Should Travel Reviewers Be Anonymous?

male eating in restaurant
Alamy

Yesterday New York Times reporter Pete Wells published a review of the Manhattan French restaurant Daniel, removing one of its four stars in part because of the unequal treatment he received as a recognized journalist. He and a lesser-known colleague ordered the same meal, but had totally different experiences, with Wells receiving additional items, extra wine pours, and more doting service. While the other reporter still felt well taken care of, Wells wondered if “regular” guests could benefit as much from a little coddling as the critics.

Slate’s “Brow Beat” culture blog compared Wells’ experience to former Times critic Ruth Reichl, who once visited Le Cirque both as her famous self and in disguise. She surmised that the “favored patron” treatment was actually part of the draw of the restaurant: the hope that one could be given the VIP service. The blog suggests reviewers dispense with the pretense of being anonymous reviewers and go public, perhaps balancing reviews with intel from the non-famous.In the travel media world, the problem of anonymity and freebies has long been an ethical debate. “Conde Nast Traveler” magazine adheres to a “truth in travel” policy, stipulating that its writers never accept freebies and travel unannounced to try to ensure honest and equal opinions. Some guidebooks such as Fodor’s allow some comps for reviewers, but insist they will not guarantee a good review or even inclusion in a guide. Writer Chuck Thompson exposed some of the industry secrets in his book “Smile While You’re Lying,” noting that much mainstream travel writing is just PR copy, and how many reviews are simply tit for tat.

In the age of tweeting, checking in, and Instagramming our meals and trips, is anonymity even possible? More importantly, do we care? While a famous reviewer might have a richer experience than your average Joe, he can also get deeper access and a wider variety of offerings, combined with a professional’s expertise. Do you want to read a hotel review from a guy on his first trip to London, or someone who has stayed in dozens? Perhaps user-generated content such as Trip Advisor and Yelp can balance the VIP reviews, and give us a broader spectrum.

Do you care about anonymous reviews? Can freebies stay free from bias?

Gadling Gear Review: Two Camera Bags From Lowepro

Lowepro Transit Backpack camera bag
Lowepro

When you invest a considerable amount of money into a good camera and a set of lenses for travel, it is important to also spend a little extra cash to get a quality camera bag as well. A good bag is not only comfortable to wear but also provides plenty of protection from accidental damage while also managing to keep all of your gear well organized and easy to access. That can play a big difference in whether or not you get the chance to capture that perfect shot or miss it altogether.

Lowepro is a company that has been designing excellent camera bags for travel and outdoor activities for years. Their bags are popular amongst professional photographers and amateurs alike because they always offer great quality and incorporate certain elements that indicate the designers know their customers’ needs very well. Here are two new bags from Lowepro that are sure to be popular options with active travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Transit Backpack 350 AW ($119.99)
Photographers in the market for a versatile camera bag with plenty of room for all of their equipment need look no further than the new Transit Backpack. The bag features plenty of pockets, interior compartment space and mesh organizers to hold camera bodies, multiple lenses, memory cards and a variety of other gear. A small tripod can even be lashed to the side of the pack thanks to built-in straps designed for that very purpose. On top of that, the pack has a sleek, attractive design that not only looks good, but also puts everything you need right at your fingertips.As with most of Lowepro’s bags, the Transit features the company’s UltraFit system, which makes the interior highly customizable. Through the use of removable panels – not to mention plenty of Velcro – it is possible to configure the interior in numerous ways. This comes in handy when you’re carrying an extra longer lens for example and you need to change the configuration to accommodate that particular piece of gear. It also means that no matter which type of camera and lenses you carry, the bag can be adapted to fit your needs. This option gives the Transit a bit of future-proofing since you can modify it to fit your gear even as it evolves over time.

Despite the fact that the Transit is designed to carry a lot of heavy equipment it also extremely comfortable to wear, even when fully loaded. Lowepro has used thick, well-padded straps on this backpack and it certainly helps lessen the stress of lugging all of that gear around all day. They’ve even cleverly integrated a side access panel that allows you to easily get to the interior of the pack without having to take it off. That makes it a breeze to either quickly grab or stow your camera while on the go.

Other nice touches on this pack include a laptop sleeve large enough to hold a 15-inch computer and a built-in weather cover that can protect the bag, and its precious contents, from the elements. An interior pocket comes equipped with a handy key clip and is the perfect size for carrying a smartphone or a few accessories as well.

