Gadling Gift Guide: Tech for Travel

Tech Gift Guide: Samsung 9 laptopTravel has certainly changed in the last decade and most of us would probably agree that those changes haven’t always been for the best. Fortunately, technology has been one of the bright spots over the past few years however, and we now have a plethora of options for entertainment, staying connected, and getting work done while on the go. Here are a few great gift ideas for the techie traveler on your list this holiday season.

Laptops
More and more of us are traveling with computers these days, even if we don’t always need them to do work. A laptop keeps us connected while on the go, allows to play games, watch movies, upload photos, and so much more. With that in mind, here are three great options for travel.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
This powerful and rugged laptop is perfect for adventure travelers heading to remote destinations. Built on a carbon fiber frame and packing a water resistant keyboard, the X1 is designed to take a beating and still keep working. It also happens to be one of the thinnest ThinkPad’s ever built and weighs in at just 3.7 pounds, which is amazingly light for a ruggedized laptop. The battery lasts a solid 5.5 hours and can be recharged to 80% of its power in just 30 minutes. ($1467)

Samsung Series 9
If you’re looking for something a bit more stylish than the ThinkPad X1, without compromising durability, then look no further than the Series 9 from Samsung. It’s Duralumin case is built from the same materials as modern aircraft, which makes it strong, yet light and flexible. This ultra-thin notebook is just .6 inches thick and weighs in at a mere 2.9 pounds, which makes it a lightweight and powerful travel companion for those extended trips abroad. The 7 hour battery life will be appreciated on long flights as well. ($1550)

Asus Zenbook UX21
One of the first of a new line of laptops dubbed “ultrabooks,” the Zenbook UX21 from Asus is a great option for individuals who like to travel light. This diminutive notebook weighs just 2.4 pounds and is razor thin, allowing it to slip inside your carry-on with ease. The Zenbook offers 5 hours of battery life, features a 128GB solid state drive, and premium sound for listening to music and movies while on the go. It also packs a pleasant price tag, with Amazon offering it up for just $966.

Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi headset
MP3 players have made possible to take our entire collection of music with us when we travel, but you’ll need a great pair of headphones to get the best sound possible. We were suitably impressed with the Ultimate Ears 600vi ear buds when we reviewed them a few weeks back, awarding them high marks for both comfort and sound quality. The integrated microphone, volume, and track controls work great as well, and the included hard carrying is more than appreciated when throwing them in your pack before you go. ($95)

Travelers looking for a more traditional set of headphones that are both super-comfortable and noise isolating, will want to investigate the Bose QuietComfort 15. While pricier than the Ultimate Ears, they also set the standard for sound quality on a mobile device. ($300)

Want to share your music with friends? Then check-out the iHome iHM79 portable speakers. They feature rechargeable batteries and great sound, in a tiny package. ($42)Amazon Kindle E-Reader
Sure, the Amazon Fire is the new hotness (pun intended!), but it is tough to beat the original Kindle, especially at it’s new $79 price point. The device’s e-ink display is perfect for reading in nearly all conditions and the device has outstanding battery life that is measured in days, not hours. The Kindle has done for books what MP3 players did for music – allow us to bring our entire library with us when we go, and it is still a great gift for the tech obsessed traveler on your list. ($79)

Tech Gift Guide: Nikon 1 J1 CameraNikon 1 V1 Camera
Digital cameras have revolutionized the way we capture photos and video from our travels, and Nikon has one of the best new options for travelers this year. The Nikon 1 is the company’s first foray into the micro 4/3 category, which offers up a compact and lightweight body, as well as a line of interchangeable lenses. Smaller than a DSLR, but more powerful than a point and shoot, the Nikon 1 takes amazing photos and video, without taking up too much room in your bag. ($599)

For those looking for simpler and more affordable option, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP1 is tough to beat. It is a compact point and shoot camera with great image quality, fast focus, and outstanding battery life. ($120)

iPhone 4S
While the iPhone 4S is rightfully getting lots of attention for its new digital assistant, Siri, and it’s outstanding camera, that isn’t why we’re putting it on our holiday list. The newest version of Apple’s iconic device is also a World Phone, which means you can now use it in over 200 countries. That alone makes it easy to recommend for travelers looking to stay connected while visiting foreign lands and previous iPhone users will rejoice that they will no longer need a separate phone when traveling abroad. ($200)

