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?

Does Connectivity Ruin the Way We Travel?

Woman with smartphone photographing a tropi
Getty Images

Why do we travel?

Is it to learn? Is it to see new things? Is it to eat something different? Is it to get out of our comfort zone?

For most people, it’s a little of all of the above. Travel is that thing that we do because we’re intrigued by the things that are different from our everyday. Be it in a small-town diner in the state next door or in a treehouse hostel in the rainforest of a country on the other side of the world, we travel because it opens our eyes. Travel is far from mundane.

Over the years, travel has changed. We no longer spend weeks on a boat to get to Europe, we no longer put stickers on our leather suitcases and we rarely even take the time to send a postcard (there’s an app for that, which can do it for you). The modern world has changed not only how we travel — airplanes, high speed trains, online bookings — but how we relate our travel to those around us. Gone are the days of handwritten letters with foreign stamps. Nowadays you’re just an Instagram snap away from sharing your adventures with the world.

But are we better for it?

Instead of sitting and enjoying the meal, soaking in the sights and smells and recounting them in a letter or in our journal later in the evening when we have a minute to put pen to paper, we can take a picture. Hell, we can take 10, just in case the first 9 didn’t turn out. We can document, share and engage 24 hours a day. As long as there’s an internet connection, we can email, we can iMessage, we can chat. Parents can get daily updates from their 20-something backpacking through Southeast Asia and significant others can FaceTime so as not to get too bummed during a seven-day trip apart.

We’re connected like never before. But while we’re connected to the outside world, we’re disconnected from the present.CNN Senior Travel Producer James Durston recently mused on his own addiction to travel photography, positing that in our frantic efforts to capture a moment, we miss the actual moment entirely.

I was diving in Thailand, when a whale shark emerged from the gloom. I snapped away at the beast with my underwater apparatus for the few minutes of air I had left, then returned topside to high-five and celebrate this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I scrolled through the 100-odd pictures I had, I realized: they were all I had. My memories are framed by the 2×2-inch blurry screen of my camera. Not once did I look up to see the fish with my own eyes.

The same can be said for planning. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and it’s hard to imagine the days before we could book online, find a good deal and piece together an itinerary of cool spots that we have culled together from tips from all of our favorite travel blogs. And yet do all of these planning tools stop us from the potential for serendipity? When was the last time you arrived in a village with no place to stay, no map and didn’t check your smartphone for a recommendation? 1991? We’ve managed to completely eliminate the sense of wonder that travel is all about in the first place.

Tools should be tools, not crutches that keep us from asking questions, making body gestures when we don’t speak the language and venturing down an unknown path, physically and metaphorically. If we’re to travel well, we have to dare a little.

​Pack your bags. Don’t compile and Excel sheet of information. Go on your gut instinct. Don’t send an email home everyday. Let your travels take they where they take you. Fall into the experience and embrace it for what it is, not what you think it should be, or what you’d like to curate it to be with a certain photo filter.

Travel for travel’s sake and enjoy the ride.

Gadling Gear Review: Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen the ubiquitous advertisements for Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer. You know the commercials I’m talking about. The ones that feature a good looking group of young people dancing around the boardroom while snapping the device’s removable keyboard into place with a distinctive “click.” Those advertisements would lead you to believe that the Surface is a device capable of handling the full workload of a laptop while still offering the convenience and simplicity of a tablet — which if true would make it the Holy Grail of travel devices. I recently had the opportunity to put a Surface Pro model to the test on two very different road trips and I can tell you that it (mostly) lives up to its billing. The device really is unlike any other I’ve ever used and it has the potential to make many road warriors very happy.

