Gadling Gear Review: Smartphone Accessories

Smartphone Accessories: PowerTrip mobile charger
PowerStick

As smartphones have become more commonplace, an entire industry has sprung up around mobile accessories that have the ability to make our gadgets even more useful than they already are. Many of those accessories have been specifically designed to make travel more convenient as well. Here are a few items that may come in handy the next time you hit the road with your favorite smart device.

PowerTrip Mobile Charger ($99)
One of the biggest challenges of owning a smartphone is managing to keep it charged and fully operational for a full day. Answering emails, taking calls, sending text messages and surfing the Internet all require significant amounts of juice out of our phone’s power cells and as a result, more and more of us are carrying external battery packs to help keep them charged while on the go. Small, compact and lightweight battery packs are extremely affordable and portable these days. The problem is that most of them have a hard time standing out against the competition, as they all share similar characteristics and functionality. But the PowerTrip portable charger from PowerStick has several unique features that help to distinguish it from the crowd and make it a wise choice for travelers.In a sense, the PowerTrip is the Swiss Army Knife of portable battery packs. Sure, it is a little larger and thicker than some of the other options that are available from competitors but it also manages to pack quite a bit of technology into a relatively small space. Not only does this charger come with a built-in, collapsible AC power plug, it also has a small solar panel integrated into its case. While the AC adapter allows you to grab a quick charge from any available outlet, the solar panel is capable of generating energy from the rays of the sun. Both options come in handy when trying to keep your phone charged, although I found using the solar panel took a considerable amount of time and was often an exercise in patience. Like most battery packs of this type, the PowerTrip can also be charged via the USB port on your computer too. This level of versatility is really appreciated.

PowerStick has outfitted their mobile charger with a 6000 mAh battery, which is enough to recharge most smartphones roughly three times. The built-in USB port is capable of putting out up to 1.5 volts of power, which means it can even provide power to high-capacity devices such as the iPhone 5 or a fifth generation iPod Touch. It’ll even provide a little extra juice to an iPad, although it can’t fully charge a tablet.

Sturdy and rugged, the PowerTrip feels like it was designed to withstand the abuse that comes along with travel. This is the kind of gadget that you can toss in a backpack and not worry about whether or not it is going to arrive at your destination in one piece. PowerStick has even integrated flash storage into the device, offering the PowerTrip in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB versions. That means you can transfer your important documents to this on board memory and have them with you wherever you go.

If you’re looking for a tough, dependable portable battery for charging your smartphone, digital camera or other devices while traveling, the PowerTrip is an excellent option. While it is a bit bulkier than some of its competition, the built-in storage and AC power plug are nice additions. The solar panel is great in theory too, but it is slow to charge the internal battery, which makes it less useful than I would like. Otherwise, this is one of more versatile and well-equipped mobile battery packs that I’ve come across.

Smartphone accessories: The Spark Plug 2 car adapter
Blueflame

Blueflame Spark Plug 2 Car Charger ($39.99)
While a good portable battery pack can be a lifesaver when away from a power outlet, there is no need to use one while in your car. Instead, invest in a good car charger and keep your phone’s battery fully energized at all times. A car charger will allow you to use your phone’s GPS navigation without running your battery down. It’ll let you talk hands free for your entire road trip without having to hang up at the most inopportune time. It’ll even let you stream Pandora for hours on end and still be able to use your phone when you reach your destination. But like most things in life, not all car chargers are created equal and having the right one can make all the difference.

The Spark Plug 2 from Blueflame is quite possibly the best car charger that I’ve ever used. It features not one, but two, built-in USB ports so you can keep two devices charged at the same time. It has a compact design that makes it easy to fit into just about any 12V DC car adapter and it features excellent build quality that feels excellent in your hands. This charger is capable of putting out 2.1 amps per port, which means that even when you’re using your mobile devices to the full extent of their capabilities, you’ll still be able to keep them fully charged for the length of your trip. That includes smartphones, mp3 players and even tablets such as the iPad. That’s pretty impressive considering that in the past I’ve used some chargers that can barely keep my phone charged while using maps and GPS at the same time.

The Spark Plug 2 ships with a high-quality, 30-pin cable, which works on all Apple devices prior to the iPhone 5. If you’re using an iPhone, iPod or iPad newer than that, or a gadget from another company, you’ll need to supply your own Lightning adapter or standard USB cable. That adds a bit of an expense to a product that is already on the higher end of the car charger scale, but you do get an extremely high-quality product that does its job very well. This is the only car charger you’ll ever need and you’ll be glad you have it in your vehicle the next time your phone begins to die in the middle of the day.

