Wearable Technology Looks Cool, But Will Travelers Actually Wear It?

Wearable technology - Dick Tracy watch
Flickr, LamdaChiAlpha

Imagine being able to navigate a foreign city without a map or paying for a museum ticket with your watch, thanks to your cool electronic gadgets. Now imagine getting mugged around the corner, or leaving your expensive toy on a bus. Wearable technology such as Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear watch have fueled a lot of buzz among technology fans and travel marketers, but will travelers actually want to wear them?

A survey of 1,000 adults showed that while 75% were aware of at least one form of wearable technology, less than 10% was actually interested in using it. While the Samsung smartwatch announcement increased interest, and 52% would wear something on their wrist, only 5% would wear something on their face like Google Glass.

High price tags — $299 For the Galaxy Gear, and over $1,000 for the developer glasses — are one cause for consumers to hesitate, though travelers are more likely to invest in the latest technology, especially if it helps document their trip or explore a new place. Privacy is another concern, as the devices collect information based on your movements to improve the experience. How about the fact that having such a device marks you as wealthy? Smartphones have become fairly commonplace in the world, but there are still places where you’d be wise to keep your iPhone in your pocket, or even the hotel safe. The newer and snazzier the device, the more it shows that you have money to burn, and might make you a target of thieves. Will they make you look like a tourist? Not necessarily more than any device, but they certainly won’t help you to blend in.

Would you use wearable technology, while traveling or at home? What innovations would you like to see for travel?

Instant Film Makes A Comeback

Instant film photography tool
Courtesy of Impossible Project

Mobile phone apps like Instagram have made it possible to make our digital images look “vintage” using filters and effects, but they can’t quite capture the particular nostalgic quality of actual film. Photography lovers have mourned the loss of Polaroid instant film since it was discontinued in 2008. Several former employees teamed up to experiment with a new kind of instant film with the Impossible Project in 2010, allowing many owners of vintage cameras to keep taking pictures. The film is available at select camera stores around the world, but might be more for those who appreciate the art of film rather than speed: color pictures take up to a half-hour to develop.

Next month, the Impossible Project will take digital old-school when it introduces the Instant Lab, an app and tool that will allow you to print analog instant photos right from your iPhone. The device will be exhibited at Photoville, a pop-up photography “destination” in Brooklyn September 19 to 29, and available for purchase soon. The Instant Lab could be perfect for travelers who want to travel light with a camera phone but keep their trip photos from collecting dust on a hard drive.

Gadling Gear Review: Bluetooth Speakers For Travel

Bluetooth Speaker: Damson Twist
Damson

Smartphones, tablets and iPods have made it incredibly easy to carry your entire music collection wherever you go. This is particularly useful when traveling; you get an entire library of songs right at your fingertips, helping to make those long stays in airports and hotels just a bit easier. Add a portable Bluetooth speaker to the mix and you have a wireless entertainment system with high quality sound that can go with you anywhere. Those speakers have gotten smaller, lighter and more affordable over the past few years, making them a great travel companion for the music lover. Here are two unique options to consider for your next road trip.

Damson Twist ($69.99)
If you’re looking for a compact, yet surprisingly powerful, Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, it’s tough to beat the Twist from Damson. This diminutive audio device really packs a punch and thanks to its unique design it even provides a solid amount of bass — something that can’t be said about most of the competition.

When taking the speaker out of the box for the first time you’ll probably be struck by two things. First, the Twist is quite small, measuring a shade under three inches in height and about two-and-a-quarter inches around. The second is that the speaker is surprisingly heavy for something so small. It tips the scales at 12 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much until you hold it in your hand. For such a small device the Twist feels incredibly solid, conveying the sense that it can take a little abuse and keep performing just fine. The build quality on the speaker is truly top notch and Damson should be commended for creating a portable speaker this good.Pairing the speaker with a smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device couldn’t be any easier. After charging the Twist to full capacity, I simply turned it on in “BT” mode and selected it from my iPhone’s list of available devices. The two gadgets communicated with one anther for a few seconds before the speaker gave out a brief chime indicating that it had successfully connected. After that it was ready to begin playing music and moments later it was doing just that, belting out tunes in a very satisfying manner.

Unlike most other Bluetooth speakers, the Twist incorporates what Damson calls “resonance technology” to improve volume and overall sound quality. While holding the device in your hand, you’ll barely be able to hear anything out of the speaker at all, even with the volume turned up fairly high. But place the Twist on a flat surface and it immediately begins pumping out audio at a higher level. In fact, when I set it down for the first time I was caught a little off guard at the jump in both volume and sound quality. The speaker uses natural resonance from whatever surface it is placed on to create a richer and more full audio experience and as a result, it delivers performance on par with a speaker much larger than itself. Damson says the Twist works best when sitting on a wood, metal, glass or even cardboard surface. During my testing I found that I preferred it on wood the most as that helped to amplify bass levels quite nicely.

Battery life is a bit lackluster on the Twist when compared to the competition, although that is somewhat expected considering its size. Damson says you will get about 4 hours of wireless music between charges and I found that to be a solid estimate during my testing. You can extend that life up to 9 hours if you forego the wireless options and plug your audio source directly into the Twist itself. A 3.5 mm audio cable is included in the box for that very purpose and a USB charging cable is included as well.