The Transit Backpack is a bit bulky (it tips the scales at 2.4 pounds) but that is mostly due to the thick, high quality padding used in its construction. Still, if you’re in the market for something a little more compact, you may want to check out Lowepro’s Transit Sling, which offers a similar design in a smaller package.

With a price tag of $119.99, the Transit Backpack is an excellent deal for travelers looking to carry all of their camera gear in a safe, organized and stylish manner. Whether you’re shooting photos around town or heading to the far side of the globe, this bag will make an excellent travel companion for many years to come.

Lowepro Dryzone Duffel camera bag
Lowepro

DryZone DF 20 L ($149.99)
While the Transit Backpack is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of photographers, Lowepro’s other new bag is much more focused on a specific market. The new DryZone DF 20 duffel is aimed squarely at photographers who spend a lot of time in and around water. The bag is perfect for the outdoor action photographer for instance, or for those who find themselves in a kayak or on a scuba boat on a regular basis. While that may seem like a small segment of the overall market, it is a group of photographers who demand an extra level of protection for their gear and have their own specific needs that aren’t generally met in most standard camera bags.

Since this duffel has a special focus on keeping moisture out, it has been built with an exterior shell that incorporates the latest lightweight and technical waterproof fabrics. It also features a roll top enclosure that provides easy access to the interior of the bag but then seals up tight when it’s ready to take on the elements. As a result, the DryZone carries an IPX-6 waterproof rating, which means it should keep out most rain and heavy splashes, but is not capable of protecting its contents if it gets fully submerged.

Inside the waterproof shell is a second bag that is built to carry camera gear. It has a fully customizable interior that can be adjusted to fit the needs of what ever equipment you happen to be carrying at any given time. This extra pack is actually convenient for moving all of your gear from one carrying case to another in a quick and easy fashion, making it possible to go from your luggage directly into the waterproof bag for instance. This secondary bag works in conjunction with the outer shell and provides yet another level of protection for our expensive gear.

I like the “grab and go” feel of this duffel, although since it is so squarely aimed at a specific market it obviously isn’t built for the average traveler. This isn’t the kind of bag you just throw over your shoulder and hit the road as it was never built with that purpose in mind. But if you do happen to fall into the niche that Lowepro is aiming at with the DryZone, you’re likely to be very happy. This duffel provides plenty of protection from water while also allowing you to easily carry your equipment with you on your next aquatic outing. My only complaint about the bag is that it has a single exterior pocket that could be very useful, except it is so small that you can’t put much of anything in it at all. I’d like to see that pocket expanded for more capacity in future iterations of the DryZone in order to give it a bit more usefulness.

The Dryzone carries a price tag of $149.99, which may seem a bit high at first glance. After all, this is a bag that has a very specific focus and it won’t be all that useful when you’re carrying your camera gear around in an urban environment or on a trail. But if you do need a camera bag for use around the water, you won’t be disappointed here. Lowepro has designed a product that will keep your camera and lenses dry and give you a level of versatility that isn’t found in similar products from the competition. Besides, if you’re going to be using your expensive photography equipment around the water, $150 is a small price to pay to ensure that it stays safe.

Campers Could Soon Charge Cell Phones With Pee

Stuck in the woods with no way to charge your cell phone? Soon, you might be able to solve the quandary with your own urine. Researchers in the United Kingdom have figured out how to use waste-eating bacteria to produce enough electricity to send a few text messages and make a call, with the output steadily improving.

Here’s what Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos of the University of the West of England, part of the team who worked on the project, explained to the Independent:

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy. One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine.”

As of right now, the urine-to-electricity device is about the size of a car battery, but it’s expected to get smaller and more portable. Besides charging mobile phones, they could also be installed in bathrooms, allowing us to harness our urine power day and night year-round. In a few years, it might be normal to see pee-powered charging stations at National Parks — or, visitors could just plug in at a luxury hotel nearby.

Gadling Gear Review: Samsung WB250F Smart Camera

Samsung WB250F Smart Camera
Samsung

Over the past couple of years, smartphones have managed to supplant dedicated cameras for many aspiring photographers thanks to their ability to take good, clean images and quickly share them across a variety of social media outlets. While they don’t come equipped with true zoom lenses or overly large sensors, in many cases they capture images that are good enough to meet most people’s needs and as a result, camera sales have suffered. But Samsung is a company that knows a thing or two about smartphones and cameras, and they’ve leveraged that expertise to create devices that can serve a wide variety of consumers. Nowhere is that more evident than in their new WB250F Smart Camera, which offers all of the features you’d expect out of a dedicated point-and-shoot, plus a host of features that you’ve come to love on your smartphone.