Smartphone accessories: Lightning cable from Blueflame
Blueflame

Blueflame Lightning Cable ($29.99)
When Apple released the iPhone 5 last year they also introduced the new Lightning charging and sync cable. This smaller, 8-pin option allowed them to produce a device that was substantially thinner than any phone they had ever produced before. The same adapter was rolled over to the iPod Touch and the standard iPad, not to mention the Mini. At the time there was a lot of grumbling about why Apple would make this change, which rendered most older accessories incompatible with the new devices. Upon release, the new cable was hard to find and it was questionable whether or not third parties would actually be able to produce them. Turns out they can and Blueflame has made an excellent version of that very same cable.

This two-meter long cord provides plenty of length to connect your device to a USB port, no matter where it’s located. The high-quality, tangle-free cable is surprisingly thick and resistant to wear and tear as well, while both the USB and Lightning plugs are extremely durable and easy to insert or pull out of their respective ports. In short, this is a very nice cable that will likely leave you impressed with how well designed and built it is. Cheap cords can easily fray and become unusable, but Blueflame has created a product that feels like it will last longer than the device you’re actually plugging it into. That means you can take it with you on the road with a feeling of confidence that it’ll perform well when you need it most.

Apple charges $19 for a replacement Lightning cable in their stores but for ten bucks more you’re not only getting a cable that is twice as long, but also one of considerably higher quality. I’ve seldom been impressed by a mere cable before, but in this case I am most certainly impressed. This product is worth the praise and Blueflame has put together a very nice Lightning adapter that is well worth the money. They also happen to make a very high-quality, 30-pin cable for older Apple devices as well as an auxiliary audio connector and an auxiliary to RCA audio cable too. Each of them are of the same high quality as the Lightning cable and a good investment for audiophiles.

Visiting A Working Silver Mine In Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi silver mine
Laurel Miller, Gadling

Bolivia has a turbulent, often tragic history. Rich in natural resources, the country was plundered by the Spaniards for silver and gold in the 15th century, exploiting the indigenous Quechua and Aymara peoples in the process. Yet, Bolivia has managed to retain a strong indigenous cultural presence; something that can be seen and felt throughout the country.

Despite its abundance of precious metals and other minerals, however, Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America. The remote, southwestern department of Potosi is among Bolivia’s most poverty-stricken. The high-altitude city of the same name (elevation 13,420 feet) was founded by the Spanish in 1545, and ironically remains a rich source of silver, lead, copper and zinc. Recently, large reserves of lithium have also been discovered in the region.

Although poor, Potosi has remained a stunning colonial jewel, and intrepid tourists come to admire its lovely buildings and narrow, cobbled streets.The ornate colonial buildings are painted in faded pastels. There’s a bustling mercado, and a handful of restaurants and shops showcasing local handicrafts (silver jewelry, mostly) form the basis of the centro. It’s an exceedingly pleasant place to while away a day or two.

Potosi is also a magnet for adventure travelers, who come to tour the working silver mines of Cerro Rico (“rich hill”). A massive, barren red hump of a mountain looming over the town, Cerro Rico is the main mining center, containing roughly 650 entrances to the various cooperative mines. The co-ops provide little benefit to the miners, even in the case of accidental death or work-related disease. The average lifespan for a miner is 10-15 years; most die from silicosis pneumonia. Cerro Rico is also in a slow state of collapse, due to overmining. Despite the risks, it’s believed that half of Potosi’s population of over 2,600 (mostly Quechua) work in the mining industry. The miners may not be getting rich, but let’s just say I saw a lot of spanking new Hummers rolling around those cobbled streets.

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candelaria mine exterior
Laurel Miller, Gadling

Working mine tours are one of the most controversial forms of tourism. Some might consider them exploitative. Others might be tempted to call them educational. While conducting research prior to my trip, I remained conflicted as to how I felt about them. Is descending two miles below the earth in order to see firsthand the abysmal conditions workers – many of them as young as 13 – must endure for up to 10 hours a day voyeurism of the worst kind? I believe so.

Yet, I also see the value in showing visitors (who, let’s face it, are usually from industrialized nations) the dirt behind their pretty silver baubles. We all use products containing the precious metals mined from places like Cerro Rico, but I find that irrelevant. Rather, I feel it’s important for travelers to see how others live, even if that exposure makes us uncomfortable, guilty or depressed.