Outlets To Go Powerstrip
Keeping our gadgets powered and charged while traveling can be a real challenge, especially in hotel rooms, which seem to always lack convenient places to plug-in. A simple travel powerstrip, like the Outlets To Go from Monster, can help solve that problem. The tiny device packs three AC outlets and an integrated USB port, which is fantastic for keeping your phone, iPod, or other small electronics charged. ($12)

International travelers may want to pair the powerstrip with the Kensington All-in-One Plug Adapter as well. I take one with me whenever I leave the country, and have found it useful on many occasions. ($15)

Roku 2 HD
While not specifically a gift for travelers, who doesn’t enjoy returning home from a long vacation and curling up on their own couch? The Roku 2 HD streams all kinds of Internet content to any TV, including Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, YouTube, and so much more. It is also a great way to share photos from your latest adventure with friends and family, on your big-screen, high defnition television. Best of all, it costs just $70, which isn’t much for a tiny wireless device that offers so much entertainment. ($70)

Bose Bluetooth headset – a first for the king of noise canceling headphones

In the world of travelers, Bose has long been the standard in noise canceling headphones – but now the audio wizards are entering the world of Bluetooth headsets. And as can be expected from Bose, their first product is mighty impressive (on paper at least.)

The new Bose Bluetooth Headset may lack a snazzy name, but the innards apparently more than make up for that. Inside the headset is the Bose TriPort speaker technology found in their headphones, along with Adaptive Audio Technology – described as “an advancement that measures incoming speech and background noise, and adjusts voice levels automatically and smoothly.”

The headset features a real on/off slider switch and LED’s with clear labels. The new Bose Bluetooth Headset comes with three StyleHear tips (small, medium and large) and will be available from Bose in late November for $149.95. Bottom line for travel gadget freaks is that this headset can safely be added to your Christmas wish lists.

The top ten travel products of 2009

Welcome to the Gadling Gear Review “best of 2009”. Winning a spot in the Gadling top ten lineup of travel gadgets is a huge honor – Over 250 gadgets pass through our hands each year, some great, and some not so great.

The ten products in this list show the best of the best in the travel gadget world. Each of these products offers something special, something not found anywhere else or something that is just downright awesome. Every single one of these products has been tested by the Gadling labs – we don’t do cut and paste reviews. The list of the ten products is published in no specific order.


Verizon Wireless MiFi

Getting online has never been easier than with the MiFi. The MiFi is a combination of a wireless router and a mobile broadband adapter, all in a device a third of the thickness of a deck of cards. With its internal battery, you can create your own personal wireless hotspot, anywhere in range of the Verizon Wireless broadband network.

Why it matters for travelers? Screw paid hotel Internet – create your own hotspot where you want.

Price: $49.99 (with a 2 year service agreement)
Where to get it:
Verizon Wireless

Manfrotto ModoSteady

The Manfrotto ModoSteady is the perfect accessory for anyone traveling with an HD camera or camcorder. It allows you to play movie director with its steady camera mount, and in a matter of seconds, you can transform it into a mini tripod or shoulder mount.

Why it matters for travelers? One device is a tripod, steady-cam mount and shoulder mount, all in just 500 grams.

Price: $119
Where to get it:
www.manfrotto.com
Gadling review: September 2009

Tom Bihn bags Tri-Star

Tom Bihn was featured in our best of 2008 lineup with their Checkpoint Flyer bag, and this year they did it again. Their Tri-Star bag beat every other bag I tested in 2009, and earns a well deserved spot in the this lineup.

The Tri-Star is an astounding bag – it is a shoulder bag, backpack and carry-on all in one. There is enough space for a laptop, documents and clothes for a couple of days.

Why it matters for travelers? The perfect bag for one-bag travelers.

Price: $249
Where to get it:
www.tombihn.com
Gadling review: June 2009

iPhone 3GS

In 2009, the iPhone went from good to great. It gained more speed, and a better camera. These minor changes alone are obviously not enough to make it to our list – what helped this phone win a spot in our lineup are the applications. No other phone in the world has the same level of fantastic applications as the iPhone.

Especially in the travel application segment, the iPhone beats every other platform. With fantastic apps like FlightTrack Pro, the iPhone has reached “must have” status for anyone on the road. 2010 may prove to be a challenging year for the iPhone – new devices are going to do their best to knock it from its throne, but without support from developers, the iPhone will still remain the leader.