Available in four colors, the Twist’s outer casing is made of brushed metal. This gives it a very classy look that isn’t found on other speakers in this price range. Damson has even provided a nice travel pouch that helps the device to maintain those good looks when you hit the road. These small touches help to set the Twist apart from the crowd. The fact that it only carries a price tag of $70 doesn’t hurt either. At that price, you can afford to buy two and daisy chain them together for even better sound. Considering how good the Twist looks and performs, I’d say it’s a real bargain.

Bluetooth Speaker: Boom UrchinBoom Urchin ($149.99)
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Twist is the Urchin from Boom. The two are both Bluetooth speaker systems, but the similarities between the products pretty much ends there. Where the Twist is a small wonder of modern engineering, the Urchin is larger, louder and built like a tank.

The distinctively shaped Urchin features a removable silicon shell that helps protect it from all manner of dangers. This speaker is shock and dust proof as well as water resistant, which means you can hang it in your shower, take it on a camping trip or pack it for your beach vacation in Fiji. In short, it is designed to survive in just about any environment while continuing to wirelessly pump out tunes without missing a beat.

Clearly Boom’s focus was on building a speaker that could withstand plenty of punishment but they didn’t skimp on the sound quality either. While the Urchin doesn’t provide the deep bass that the Twist offers, it does deliver a much more consistent level of sound that isn’t dependent on the surface it is sitting on in any way. The high end of the audio spectrum comes through bright and clear, while the mid-ranges are delivered vibrantly too. The Urchin sounds great even when the volume is completely cranked up with no discernible distortion.

Boom’s technical specifications say that the Urchin’s rechargeable battery should be good for up to ten hours of music and I found that to be fairly accurate. Adjusting the volume to lower levels can extend the battery life a bit longer but as it stands, this speaker is capable of providing music for a full day out. The included wall charger will replenish the battery fairly quickly as well so the Urchin will be ready for use again in no time at all.

One feature that the Urchin has that the Twist doesn’t is the ability to be used as a speakerphone. This is a useful feature for hands-free conversations or making a call in a group setting. When paired with a smartphone the Urchin’s built-in mic allows for two-way communication although I found it to be rather lackluster when used in this capacity. The voices of callers came through the Urchin’s speaker just fine but they reported that my voice sounded muffled and distant. The quality of the cell connection can play a role in this of course, but compared to other Bluetooth speakerphones that I’ve used, this one did little to impress.

Boom ships the Urchin with a carabiner for attaching the speaker to a backpack or even a belt loop. A suction cup and adhesive screw attachment are also included in the box, making it easy to lock down the speaker no matter where you want to use it. The suction cup works great in the bathroom for instance, giving you another reason to sing in the shower. The fact that the company recognized that this is how their customers would want to use the product is an indication of how much thought went into its design.

Both the Twist and the Urchin have qualities that make them great choices for travelers. One packs great sound in a small package while the other is designed to survive just about anything you can throw at it. If you want to listen to music outside in the elements, the Urchin is the clear choice, especially with its much longer battery life. But if you want an inexpensive speaker that you can carry with you when you hit the road, the Twist is an amazing piece of technology that performs beyond its size. Either of the two devices will make music-loving travelers very happy.

Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Flickr user 410(K) 2013

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.

Going To The Museum? There’s An App For That!

museum
British Museum

Museums have a lot to compete with these days. With so much information available for free online, many people who are less than enthusiastic about going to museums may think there’s nothing new to be learned by peering into glass cases full of ancient artifacts.

But museums are fighting back. Museum apps are available for most major and many lesser-known museums. Generally they give a walk-through of the galleries and what’s on display, such as MoMA’s app, while others offer closeup views of famous artworks you can’t get in real life, like the Louvre’s app that helps you push through the crowds around the Mona Lisa.

Often museums create special apps for major shows, such as the British Museum’s app for their exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. This app has interactive maps and timelines, detailed studies of more than 250 objects and heaps of information about the excavations.

As an incurable museum junkie raising a Mini Me museum junkie, I’m of two minds about museum apps. On the one hand, they’re great for enhancing a visit with all those flashy gadgets that kids love so much. It’s yet another way of beating museum fatigue while actually learning something.

On the other hand, it’s a grand distraction. A good museum can spark the imagination without needing extra technology. Take the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, my vote for the coolest museum in the world. The display cases are jam-packed with everything from Melanesian war clubs to witches trapped inside bottles. The lights are turned low and the guards hand out flashlights so you can peer inside the cases and spot hidden treasures amid the jumble. Beneath the cases are drawers that pull out to reveal Indonesian cut-out puppets and scarab beetles from Ancient Egypt. My son and I love creeping around this place, pretending to be explorers and always discovering something we never noticed before even though we’ve been there countless times.

This is the kind of museum that kids pester their parents to visit. Does the Pitt-Rivers have an app? Maybe it does. I didn’t check because it doesn’t need one. Take note, museum directors: be cool and they will come.