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.

New Florence App hits app store (and it’s free!)

Update! The app is now also available for Android devices.

Our old friend and partner-in-crime Leif Pettersen has been busy since his departure from Gadling in 2007. The wayward Lonely Planet author, travel guru and generally affable guy has been bombasting around the planet on various projects, but one in particular recently got our attention at Gadling Labs.

Turns out, Pettersen just finished putting the final touches on a new digital travel guide to Florence, the product of which is currently available in the app store for all iPhone, iPad and iVanity hardware. And best of all, it’s free for the next day. All that you have to do is scoot over to the site, click download and get your hands on the full product. In Leif’s words, “your review can be the payment.”

Here at Gadling Labs we’re itching to try out the app, but with our Android phones on a Linux operating system (in a Faraday-cage newsroom no less) it’s really difficult to jump into the river of mainstream app culture. Regretfully, our 8″ thick binder of printed AAA maps, hand written notes and excerpts from Herodotus will have to continue working as our guidebooks.

For those heading or planning to head to Florence with an iPhone, however, give Leif’s Florence guide a spin. For the cost, we’re sure it’s worth at least checking out.

[Flickr image via Arianna M]

Win trip for two in Air New Zealand Like Totally 80’s contest

Air New Zealand has never been afraid to show off its sense of humor. From matchmaking flights to cheeky commercials to risque in-flight safety videos, the Kiwi airline knows how to get attention. Now, however, we might actually benefit from their creativity with prizes that include a trip for two to New Zealand. They’re celebrating the decade of excess with their Like Totally 80’s contest on Facebook. To enter, you just need to upload a photo of yourself rocking some classic 80’s clothes. Too young to have owned your own acid-washed jeans? Well, hit up the vintage stores and take a picture of yourself just dressing the part. It’s a small price to pay for the chance to publicly humiliate yourself win a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The airline’s Facebook fans will vote for their favorite photos and the final 10 will be judged by a panel. The winner wins a trip for two to New Zealand. First runner-up will win an iPod compatible “boombox” while the second runner-up will score a case of Tab cola, the soda for beautiful people. Just last year I enjoyed some cold, “delicious” Tab with my Gadling buddy Scott Carmichael. My advice: Try not to come in third place in this contest.

Tomorrow is the deadline to enter Air New Zealand’s Like Totally 80’s contest, so act fast.

SkyMall Monday: Pillow Speaker

While some people enjoy falling asleep to the soothing sounds of music or the television, the noise can disturb others. Whether you’re at home trying to sleep next to your spouse who prefers peace and quiet or on a plane where you want some background noise to drawn out the passengers around you but also don’t want to disturb them, trying to sleep while also listening to music can be a challenge. I know that I enjoy listening to music while sleeping on planes but I also don’t want to be that guy providing a soundtrack for everyone within five rows. So, finding a way to listen to music, sleep and do it all discreetly is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an economy class seat. Thankfully, SkyMall knows that headphones can be uncomfortable when you’re sleeping and people prefer to rest their heads on their own pillows. That’s why they sell a product that combines the sleep benefits of a pillow with the audio abilities of speakers. That’s right, it’s the Pillow Speaker.It may be easy to sleep with headphones in your ears while you are seated upright on a plane, but that isn’t the case when you’re laying in bed or curled in a first class lay-flat seat. That’s where the Pillow Speaker comes in. You simply plug your iPod into the pillow, rest your head as you normally would and enjoy your music through the speaker built right inside. Who doesn’t want audio components stuffed into their pillows? You can’t spell comfortable without treble*.

Think that listening through headphones is the only polite way to enjoy your music when other people are around? Think that pillows should only be filled with feathers? Well, while you toss and turn all night, we’ll be dreaming about the product description:

No batteries or ear-buds are necessary — you can use the MP3 Pillow Speaker to enjoy music or TV without disturbing others. A great gift for teens or adults, the MP3 Pillow Speaker also helps relieve stress and tension as you drift off to sleep listening to soothing sounds from your audio source.

One must assume that the speakers maximum volume is quite low if it won’t be disturbing anyone around you. That, or since everyone else around you will have the headphones on, they won’t hear your pillow. You’ll be free to relieve stress and tension as you drift off to sleep listening to the soothing sounds of Gwar.

Don’t torture your ears with uncomfortable earbuds. Fall asleep listening to your favorite music while also enjoying your own pillow thanks to the Pillow Speaker. Just don’t turn the volume up too loud or listen to audiobooks of trashy romance novels while in public.

* Not at all true.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Top five travel gadgets NOT to take on your next trip (and what to pack instead)

I’m in the throes of packing for a two-month journey to Ethiopia. I try to pack light, other than the inevitable pile of books. While some tech freaks pack a lot of travel gadgets, I find these to be more of a hindrance than a help. Here are five things that you might want to leave behind if you’re heading out for some adventure travel.

Yes, these are handy, but they can break with rough handling and are very attractive to thieves.
What to bring instead: A compass. It’s cheaper, much less likely to break or be stolen, and with a good map is just as useful. It also makes you notice the terrain more and become more aware of the lay of the land.

Ebooks certainly save space, and many travelers like ebooks, but ereaders are far more stealable than some tattered old paperback. Plus you need to recharge your device and you can’t give or exchange books with the locals.
What to bring instead: A paperback or three. Preferably something you don’t mind trading or giving away.

Music is fun to have on the road, but it cuts you off from the sounds around you. I want to hear the muezzin’s call, the chatter of foreign languages, the local tunes blasting from shops and cafes. My playlist is part of my life back home, so I don’t need it while I’m away. I can listen to it when I get back.
What to bring instead: Nothing.Translation software
Translation software has improved a lot in recent few years. There’s even Word Lens, an iPhone app that overlays English onto foreign writing. When Jeremy Kressmann visited me in Madrid earlier this month we tried it on a menu. It was impressive but didn’t translate some of the culinary terms. I prefer learning a language the old-fashioned way. Except for France, all of the 31 countries I’ve visited are filled with people who want to help you learn their language. What better way to hook up with locals?
What to bring instead: A good dictionary and phrasebook. Also pack a good attitude.

To be honest, I do take a laptop on some of my trips, but not on an adventure. My laptop means work, and while part of my work is travel writing, the best way for me to do that job is to focus on what’s going on around me. Computers can be a huge distraction and you always have to worry about them getting stolen or blasted by a power surge. If you do take your laptop to a developing country, pack a voltage regulator.
What to bring instead: A notebook and pen. Don’t worry, even Ethiopia has Internet cafes.

If there’s a theme to this, it’s that all of these gadgets distract you from the place and people you’re visiting. Doing without them for a month or two can be a welcome break, and your trip will be richer because of it. I didn’t need any of these things twenty years ago when I started doing adventure travel, and I don’t need them now that they exist.

[Photo courtesy user rkzerok via Gadling’s flickr pool]