Why it matters for travelers? The best device for the best in mobile travel applications.

Price: From $199
Where to get it: www.apple.com

Gogo Inflight service

What started as a service on a handful of planes, is now the driving force behind Internet in the skies on almost 700 aircraft. The Gogo Inflight service provides affordable and speedy Internet access for your laptop, PDA or smartphone. It finally brings an end to watching reruns of stuff you don’t even want to watch once.

In just 12 months, Gogo managed to find its way onto 6 airlines, 2 of which offer it on every single one of their planes.

Why it matters for travelers? What better way to spend six hours trapped in a metal tube?

Price: From $5.95 / flight
Where to get it: Participating airlines

Olympus E-P1

Earlier this year, Olympus announced their newest digital camera – the PEN E-P1 offers almost all the features you’d expect from a large digital SLR camera, but without the bulk. Its smaller size makes it perfect for travel, and since it can be outfitted with any Micro Four/Thirds lens, you can pick the right lens for your shots.

Why it matters for travelers? Smaller and lighter than a digital SLR, with the same great photos and great HD video.

Price: $799
Where to get it: www.olympus.com
Gadling review: June 2009

Bose Quiet Comfort QC15

For years, when you wanted noise canceling headphones, you purchased Bose. As the headphone marketplace filled up with new companies, Bose continued to innovate, and churned out even better products. In 2009, they released the QC15 headphones, and instantly secured their spot as the best in the market. The new QC15’s are lighter, and block even more outside noise than the previous models.

Why it matters for travelers? Blocks out crying babies, engine noise and fellow passengers.

Price: $299
Where to get it: www.bose.com

Lug NAPSAC and SNUZSAC

As airlines cut corners, passengers need to carry their own blanket and pillow – something the folks at LUG noticed. They invented the NAPSAC and SNUZSAC.

These products appear to be regular pillows. The smart part of these things is that they can be unzipped, to remove an ultra-soft blanket, then inflated back to their normal shape. End result – a pillow and a blanket. Before landing, you simply deflate the pillow, pop the blanket back inside, and pack it in your bag.

Why it matters for travelers? Airlines don’t care about your comfort, so take good care of yourself

Price: $28 (NAPSAC) $30 (SNUZSAC)
Where to get it: www.lugtravel.com

Callpod Fueltank

I love backup battery chargers. They allow me to charge my equipment anywhere I am. And what could be better than a single battery charger? Well, how about one that charges two devices at the same time! The Callpod Fueltank uses the same power tips as on the award winning Callpod Chargepod, which means you can put together a power kit that’ll charge six products in your room, and two on the go.

Why it matters for travelers? A gadget with an empty battery is about as useful as a fart in a spacesuit.

Price: $59.95
Where to get it: www.callpod.com

Macally PowerLink

This gadget caught me by completely by surprise when I received it. When I read the product description, I didn’t really expect too much, but it has actually turned out to be one of the most impressive little gadgets I’ve seen all year.

The Macally PowerLink is an iPod/iPhone backup charger, 2GB flash drive and USB connector in one device. It’ll charge your device to about 50% (great for emergencies), it holds 2GB of your most important files, and it means you can leave your iPhone cable at home.

Why it matters for travelers? One device to sync, charge and power your iPhone and carry 2GB of your most important files

Price: $49.95
Where to get it:
www.macally.com

Product review – Plane Quiet Platinum noise canceling headphones

This review is quite a “scoop”; it’s the first online review of the new Plane Quiet Platinum noise canceling headphones. These headphones are developed in the USA by the “Outside the box group”, who have been around for almost 4 years, and have become quite successful in bringing affordable noise canceling products to the marketplace. The brains behind this company are David and Renee Dillinger, David was a commerical pilot and Renee a flight attendant, so they have quite a lot of experience in air travel.

The headphones arrive in one of those impossible to open plastic blister packages, so if you buy them at the airport, be sure to pack a chainsaw in your carry-on bag. Inside the package you’ll find the headphones themselves, a user guide, 2 AAA batteries, a headphone jack adapter, a 2-prong adapter, a carrying pouch and a smaller pouch for storing the various accessories.

