Google Makes Travel Easier For Lazy People

Google Takes on Hawaii's Hiking Trails
Google’s ongoing world digitization is opening up some very cool travel experiences to people sitting in front of their laptops and tablets. Now, rather than spending thousands of dollars, lots of vacation time and a decent amount of physical exertion to see these places, you can arrive by a click and multi-task your exploring as you commute to work, procrastinate a project or tune out in a meeting.
Last fall Google Maps debuted a “street view” of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, allowing armchair travelers with no diving or even swimming ability to take a peek at the world’s greatest underwater treasures.

More recently the site teamed up with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to feature Hawaiian hiking trails on Google Street View. Hiking guides on the Big Island will carry Google’s cameras on roughly 20 of the Islands’ best trails, stitching together a 360-degree experience that people can enjoy anywhere.

Another recent addition to Street View will please Harry Potter fans who can’t make the trip across the pond to London’s Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Muggles can now tour Diagon Alley and the wizarding shops it houses through Street View.

Google Maps isn’t the only thing bringing travel experiences to the masses. Though still in its infancy, Google Glass is expected to change the way people document and share their travel experiences. This year a Running of the Bulls competition invited two Google Glass users to Pamplona to view the annual San Fermin festival events. While the Glassers aren’t expected to actually run with the bulls (too bad, that’s something we wouldn’t mind having Google do for us!), they’ll be watching the bull run from a balcony and sharing the experience via a daily webcast.

It’s doubtful that Google’s online presentations will actually keep people from wanting to experience these places in real life, but we’re intrigued about what other experiences will become available to interactive travelers. Climbing Mount Everest? Surfing Jaws? Space travel?

Where do you want your maps app to take you next?

Gadling Gear Review: Kensington Accessories For iPad And Smartphones

Kensington Accessories: KeyCover
Kensington

Smartphones and tablets have become an important part of our daily lives, putting a wealth of functionality and information at our fingertips. Straight out of the box these devices can do amazing things to keep us entertained and in communication while on the go, but companies like Kensington are making some excellent accessories that can extend that functionality even further and perhaps even enhance it. Here are three such accessories that can make your next road trip even better.

KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard for iPad ($79.99)
There is no doubt that the iPad is a fantastic device, capable of some amazing things, but its onscreen keyboard can be a major obstacle for those looking to use the tablet to get serious work done. That’s where the KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard comes in handy. This keyboard connects to your iPad via Bluetooth, instantly turning it into an ultra-portable workstation. With the right apps, it can even rival a laptop in terms of productivity.

Typing on the keyboard takes some getting use to, in part because the keys are smaller than what you find on a laptop. The first few times I put it to the test I found the backspace key was getting the most use as I was continuously correcting mistakes. But as with most things in life, practice makes perfect and before too long my large fingers adapted nicely to the smaller keys and I was able to type away almost as quickly and efficiently as I do on my larger notebook. The keys have a high quality feel to them and they make a nice, reassuring click as you type away. When you get on a roll, you might even forget that you’re actually getting productive work done on an iPad.The KeyCover has a few other tricks up its sleeve that will make it a favorite amongst iPad owners as well. Not only is it an excellent portable keyboard, but it also serves as a highly protective case that snaps snugly over the tablet, encasing it in a solid shell that protects the iPad’s screen very nicely. The case is made from anodized aluminum that looks great and provides a level of protection that you don’t get from most other cases. It can be a bit tricky to get off and on at first but after using it a few times it becomes second nature.

Like Apple’s Smartcover, this case uses magnets to automatically wake or put the iPad to sleep when it is opened and closed. It also has a built-in stand that can hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode, which is helpful when trying to get work done, but is great for watching movies or making Facetime or Skype calls too.

As mentioned above, the KeyCover connects to the iPad via Bluetooth (version 3.0), which means that it is an electronic device with its own built-in, rechargeable batteries. Kensington says the keyboard’s battery is rated for 120 hours of use between charges and I’ll have to take their word for it. In my testing I was never able to run the battery down fully, so it is clearly capable of lasting for quite a long time. The downside is that the KeyCover is one more item you’ll need to be sure is charged before you hit the road because it won’t be particularly useful if the battery dies.

If you love your iPad but found its functionality slightly hindered by the lack of a physical keyboard, then you’ll absolutely love the KeyCover. It really is an excellent companion for Apple’s tablet. Similarly, if you’re a road warrior who is looking to lighten your load and leave the laptop behind, the KeyCover can turn your iPad into a device that is far more productive. The keyboard even comes in handy for typing emails, iMessages or just about anything else that requires a lot of text entry. It truly will open up a host of new possibilities for how you use the iPad.

