making it equally useful for increasing visibility at a campsite and reading discreetly while your partner sleeps. Snapping off the light reveals a USB port, into which you can plug and recharge your smartphone since the Buckshot Pro is also a portable battery. Why not use all three functions at once by attaching the Buckshot Pro to your bike’s handlebar: use it as a bike light, a power source for your phone, and a speakerphone with a mic, so you can take and make phone calls all day (or night) long. $80.
Getting clear, non-grainy video in low light on your smartphone is one of the biggest challenges for mobile videographers, which is why you rarely see vacation movies shot over candlelit dinners in romantic European restaurants. The flash is no help either; it won’t stay on over time, and it isn’t bright. Enter the Lume Cube, which, at 1,500 lumens, is the brightest external flash and video light for Android phones, iPhones, or GoPro cameras. (In comparison, the iPhone’s flash is 15 lumens, while competing devices such as the Knog are 120 to 400 lumens.) It connects to and is controlled via your smartphone, so you can set its brightness and length of flash time—up to 20 minutes at a time before it gets too hot. Just fasten the magnetic Lume Cube onto the back of your phone or elsewhere (via the included suction cup), or via traditional GoPro and other mounts. Need more light? The app can control up to five cubes at once. $60.
On-ear and over-the-ear headphones have passed the wireless barrier, but so far earbuds have required a pesky cable that usually lies on the back of your neck. That is, until now. The Dash is a pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds that don’t have wires. And yet, these earbuds sound great and provide natural, passive noise isolation that can be shut off with a swipe of your hand and a built-in mic that transmits via bone induction (and, as such, doesn’t pick up outside noise). While it connects to your phone via Bluetooth, the Dash holds up to 1,000 songs in its onboard memory, in case you want to jog light. Along the way, Dash can track your heart rate, calories, oxygen saturation, and other body vitals thanks to a coterie of built-in sensors. $300.
ZTE Spro 2
Keeping up with your favorite shows and watching them in big-screen splendor has never been easier with this portable, sandwich-size HD projector that doubles as a wireless 4G LTE mobile broadband hotspot. In other words, you can not only project your favorite pictures or 1080p HD video content on the wall of a vacation villa, but you can do it from an inserted SD card, your own smartphone, tablet, or laptop (via Bluetooth), or directly stream it from Google Play—all while getting up to eight devices online via Wi-Fi. This year’s update to 2014’s Spro adds longer battery life (about three hours), an easier-to-use, modified Android interface, and availability with AT&T and other carriers besides Sprint. The price hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to be in the range of the original Spro ($400).
Satechi BT Button Series
That smile in a self-portrait is usually past its prime by the time a smartphone timer finally snaps the picture. It’s much easier to use a remote, which Satechi’s BT Selfie button makes easy. Just pair it with your smartphone via Bluetooth, and press it any time you want to snap a picture—especially helpful when you’re in a hard-to-access place or position. The BT Button series also offers buttons for controlling your music remotely and for instantly accessing Siri, Google Now, or other personal digital assistants to look up information, make phone calls, or get directions. $25–$30.
Volvo/POC Lifesaving Bicycle Helmet Concept
The next generation of collision alerts will add to current sensor-based systems and expand to include bicycles—making the roads safer for all. At CES, Volvo, Ericsson, and POC demonstrated a smart bike helmet that will connect to a smartphone, share location data to the cloud via fitness apps like Strava, then warn drivers and bikers (via the helmet’s built-in heads-up display) about an impending collision. This is a prototype, but with Volvo’s Vision 2020 pledge to have zero fatalities in its cars by 2020, it’s likely to be implemented before then in some shape or form.
From Bermuda to Paris to Shanghai, this high-grade aluminum electric scooter is unique in that it runs on swappable batteries that are picked up at kiosks across town. The idea is you subscribe to the battery service (a.k.a. the Gogoro Energy Network) and swap whenever you need a filled-up battery; no need to wait for hours while a vehicle charges from a wall outlet. The Gogoro also syncs up to a beautiful smartphone app whose infographics highlight engine diagnostics and power consumption. Oh, and did we mention it goes 0–31mph in 4.2 seconds? Coming to a city near you in 2015, though which city hasn’t been announced yet. $TBD.
No need to worry about lack of cell phone service or roaming fees—at least if the people you need to communicate with are the others in your travel party. The goTenna system lets you text with others who have a goTenna installed and are within a few miles. It’s a clever solution for hiking or sailing parties outside of cell phone range, as well as international travelers who want to stay in touch with a group while, say, exploring a museum, market, or other crowded spot. $150 for two.
Most automakers plan to install Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in their cars in the coming year. These dashboard infotainment systems integrate seamlessly with your smartphone, letting you access driver-friendly versions of your favorite Android and iOS apps, from Siri and Google Now to text messaging and, of course, phone calls. Parrot’s RNB6 lets you bring the service into your existing car, integrating directly with the car thanks to an installable, in-dash touchscreen. $TBD.
Nerdy by nature, smartwatches are conspicuous in some locales. Discreet travelers who want the benefits of an intelligent timepiece will appreciate Guess Connect, Guess’s first foray into the wearables space, in collaboration with Martian Watches. Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth, the watch has a small strip for LED text on an otherwise standard physical watch face. This is where you’ll get text messages and weather updates, as well as the ability to use Siri or Google Now or respond to text messages with your voice. You can also make and receive phone calls, and customize vibrations for different kinds of notifications. $TBD.
Sony NW ZX-2 Walkman
The age of MP3s and iTunes may have brought better portability to travelers, but sound quality has suffered. So the sudden flurry of activity around high-res audio, which truly replicates CD- and master-tape sound, comes as welcome news to frequent fliers who are also audiophiles. Though not as tiny as, say, the iPod nano, Sony’s high-def Walkman is compact enough for your pocket. With built-in Wi-Fi and capacity for 2,000 tunes, the Android-based device plays high-res files from services like iTrax, Tidal, HDtracks, and Pono, which restore the detailed, colorful, balanced, and expansive sound we’ve been missing for a few years. $1,120.
Lost luggage may soon become a thing of the past, along with having to reorganize your suitcase when it’s overweight. A new generation of smart luggage and accessories on display or announced at CES will be able to track themselves. Trunkster is a roller suitcase with a garage-door-like opening instead of a zipper. It also has a built-in charger, so you can keep your phone fresh while waiting for a connection, plus GPS to track your bag’s location. And it can weigh itself with a built-in scale. With the exception of the zipperless opening, the Delsey Pluggage prototype has all of the above as well as an interior lighting system, a fingerprint ID lock, and a speaker so you can play your tunes from your iPhone wirelessly (eliminating the need for a portable speaker). You can make existing luggage smarter, too. The eGeeTouch Smart Luggage Lock is a near-field communication–enabled lock that opens when you come close to it with your phone (which needs to have NFC).