As smartphone technology continues to advance, travelers are being offered more connectivity choices. Making calls, sending text, voice or video messages and surfing the Internet is becoming commonplace almost anywhere on the planet. Now, pricing is coming in line too as service providers realize what it is we want when traveling.
“Our mission is for all travelers to have the freedom to use their mobile devices the same way as at home when traveling abroad, without having to worry about chokingly high mobile bills,” says Joacim Boivie, CEO and Founder, HolidayPhone, a leading solutions provider of roaming free mobile Internet, voice and text services for international travelers in a Breaking Travel News report.
Like Boingo, the worldwide connectivity company with over 700,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in over 100 countries, HolidayPhone also enables connection. Unlike Boingo, which automatically communicates then connects with local hot spots on your behalf, enabling connection using only an installed app, the HolidayPhone method is a twist on the SIM card pay-as-you-go trick that has travelers buying cards for each country they visit.Providing an easy, inexpensive way to call and access mobile Internet while abroad without roaming fees, HolidayPhone’s travel SIM cards are prepaid and sent in advance. Before departure, U.S. users forward calls to a provided U.S. landline number. On the plane, they insert the HolidayPhone SIM card in their smartphone. Landing at the destination, their phone is ready to use, at local rates.
Smartphones and tablets have become an important part of our daily lives, putting a wealth of functionality and information at our fingertips. Straight out of the box these devices can do amazing things to keep us entertained and in communication while on the go, but companies like Kensington are making some excellent accessories that can extend that functionality even further and perhaps even enhance it. Here are three such accessories that can make your next road trip even better.
KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard for iPad ($79.99)
There is no doubt that the iPad is a fantastic device, capable of some amazing things, but its onscreen keyboard can be a major obstacle for those looking to use the tablet to get serious work done. That’s where the KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard comes in handy. This keyboard connects to your iPad via Bluetooth, instantly turning it into an ultra-portable workstation. With the right apps, it can even rival a laptop in terms of productivity.
Typing on the keyboard takes some getting use to, in part because the keys are smaller than what you find on a laptop. The first few times I put it to the test I found the backspace key was getting the most use as I was continuously correcting mistakes. But as with most things in life, practice makes perfect and before too long my large fingers adapted nicely to the smaller keys and I was able to type away almost as quickly and efficiently as I do on my larger notebook. The keys have a high quality feel to them and they make a nice, reassuring click as you type away. When you get on a roll, you might even forget that you’re actually getting productive work done on an iPad.The KeyCover has a few other tricks up its sleeve that will make it a favorite amongst iPad owners as well. Not only is it an excellent portable keyboard, but it also serves as a highly protective case that snaps snugly over the tablet, encasing it in a solid shell that protects the iPad’s screen very nicely. The case is made from anodized aluminum that looks great and provides a level of protection that you don’t get from most other cases. It can be a bit tricky to get off and on at first but after using it a few times it becomes second nature.
Like Apple’s Smartcover, this case uses magnets to automatically wake or put the iPad to sleep when it is opened and closed. It also has a built-in stand that can hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode, which is helpful when trying to get work done, but is great for watching movies or making Facetime or Skype calls too.
As mentioned above, the KeyCover connects to the iPad via Bluetooth (version 3.0), which means that it is an electronic device with its own built-in, rechargeable batteries. Kensington says the keyboard’s battery is rated for 120 hours of use between charges and I’ll have to take their word for it. In my testing I was never able to run the battery down fully, so it is clearly capable of lasting for quite a long time. The downside is that the KeyCover is one more item you’ll need to be sure is charged before you hit the road because it won’t be particularly useful if the battery dies.
If you love your iPad but found its functionality slightly hindered by the lack of a physical keyboard, then you’ll absolutely love the KeyCover. It really is an excellent companion for Apple’s tablet. Similarly, if you’re a road warrior who is looking to lighten your load and leave the laptop behind, the KeyCover can turn your iPad into a device that is far more productive. The keyboard even comes in handy for typing emails, iMessages or just about anything else that requires a lot of text entry. It truly will open up a host of new possibilities for how you use the iPad.
Proximity Tag ($39.95)
Are you one of those people who is prone to losing your keys? Do you often walk away from a restaurant or coffee shop, leaving your cellphone behind? If so, Kensington’s Proxmity Tag was made for you. This light and thin device is roughly the size of a credit card and is designed to be paired with a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, although in theory any Android device should work. Once connected, either the sensor or the phone will alert you when they are no longer close to one another. So for example, you could attach the sensor to your keychain, carry-on bag or just about any other valuable item and if it moves outside of a range of about 30 feet from your smartphone, it will immediately alert you that your valuables have been left behind or taken. On the other hand, should you leave your phone behind somewhere and walk more than 30 feet away, the sensor will sound an alert as well, reminding you to retrieve your device.
