FAA Says Some Electronics Can Now Be Used Throughout Your Flight

Flickr/Jetstar

If you’re tired of shutting off your gadgets during take off and landing (or you’re one of those passengers who surreptitiously leaves them on) then get ready for some good news. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it is loosening restrictions on the use of electronics in-flight, meaning some devices can now be used the entire time you’re on the plane.

Under the changes, travelers will be able to use e-readers, play games, and watch videos on their portable devices throughout their journey. Bluetooth devices like wireless keyboards can also be used on flights. Cell phones will still face some restrictions, with passengers required to keep them in airplane mode. And as is currently the case, no phone calls will be allowed at any time onboard. The FAA says passengers may be asked to stow some heavier devices during takeoff and landing for safety reasons, but in general, the new rules reflect much more freedom for fliers.The FAA says it came to the decision after receiving input from pilots, electronics manufacturers, and passengers, and that the new rules balance safety with travelers’ increasing appetite to use electronics during flights.

The new rules won’t necessarily apply immediately, and exactly how they’ll be implemented will probably differ from one airline to the next. But the FAA believes most carriers will have the changes in place by the end of the year.

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?

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.

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.

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.