The KeyCover is available for the standard iPad. Owners of the iPad Mini will want to checkout some of Kensington’s other keyboard options for their tablet.

Kensington Accessories: Proximity Tag
Kensington

Proximity Tag ($39.95)
Are you one of those people who is prone to losing your keys? Do you often walk away from a restaurant or coffee shop, leaving your cellphone behind? If so, Kensington’s Proxmity Tag was made for you. This light and thin device is roughly the size of a credit card and is designed to be paired with a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, although in theory any Android device should work. Once connected, either the sensor or the phone will alert you when they are no longer close to one another. So for example, you could attach the sensor to your keychain, carry-on bag or just about any other valuable item and if it moves outside of a range of about 30 feet from your smartphone, it will immediately alert you that your valuables have been left behind or taken. On the other hand, should you leave your phone behind somewhere and walk more than 30 feet away, the sensor will sound an alert as well, reminding you to retrieve your device.

Connecting your smartphone to the Proximity Tag is accomplished through an app that is available on the Google Play Store. The app allows you to configure a few options on the Tag itself, although its main use is to pair it with your Android device and to tell the sensor to emit an alarm when you can’t find it. So if you lose your keys and need to discover where they are at any given time, the app will tell the Proximity Tag to emit a sound that makes it easy to quickly track them down.

As mentioned above, Kensington says the Proximity Sensor is compatible with Samsung Galaxy devices, but since they use the Android mobile operating system, I assumed the app would run on any Android device. When installed on a generic Android tablet running the latest version of the OS the app ran fine as far as I could tell, but when I put it on an HTC One it crashed multiple times. I had to borrow a Samsung Galaxy S III to properly test its uses and, as you might expect, it ran without a hitch.

The Proximity Tag is powered by a user replaceable lithium battery that Kensington says should be good for about six months use. Once again, I’ll have to take their word for it, because during my testing it never ran out of juice. It did, however, work as advertised, providing alerts when either the Android device or the backpack that I attached the Tag to passed out of range of one another.

The fact that the sensor is small enough to slip into your wallet is a nice added benefit. That means you can keep it on you at all times and use it as needed. Keep it paired with your phone at all times and connect it to something valuable that you want to keep tabs of as needed. Or better yet, rest assured that you’ll never leave your smartphone or tablet behind again. That is quite a nice level of reassurance for a mere $40.

Kensington Accessories: EVAP Pouch
Kensington

EVAP Wet Electronics Rescue Pouch ($19.99)
Have you ever inadvertently jumped into a swimming pool forgetting you had your iPod in your pocket? How about accidentally dropping your smartphone in a full sink of water? There are few things that can kill an electronic device faster than immersing it in water and usually it means that gadget is gone for good. Fortunately, Kensington makes an accessory that can help with this problem, perhaps saving you hundreds of dollars in repair or replacement costs in the process.

The EVAP emergency pouch is designed to pull moisture out of an electronic device without damaging its delicate components in any way. It contains specially developed drying agents that are specifically made to work with electronics and their effectiveness is nothing short of miraculous.

There really is no trick to using the EVAP, you simply open it up and pull out the two sealed packets that contain the drying agents. Place those packets on either side of the waterlogged device and slip them all back inside and seal the pouch. Kensington says it will take anywhere from 6-24 hours for the process to complete, depending on the device and amount of water involved. A handy indicator on the outside of the EVAP will actually let you know when it has completed the process.

I tried the EVAP with an old iPod Nano I had sitting around my apartment. It still worked but had been replaced by a newer model, so I was willing to sacrifice it under the guise of product testing. I soaked it in a bowl of water for several minutes and when I took it out, it refused to turn on. After blotting it dry with a towel, I sealed it in the pouch and left it inside overnight. The next morning I checked the EVAP right away noticed that it had finished its work. I opened the pouch and took the iPod out and was pleasantly surprised to have it power-up in my hand. The EVAP worked exactly as advertised and my old Nano was back from the dead.

The EVAP is one of those products you hope you never need but you’re glad you have when you do. It is super easy to use, worked great in my test and may save you hundreds of dollars, not to mention endless heartbreak. The product is just $19.95, so it isn’t exactly expensive. It would be a good thing to keep around the house in case of an emergency and if you happen to own a boat, I’d store one there as well. Additionally, if you’re taking a trip to a destination where you’ll be spending plenty of time around the water, you may want to play it safe and have one in your suitcase as well. It could turn out that you’re very cautious and won’t need one, but this is the kind of product that is the epitome of “better safe than sorry.”