Connecting your smartphone to the Proximity Tag is accomplished through an app that is available on the Google Play Store. The app allows you to configure a few options on the Tag itself, although its main use is to pair it with your Android device and to tell the sensor to emit an alarm when you can’t find it. So if you lose your keys and need to discover where they are at any given time, the app will tell the Proximity Tag to emit a sound that makes it easy to quickly track them down.
As mentioned above, Kensington says the Proximity Sensor is compatible with Samsung Galaxy devices, but since they use the Android mobile operating system, I assumed the app would run on any Android device. When installed on a generic Android tablet running the latest version of the OS the app ran fine as far as I could tell, but when I put it on an HTC One it crashed multiple times. I had to borrow a Samsung Galaxy S III to properly test its uses and, as you might expect, it ran without a hitch.
The Proximity Tag is powered by a user replaceable lithium battery that Kensington says should be good for about six months use. Once again, I’ll have to take their word for it, because during my testing it never ran out of juice. It did, however, work as advertised, providing alerts when either the Android device or the backpack that I attached the Tag to passed out of range of one another.
The fact that the sensor is small enough to slip into your wallet is a nice added benefit. That means you can keep it on you at all times and use it as needed. Keep it paired with your phone at all times and connect it to something valuable that you want to keep tabs of as needed. Or better yet, rest assured that you’ll never leave your smartphone or tablet behind again. That is quite a nice level of reassurance for a mere $40.
EVAP Wet Electronics Rescue Pouch ($19.99)
Have you ever inadvertently jumped into a swimming pool forgetting you had your iPod in your pocket? How about accidentally dropping your smartphone in a full sink of water? There are few things that can kill an electronic device faster than immersing it in water and usually it means that gadget is gone for good. Fortunately, Kensington makes an accessory that can help with this problem, perhaps saving you hundreds of dollars in repair or replacement costs in the process.
The EVAP emergency pouch is designed to pull moisture out of an electronic device without damaging its delicate components in any way. It contains specially developed drying agents that are specifically made to work with electronics and their effectiveness is nothing short of miraculous.
There really is no trick to using the EVAP, you simply open it up and pull out the two sealed packets that contain the drying agents. Place those packets on either side of the waterlogged device and slip them all back inside and seal the pouch. Kensington says it will take anywhere from 6-24 hours for the process to complete, depending on the device and amount of water involved. A handy indicator on the outside of the EVAP will actually let you know when it has completed the process.
I tried the EVAP with an old iPod Nano I had sitting around my apartment. It still worked but had been replaced by a newer model, so I was willing to sacrifice it under the guise of product testing. I soaked it in a bowl of water for several minutes and when I took it out, it refused to turn on. After blotting it dry with a towel, I sealed it in the pouch and left it inside overnight. The next morning I checked the EVAP right away noticed that it had finished its work. I opened the pouch and took the iPod out and was pleasantly surprised to have it power-up in my hand. The EVAP worked exactly as advertised and my old Nano was back from the dead.
The EVAP is one of those products you hope you never need but you’re glad you have when you do. It is super easy to use, worked great in my test and may save you hundreds of dollars, not to mention endless heartbreak. The product is just $19.95, so it isn’t exactly expensive. It would be a good thing to keep around the house in case of an emergency and if you happen to own a boat, I’d store one there as well. Additionally, if you’re taking a trip to a destination where you’ll be spending plenty of time around the water, you may want to play it safe and have one in your suitcase as well. It could turn out that you’re very cautious and won’t need one, but this is the kind of product that is the epitome of “better safe than sorry.”
There you have it – three very unique and different products from one company. Each works well in its own right and are likely to make customers happy. Kensington’s reputation for creating innovative and functional products continues.
Augmented Reality apps on our smartphones and tablets can do some pretty amazing things. The basic premise is that these apps use our device’s camera to show us the world around us while also overlaying information that may be of interest. For example, AR apps can give directions, complete with on-screen arrows showing us where to go, or they can display info about hotels, restaurants and bars that include Yelp scores, hours of operation, menus and more. The potential for augmented reality is so great that Google is even incorporating it directly into their Glass project.
