Gadling Gift Guide: Tech For Travel

Samsung's Galaxy Camera makes the Gadling Tech gift guideFrom keeping us entertained on a long flight to helping us stay connected with friends and family while on the road, technology has had an undeniable impact on the way we travel. Whether we’re going across the state for an important business meeting or around the globe to experience a foreign culture, our favorite gadgets have become indispensable gear for modern adventures. If you have a traveler on your holiday shopping list, here are a few suggestions for tech toys that may make their next road trip a more enjoyable one.

Samsung Galaxy Camera ($499)
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest development in in the world of point-and-shoot photography, then you’ll certainly want to check out the brand new Samsung Galaxy Camera. It features a 16-megapixel sensor, 21x optical zoom, 8 GB of built-in storage and a bright 4.8-inch super clear LCD display. But what really sets it apart from the pack is that it runs an advanced version of the Android operating system (4.1 Jelly Bean), giving the camera access to thousands of apps that will help extend its functionality beyond just snapping pictures. Add in GPS functionality, the ability to give voice commands and on-board photo editing and you have yourself a powerful device. It even comes with the option for full 3G and LTE wireless connectivity, allowing photographers to share their images on social media or save their photos to cloud storage immediately after taking them.

Mojo Battstation Tough Dual Pro ($29.90-$39.90)
The new Battstation Tough Dual Pro sets a new standard for portable battery chargers for power hungry devices. Not only is it tough and durable, it also features two USB ports for charging more than one device at a time. Available in two configurations, one with a 7200 mAh and the other with an 8400 mAh battery, this little box is capable of providing plenty of juice for your smartphone, camera, GPS device or just about anything else you can plug into it. It’ll even charge the new iPad, which is no small feat considering the amount of power it takes to fill its massive batteries. Best of all, the entire package weighs less than 7.5 ounces, which makes it the perfect travel companion for those trips when power outlets will be few and far between.Incase iPhone cases for the holidayIncase iPhone Cases ($29.95-$59.95)
If the gadget lover on your holiday list also happens to be an iPhone owner, then a stylish new case from Incase may be just what they’re hoping for this holiday season. The company’s offerings come in a variety of colors and styles that will give any phone a unique look all of its own. Better yet, these cases provide a fantastic level of protection without detracting in any way from Apple’s iconic design. That means the phone will remain light and thin but will still be well protected from accidental drops and other hazards. Considering how fragile – not to mention expensive – modern smartphones can be, one of these cases may be the best investment for the accident prone traveler too.

Google Nexus 7 Android Tablet ($249)
Android has dominated the smartphone market over the past couple of years and now it has a viable option in the tablet space as well. The Nexus 7 makes a great alternative to the iPad and comes packed with plenty of features that are sure to appeal to any gadget fan. The device includes 32GB of storage, a beautiful 7-inch display and a battery with enough power to keep it running for up to ten hours between charges. Thin and lightweight, the Nexus 7 also has access to a growing library of apps, movies, books, games and more via the Google Play Store. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, you can even get a model with 16GB of storage for just $199, although I recommend springing for the extra space. You’ll need it when you start filling up the device with travel photos.

Timbuk2 Power Commute messenger bagTimbuk2 Power Commute Messenger Bag ($199)
While on the road, there are two things that every techie traveler needs. The first is a great bag to securely carry their laptop, tablet, and other items and the second is a source of power to keep all of their devices fully juiced up. Fortunately Timbuk2’s Power Commute messenger bag has us covered in both areas, giving us a great over the shoulder sling pack for hauling our gear while also cleverly integrating an energy pack for recharging batteries. The Power Commute’s battery pack is capable of charging most smartphones and tablets through its USB port, providing quick and convenient energy when needed. Other nice touches include a TSA compliant laptop sleeve, plenty of organizational pockets and water resistant fabrics to help keep important gear safe from the elements.

Jawbone Jambox Portable Speaker ($199)
Over the past year I’ve been lucky enough to test a number of good Bluetooth portable speaker systems and out of all of them, the one that I continue to enjoy the most is the Jawbone Jambox. Compact and lightweight, the Jambox is small enough to slip into your bag on any trip and yet its speakers have the power to fill a room with booming audio. Sound quality is exceptional and the ten hour battery life keeps the music flowing far longer than expected. The Jambox’s built-in microphone even allows it to serve as a speakerphone, which can come in handy for those impromptu business meetings that sometimes arise while we’re on the road. Music lovers and podcast junkies will absolutely adore the Jambox whether they are traveling or at home. The device is available in a variety of colors, but the most fun comes from completely customizing the look yourself.

Belkin Wireless Travel Router ($80)
Sharing an Internet connection in a hotel room can be a major challenge, particularly when Wi-Fi access is limited or even non-existent. Belkin’s wireless Travel Router can save the day however, turning a single Ethernet jack into a wireless network for multiple devices. The router supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, can be password protected and even has VPN functionality. Built with travelers in mind, the router is compact and even comes with a travel case to safely store the device, its power supply and an included network cable while in transit. This is the kind of gadget that many travelers don’t even know they need until they actually have one.