There you have it – three very unique and different products from one company. Each works well in its own right and are likely to make customers happy. Kensington’s reputation for creating innovative and functional products continues.

Gadling Gear Review: Portable Media Servers For Music, Movies And Photos On The Go

HP Pocket Playlist portable media server
HP

Remember the days before smartphones and tablets? Back when our mobile entertainment options were limited to whatever books and magazines we could cram into our carry-on bag and that one movie that was shown three times on a single flight across the Pacific? It may seem like it was a lifetime ago, but it really hasn’t been that long at all.

Now days when we hit the road, we can carry our entire music collection, multiple movies and TV shows, a library full of books and thousands of photos with us. The options are nearly endless, limited only by the storage capacity of your mobile devices. But when the memory on those devices begins to get full, you have to start making compromises in order to fit everything you want in the limited storage available. In order to make room for the latest episodes of “Downton Abbey” for example, that digital copy of “The Hobbit” may have to go.

But what if you didn’t have to make those kinds of compromises? What if you could carry a tiny portable media server with you that would not only add storage capacity to your device but also allow you to wirelessly share those files with your traveling companions? A few years ago that would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie but today it’s a reality with both HP and Kingston delivering excellent and affordable options to the consumer.Before I get to both of those gadgets, let me explain a bit about what they both do. These are small devices that can be loaded with music and movie files, as well as photos, before you ever leave home. Those files can then be simultaneously shared wirelessly between multiple devices while on the road. That means that if you have a favorite movie that your kids enjoy, you can save it on your portable media server and it is accessible to them at all times, whether they are connecting from an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or a device running the Android operating system. The same thing holds true for music and photos as well. Both of these devices bring extra storage, which means you don’t have to completely load up your phone or tablet, nor will you have to delete items just to free up some space. For friends and families traveling together, these mini-media servers can be a life saver and for the solo traveler, they bring versatility and a little extra storage capacity.

HP Pocket Playlist ($129.99)
HP’s entry in the portable media server category is the Pocket Playlist, a sleek device that comes with 32GB of built-in memory. It is roughly 4.5 inches in length and mere .35 inches thick. It also weighs just 2.2 ounces, which means it is small enough to slip into your pocket or carry-on bag and you’ll barely even know its there.

Loading the Playlist with files couldn’t be easier. You simply plug it into a USB port on your computer where it’ll appear as a spare drive. After that, you can drag and drop the files you want on to the device and the Playlist will automatically catalog them for you. If you’re on a Windows PC you can use the included HP software to help convert video files to the proper format to be displayed on your mobile devices, although I found that this was seldom necessary.

Once you have all of your media files onto the Playlist, it can begin serving up those items to any PC, iOS or Android device. Up to five gadgets can be wirelessly connected at any given time without any noticeable degradation in performance. While testing the product I regularly had my iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and an Android tablet streaming various video and music files at the same time, and all of them ran flawlessly. Apps are available as free downloads in each of their respective app stores, making it a breeze to connect to the Playlist, search its media library and playback whatever movies, music or photos you’re looking for.

The Playlist’s 32GB of storage allows you to carry approximately an additional 16 full length movies, 7600 songs or 10,000 photos. That’s a lot of extra entertainment to have at your fingertips at any given time. The fact that the device can serve all of those files up quickly and easily is quite impressive, as once you connect to the Pocket Playlist, the files stored on it perform as if they are actually on your tablet or smartphone.

Most devices are only capable of connecting to one Wi-Fi source at a given time, which could be a problem if you’re hoping to surf the Internet while listening to music that is streaming from the Pocket Playlist. But HP has cleverly integrated Internet pass-through technology that allows you to connect the Playlist to a Wi-Fi router and than pass Internet traffic through to any other device that is attached to the media server. I expected that this feature would work in a pinch but that there would be obvious performance issues, but for the most part I really couldn’t tell that I wasn’t connected to the router directly.

HP claims that the built-in battery on the Playlist can last for up to five hours depending on the number of devices connected and the media being served. In my real world testing, I was routinely able to get over four hours of use before the device needed to be recharged. The Playlist ships with both an AC wall adapter for quick recharges, and HP conveniently includes a car charger to keep it running on long road trips. It can also be recharged via the USB port on your computer, which can come in handy when traveling internationally.