Before I dive too far into the performance of the Surface Pro it is important to point out that Microsoft has released two versions of the tablet. In addition to the Pro model there is also the Surface RT, which runs a stripped down version of Windows 8, which comes with a few compromises. For instance, it can only run apps specifically made for Windows RT, while the Pro model can run any Windows software that you care to install. The RT also has a less powerful processor as well, but it makes up for it with longer battery life, a thinner and lighter design and a smaller price tag. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to use a Surface RT for any length of time, this review is based off the Surface Pro, which is a considerably more powerful device. In simplified terms the RT is a tablet with laptop aspirations while the Pro is a laptop wrapped in tablet form.The Surface Pro comes in two configurations, one with 64GB of storage and the other with 128GB. It features an Intel Core i5 processor and a beautiful 10.6″ full-HD, multi-touch screen capable of generating resolutions up to 1920×1080. It also has 4GB of on board RAM, front and rear-facing cameras and an array of ports including USB and a microSD card reader. A built-in kickstand allows you to prop the device up on any flat surface while a set of internal gyroscopes and accelerometers orient the screen from portrait and landscape modes. The entire system weighs in at about two pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side for a tablet, but fairly light for a laptop.

One of the things that struck me when I first took the Surface out of its box was just how solid and durable it felt. Its case is built from VaporMg, a special type of liquid metal that Microsoft created specifically for the device. The material is lightweight, rugged and looks great too. I recently took the Surface Pro on a backpacking trip to Australia and the device held up very well to the abuse of travel. In fact, I never once felt that the tablet was in danger and it returned home without so much of a scratch on it thanks in large part to its VaporMg casing. If you often find yourself carrying your laptop into some demanding and difficult environments, the Surface may be the alternative you are looking for. Chances are it is both tougher and lighter than what you travel with today.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

In terms of performance, the Surface Pro is fast and smooth, running Windows 8 exceptionally well. In fact, it feels like the touch-focused OS was made specifically for the tablet incorporating gestures, swipes and taps to accomplish all kinds of different tasks. Windows 8 apps extend the functionality of the device even further but the real strength of the Surface is its ability to run any other piece of Windows software as well. While the iPad and Android tablets are restricted to running only the software available in their respective app stores, the Surface Pro is capable of running off the shelf software that you find anywhere, including a full version of Microsoft Office. This is a huge advantage over other similar devices and one that should not be ignored by those who need to be productive while on the road but still want to carry a compact device.

One of the distinguishing traits of the Surface tablet is its keyboard, of which there are two versions available, both of which also serve as protective covers. The Touch Cover is lightweight, flexible and features soft keys, while the Type Cover is a little thicker and heavier, but has keys that are much closer to what you’d find on a notebook. Both versions lock into place by connecting to a special magnetic port on the bottom of the tablet and when used in conjunction with the Surface’s kickstand, the transformation to a laptop is complete. Both keyboards take a bit of practice to get accustomed to, but after spending a little time with them, I was able to type surprisingly well. My personal preference leaned toward the Type keyboard, which was so easy to adapt to that I almost forgot that I was using a tablet and not a true notebook. Inexplicably, the less expensive Surface RT includes a Touch Cover out of the box but it is an additional purchase with the Surface Pro, raising the price by $120. The Type Cover will set you back $10 more but is well worth it if you intend to do any serious typing on the tablet.

The Surface Pro has a few more tricks up its sleeve to help separate it from both the RT model and the competition as well. For instance, it has a built-in Wacom digitizer that works with an included pressure sensitive stylus pen that allows the device to actually recognize the user’s handwriting and convert it to text. It takes a little practice to learn how to use this feature but it can be great for taking notes in meetings or classes. Handwriting recognition has been a part of Microsoft’s tablet operating systems for years and it shows. The feature is robust, mature and surprisingly useful once you actually become accustomed to using it.

My one complaint has to do with the hardware rather than the software. The Surface has a port along its right side that serves the dual purpose of both charging the tablet via the AC adapter and holding the pen in place when it is not being used. Unfortunately that means you can’t have the stylus there at the same time as the device is being charged. I also lost the pen at the bottom of my bag on more than one occasion when it became dislodged from its cradle as I put the Surface away. Fortunately, I haven’t lost the pen altogether, although it seems like it would be easy to do. I would have much preferred a dedicated slot for holding the pen that is more secure.

One of the key features of any decent tablet is great battery life. The iPad is capable of 10+ hours of use out of a single charge and many Android tablets are in the 8-10 hour category as well. The Surface Pro doesn’t come anywhere near that, averaging about 5.5 hours of use in my testing. That isn’t great when you view it simply as a tablet, but if you instead consider it a laptop with some tablet capabilities it puts it more in line with many ultrabooks that are currently on the market. Still, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that the Surface didn’t perform better in real world battery use. Another 1.5-2 hours would have really made this a killer device on long distance flights. The Surface RT is rated for 8 hours of battery life although I can’t comment on whether or not it actually delivers on that promise.

