How Siri can help you travel smarter in 2012

Even if you own the iPhone 4S, you may not know ‘Siri’. And if you don’t already have the 4S, you might only know about Siri, if you do at all, through hearsay, abundant resources online introducing you to Siri, or a phone belonging to someone else. You may, on the other hand, use Siri regularly and effectively and, in that case, you’re ready to optimize your Siri use for travel. Siri is, in a nutshell, a voice-driven, personal assistant software built into the 4S. Siri doesn’t know the useful answer you’re looking for to every question you ask and calling upon Siri doesn’t always save you time – it depends. But Siri can do most things a real-life personal assistant can do, and more. Some of Siri’s functions can and will help you to make your travel experiences less stressful, more efficient, and, I daresay, better. By simply pressing and holding down the home button on the 4S, Siri comes to attention. And if you get to know Siri well enough, Siri will help you to travel smarter in 2012.Navigation and safety
While traveling, you’re not always in a safe position to be fussing over your GPS, especially not if your GPS is built into your phone. Distracting yourself with GPS can lead to avoidable accidents, no matter what sort of vehicle you’re captaining. Siri is hooked up with Maps and can walk you through step-by-step directions, from beginning to end, all through voice command.

Time management
No matter how much preparation you do, wasting time while traveling is nearly inevitable. You will, pretty much invariably, find that you need something in an area you are unfamiliar with while traveling and, if you’re anything like me, waste time trying to find it. Unlike a lot of voice command systems, Siri doesn’t need you to use specific phrases. If you need to find the nearest gas station, Siri will quickly present a list of nearby gas stations when you simply say, “gas station.” This feature isn’t just for filling up, though. Siri will just as quickly aid you in locating the nearest restaurant, day care, bar, or whatever else you need to find. Siri takes this process a step further by offering you results sorted by ratings. Command Siri to find you the “Best Thai restaurant in Austin” and you’ll know what I mean.

“Call 911.” Say that to Siri and Siri will do just that. When in less dire need, Siri can easily pull up lists and reviews of nearby medical professionals, car mechanics, vets, or anyone else you may need to contact in an emergency situation.

Travel research
Siri can help you figure out where to go and how to get there. Phrases like these can possibly work well with Siri:

“Find me the closest train station”
“Call a taxi”
“Best bed and breakfast in Boston
“Best dive bar in Seattle
“Music festivals in 2012”

Traveling personal assistant
Siri is recognized, most generally speaking, as a robotic personal assistant. Relying on Siri to perform such tasks yields a decent job done. Having a personal assistant traveling with you can help ease the common stress associated with travel. Phrases like these can work with Siri:

“I am seeing a show on Friday night at 9 p.m.” Siri will put this in your calendar.
“Remind me at 10 a.m. to book my flight.” Siri will put this in your reminders.
“Wake me up at 7 a.m. to check out.” Siri will set this alarm for you.
“Add toothpaste, umbrella, and socks to my packing list.” Siri will add these items to a list in your notes.

More than anything, Siri seems to me like what Siri actually is: the iPhone’s first attempt at creating a little robot that any iPhone 4S owner can use to better manage traveling, and, of course, life in general.

Gadling gear review: Satechi SoundFly View Bluetooth FM transmitter

One of the great features of owning a smartphone is that it allows us to carry our entire library of music, not to mention stream live audio or video, anywhere we go. That feature is great for when you get stuck in line at the DMV or are stranded in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, so it seems only natural that smartphone users would want to listen to that music or streaming audio in their car as well. But unless you have a stereo that accepts external input in some fashion, that can be a challenging, and potential expensive proposition. The SoundFly View Bluetooth FM transmitter from Satechi not only accomplishes that feat, but also brings hands-free phone calls to the package as well. Better yet, it manages to do all of that, without breaking the bank.

The SoundFly View is a small, relatively simple device, which is powered by a 5V port in your vehicle. Once plugged in and activated, it is a two step process for getting the SoundFly to wirelessly transmit music or phone calls to your in-car audio system. First, you need to pair it with your cell phone using Bluetooth technology and then you’ll need to find a clear, unused, FM radio channel to accept the transmission. Both processes are fairly straight forward, and easily accomplished, and I had my iPhone sharing music and making phone calls in just a few minutes.

Using an FM transmitter to get music from an mp3 player or smartphone onto your car stereo is not a new concept, although the technology is far from refined. In theory, it should work well, but low-powered FM transmitters can be easily over powered by radio signals, and finding a free channel to use in larger urban areas can be a real challenge at times. Satechi hasn’t completely overcome those issues, but for the most part, the SoundFly’s built in FM transmitter is strong enough to resist outside signals, allowing you to listen to your music, or stream Pandora or Spotify, while driving. To accomplish that, you simply set your radio to an unused channel, then set the SoundFly to transmit on that same channel. Sound quality is surprisingly good, with solid bass and clear vocals, which hasn’t always been the case with similar devices in the past.Once you have the system up and running, the SoundFly’s two-inch display shows artist and track information for the music you’re listening to and operates as a caller-ID for incoming phone calls as well. That screen is solid, and accomplishes what we need, but it is far from remarkable. Satechi has given us the ability to adjust the contrast, and choose from three different background colors, but no one will be wowed by the quality of the LCD display.