Performance-wise it is hard to knock the Playlist in any way. It is small, lightweight and delivers on the promise of providing more storage for your mobile devices. It is a refined product that is about as simple to use as anyone could ever ask for. HP has delivered a product that anyone can understand and appreciate, which should make the Playlist a hit with those who need extra storage or the capability to share multimedia files while on the go.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Drive ($59.99)

Kingston MobileLite Wireless portable media server
Kingston

Kingston’s MobileLite Wirelesss drive is an alternative option to the Playlist that performs much the same way, although it does have some key distinctions. For starters, it doesn’t ship with any built-in memory, which is part of the reason it is less expensive than HP’s device. The MobileLite supports a wide variety of storage options however, which makes this a relatively painless thing to rectify. The device is capable of reading just about any kind of SD memory card, including microSD with an included adapter. It also has a full-powered USB port built in, which allows you to plug in a USB memory stick and access its contents as well. You can even plug in a USB hard drive, although that kind of defeats some of the purpose of having a portable media server.

All of these options for storage bring a level of versatility that the Playlist simply doesn’t have. While HP’s device is limited to the 32GB of on board storage, with Kingston’s offering you can swap out memory cards at any time, essentially giving you access to unlimited data. You could, for example, carry multiple SD cards with you when you travel saving one for music, another for movies and a third for television shows. Better yet, you can pull an SD card straight out of your camera, plug it into the MobileLite and begin viewing the photos you took that day right on your iPad or Android tablet.

Like the Playlist, access to the MobileLite is accomplished through apps that are available for iOS and Android. While Kingston’s apps are functional, they didn’t quite feel as refined as those from HP. They definitely get the job done, however, granting access to all of your files, which in this case can actually include Word documents, Power Point presentations, PDF files and more.

Where as the Playlist looks like a sleek piece of modern design, the MobileLite designers seem to have leaned more toward function over form factor. It is thicker (.35 vs .65 inches) and heavier (2.2 vs 3.4 ounces) than HP’s device and definitely feels chunkier in your hand. This is mostly due to the fact that it has a built-in card reader and USB port, which the Playlist doesn’t. Those features add to the versatility, but detract somewhat from the look and size.

The inclusion of the USB port gives the MobileLite the ability to actually provide a charge for your smartphone. Doing so will deplete the media server’s internal battery, of course, and it isn’t as useful as having a dedicated mobile charger, but it will do in a pinch. This feature is just another indication of the versatility of the device.

Like the Playlist, the MobileLite’s battery is rated for up to five hours, but once again I found it was closer to four when put to the test in the real world. Unlike HP’s product, however, it doesn’t ship with an AC or car adapter of any kind. Kingston simply included a USB cable for charging via a computer. If you want to charge from a wall outlet or while in the car, you’ll once again have to provide your own adapters.

The MobileLite features solid wireless performance but it isn’t capable of connecting to as many devices simultaneously as the Pocket Playlist. While HP’s media server can accommodate up to five devices, Kingston’s offering is only capable of handling three. That may seem like plenty, and for a lot of users it probably is, but for a family that is traveling together, it is possible you could run up against this limitation fairly quickly. The MobileLite does have the Internet pass-through option just like the Playlist, however, allowing you to browse files and surf the web at the same time.

Both of these portable media servers are excellent devices and both do their job very well. In fact, it is difficult for me to recommend one over the other, as they both have some advantages and disadvantages. For a family that wants to take the media library with them when they travel, I’d highly recommend the Playlist, as it is simple to use and has the ability to connect to more devices simultaneously. The MobileLite seems like the better option for professionals, however, as it provides more ways of accessing files while in the field. Professional photographers will probably love the device for instance, as it gives them the ability to review their work within seconds of taking their shots.

If you fall into either of the categories listed above, these portable media servers will make excellent additions to your travel gear. But even if you’re just looking to add a little extra storage to your mobile devices, both the Playlist and MobileLite are great options at affordable prices.

Gadling Gear Review: Props Power Case For iPad

Props Power Case for iPad
Digital Treasures

One of the best features of the iPad has always been its outstanding battery life. Depending on how you use the device, it is not uncommon to get 8-10 hours of use between charges. That is generally plenty for typical day-to-day use, but when traveling that may not even be enough to get you to your destination. Considering how difficult it can be to find an unused power outlet in an airport, having a different source of juice is always a nice option. External battery packs are a viable alternative, but they can also be bulky and cumbersome. Digital Treasures, a company that specializes in accessories for tablets and smartphones, believes they’ve come up with the perfect compromise. They’ve integrated a secondary battery for charging an iPad directly into a protective case, providing a product that addresses two issues at the same time.