But a company called AR-media is truly taking augmented reality to the next level with a new app in development that will let travelers see some of their favorite historical sites restored to how they looked when they were first built. In the case of the demo video below, that means using an iPad to catch a glimpse of the Roman Colosseum as it looked when it was newly constructed.
The software uses special programming to determine where you are in relation to the structure and uses 3D modeling to fill in sections of the building. The results are pretty amazing and show the possibilities of how AR can be used to educate and entertain, particularly in the travel industry.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend staring at some of our more magnificent monuments through the screen of any device. After all, you’re there to see it in person. But if a smartphone or tablet can enhance the experience, then I think that is technology that is working to make our lives better. In this case, the AR app practically allows us to step back in time and see the Colosseum in all of its glory.
Remember the days before smartphones and tablets? Back when our mobile entertainment options were limited to whatever books and magazines we could cram into our carry-on bag and that one movie that was shown three times on a single flight across the Pacific? It may seem like it was a lifetime ago, but it really hasn’t been that long at all.
Now days when we hit the road, we can carry our entire music collection, multiple movies and TV shows, a library full of books and thousands of photos with us. The options are nearly endless, limited only by the storage capacity of your mobile devices. But when the memory on those devices begins to get full, you have to start making compromises in order to fit everything you want in the limited storage available. In order to make room for the latest episodes of “Downton Abbey” for example, that digital copy of “The Hobbit” may have to go.
But what if you didn’t have to make those kinds of compromises? What if you could carry a tiny portablemedia server with you that would not only add storage capacity to your device but also allow you to wirelessly share those files with your traveling companions? A few years ago that would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie but today it’s a reality with both HP and Kingston delivering excellent and affordable options to the consumer.Before I get to both of those gadgets, let me explain a bit about what they both do. These are small devices that can be loaded with music and movie files, as well as photos, before you ever leave home. Those files can then be simultaneously shared wirelessly between multiple devices while on the road. That means that if you have a favorite movie that your kids enjoy, you can save it on your portable media server and it is accessible to them at all times, whether they are connecting from an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or a device running the Android operating system. The same thing holds true for music and photos as well. Both of these devices bring extra storage, which means you don’t have to completely load up your phone or tablet, nor will you have to delete items just to free up some space. For friends and families traveling together, these mini-media servers can be a life saver and for the solo traveler, they bring versatility and a little extra storage capacity.
HP Pocket Playlist ($129.99)
HP’s entry in the portable media server category is the Pocket Playlist, a sleek device that comes with 32GB of built-in memory. It is roughly 4.5 inches in length and mere .35 inches thick. It also weighs just 2.2 ounces, which means it is small enough to slip into your pocket or carry-on bag and you’ll barely even know its there.
Loading the Playlist with files couldn’t be easier. You simply plug it into a USB port on your computer where it’ll appear as a spare drive. After that, you can drag and drop the files you want on to the device and the Playlist will automatically catalog them for you. If you’re on a Windows PC you can use the included HP software to help convert video files to the proper format to be displayed on your mobile devices, although I found that this was seldom necessary.
Once you have all of your media files onto the Playlist, it can begin serving up those items to any PC, iOS or Android device. Up to five gadgets can be wirelessly connected at any given time without any noticeable degradation in performance. While testing the product I regularly had my iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and an Android tablet streaming various video and music files at the same time, and all of them ran flawlessly. Apps are available as free downloads in each of their respective app stores, making it a breeze to connect to the Playlist, search its media library and playback whatever movies, music or photos you’re looking for.
The Playlist’s 32GB of storage allows you to carry approximately an additional 16 full length movies, 7600 songs or 10,000 photos. That’s a lot of extra entertainment to have at your fingertips at any given time. The fact that the device can serve all of those files up quickly and easily is quite impressive, as once you connect to the Pocket Playlist, the files stored on it perform as if they are actually on your tablet or smartphone.
Most devices are only capable of connecting to one Wi-Fi source at a given time, which could be a problem if you’re hoping to surf the Internet while listening to music that is streaming from the Pocket Playlist. But HP has cleverly integrated Internet pass-through technology that allows you to connect the Playlist to a Wi-Fi router and than pass Internet traffic through to any other device that is attached to the media server. I expected that this feature would work in a pinch but that there would be obvious performance issues, but for the most part I really couldn’t tell that I wasn’t connected to the router directly.
HP claims that the built-in battery on the Playlist can last for up to five hours depending on the number of devices connected and the media being served. In my real world testing, I was routinely able to get over four hours of use before the device needed to be recharged. The Playlist ships with both an AC wall adapter for quick recharges, and HP conveniently includes a car charger to keep it running on long road trips. It can also be recharged via the USB port on your computer, which can come in handy when traveling internationally.