The deciding factor for me came when I read about the better tour companies in town. It wasn’t just about finding one with a good safety record. I also wanted it to employ former miners, ban the use of explosives for show (some companies let tourists detonate dynamite, which is potentially deadly for visitors and miners alike), and to donate part of their proceeds to mining families. The latter is used for fresh food, which, I later learned, is the most critical need, above even medical care.

If you look in guidebooks or online forums, you’ll see that mine tours are no joke. They’re inherently dangerous, and among the risks are cave-ins, toxic gases, explosions, falling rocks and runaway carts. If you suffer from claustrophobia, asthma, or other respiratory problems, you’ll likely want to give them a miss.

view of potosi from cerro rico
Laurel Miller, Gadling

A reputable company will require you to more or less sign your life away on a waiver. They should also provide good-quality protective gear, including rubber boots, coveralls, a helmet, and a headlamp. Mine tours are not, to quote Koala’s website, “FOR WIMPS OR WOOSIES.” You should also bring a bandanna or surgical mask to protect your lungs from silica, arsenic and asbestos dust. Don’t worry about carbon monoxide poisoning– acetylene lamps are now used to detect deadly pockets of the gas. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

I ended up choosing Koala Tours, a small company based in Potosi. They also run an excellent hostel, the Koala Den, which is where the tours depart. I arrived at 5 a.m., not-so-fresh off an overnight bus ride from La Paz. The hostel allowed me to check my backpack for free during the tour, and afterward, I paid roughly $1.25 for a shower. They also booked, free of charge, my afternoon bus to Tupiza (due to time constraints, I literally had to do the tour and hit the road).

woman weaving palm fronds
Laurel Miller, Gadling

Our group of four met with our guide, a sweet, 30-year-old ex-miner named Melvin, who took us to Koala’s warehouse, where we were outfitted with gear. Then we headed by van up the road to a neighborhood mercado, where we bought coca leaf for the miners (all of whom are men; it’s considered bad luck for women to work inside the mines, although some do work in the industry).

We then stopped at a miner’s supply to pick up alcohol (more on that in a moment), water, cigarettes and dynamite. Although supplying miners with cancer sticks, deadly explosives, and 96% ethyl alcohol seems contrary to the idea of supporting them, the reality is that they rely on these items. Their wages don’t allow for much in the way of incidentals, so bringing them work supplies and “refreshments” to help them through their shifts in stifling heat isn’t just thoughtful, but more or less mandatory. No one will force you to purchase these items, but put it this way: it’s the right thing to do.

the author in mining gear
Laurel Miller, Gadling

The alcohol (brand name: Ceibo) is used as part of a daily ritual performed by the miners before they begin each shift. Every mine has a shrine, with effigies of the Virgin Mary and a “Tio,” or uncle. Tio is actually a representation of the devil (one with a very oversized phallus, I might add). The belief is that because the steaming bowels of the earth offer such riches, it must be he who owns them, rather than Pachamama (“Mother Earth”), or a Christian god from the heavens.

Every day, the miners perform a cha’lla, or offering, to the effigies. Tio is blessed by a capful of alcohol poured at his feet, and then a capful is consumed by the miner (since I like to think I’m a team player, I let Melvin convince me to try a shot, which unsurprisingly, damn near ate a hole in my esophagus). Tio is also proffered coca leaves and cigarettes, and then it’s time for work.

Before heading to the mine, we stopped at an ingenio, or smelter, so we could have a better understanding of how the rocks hacked from the mines are turned into semi-precious metals. We watched Melvin work his way through the machinery, and departed with glittering stripes of liquid silver on the backs of our hands.

Arriving at the 500-year-old Candelaria mine was almost anti-climatic. It was hard to believe that this splintered wooden-framed entrance hidden behind a few desolate, decrepit buildings, is one of Bolivia’s most prolific and historic silver mines.

coca leaves
Laurel Miller, Gadling

After a safety talk, we walked into the mine. Within minutes, the air turned humid and stuffy, and we were wading through puddles of water, and mud. Not far from the entrance was a small, makeshift shrine beneath a propped-up beam – the site of a fatal cave-in. Soon after, we ran into Carlos, one of many multi-generational miners working in Candelaria. He was awaiting the arrival of his father and brother so they could start excavating. Carlos had a wad of coca leaves the size of a tennis ball stuffed in his cheek, but managed to mumble answers to our questions via Melvin. Now in his early 20s, he’d been working in the mines since he was little more than a boy.