As mentioned, aside from streaming audio from our smartphone, the SoundFly also allows us to make hands-free cell phone calls. When paired with your phone, the device downloads your phone book, giving you access to it directly on screen, or if your phone supports voice commands, you can simply tap a button and tell it to dial a contact. While on a call, the incoming audio is transmitted to your car speakers, while a built in mic picks up what is said and sends it to the person on the other end. That mic does a solid job for how small it is, but it will pick-up background noise from time to time, making it a challenge for others to hear what is said. Your mileage will vary of course, but a quieter vehicle helps to keep background noise to a minimum.

Satechi managed to pack in a few extra features to the SoundFly View that help to make it an even better option for drivers. For example, it has built in audio-in and out ports that help to improve sound quality over the wireless technologies that are used and extend its functionality to devices that don’t include Bluetooth at all. It also includes a USB port that can be used to charge your devices while on the go, while an SD-card slot gives you the option to skip the device altogether. A handy remote control is also included, although it is debatable whether or not a remote is needed when the SoundFly can be situated so that it is right at your fingertips.

All in all, this is a very good option for streaming audio and making phone calls in your car. Travelers making long road trips will love all the functionality that Satechi has put into this device, and it makes a great companion for any smartphone. It even works with Siri on the iPhone 4S, giving you the ability to use her services hands-free as well. Considering the SoundFly View is just $79.95, it is also an affordable option for those looking for a way to integrate their phones more fully with their vehicle, without paying hundreds of dollars. With the Spring Break and summer road trip seasons ahead, this device could be a very popular one with travelers hitting the road this year.

Gadling gear review: Ultimate Ears 600vi earphones

Modern technology has obviously had a dramatic impact on how we travel. Thanks to small, lightweight portable devices, we now have the ability to carry our entire music library or a collection of our favorite movies and television shows, with us where ever we go. But one of the key elements for enjoying our music and videos is a good pair of headphones, preferably headphones that are comfortable to wear, isolate outside noise, and offer great sound. I recently found all of those qualities in a new pair of Ultimate Ears 600vi earphones from Logitech.

Before testing the UE 600vi’s I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not I would find them comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. After all, on a long international flight, they could potentially be used for hours on end. For years I’ve traveled with a pair of Bose Triport headphones, which are traditional, over the ear headphones that are super comfortable and provide great sound. The Ultimate Ears on the other hand, are in-ear models that are a bit of a departure for those accostumed to the larger, bulkier models that cover the entire ear.

To get the best performance, and comfort, out of the Ultimate Ears it is important that you get the right fit. Fortunately, Logitech packs in six sets of ear cushions, varying in size from extra-extra-small to large, which are designed to help us find that fit. Those cushions can be mixed and matched as needed, and it took several days of experimenting to find the right combination for my needs. Once I did however, not only did the UE’s fit very well, they also offered a high level of isolated from outside noise as well. That isolation is important when you’re stuck on a plane for 15 hours and you want a little relief from the sound of jet engines.While finding that perfect fit is important for the long term use of the Ultimate Ears, one thing that will strike you right away is the sound quality. Upon taking these earphones out of their package, I immediately hooked them up to my iPod and started listening to a few of my favorite tracks. The sound quality was astounding, and as I worked my way through various genres of music, I discovered that I was picking up elements to the songs that I hadn’t ever heard before. Background vocals and instruments came through clear as a bell and volume levels didn’t need to be cranked high to get the full effect of the music. I also used these headphones to watch videos and play games on my iPad, and came away impressed with their versatility and sound quality with those types of media as well.

This particular model of Ultimate Ears also includes a built in remote control right on the cable. That remote allows you to adjust volume, as well as pause and skip tracks on an iPod and other supported mp3 players. On the iPhone, the remote allows you to answer calls, and a tiny mic lets you chat directly through the earphones themselves. They also work with Siri on the new iPhone 4S, giving you the option to ask her questions and give commands without ever taking the UE’s out of your ears.

Despite their comfort and fantastic sound, the Ultimate Ears aren’t necessarily the best option for everyone. if you’re not already of fan of the in-ear model of headphones, it can take some time to get use to the feel of the cushions resting inside your ear canal. They also aren’t as good at filtering outside noise as over-the-ear headphones either, even when you have found the best fit possible. However, they don’t nearly weigh as much as their bulkier counterparts and they take up almost no room in your bag either. Those are two factors that are very important for travelers looking to travel light.

Logitech includes a nice, hard case with the Ultimate Ears, which protects them nicely when not being used. The case also help to keep the delicate cord from getting tangled, which can cause problems with any headphone. I found the case to be a nice touch in protecting my headphones while on the go.

With an MSRP of $120, the UE 600vi’s are a bit on the pricy side. But Logitech offers several models at a variety of price points, and while I’ve only had the opportunity to test this particular model, I was suitably impressed enough to recommend the rest of the line as well. If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy your music, movies, and other digital media while on the go, then you’ll definitely want to give the Ultimate Ears a listen. I think you’ll find they offer amazing sound and comfort in an incredibly small package.