Performance-wise it is hard to knock the Playlist in any way. It is small, lightweight and delivers on the promise of providing more storage for your mobile devices. It is a refined product that is about as simple to use as anyone could ever ask for. HP has delivered a product that anyone can understand and appreciate, which should make the Playlist a hit with those who need extra storage or the capability to share multimedia files while on the go.
Kingston’s MobileLite Wirelesss drive is an alternative option to the Playlist that performs much the same way, although it does have some key distinctions. For starters, it doesn’t ship with any built-in memory, which is part of the reason it is less expensive than HP’s device. The MobileLite supports a wide variety of storage options however, which makes this a relatively painless thing to rectify. The device is capable of reading just about any kind of SD memory card, including microSD with an included adapter. It also has a full-powered USB port built in, which allows you to plug in a USB memory stick and access its contents as well. You can even plug in a USB hard drive, although that kind of defeats some of the purpose of having a portable media server.
All of these options for storage bring a level of versatility that the Playlist simply doesn’t have. While HP’s device is limited to the 32GB of on board storage, with Kingston’s offering you can swap out memory cards at any time, essentially giving you access to unlimited data. You could, for example, carry multiple SD cards with you when you travel saving one for music, another for movies and a third for television shows. Better yet, you can pull an SD card straight out of your camera, plug it into the MobileLite and begin viewing the photos you took that day right on your iPad or Android tablet.
Like the Playlist, access to the MobileLite is accomplished through apps that are available for iOS and Android. While Kingston’s apps are functional, they didn’t quite feel as refined as those from HP. They definitely get the job done, however, granting access to all of your files, which in this case can actually include Word documents, Power Point presentations, PDF files and more.
Where as the Playlist looks like a sleek piece of modern design, the MobileLite designers seem to have leaned more toward function over form factor. It is thicker (.35 vs .65 inches) and heavier (2.2 vs 3.4 ounces) than HP’s device and definitely feels chunkier in your hand. This is mostly due to the fact that it has a built-in card reader and USB port, which the Playlist doesn’t. Those features add to the versatility, but detract somewhat from the look and size.
The inclusion of the USB port gives the MobileLite the ability to actually provide a charge for your smartphone. Doing so will deplete the media server’s internal battery, of course, and it isn’t as useful as having a dedicated mobile charger, but it will do in a pinch. This feature is just another indication of the versatility of the device.
Like the Playlist, the MobileLite’s battery is rated for up to five hours, but once again I found it was closer to four when put to the test in the real world. Unlike HP’s product, however, it doesn’t ship with an AC or car adapter of any kind. Kingston simply included a USB cable for charging via a computer. If you want to charge from a wall outlet or while in the car, you’ll once again have to provide your own adapters.
The MobileLite features solid wireless performance but it isn’t capable of connecting to as many devices simultaneously as the Pocket Playlist. While HP’s media server can accommodate up to five devices, Kingston’s offering is only capable of handling three. That may seem like plenty, and for a lot of users it probably is, but for a family that is traveling together, it is possible you could run up against this limitation fairly quickly. The MobileLite does have the Internet pass-through option just like the Playlist, however, allowing you to browse files and surf the web at the same time.
Both of these portable media servers are excellent devices and both do their job very well. In fact, it is difficult for me to recommend one over the other, as they both have some advantages and disadvantages. For a family that wants to take the media library with them when they travel, I’d highly recommend the Playlist, as it is simple to use and has the ability to connect to more devices simultaneously. The MobileLite seems like the better option for professionals, however, as it provides more ways of accessing files while in the field. Professional photographers will probably love the device for instance, as it gives them the ability to review their work within seconds of taking their shots.
If you fall into either of the categories listed above, these portable media servers will make excellent additions to your travel gear. But even if you’re just looking to add a little extra storage to your mobile devices, both the Playlist and MobileLite are great options at affordable prices.
There is no denying that smartphones have changed the way we work, play and stay connected with one another. Our phones provide us with directions to the nearest restaurant, tell us what time our movie begins and will even help us alert our friends when we’re running a little late. They give us weather reports, stock tips and warn us about traffic delays, all while taking great photos and sharing them across a variety of social networks. We truly live in an age of wonders during which we hold a powerful piece of technology right in the palm of our hand. That is, until the battery dies.