As we ascended deeper into the mine, the temperature soared, and the water grew deeper in places, sometimes reaching our knees. Our coveralls acted as private saunas; sweat dripped into my bandana. Periodically, Melvin would stop to point out some feature – a vein of silver running along a damp wall; 700-pound trolleys filled with rocks that would be pushed out of the mine; bulging shoulder bags full of raw metal and weighing up to 80 pounds, worn by the miners as they got off shift. Discarded plastic water and alcohol bottles littered the floors of the tunnels we explored; Melvin picked them up and tucked them into his shoulder bag for disposal, and we followed suit.

There were many disturbing images I saw in the depths of Candelaria – one of the most memorable was watching three 16-year olds taking a cigarette break in temperatures so hot it seared our lungs. But it was seeing Melvin’s face as he talked about what it’s like to work in the mines that will forever stay with me.

At times, his eyes would almost brim with tears while he explained something. I asked him why he stopped mining, curious about his response. He told me it was because he knew he would have a very short life if he didn’t. He began leading tours because he believes it’s important for visitors to know the working conditions miners labor in. He also wants to give back to the mining community (via the financial proceeds donated by Koala Tours).

Laurel Miller, Gadling

purchasing dynamite in the miner's storeThis led me to my most burning question: “Do the miners resent us for being here, especially while they’re working?” I’ll never know if Melvin’s response was sincere, but I’d like to take him at his word. “No, they are grateful, because the tourists bring them supplies. It helps them, and they understand that we are trying to educate people.”

Regardless of whether or not Melvin was speaking the truth, all of the miners we encountered were cordial. And I came away with more questions. Should I stop wearing silver? Or was boycotting it only hurting the livelihood of the miners? As a journalist, was it wrong of me to write about the tour, or was I performing a valuable service to the men and boys laboring beneath Cerro Rico’s barren soil?

As with many things related to tourism, there are no good answers. I’m grateful I made the trek to Potosi to tour Candelaria. It allowed me to see that behind the danger and desolation, there’s also a strange sort of pride in being part of Potosi’s mining heritage. It may not make up for the working conditions and other injustices faced by the miners and their families, but it made me understand that for many indigenous Bolivians, this is part of their story.

Aspen’s Rio Grande Bike Trail: Burgers, Bourbon And Basalt

biking a bridge on rio grande trail
Courtesy of Jeremy Swanson

I can probably be kicked out of Colorado for admitting this, but I’m just not that into bikes. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been lugging my vintage, fixed-gear cruiser around for over 21 years. Even though I rarely ride it these days because I live in hilly Boulder, I’m devoted to it. But mountain biking and road cycling plain freak me out, and in this state, that’s like saying you hate snow.

So, when my friend S. urged me to join her on an 18-mile bike ride down Aspen’s Rio Grande Trail to the former mining town of Basalt, I was dubious. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 7. I have terrible balance. What about getting back up valley? Still, there was the allure of flying down a riverside path in the high Rockies on a summer’s day. I caved.

The Rio Grande Trail is a part of the former Denver-Rio Grande Railroad bed. It starts at Aspen’s Herron Park, just off Main Street on the east end of town, and runs the length of the Roaring Fork Valley, all the way down to Glenwood Springs, 41 miles away. The trail, especially the Aspen-to-Basalt leg, is enormously popular with cyclists, walkers, and runners and, in winter, cross-country skiers.

aspen grove
WanderingtheWorld, Flickr

Last week, I met up with S. in Aspen. It was a bluebird day, one that begged for a picnic or al fresco lunch. Our plan of action, after picking up two titanium, single-gear cruisers, was to ride down to the nearby community of Woody Creek (home of the late Hunter S. Thompson), and hit the Woody Creek Tavern (bar of the late Hunter S. Thompson) for lunch. Their famous hamburgers and a margarita on the patio are an Aspen summer staple. Alternatively, if you want some truly excellent breakfast pastries or picnic bread, take a slight detour over to Louis’ Swiss Bakery in the Aspen Business Center.

The first mile of the Rio Grande Trail runs alongside the Roaring Fork River. This time of year, the vegetation is lush: wildflowers are in full bloom, and the aspens and pines provide ample shade. You’ll cross a wooden bridge or two, and after about five minutes, the pedestrians disperse, and can really start moving (do watch out for other bikers, stay in your lane and always wear a helmet).

After about 15 minutes, we arrived at the Tavern, which is essentially a roadhouse/bar/tribute to all that’s weird (there’s a reason Thompson was a regular). The burgers really are all that, if nothing fancy, and the Mexican dishes also win raves.

biking the rio grande trail
Courtesy of Jeremy Swanson

Post-lunch, we hopped back on our bikes and rode to Basalt, which has become an alluring little hamlet in its own right. Don’t expect much in the way of excitement, but it’s a cute, quiet place to kick back for a few days, and enjoy the many outdoor activities the Roaring Fork Valley has to offer.

