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:
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:
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:

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:
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:


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:

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:

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:

Gadling gear review – Manfrotto ModoSteady 3-in-1 tripod

Several weeks ago, I reviewed the innovative Manfrotto Modo Pocket camera stand. Today, I’m going to introduce you to another new product from Manfrotto, the ModoSteady. The ModoSteady is unlike any tripod/camera mount I’ve ever seen. To describe it, you’ll really need to see it in action.

The ModoSteady is part shoulder mount, part camcorder stabilizer, part mini tripod and part handheld camera grip. After the jump, you’ll see the four different ways you can use the ModoSteady.
The ModoSteady takes a little getting used to – it has quite a few moving parts. The first part is the camera mount itself. Your camera attaches to a disc using a regular tripod screw, which means almost any camera can be attached to it. Once you click the disc into the ModoSteady, you secure it using a screw. Once everything is in place, your camera is very securely attached.

The second part is the grip – it is a rubberized grip with a ball joint on top. You can swivel the grip in almost any angle you want, and lock it in place using a thumb screw.

The third and final part of the ModoSteady is the stabilizer arm/mount portion. When you use the product as a mini tripod, this part stays folded in, when you use it as a stabilizer mount, you fold it out, and use the weight on the bottom to keep your camera steady and in balance. And finally, when you use the ModoSteady as a shoulder mount, you unfold this part and rotate it up towards your shoulder.

This all sounds horribly complicated, but it actually works very well together. Once you master the art of the Modosteady, you can switch between the various methods in a matter of seconds.

The ModoSteady as a mini tripod

The grip on the ModoSteady houses a surprise – by pulling on the bottom of the grip, you actually turn it into a small tripod. It really is perfect for vacation photos, when you’d like a family shot without bothering any of the locals.

The ModoSteady as a shoulder mount

With the stabilizer arm unfolded, you can use the ModoSteady as a very comfortable shoulder mount. Simply fold the bottom of the bar down, and rest it on your shoulder, then you can use the grip to maneuver the camera.

This is where the optional ModoSteady remote control ring can help – though it only helps if your camera supports the LANC remote protocol (mainly on Sony video cameras). This $40 accessory can control the zoom and shutter on your camera. Without the remote, you’ll need to use your other hand to reach the controls on your camera (or invest in a wired/wireless remote for it).

The ModoSteady as a camcorder stabilizer

This is where the ModoSteady excels – by loosening the screw above the grip, the ball joint under the camera mount becomes super smooth. The next part is to unfold the stabilizer, and rotate the weight so it keeps your camera balanced. This takes a little practice.

For cameras where the center is off-balance you can use a thumbscrew to move the entire camera mount to the left. This is great for camcorders with a swivel screen, or cameras where the mounting screw is off-center.

The end result is the kind of setup used by professional videographers. Sure, their versions cost thousands of dollars, but they are also designed to hold cameras worth more than most cars. When you use it along with a camera that shoots HD video (like the Olympus E-P1 in these photos), the results are fantastic.

Manfrotto Modosteady video demo from Scott C on Vimeo.

Once you have the balance set correctly, you can start filming. If you’ve ever tried making a video clip using your camera while walking around, you’ll know how jittery things become. Not so with the ModoSteady. In fact, I’ve made a video clip showing the camera in use on a boat ride on a choppy river. Obviously, you can still sense the movement of the boat, but as you’ll see, the footage is pretty damn smooth.

The ModoSteady as a camera grip

This mode of operation isn’t even advertised by Manfrotto, but it has quickly become one of my favorites – the grip under the camera is so comfortable, that I’ve started using it for everyday photo work. I’ve added a $10 wired remote control to my camera, turning the whole thing into a fantastic little setup. Making photos like this means you no longer have to worry about dropping your camera, and the large grip makes it much easier to hold the camera for longer periods of time.

Final Thoughts

I absolutely love the ModoSteady – it has completely changed the way I use my camera, and it has helped improve the quality of the stuff I shoot. At under $100, it is a real bargain. The fact that it can be used in so many different ways makes it even better.

Call me stupid, but it has also helped improve my comfort level when using my camera. I’m by no means a professional, and I’m still getting used to carrying an $800 camera around.

Now more and more cameras are being sold with HD video capability, a product like the ModoSteady can take you from shaky and stuttering, to nice and smooth.

Using the ModoSteady takes some getting used to – there is no denying that, and on first sight, it looks overly complicated. The build quality is outstanding, as can be expected from any Manfrotto product. The ModoSteady weighs just 500 grams (1.1 pounds) and when fully folded, it is just 5 inches long, making it perfect for packing in any suitcase.

You’ll find the Manfrotto ModoSteady at your favorite camera retailer, from or B&H Photo. Its MSRP is $115, but retails for around $95.

Gadling gear review – Manfrotto Modo Pocket mini folding camera stand

In this Gadling gear review, I’ll introduce you to the Manfrotto Modo Pocket 797 mini camera stand. This 50 gram (about 1.7 ounces) folding stand screws to the tripod mount found on the bottom of most cameras. When folded, it is only about 6 millimeters thick. The Modo Pocket is a master of simplicity – it really only consists of three parts, two of which fold open to help angle your camera on a surface.

Once opened, a small cord prevents the 2 legs from folding open too far, and helps keep them angled. Sturdy rubber feet are injection molded to the legs, so there is no chance of them falling off.

An attached camera can be angled in a variety of ways – you can keep it straight, or angle it up/down about 45 degrees. This opens up a whole world of creative options, including shots from the ground up.
One clever addition is a threaded hole on the bottom of the Modo Pocket, which allows you to mount it, along with your camera on a second tripod, without having to remove it.

Despite its small size, I found that it had no problems whatsoever with heavier cameras like the Olympus Pen E-P1. Of course, it is very much in its element with a P&S camera. The manufacturer rated maximum camera weight is 500g/1lb.

There are other pocket camera stands/tripods on the market, but the Modo Pocket is the smallest you’ll find, plus its small size means it can stay attached to your camera at all times, ready for when you need it.

At $19.95 (MSRP) it is not a cheap little accessory, but Manfrotto are known in the camera world for their fantastic quality, and the Modo Pocket is no exception. This does not look or feel like some cheap little gizmo. The Modo Pocket is available from most camera equipment vendors.

I’ve quickly learned to love the quirky little Modo Pocket – it is great for timed family photos, or if you don’t want to put your camera down on a dirty muddy surface. It is ready for use in a matter of seconds whenever you need it.

PRO’S: Great quality, can stay on your camera, very lightweight and thin.
CON’S: Price feels a tad on the high side.