If there is one thing that my iPhone can’t do that my old “dumb phone” could, it is go for days without needing a recharge. You remember those days right? Back when you charged your phone once a week rather than every night. Now days, I’m lucky if my battery can get me through a single day, let alone a full week. Thankfully there are a slew of options for helping us keep our favorite devices from becoming a useless hunk of glass and plastic, including some interesting new mobile chargers that can help keep your phone up and running for hours longer than it could on its own. Here are two such options that travelers will find as worthy additions to their carry-on bags.
Waka Waka Power ($79)
With the advent of low cost and more efficient solar panels, charging our devices from the sun has truly become a viable option. The Waka Waka Power takes that concept and wraps it in a nice looking, lightweight package that is easy to carry with you just about anywhere. The charger is a little over 4.5 inches in length and weighs in at a svelte 7 ounces. That makes it easy to store in a glove compartment, purse or your carry-on, ensuring that you’ll have power whenever and wherever you need it.This mobile charger features an internal 2200-mAh battery that can be charged via the small built-in solar panel, or by plugging the Waka Waka directly into a USB port on a computer. Charging times vary greatly no matter which of those methods you choose, as the amount of direct sunlight or the level of current running to the USB port determine how long it will take to fill the power cell. Four blue lights across the top indicate the battery’s status, while an accompanying red light blinks at varying speeds to indicate how quickly the device is charging. This comes in particularly handy when the Waka Waka is collecting energy via its solar panel, making it easy to find the most direct sunlight possible.
The Waka Waka’s built-in USB port provides enough juice to charge even the most power hungry smartphones such as the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4. It can even charge an iPad, although the Waka Waka’s relatively small battery capacity doesn’t have the same level of impact on the battery life of a tablet. While testing the device, I was able to charge my iPhone 4S a couple of times before the Waka Waka itself needed to power up.
Off-Grid Solutions, the company that designed the Waka Waka, certainly had travelers in mind when they build the charger. Not only is its sleek design perfect for taking with you on the road, but it also comes with a built-in flashlight that is very handy at times as well. The light has four brightness settings and a flashing “SOS” mode, and is good for at least 20 hours on a full charge. And when the battery starts to run low, simply stick the Waka Waka back into the sunlight to start charging once again.
Demonstrating their commitment to encouraging the use of clean solar energy, Off-Grid Solutions has even vowed to give away a Waka Waka charger for every one that is purchased. So when you buy the device, the company behind it will ship another one to a developing nation to be given out to someone who doesn’t have easy access to other forms of power. That is a great program indeed and quite a gesture on the part of the company.
If you’re looking for a more traditional mobile charging option, the Travelpak Plus from New Trent brings a lot of great featuress to the table. For example, it is available in two versions, one with a 4000-mAh battery and the other with a 7000-mAh battery. That means even the lower capacity model has nearly twice the available power of the Waka Waka. I tested the 7000-mAh model and found that it provided ample power to recharge my iPhone more than three times without needing a recharge itself.
While the Travelpak Plus doesn’t have a solar panel, it does come with a built-in AC adapter. The back of the device has a power-plug that flips out when needed, allowing you to plug it in to a wall outlet whenever you need to charge the battery. It also comes with two USB ports, giving you the ability to charge two devices at the same time. When plugged into the wall, the Travelpak plus instantly becomes a powerful AC adapter for any device that charges via USB and when you take it on the road, it can greatly extend the life of all of your gadgets, including an iPad or other tablet.
New Trent included an ambient light on the Travelpak Plus as well and while it isn’t nearly as useful as the one that is included on the Waka Waka, it does serve as a decent nightlight when plugged into a wall outlet. That actually comes in handy when traveling, helping you to find your way in a strange room in the middle of the night.
This mobile charger is durable and well put together, and while it weighs a bit more than the Waka Waka, it isn’t incredibly heavy. It is substantial enough that when you slip it into a travel bag you’ll know that it is there, but not enough to really make it a bother. Besides, having a powerful source of energy with you at all times more than makes up for a little extra weight.
The 4000-mAh version of the Travelpak Plus costs $44.95, while the higher capacity model is just $10 more. With such a slight difference in price, I think it makes more sense to shell out the extra cash for the 7000-mAh version. You may not need that much power all that often but it’ll be nice to know it is there when you need it. A traveling companion will appreciate the extra USB port when their gadgets start to run low on power too.
Whether you go with the Waka Waka or the Travelpak Plus, you’ll be happy to have the extra power when you need it. Both of these options are great choices and each brings their own unique options to the table. The solar panel of the Waka Waka is great for charging anywhere and the extra capacity and duel USB ports on the Travelpak are excellent as well. Either way, you can’t lose.