Get in gear with the very latest smartphones, laptops, and essential trip accessories.
Credit: KODAK Zx1 Pocket Video Camera

Not so long ago, the only equipment you needed for your big trip was a watch and a camera, and maybe a compass. Today’s equivalent would be a cell phone, a GPS, and a digital camera—only nowadays, all three of these devices can be found in a single, pocket-ready gizmo.

In the last couple years, the choices for all-in-one gadgets have exploded, particularly in the area of smartphones, those keyboard-covered mobiles that are designed to give the iPhone a run for its money (incidentally, Apple is likely to release a new version of its popular handheld in June). In addition to picture-taking and navigation capabilities, smartphones are optimized for e-mail and text messaging, web surfing, updating Facebook and Twitter, watching video, and playing music, among other functions typically found on full-fledged computers. In other words, you may never need to bring another device with you when you travel.

That said, sometimes we need the screen size, speed, and storage space of a full machine, which is why the newest crop of ultra-portable notebooks will delight travelers everywhere. Reduced-size, chic-looking “netbooks” let you do most everything more powerful computers can do, except play hard-core video games or edit movies, at a fraction of the price (we’re not kidding—these contraptions start at $250). If you have deeper pockets, you can choose from any number of ultra-slim, design-conscious PC laptops that will fit into even the most slender of carry-ons (or a manila envelope).

And then there are those unique items—e-readers, innovative USB storage drives, headphones—that do one thing so well, they’re still worth getting on their own.

In order to come up with our picks of the latest and greatest, we took a long, hard look at all the new gadgets in store for 2009. We took them on trips and played with them at home. We used them at the office and took them to the beach. We tried them out at 65 miles per hour in our cars and at 30,000 feet in the air (while sitting in cramped seats). Finally, we were able to narrow down our list based on reliability, portability, ease of use, innovation, and looks. In the end, our picks are simply meant to do one thing: make your next trip easier and more enjoyable.