Lenovo Thinkpad Twist UltrabookLenovo Twist Ultrabook Laptop ($745)
Ultrabooks have been a godsend for frequent travelers over the past few years. These lightweight and super-thin laptops have shaved a considerable amount of weight from our packs, which is always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Now Lenovo has taken the design one step further, creating an Ultrabook that converts into a fully-functional Windows 8 tablet. The Twist derives its name from the fact that the screen is capable of rotating a full 180 degrees, easily converting it from laptop to tablet mode. This gives it a level of versatility that few other notebooks have, making it incredibly useful in a variety of situations. The base model comes with 4GB of RAM and a 1.8 GHz i-3 processor. Performance in that configuration is snappy and fun, but there are options to expand the hardware for those that truly need it.

Be sure to check out Gadling’s other Gift Guides for more holiday shopping ideas.

[Photo Credits: Samsung, Incase, Timbuk2 and Lenovo]

Giving Or Receiving, Cruise Travel Bargains Plentiful This Season

cruise

Cruise lines always seem to have a sale of some kind or another going on. But when we talk about buying a cruise at this time of year, it’s a matter of “Do you want to go on a cruise or do you want to give a cruise as a gift?”

Going on a cruise over the holidays can easily take care of everyone on the shopping list. Many families choose to cruise on holiday sailings just for that reason, if not to leave dear Aunt Annoying and her downer cousins on the shore.

Giving a cruise can be equally rewarding this season. The deposit for a cruise or a cruise gift certificate that can be redeemed at a later date is an increasingly popular option. For frequent cruise travelers, adding on-board credit to spend as they wish on an upcoming sailing is always appreciated.Want to have fun with the gift of a cruise? Go to a hobby or crafts store and buy separate wooden letters that spell out “cruise.” Mix them all up, put them in a box, gift wrap it and put it under the tree. It’s a fun time for all as the receiver tries to figure out what those letters spell, and a huge photo op to catch their face when they figure it out.

Looking for some outstanding cruise deals? Cruise Holidays has Avalon Waterways with free air credit on select sailings, savings on Carnival Cruise Line’s South America itineraries and savings of up to $1000 on Royal Caribbean cruises.




[Photo Credit: Flickr user gailf548]

Kiwi Cool: Shopping For New Zealand-Made Souvenirs

When you go to the other side of the world, you want to bring back a few things to show for your trouble. Visiting New Zealand with my 1-year-old daughter, and with nephews at home in America, I became obsessed with finding them something actually made in the country. A stuffed kiwi bird or lamb toy, a merino wool baby blanket, or a fun T-shirt would do nicely, and I wouldn’t mind some jewelry or something small for our apartment either. In all of the cities I visited in New Zealand, I was impressed to find stylish, playful and innovative boutiques and vendors creating beautiful and unique home design, fashion and other Kiwiana. There’s enough Kiwi cool shopping that you might end up wishing you had a bigger suitcase.

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Flotsam & Jetsam (Auckland) – A cross between an antique store and a hipster Restoration Hardware, this collection of colorful and covetable home items will make you contemplate a move to Auckland. Visitors from farther away might find interesting vintage, repurposed and retro home wares from New Zealand and all over the world. Check their Facebook page for details on the latest stock.Nelson Saturday market (Nelson, South Island) – New York City has street fairs and markets pretty much every day of the year if you look hard enough, but all too often, you find the same cheap tube socks, fried cheese and dough concoctions, and hodgepodge of junk. My expectations weren’t high for the weekly market in the arty town of Nelson on the top of the South Island, but after a quick walk through, I was glad I didn’t have too much cash to spend, as there was so much to buy. On a given weekend, you might find model airplanes crafted from soda cans, gourmet gluten-free tacos, and more knitwear than you can shake a sheep at. Local band performances, cooking demonstrations, or even a flash mob add to the festive atmosphere.

Pauanesia (Auckland) – This small shop is loaded to the gills with all things antipodean (a Brit term for a place on the other side of the world), with an emphasis on home textiles such as Polynesian-print tablecloths. If you have a little one to shop for (or just enjoy stuffed animals), consider one of the charming Kiwi “chaps” made from vintage and salvaged fabrics and send them a photo of your bird out in the world. You can also find a nice assortment of Paua shell jewelry, key chains, and other odds and ends much more thoughtfully and well-made than your average gift shop.

Iko Iko (Auckland and Wellington) – What drew me into the Wellington store was a window display of Dear Colleen‘s cheeky “Dishes I’d rather be doing” tea towels with “dishes” like Ryan Gosling and Mr. Darcy-era Colin Firth (get it?). I could have easily spent hours inside poring over the whimsical items, like a kiwi bird cookie cutter, Buzzy Bee cufflinks, or a CD from the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra. It’s full of things you don’t really need but really want, plus fun takes on everyday items.

