Gadling Gear Review: Jawbone Jambox Portable Speaker

The Jawbone Jambox portable speaker systemA few years back the Bluetooth portable speaker market was a small one that mainly consisted of tiny, underpowered speakers with mediocre sound. Then along came the original Jambox by Jawbone and consumers realized it was possible to get high quality sound in a small, yet stylish, package. Since then, the company has continued to refine the product, offering new features and updates. Their latest innovation even allows customers to personalize the look of their Jambox by selecting from literally hundreds of different color patterns.

Starting tomorrow, Jambox customers are invited to Remix their speakers by selecting from a variety of grill colors and styles, and matching them with their choice of body color. This allows you to choose exactly how your Jambox will look and gives you the option to create one using the colors of your favorite sports team, alma mater or what ever else appeals. The process is fun, easy and doesn’t add any additional costs to the Jambox’s $199 price. Once you’ve selected your personal look, Jawbone will custom build your Jambox and ship out in about a week.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the new Remix process and after spending a little time on the Jawbone website, I was able to order my own custom Jambox. It took just a few days to get it in my hands and like previous models, the speaker features great build quality and sounds fantastic. The diminutive device is just 6 inches in length and weighs about 12 ounces, which makes it an excellent travel companion. An included soft case helps to keep the speaker well protected when not in use.Jawbone Jambox RemixFor those who haven’t used a wireless speaker like the Jambox before, it pairs via Bluetooth with your smartphone, tablet or laptop and allows you to stream audio from any source. That means you can listen to music, podcasts, movies or just about anything else. Considering its size, the Jambox is capable of putting out an impressively big sound and it can easily fill a room with your favorite tunes. While putting the device through its paces, I enjoyed listening to Pandora, Last.fm and Spotify, both at home and on the go, and was constantly impressed with how loud and clear the audio was. In fact, be careful when using it for the first time. When I started jamming tunes on mine it actually scared the heck out of my cat.

The Jambox has built in voice cues that are actually quite helpful. For instance, it’ll let you know when it has powered on, when it’s in discovery mode for Bluetooth pairing and even how much battery life remains. The pre-programmed voice works well, but Jambox users can download a number of other unique voices from the Jawbone MyTalk website. MyTalk also has some installable apps to extend the functionality of your Jambox, and when connecting to the site, it’ll even check to be sure you’re running the most recent firmware.

As if being a great portable sound system wasn’t enough, the Jambox also works as a hands free speakerphone too. While testing it in this mode, calls were clear both on my end and those that I was chatting with, which isn’t always the case with similar speakers from competitors. Speakerphone mode not only works with your favorite cellphone, but also Skype, Facetime and just about anything else that uses a microphone. A round button on top of the device not only activates the mic but also grants access to Siri.

All in all, the Jambox is a great portable speaker that travelers will love to have with them. Its ability to wirelessly play back audio of just about any type makes it a great option for entertainment on the go and its ability to act as a quality speakerphone is a welcome addition. With a battery life of about ten hours, you won’t need to worry about charging it often and its rugged construction makes it more than road ready. The fact that you can now order one custom built in your favorite colors is simply icing on the cake. It makes an already excellent product even better.

The Best iPhone Travel App Lists

iPhone travel apps were of no use to me just six months ago. Despite spending much of my time traveling across the globe, I held out on getting an iPhone for what seemed as long as possible. Once I finally did cave and walked into the Apple store with my wallet in hand, my undoing turned out to be much more fun and efficient than I had imagined it would be. So why did I hold out?

I’ve been working online for quite some time now. My first online article was published in 2000. Life has been a series of HTML adjusting and Internet comment treading for me since then. Until fall 2011, I avoided the iPhone and all other smart phones like the plague. I was convinced, for some reason, that having access to my email and all other sorts of toys in my pocket would distract me. I was sure this kind of access would lead to no other conclusion than me being constantly “at work.” The result of not having an iPhone was actually the very thing I feared, I realize now in retrospect. Without portable and constant access to my inbox, I spent a large chunk of my free time tethered to my laptop, hoping to catch emails from editors and clients as they rolled in. It was with great satisfaction that I learned the true benefit of the iPhone: the ability to readily respond to emails without having to be attached at the hip to my MacBook.Instant and continual access to my emails was just the beginning. While sitting in the Apple store for over 3 hours, eager to leave with my new iPhone, time passed remarkably quickly. The representative I was buying the phone from seemed concerned. He brought me an ice cream sandwich from the back. He apologized that the initialization process through Sprint was taking so long; he said it’s not usually so bad. Little did I care; I had already downloaded several free apps while waiting for the paperwork to go through.

Admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my phone these days. I’m sure I’m in good company when I say it’s a great device to have around during times of restless boredom. Long lines don’t bother me so much anymore.

“Have it your way, long line. I have Instagram.”

But the iPhone has also been a remedy for many other now-retired daily pains beyond sheer boredom. When I went on tour prior to the iPhone, I actually printed off step-by-step directions from Google Maps. Embarrassing? Perhaps. Efficient? No way. I used to do things like ask strangers for directions, fruitlessly hunt down public restrooms and show up at restaurants that were already closed because I didn’t know their hours. I no longer carry any of these burdens.

Travel has been made easier because of the iPhone and its apps and everyone seems to know it. In fact, everyone seems to be blogging about it – including us. Rather than peruse a never-ending list of isolated iPhone apps that are good for travel, why not peruse a shorter list of roundups wherein the most useful iPhone travel apps are suggested?

Here are some lists I like, containing apps I have found useful in my own travel:

Top 20 iPhone Travel Apps from National Geographic
The Best iPhone Apps For Travel from Travel + Leisure
6 Great iPhone Travel Apps from PC Mag
Most Popular iPhone Travel Apps from Businessweek
Top 5 iPhone Apps For Traveling from Huffington Post
Best iPhone Travel Apps from Frommers
Top 25 iPhone Travel Apps from Main Street
The Best Travel Apps For iPhone from Lifehacker
80 Terrific Travel Apps For Summer Vacation from AppStorm
Best iPhone Apps For Traveling With Kids from Travel Mamas
7 Awesome Backpacking Travel iPhone Apps
10 Free Travel Apps from USA TODAY
11 Best Travel Apps from Aol Travel
The Best iPhone Apps For A Road Trip from Techlicious

10 Apps To Turn iPhone Into Your Best Travel Companion

And from Gadling:

10 Best Travel Apps For Frequent Fliers from Gadling
Travel Smarter 2012: User Your Mobile Apps Better from Gadling
6 Useful iPhone Apps for Road Trips from Gadling

Android Apps for International Traveling

10 budgeting mistakes even smart travelers make

don't overpack if you are on a travel budgetWhen traveling, it’s easy to go overboard and spend more money than you expected. What’s important is that you spend your extra cash having fun experiences instead of on mistakes that could have been prevented with some planning. Read these 10 common money mistakes often made by travelers to help save money on your next trip.

Mistake #1: Overpacking

This is a mistake that can rack up travel costs for many reasons. First of all, depending on what airline you are flying with, you may be charged a fee for each bag you bring. Not only that, but travelers must pay not only based on how many bags they bring, but also on how much they weigh. Once you are off the plane and at your accommodation, if you have brought more luggage than you can carry yourself you will have to consider porter and bellhop costs. Just do yourself a favor and only bring items you can see yourself using and wearing multiple times.budget travelMistake #2: Not knowing the exchange rate

If you’re looking to save money, it’s a good idea to do a little research and figure out what destinations will give you the most mileage for your dollar. For example, many regions in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe have strong currencies, meaning you may end up losing money in the exchange. However, if you plan a trip to, say, Hanoi, Vietnam, or Prague in the Czech Republic, you can end up saving a lot of cash.

When traveling, you should also pay attention to what currency exchange offices offer the best rates. For instance, airport currency exchanges are usually not the best places to change your money.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to check the weather of your destination

Last June I went to Paris, France, traveling under the assumption that France is always hot (on television the French always seem to be sipping wine in sunny vineyards and relaxing in little clothing in quaint little cafes). If I had checked the weather beforehand, I would have known that shorts and sleeveless shirts were not practical for when I was going, and I wouldn’t have had to buy new clothing, a jacket, and an umbrella that I ended up leaving behind anyway.

The moral of the story? Check the weather of your destination before you leave so you can pack appropriately and save yourself from having to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Mistake #4: Not knowing international phone rates

If you really don’t need your phone, leave it home, as you can save a lot of added costs. There are many other ways to stay in touch with people at home, such as e-mail or web chat (find areas with free Wi-Fi or see if your hotel provides it). If you must have your phone, invest in an international calling plan. While every phone company offers a different plan, I have always found that services such as Skype and PennyTalk offer the best deals. Another low-cost option is to purchase a local SIM card in the country you are visiting.

budget travelMistake #5: Traveling like everyone else

Not only is traveling during high-peak season more crowded and chaotic, it’s more expensive. If there’s an activity you love, try an off-the-beaten path destination to do it instead of following the crowd. Instead of going away in the summer, find a destination that offers your ideal weather in the spring. This can not only save you money, but can also introduce you to new, unexplored destinations.