In terms of features and specs, the WB250F comes with everything you would expect out of a modern digital camera. It features a 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, an excellent 18x zoom lens and a high quality touchscreen that is crisp, clear and responsive. It is capable of capturing video in full 1080p HD and has a convenient pop-up flash that is surprisingly bright and powerful. Perhaps more importantly, however, the Smart Camera includes built-in Wi-Fi, which greatly extends its functionality when connected to wireless network or tethered to a smartphone, tablet or other device.On their own, those hardware features aren’t all that much to brag about these days. Other cameras have bigger lenses, higher megapixel counts and come with wireless capabilities as well. But what sets the WB250F apart from the crowd is its simple to use interface and sharing capabilities that are on par with what you find on the latest smartphones. In fact, when connected to a Wi-Fi network, the camera is capable of posting photos directly to Facebook or sending them to friends via email, which is kind of fun but is also a little clunky. Fortunately, Samsung has given WB250F users a companion app for their smartphones that allows the camera to instantly send photos directly to the device. I found this to be a much better method for actually sharing the images, as you can not only upload the photo to Facebook, Twitter or email, but also easily type out a message as well. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, also allows you to use your phone as a remote screen, snapping photos on the camera completely hands-free and from a distance. This was an incredibly fun feature that also has the capability of using your phone’s GPS chip to geotag any images shot.

In terms of photo quality, I feel the camera performs very well, particularly for its price point. Images come out clear and vibrant with good color saturation. The camera even performs well in low-light conditions, which is not something you can say about a lot of point-and-shoot models. The 14.2-megapixel sensor has a lot to do with that, especially since it is a backside illuminated chip that is specifically designed to capture decent images even in less than ideal lighting conditions.

Samsung WB250F Smart CameraLightweight and compact, the camera feels solid and very comfortable in your hands. Button placement was easy to adjust to and the touch screen interface is very intuitive and easy to understand. Within minutes of turning the camera on I found myself snapping photos and sharing them through email, as well as with an iPhone via the app. In fact, the only hiccup I came across was figuring out how to put the device into Wi-Fi mode, which is inexplicably done by turning the mode dial. Considering how much the camera can actually do, it was incredibly easy to learn.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for many point-and-shoot cameras is battery life, particularly if they also have Wi-Fi capabilities. Samsung says that the Smart Camera is capable of capturing as many as 300 photos between charges, which is solid performance in most cases. But put to the test in the real world I found I had a hard time hitting that number. The use of Wi-Fi for sharing the images can have an impact on the battery life, which likely skewed my results. For day-to-day use the battery is more than adequate; although, you may want to pick up a second battery when traveling.

Samsung

As someone who owns numerous digital cameras I can honestly say that I was very impressed with the overall performance of Samsung’s WB250F. Not only is it fast and responsive, but even its more advanced features are easy to learn and use effectively. More than that, the Smart Camera is simply fun to play with, especially when paired with another device. I recently took my test unit with me on a trip to Australia and ran the companion app on a fifth generation iPod Touch. The two devices worked well with one another and it was fun to snap a photo and have it appear almost instantly on my iPod. Using the mp3 player as a remote control, complete with a large view screen, was a nice touch too.

Perhaps the best feature on the Smart Camera is its price. Samsung sells this impressive piece of technology for just $250, which seems like a bargain considering all of the things it is capable of. With its excellent image quality, big zoom lens and wireless sharing functionality, this just might be the camera that will get you to switch back from your smartphone. And when used in conjunction with that smartphone, it opens up even more possibilities.

British Airways Tests Electronic Luggage Tags

British Airways electronic luggage tag
Courtesy Designworks

It’s 2013: we can carry hundreds of books on a pocket-sized device, video chat anywhere in the world and order nearly anything to be delivered to our door. So why do we still use paper luggage tags and rely on outmoded technology to track our missing bags? British Airways has teamed up with Designworks to test an electronic luggage tag this month that could eliminate disposable paper tags and allow smartphone users to track their bags. The reusable bag tag would automatically update after check-in with your flight information, saving time to print and attach new tags with every flight. Now if only they could prevent bags from being lost at London’s infamous black hole Heathrow Airport.