The Props Power Case is available in both an 8000 mAh and 12,000 mAh version. I tested the higher capacity case and found that it worked as advertised, offering an easy and convenient way to extend the life your tablet’s battery. The large, flat power cell is integrated directly into the case and must be charged via USB ahead of time. That can actually take a surprisingly long time depending on whether you plug the included charging cable into your laptop or a wall outlet. Digital Treasures doesn’t ship the case with an AC adapter, however, so if you want to charge from an outlet you’ll need to provide your own USB adapter. A charge indicator on the side of the battery lights up in blue, keeping you well informed of just how close to capacity the Power Case has at any given time.Having to charge two devices (the iPad and the case) can be a bit cumbersome when traveling, but if battery life is a concern, the system works quite well. Digital Treasures says that the case can more than double the battery life of an iPad 2 and extend the life of the iPad with Retina Display by 70 percent. In real world use, I found it fell a bit short of that number, but not by much. A fully charged Props Power Case gave my iPad 3 an extra 6.5 hours of power, which is a considerable extension, to say the least. All of that extra power doesn’t just have to go to the iPad, however, as the battery is also more than capable of charging a smartphone or any other USB device. That adds a nice level of versatility for when you’re on the go.

Of course, adding a battery to your protective case doesn’t come without a few compromises. I found the Props Power Case to be rather bulky, especially since my iPad usually only sports an Apple Smart Cover. The battery also adds extra weight that is a bit off-putting at first too. If battery life is your primary concern, however, you’ll probably find these compromises are well worth it – after all, we are talking about considerably longer usage time. But if you’re an iPad owner who is quite happy with the performance of the device right out of the box, the case is likely to feel like a massive step backwards in terms of portability.

Props Power CoverTo make matters worse, when the charging cable is plugged into both the battery and the iPad, the system gets even more convoluted. The addition of the cable sticking out of the side of both devices just adds to the feeling of bulk. While this is obviously necessary to take advantage of the extended battery life, there was a point where I began to wonder just how my lovely thin and light tablet became so unwieldy.

The overall quality of the case is actually quite impressive. Digital Treasures has put together a solid product that is both attractive and functional. The Power Case is made of very durable faux-leather, which is extremely resistant to the wear and tear that comes with travel. It also does a fine job of protecting the iPad contained within. While testing the case, I never once felt like my device was ever in danger while ensconced in this protective layer, and after using it for several weeks, the case still looks like it just came out of the box. It may be bulky and heavy, but the Props Power Case does deliver on its promise of providing both extra battery power while also keeping your iPad safe from harm.

In another nice touch, Digital Treasures designed the front cover of the case to fold back, converting its form factor into an easel. This comes in handy when watching movies, reading a book or even playing a game. The easel form factor is particularly useful while on a plane, although I found it to be rather stable even when sitting on your lap at the airport. Plenty of other cases offer this same functionality of course, but with the weight of the battery serving as an anchor of sorts, the Power Case wasn’t quite so apt to shift about.

As mentioned above, Digital Treasures offers this case in both an 8000 mAh and 12,000 mAh version. The lower capacity model will save you a little cash ($89.95 vs $119.95) but for the most part it doesn’t affect the case itself in any really noticeable ways. If you’ve been looking for a way to extend the life of the battery on your iPad even further, then this is definitely solid option to choose. The case will indeed allow you to work longer, watch more movies, read more books and listen to more music. In doing so though, you’ll also be giving up some of the portability that comes along with a thin and light tablet, as the Props Power Case negates those characteristics completely. For some of us, the trade-off is well worth it, but I suspect for most the loss of portability could be a major factor.

New Technology May Lead To Light- And Heat-Sensitive Tent

tent, camping
The tent we’re all familiar with from camping trips may soon be old tech thanks to a new material designed by a team of Harvard scientists.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have announced in a press release that they’ve developed a flexible material that can shed or retain moisture, and turn from opaque to transparent.

You can see how it works in the image below. The material is a liquid-repellent film that coats, and is infused in, an elastic porous backing. Normally the surface is flat and will shed water, but when the backing is stretched it changes the size of the pores, causing the surface to become rough and retain droplets.

In its normal state the material is transparent, but when stretched it becomes opaque. The material could be used to make a tent that blocks light on a dry and sunny day, and becomes transparent and water-repellent on a dim, rainy day.

The material may also be used in products as diverse as contact lenses and water pipes.

Researchers were inspired by the function of tears, which block materials from damaging the eye, and flush out these materials, yet remain transparent. Such inspiration is typical of work at the Wyss Institute, which looks to nature to find solutions to technological problems.

Top image courtesy Krish Dulal. Bottom image courtesy Harvard University.
tent, Harvard