Mistake #6: Not knowing the tipping etiquette

Tipping etiquette differs from country to country, so don’t just assume that just because in your home town you leave 20% gratuity when going out to eat you must do that everywhere. For example, an article on MSNBC.com says that tipping in Fiji is discouraged, while a server in Mexico will expect a 10%-15% tip. Know the customs before you go to avoid throwing away money unnecessarily.

Mistake #7: Not purchasing travel insurance

While travel insurance isn’t free, it can also end up saving you a ton of money if an emergency does occur. Hospital bills, cancelled flights, and natural disasters aren’t cheap and you can get very affordable travel insurance plans at Access America and World Nomads. Also, if you have health insurance or a travel credit card at home, call their customer service numbers to ask what you are already covered for abroad.

Mistake #8: Not knowing your transportation options

While taxis may be the most convenient way to get around a place, they are often the most expensive. Using public transportation options such as trains, buses, tro-tros, tuk tuks, and metros can save travelers literally hundreds of dollars. If you are unsure of how to get to a place ask your accommodation to help you plan the cheapest route. Also, before even stepping on the plane to go abroad, contact your hotel and ask them what the most cost-efficient method to reach the hotel from the airport is, what stop to get off at, and specific walking directions.

Mistake #9: Not taking advantage of frequent flier programs

If you travel regularly, it pays to either signup for a frequent flier program or apply for a credit card that will give you miles. Having loyalty to specific airlines may be difficult for some people to commit to, however, it can lead to free flights and discounted travel.

Mistake #10: Always being a tourist

This is an easy mistake to make, as when people are in a place for the first time they usually end up being drawn to all the flashy signs and salespeople offering experiences at must-see attractions. While you should see the big sights, there are often free museums, open air entertainment, and complimentary attractions in every place you visit. This goes for restaurants, too. While the big, sparkling venue with the extensive (and pricey!) menu in English may look good, wouldn’t it be nice to have an authentic (and budget-friendly) dining experience at a smaller, local eatery? Street-food is also a money-saving option, as well as grocery stores (bonus if you’re accommodation has a kitchen or serves free breakfast). Also, ask your hotel when museums, restaurants, and attractions offer discounts and promotions, such as free entry on Monday nights at an art gallery or complimentary tapas at a Spanish restaurant with a drink purchase.

More than a stocking stuffer: Speaking Global Translator

If knowing how to speak at least few words of the language of the countries in which you are traveling is important to you, this gadget might help. The Speaking Global Translator works by “saying” the phrases that you type into the keyboard. This might be a good way to perfect your pronunciation and memorize certain key words. As you country hop, you can switch the language. Don’t expect Wolof, though. The languages are the 12 most common languages spoken. Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese–that sort of thing.

Think about how this might come in handy as you stumble off a night train in a totally different country from the place you left, your brain all in a fog. Bargaining for a better price for a motel room or that nifty souvenir could go a lot easier. Just think of the wonders of being able to ask for directions.

My tendency is to ask around until I find a person who speaks English who can help me, but that’s not a fool proof system, particularly the further away from major cities one heads. Even when people know English, their English may not be great–so who knows if what you tell them is being translated the way you intend it too.

This is an expensive item, though. At least, I think it is. For $229.95, I’d have to ponder a bit more to see if I’d find it useful–or if it would end up in a drawer with the hand-held, battery-operated portable fan that’s meant to cool your face on a hot day. [via 2007 Holiday Hit List, Columbus Dispatch)

Turning your Laptop into a DVR TV

For all you road warriors out there who simply can’t be on the road without catching your favorite TV show, here’s a handy little device which converts your trusty laptop into a DVR television.

Simply plug the WinTV-HVR-950 hybrid TV stick into an available USB port, load up the software, hook up the portable TV antennae, and start watching TV. The antennae can pluck both analog and digital signals from the air.

Or, if you happen to be near a cable jack, you can screw the cable onto the end of the device and pick up a cable television signal. Of course, if you are near a cable jack you’re probably near a TV as well. The benefit here is that the WinTV-HVR-950 can record programs to your hard drive just like a DVR. So, the night before you fly home, you can plug into your hotel’s cable, and record a few shows for the plane flight.

This is a pretty cool little toy but personally, I think the only reason I might ever use it would be to catch live sporting events while I travel. Otherwise, it’s DVDs and video iPods for me.

Price: $99