The Plane Quiet Platinum headphones feel terrific. There is a good solid feel to every part of them. The headband is covered in real leather, just like the ear cups. Each ear piece folds 90 degrees, making it easy to store them. Each side also has a clear marking for the left and right channel, and they extend 1.5 inches, to ensure you’ll always find the perfect fit.The carrying pouch is made of nylon, and stores the headphones as well as any accessories or spare batteries you want to bring along. Inside the pouch is a strip of Velcro, for attaching the included accessories pouch. There is ample space in the pouch for an mp3 player or other media device. The total weight of the pouch with headphones, accessories pouch and a set of spare AAA batteries is a tad over 10 ounces (about 290 grams).

The audio cord is a generous 75 inches long (190 centimeters), so you’ll be able to use them in any class of air travel, plus you’ll have enough cable to get up out of your seat to let someone go to the bathroom, without having to unplug yourself and miss the only funny scene of the in-flight movie.

In the middle of the cable is the control pod. This measure about 3 inches long and houses 2 AAA batteries, as well as the power switch. With batteries installed, the control pod weighs just 1.7 ounces. The headphone cord goes in just one earpiece, so you won’t end up getting tangled in cords after a nap on the plane.

Of course, the most important part of any noise canceling product is the audio performance, and I’m pleased to say that the Plane Quiet Platinum headphones do not disappoint. The rated noise cancellation level (provided by the manufacturer) is -18dB at 150-400Hz, which is the audio range of what you’ll usually want to cancel on a flight (engine noise).

The best part of the noise canceling electronics in the Plane Quiet Platinum headphones is the lack of “hiss”. If you have ever tried some of the more popular brands (like that big brand that rhymes with “hose”), then you might have experienced a kind of hissing noise when the noise canceling feature is turned on. These headphones do not have that, in fact, when you turn the noise canceling feature on in a quiet room, there is absolutely no distortion to the music at all, it cancels out background noise, without interfering with the audio.

Volume is quite excellent, and even at the highest setting, I did not hear any loss of quality. The earpieces provide a decent bass and my music sounded nice and rich. When testing them, I used three sources; my Blackberry Curve, an iPod classic and a DVD movie on my laptop computer. If you plan to use these headphones on the old iPhone, you will need a headphone adapter since Apple, in its infinite wisdom, recessed the headphone jack.

Since the headphones use decent quality leather ear cups, they isolate the audio quite well, even when the noise canceling electronics are turned off. The advantage of keeping noise out, is that you also keep noise in, which means you won’t have to be embarrassed when you listen to Abba in the airport lounge.

By far the best part of these headphones is the price; at just $99.95 they are a steal, and a third of what other brands charge for their similar premium noise canceling headphones. The Plane Quiet Platinum headphones are available as of today, directly from the web site of the manufacturer. Shipping is free, and you can pay with all major credit cards, Paypal and even Google Checkout.

Final thoughts;
There really isn’t much I can criticize these headphones on. The price is right, the quality is great, audio is great and the package contains all the accessories you need to unpack the headphones and use them right away. The only thing I’d change, is making it easier to open the packaging, but that probably just makes me look a little petty. If you are in the market for active noise canceling headphones, then I strongly suggest the new Plane Quiet Platinum headphones.

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Best Buy opens first US Airport store – in a vending machine

Passengers at Dallas-Forth Worth airport arriving or departing from terminals B or E can now purchase a select assortment of electronics from a Best Buy branded vending machine.

The machines are developed by San Francisco based ZoomSystems who already have over 650 locations throughout the country.

The Best Buy express vending machine has some of the best selling portable electronic products from a regular Best Buy store, including digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, Bose noise canceling headphones and of course a selection of Apple iPods.

This newest machine marks the 11th ZoomSystems vending machine at DFW airport. Previously, machines were installed to sell Sony products, iPods and Proactive cosmetics. An overview of all the ZoomSystems vending locations can be found here.

Unfortunately, neither Best Buy nor ZoomSystems have issued any more information about their newest partner, so until I pass through DFW, I won’t know more about the prices of the products on display.

If you ever wondered whether these machines are profitable, back in 2006, an iPod vending machine at Atlanta airport was selling $55,000 a month in iPods alone (that is about 7 iPods a day). People clearly find that buying high tech gadgets from a vending machine is worthwhile (or just plain cool).

Source: Dallas News aviation blog (via Gizmodo)