The ride from Woody Creek to Basalt changes from sub-alpine terrain to open valley and ranchland. Horses and cattle graze ipeacefully, and the rust-red hematite cliffs so indicative of this region loom to the right. Below us, on our left, was the river. The path remained smooth and the light was so bright it almost hurt. I started to remember why I’d been hauling my old cruiser around with me all these years. Being on a bike was exhilarating, especially in a place so geographically blessed. I certainly didn’t care that I wasn’t hammering it on half-track.

When we reached Basalt, S. and I pulled into a nondescript business park. We’d decided to cap off our ride with a visit to the the four-month old Woody Creek Distillers (they’re killing it with their whiskeys and vodka made with Colorado-grown ingredients, including Polish Stobrawa potatoes farmed up-valley on co-owner Pat Scanlan’s family farm.

woody creek distiller's copper still
Courtesy of Woody Creek Distillers

The gorgeous, state-of-the-art distillery houses a gleaming, copper-and-stainless steel German still, which can be viewed from the tasting room. Distillery manager David Matthews walked us through a whiskey tasting, which made me long for an accompanying wedge of bandage-wrapped farmstead goat cheddar from Basalt’s own Avalanche Cheese Company (pick some up at Whole Foods just north of Basalt, off of Highway 82, along with some famous Palisade peaches, grown just over the mountains on the Western Slope).

Back in Boulder, I paid a visit to my dusty cruiser, which has been languishing in the basement for nearly a year now. I’m going back up to Aspen in September to see the fall foliage; my newly-tuned up bike will be making the trip with me. Thanks, S.

The details
If you’re not bringing your own bike, the best place for rentals in the Aspen/Snowmass area is Four Mountain Sports (various locations). Note that many Aspen hotels, like the The Little Nell (which will comp rentals September through the first snow), have bike rentals for guests. The easiest way to return to Aspen is to catch the Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) bus from Basalt.

For more summer biking ideas, consider one of these great coastal beach cruiser bike rides.

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.

Hotel News We Noted: Summer Cool Down Edition

pullman hotel thailand
Image courtesy of Pullman hotels

Happy Friday, everyone. We’re reporting live from East Hampton, where the beach town is currently under the same oppressive heat wave as much of the East Coast. In that spirit, we’re attempting to cool things down with some chill hotel news of the week.

If you’re new to “Hotel News We Noted,” this weekly column tracks our favorite interesting, wacky, weird and wonderful news of each week in the hospitality space.

Cool Opening: Hotel Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach
Accor’s upscale brand, Pullman, has launched their latest property and fifth in Thailand, Hotel Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach. Nestled on Naithon Beach, one of the prettiest parts of the West Coast of Thailand, the property offers some spectacular vistas – waterfalls and vantage points over the Andaman Sea, plus amenities like gratis Wi-Fi, Nespresso machines, a spa, two restaurants and four bars. Plus, there’s plenty of room. The hotel offers 277 rooms, including seven spacious suites.

Big Booking News: Stayful, A Cool Approach To Boutique Hotels
Love boutique hotels? Try Stayful, a new online travel site focused exclusively on booking stays at independent boutique hotels. Through a proprietary bidding system, Stayful offers last-minute discounts on boutique properties and is backed by former executives from Expedia, Hotels.com and Joie de Vivre. Properties included in the initial beta include some of our favorites – New York’s Standard High Line, Hotel on Rivington and Gansevoort Park Avenue, as well as San Francisco’s Hotel Diva and Hotel Fusion. The site just launched on July 17, but we’re excited to see how it continues to develop.

What Summer Travelers Want In A Hotel: Pools, AC
A new study by Kayak shows the top amenities that summer travelers want in a hotel. Not shockingly, pools and air-conditioning top the list – and the order is flip-flopped for those traveling internationally. Not all European hotels are air conditioned, so it’s well worth checking on that tidbit of information. Other top amenities include an airport shuttle, parking and Internet.

Cool Hotel Perk: Bacon Paintings
Our colleague Libby Zay reported on this a few days ago, and it’s too good not to include in our weekly roundup. Check out what The Woodlands resort in Texas recently did for guests – hint, hint, it involves bacon art. Kudos for great service, and for actually reading the “comments” section of a rooms request. We prefer this to last year’s blanket fort request, for sure.

This will be our final “Hotel News We Noted” column on Gadling. Please stay tuned via Twitter to see if Hotel News pops up in a new iteration soon.