So, is the Surface Pro the ultimate travel device? I’d say the answer to that is both yes and no. This is a device that straddles the line between being a laptop and a tablet and as such it needs to be evaluated a bit differently. For instance, it is heavier and thicker than an iPad, but smaller and more lightweight than most laptops. It doesn’t simply run apps either, but instead has access to the full Windows software library, which puts it in a category unlike any other. Add in handwriting recognition, the ability to connect all kinds of peripherals via the USB port and a rugged case that is designed to stand up to abuse and you end up with a product that has a lot to offer frequent travelers. On the other hand, the lack of a long battery life really limits its use when away from a power outlet and that is a shame. If there is one thing that Microsoft can do to improve this product with the next version it is to improve battery life.

The Surface Pro carries a price tag of $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB model, although MS is currently offering a $100 discount on both. That’s actually a solid value for a device that is as versatile as this one, after all you’re actually getting both a full blown tablet and a laptop in a single package. If you’re in the market for a new travel computer and you want a system that is compact, yet powerful, that you can take with you anywhere, the Surface Pro is a great option. Just set your expectations for battery life appropriately and you’ll be quite happy with the experience.

Heathrow Is Now Tracking How Late You Are

eGuide Travel, Flickr

Is your flight in 30 minutes or 45? You don’t have time to look at your boarding pass, so you hustle as fast as you can, awkwardly managing your oversized carry-on which you know that you are going to get scolded for. When you get to security, instead of being waved through you are turned right back around and sent off to the check-in gate. You won’t be making your plane, and the pilot of your flight knows it.

Creepy or helpful?

While it might feel Big Brotherish, Heathrow Airport’s new “positive boarding” initiative is intended to help not only keep flights on time, but also ensure that passengers have up to date information to know how much they need to hustle or not.

When a passenger passes through a security checkpoint now, individual information about that passenger will pop up on the screen, showing which flight they are on and whether or not they are going to be able to make it. Passengers who are too late will be turned around, and the information will be passed along to the airline so that they can immediately begin removing the passenger’s bag.Although Heathrow claims it’s the first technology of its kind, tracking passengers is nothing new. In Italy, a couple of airports track Bluetooth signals, and SITA is a known service that provides real-time tracking software and line management.

This all might sound like an excessive use of technology, but Heathrow claims that in the first week of using its new service, 35,000 passengers used the positive boarding technology as part of their trip. Data shows that of the airlines using the technology, 44% of the flights had passengers who could have delayed the final departure. 10 passengers who were running very late were turned around and told they didn’t have the time to make it through security. Those 10 passengers probably weren’t too happy, but I’m sure that the passengers on the flights that departed promptly were satisfied. All the more reason to give yourself ample time to get to the airport and board your plane.

Human-Powered Helicopter Wins Award (VIDEO)


Oh Canada! First you gave us William Shatner, now you give us a human-powered helicopter.

A team of engineers called AeroVelo has won a $250,000 award for creating a human-powered helicopter that could fly three meters off the ground for 60 seconds while keeping the cockpit within a ten-square-meter area. The American Helicopter Society sponsored this Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition, and the prize money has been on offer for nearly 30 years.

Man-powering a helicopter is tough to do since humans don’t have strength to lift themselves off the ground without large rotors. Of course, large rotors are heavy, making it hard for a human to get the helicopter off the ground. This is the reason all those Renaissance-era experiments with birdlike flapping wings never worked. To cut down on weight, the team used super-light materials that are too delicate to be flown outdoors.

AeroVelo’s flight lasted 64.11 seconds, a world record, and reached up to 3.3 meters in altitude. As you can see from the video, drift was a problem with this and all other competitors, with the machine drifting up to 9.8 meters.

So will this be the new way to get to the hockey game? Probably not. The personal jetpack has been around for decades but never took off either. The Martin Jetpack company is trying to change that, although they haven’t yet made their jetpacks — which will probably cost in the six figures — commercially available yet. Popular Mechanics did an interesting article on why jet packs aren’t feasible.