Abstract Designs (Wellington) – You might call these artisanal cardboard cutouts. Abstract Designs makes creative sculptures and jewelry with a very local flavor. Perhaps you’ll pick up a 747 plane kit for the airplane nerd in your life, a pop-up building replica to remind you of your stay in Wellington, or a cruelty-free moose trophy head for your wall. Their designs are sold in many museum gift shops as well, but there’s a full selection at their Wellington studio and online.

Hapa (Christchurch) – Pop-up businesses have become the foundation for the new Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake. The Re:START mall is the best example, built out of shipping containers and housing a mix of “old” Christchurch shops in temporary digs and new shops. There are several stores in the mall selling New Zealand goods, but Hapa stands out for their many beautiful and clever items, like a bear bean bag chair or a knitted “fox stole” scarf. Best of all, many goods are made or designed in Christchurch, so you can feel good about supporting the local economy.

Texan Art Schools (multiple stores in Auckland) – Don’t be confused by the name, it’s a play on the fact that it carries work from graduates of “tech(nical)s” and art schools. Texan Art Schools acts as one-stop shopping for dozens of Kiwi artists and designers, with an eclectic mix of home items, fashion and jewelry. You’re sure to find something unusual and authentic here like a set of Maori nesting dolls or a retro camper wall clock.

Photo from Auckland’s Queen Street shopping arcade. More “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Unadventurous” to come.

Gifts From Abroad: What To Bring Your Family When You Come Home

gifts from abroad
My wife and I travel a lot, sometimes together, sometimes separately. We both have careers that require us to travel and while it can be tough to be apart, at least we have the regular ritual of seeing what gifts from abroad are popping out of each other’s suitcases!

My wife just came back from an astronomy meeting in Tokyo and brought back this haul of loot. The Japanese are masters of packaging, whether they’re being stylish and traditional or garish and modern. I wonder what a supermarket full of this stuff must look like. The panda head cookies are especially good. I’ve always wanted a bag of decapitated pandas. The T-shirt is for her, because she knows I’m fond of her “especially cuteness.”

What I forgot to include in this photo were the three bottles of sake she brought back. While I’ve always had my sake warm, she tells me it’s often served cold in Tokyo and that regulars have their own monogrammed bottle reserved for them behind the bar!

When I came back from writing my travel series about Greece, I brought her and my son lots of olives since they both love them. I also brought back some honey from Sparta. My wife adores honey and it’s a good gift to bring from abroad because it tastes different in every region. Of all the honey I’ve brought her from far-flung places, she’s liked the Spartan honey the most.

You’ll notice that we mostly bring back consumables. A great way to share the experience of your trip is to share some of the tastes. Also, we live in a European apartment (read: small) and we have too much stuff anyway.

What gifts from abroad do you like to give or receive? Tell us in the comments section!

gifts from abroad

Gadling Gear Review: Heat Holders Socks

I suffer terribly from cold feet; it’s why I don’t cheap out on socks. It’s also why I have one of those electric heater mats on the floor under my desk (a gift from my mate who sometimes just nails the gift giving with weird yet supremely likeable prezzies). Socks are way low on the scale of glam gear down with quick-dry underwear and refillable three ounce bottles, but they’re essential, and having warm feet can really make the difference between a lousy day or a good one.

Because of my terminally chilly paws, I was keen to see if Heat Holders are any better than the merino brands that stuff my sock drawer (SmartWool, IceBreaker, Dahlgren, and Darn Tough Vermont) at keeping my feet warm. (I am a fan of good socks, you may have guessed.) The short answer? Well, sort of.

I have a strong preference for natural fibers, it’s a “less plastic stuff” thing. I’m not totally naive; I do know that sometimes, the synthetics are the way to go. I’m just not that keen to spend a couple of hours waxing a canvas raincoat because I want to go with heavy cotton over far superior modern materials like GoreTex or PolarTech. Heat Holders are an acrylic poly blend; there’s nothing particularly natural about them.

They feel fine, though. They have a deep pile fleecy inside, they’re kind of cuddly, furry, even, a little bit like the inside or your lambswool slippers. (No, I don’t have those. The husband does and they’re sweet.) Outside, they’re, uh, a little plastic-y. I’ve been spoiled by merino, which I tend to prefer. But it’s the outside of the sock, who cares?

Here’s my issue with these socks. They’re really bulky. All that fluffy really does work to keep your feet warmer, and they’re great for sleeping in. But I couldn’t get them in most of my shoes. I’m not totally sold on the idea that adding bulk is the best way to stay warm. I get it — loft is how you hold heat and the loft that these socks somehow manage to provide, even after a full day’s wear, works. They worked great in my wellies, which are a little big, but I couldn’t wear them with many of my other winter boots. I’m wearing mine around the house and with my rain boots out in the wet, but for travel? Nope, too bulky.

The marketing text on the elaborate packaging says that these socks are “seven times warmer than your basic cotton sock.” That’s probably true. But I’m not sure they’re seven times warmer than some of the wool or alpaca fiber socks I’ve got, and that’s a more useful comparison.
Heat Holders socks come in a few styles: stripey, long, and in a slipper sock. Their original sock goes for just just under $20.00.