2011 was a great year for Gadget lovers – the tech industry pushed out new products at an insane pace. As usual, a vast majority of said gadgets were borderline useless, but especially for the traveler, the year proved to be quite rewarding.
Like most years, I went through a huge amount of new gizmos, but some of them really stood their ground – and made it into my bag for more than one trip. Here are the ten products I deemed worthy of claiming they actually changed how I traveled in 2011.
In the early weeks of 2011, I realized this was to be the year I would take better care of myself. As any self respecting nerd would do, I did not start with “diet and exercise”, but went shopping for gadgets that would make the job easier. As the year comes to an end, one product has stuck with me through thick and thin – the Fitbit Ultra (I upgraded from the original Fitbit to the ultra).
This compact clip-on gadget measures your steps, calculates how many calories you burn and can even determine how many floors you climbed in a day. I have a goal of 10,000 steps a day, and rarely let myself end the day without hitting the goal. The $99 investment in the product has definitely paid off, and I can end the year feeling much better than I did going into it. The unit wirelessly sends your steps to its base, and the (mobile) web site lets you track food, exercise and progress.
Product page: www.fitbit.com
Rarely has there been a product that has worked from day one and never let me down. Verizon’s real 4G service launched in 2010, but expanded almost everywhere I went in 2011. LTE is not the same 4G as you’ll find on some other carriers (I’m looking at you T-Mobile with your Faux-G), this is the real thing. Speeds on the road are faster than what I get on my residential 20mbit cable connection. Finally, I can sit in a hotel room and actually get some work done, instead of work on trying to get a reliable connection.
I’m hooked on LTE – I have an LTE phone, LTE hotspot, LTE tablet and backup LTE USB modem. 2012 should bring even more LTE covered cities to Verizon, and AT&T recently started their own (albeit sluggish) rollout of the service. The largest downside – LTE is not even close to being a global standard, and given how pricey international data roaming can be, it is probably for the best.
Price: Hardware:from free, service: from $40/month
Product page: www.verizonwireless.com
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
It took till the middle of the final month of 2011 to get me the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – the best phone ever made (until the next best phone ever made is announced). The Galaxy Nexus is spectacular – speedy, 4G service, gorgeous looks and the newest flavor of Android.
Sadly, as a T-Mobile user (for phone service), the only way to get one is to fork over $700 to a vendor selling the unlocked version and accept the risk of an imported version with no warranty. Alternatively, you can pick one up for Verizon (with LTE) for around $220.
Price: $220 (Verizon on 2 year agreement), $700 (Unlocked GSM/HSDPA)
Product page: www.verizonwireless.com
Life as someone who tries to avoid Apple products was tough earlier this year – the iPad was the killer tablet to get, and Android lovers were stuck with second class options. Then in February, Google and Motorola released the Xoom – the first device outfitted with a tablet version of Android. It is by no means the best looking tablet, and with the arrival of the new Asus Transformer Prime, it isn’t even the fastest. But now I have 4G in it, it does everything I could ever ask for. Best of all, the insane launch price of $899 has come down to a much more reasonable sub $500 mark.
Price: from $499 (Wi-Fi only)
Product page: Motorola.com
For years, Europeans were able to enjoy music service Spotify. Sure, unlike them, we had Google Music, Netflix and Hulu, but the holy grail of streaming music services remained out of our reach until earlier this year.
Spotify is in my opinion as close to perfect as you can get – a massive music selection, mobile apps with offline caching and an easy to use interface. Free versions are relatively limited, but the $9.99/month option gets all you can eat music and mobile listening.
Price: from free
Product page: www.spotify.com
Sony Vaio SE13FX laptop + slice battery
The Sony Vaio SE13FX is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a travel friendly laptop – it is relatively large (15″) and weighs 4.4lbs – but unlike other computers, this powerhouse keeps on running for well over 14 (real) hours.
See, I learned that a laptop is just not always the best solution for using on a plane – and a small laptop is not always suitable for being productive in your hotel room. So, for this, I carry the Vaio. When I fly, I use my tablet, and when I’m at my destination, I use a computer that doesn’t make me cut corners. I never have to worry about battery life when I’m at a trade show or other event, and if I need to do some last minute processor intensive work, I don’t have to find anyone with a “real” computer. The optional slice battery on the Vaio doubles its battery life, and switchable graphics mean I can make it sip power instead of slurp it. Best of all, the Vaio comes with an insanely sharp HD display.
Price: From $999 (custom configuration)
Product page: Sonystyle.com
I hate carrying keys, but after one long summer afternoon waiting outside my house with a dead garage door opener waiting for a locksmith, I decided to never leave my keys at home. Since then, I’ve scratched three different gadgets because of keys in my luggage. Of course, the simple solution would be putting my keys in a pouch, but as a true gadgethound, I prefer to look for the nerdier solution – which lead me to Keyport Slide.
Keyport is a unique gadget designed to hold up to six of your keys. The product can also hold automotive transponders, USB memory drives, a flashlight, or even a bottle opener. Ordering is simple – tell Keyport which blank keys you need, and have your local locksmith cut them. End result is a compact unit which holds all the keys you need. Brilliant.
Price: from $39
Product page: www.mykeyport.com
I am a horrible photographer – the kind that takes 20 photos of each object in the hope that at least one of them turns out alright. Sadly, I’m also a geek, so the more complicated (or the more buttons), the better. In 2011, I threw that lack of logic out the window and settled for a camera that just seems to understand me – the Canon PowerShot S95. I don’t know enough about F-stops or ISO to explain why this camera is so good, all I know is that I can point it at an object, click the shutter, and the photo will look great. Even though the S95 upgraded in 2011 (to the S100), I prefer the reliability of my trusty S95.
Price: $328 (Amazon price)
Product page: Canon.com
Joby Gorillapod Micro 250
One of the smallest products on my list – the Micro 250 is a tiny folding tripod that allows me to place my camera on any flat(ish) object, and take some great photos. Along with the self-timer, it also lets me finally take more photos of myself. When attached to my camera, it still provides access to the battery/card compartment, and infolded, offers a pretty stable platform and ball-joint for getting close to that perfect shot.
Product page: Joby.com
Etymotic Research hf3 headset
My quest for the perfect travel noise isolating headphones came to an end in 2011 when I started using the Etymotic Research hf3 headset. I can go on and on about how well they isolate outside noise, or how awesome they sound, but since music is such a personal thing, all I can say is that these are the best (and only) headphones I’ll carry. They include a three button audio control mic, a variety of earpieces (including some freaky powerful rigid foam isolators) and best of all – in its case, the whole thing weighs just 1.5oz. If there was ever a reason to dump the bland white headphones that came with your iPhone, this is it.
Product page: Etymotic.com