Gadling Gear Review: Satechi Portable Energy Station

I think it is safe to say that we now travel with more gadgets than ever. Between laptops, iPods, smartphones, tablets and digital cameras, we tend to hit the road with more technology at our disposal than James Bond. Keeping the batteries on all those gadgets fully charged can be a real challenge, however, particularly when you’re away from a power outlet for an extended period of time. But the Portable Energy Station from Satechi hopes to alleviate those issues, allowing us to recharge our tech toys whenever and wherever we need it.

The Energy Station is surprisingly small and lightweight. Judging from the photos I’d seen before testing it out, I wasn’t sure exactly how portable it would be, but the unit is roughly five and a half inches in length and weighs less than 8 ounces, which makes it easy to slip into a carry-on bag, or even a purse, as you head out the door. I’ve been carrying the review unit in my laptop messenger bag for several weeks and I’ve barely noticed it was there, although it was nice to know I had it on hand just in case I needed it.

The device includes two standard sized USB ports and one mini-USB port. The mini port is used to actually charge the Energy Station’s built in battery, which is rated at an impressive 10,000 mAH. The two regular USB ports provide different levels of power with one rated at 5V/1A and the other at 5V/2A. For the most part, this won’t have any effect on your ability to charge, but if you’re connecting a device that requires more juice, such as an iPad, you’ll want to plug it into the more powerful 5V/2A port. Both ports can be used at the same time, providing the ability to charge two devices simultaneously.Charging the Energy Station is accomplished by either connecting a USB cable to the included AC wall adapter or by plugging the device directly into your laptop. It took about four hours to fully charge the internal battery using the AC adapter, which is not surprising considering its rated capacity. Charging via USB on a laptop can be potentially more convenient when traveling, but expect it to take considerably longer. Many laptops have low power USB ports and while they can trickle out enough juice to charge the Energy Station, it can be slow process. Charging it from my MacBook Air took about six hours.

Once the battery is fully charged it’s ready to be used with your other gadgets. Satechi has included a set of six interchangeable adapters that will work with most smartphones, cameras, tablets and other electronic equipment. You simply attach the adapter you need to the cable and then plug it directly into the device you want to charge. A set of blue lights on the top of the Energy Station tells you how much of a charge it still holds. Five lights indicate it is at full capacity while one indicates that it is time to plug it in again.

I tested the Energy Station on my iPhone 4S, third generation iPad and a point-and-shoot digital camera and it worked exactly as advertised. My iPhone and digital camera were both recharged rather quickly and it was great to know that I didn’t have to worry about either of them running out of power when I needed them most. On the other hand, the iPad 3 took a lot longer to charge, even when plugged into the more powerful USB port, and the Energy Station ran out of juice before I could fully top off the tablet. This is more of an issue with the iPad itself, however, as its high capacity batteries take awhile to charge, even on its own AC adapter. Owners of the iPad 1 or 2 will see much better performance from the Energy Station as those devices have much smaller battery packs.

Carrying the Energy Station while traveling is a great option, particularly if your favorite devices don’t exactly have the battery life you’d like. Satechi’s device is small, lightweight and highly packable, and I found it very convenient to have it in my bag when my phone started to die. If you’re one of the many travelers who now hits the road with plenty of electronic gadgets, then the Energy Station just might be something you’ll want to have on your next trip. The unit I tested comes with an MSRP of $59.99, which I found to be a great price for the convenience it provides. Satechi offers a lower capacity unit with about half the capacity for $39.99 as well, but if the twenty bucks difference doesn’t break your budget, I’d suggest springing for the larger Energy Station. The increased capacity is definitely worth the money, particularly if you intend to use it with an iPad or other high capacity device.

Air France And KLM Next Up For International In-Flight Wi-Fi

One of our biggest pet peeves about long-haul international flights of late has been the lack of Wi-Fi available on board. We can use our in-flight Internet from New York to California, but the minute we head off the coast, we’re out of luck.

The expense of offering this satellite Wi-Fi has proven prohibitive for airlines that see low usage and high costs to outfit planes with new technology. International Wi-Fi isn’t impossible – just infrequently available.

Lufthansa, for example, already offers this service on many of their flights, Qantas has trialed the program between Los Angeles and Australia, and United is set to roll out the service later this year.

Now AirFrance and KLM airlines have joined with Panasonic Avionics to roll out a program of their own. They will begin offering in-flight connectivity trials on long-haul flights beginning in early 2013.

This will enable travelers to stay connected with the world through text messages or emails, and allow for an Internet connection and ultimately live broadcasts of TV programs. On the specially designed in-flight website, a broad range of services will be offered for free, like latest news, TV channels, relevant airline and destination information and unique offers of online magazines.

“Being permanently connected is now part of our customers’ daily lifestyles. This trial run is the first step of Air France’s and KLM’s long-term strategy to offer in-flight connectivity solutions across our long-haul fleet,” said Christian Herzog, senior vice president of marketing for Air France and KLM.

The trial phase will be conducted over the year 2013 on two Boeing 777-300s, operated by each airline. During this period, travelers will be able to hook up to the Internet via their Wi-Fi enabled smartphone, laptop or tablet PC at a fixed rate, as well as use their mobile phone for SMS or email, whatever their travel class.

It sounds like a great program, and one we hope to see more of on other airlines in the future.

[Flickr via slasher-fun]

Travel Tech: Uses For Your Smartphone While Traveling

Travel without our iPhone, Android or Blackberry? Surely, you jest. That baby is practically glued to our thumbs as we photograph, text and tweet our way through our travels. Our phone has even saved our lives on more than one occasion – TaxiMagic and Google Maps, thank you.

Which explains why we can’t get enough of this new infographic from ebookers. Are you using your phone when you travel?

Solo Travel vs. Group Travel: How To Decide What’s Right For You

As someone who has been backpacking for five years, I’ve experienced the pros and pains of both solo travel and group travel. Personally, I enjoy traveling on my own, although I have had successful trips with others. If you’re trying to decide whether to go solo or recruit others, use these tips to help you decide.

The Benefits Of Solo Travel

Many of my friends often ask me, “Aren’t you scared of traveling to Country X all by yourself?” This question always amazes me, as it really is very easy to meet other travelers on the road. Of course, if you’re extremely shy and have anxiety going up to strangers, you may have more trouble; however, staying in hostels, booking day tours, taking public transportation, using money exchanges and participating in Couchsurfing message boards and meetups allows for easy socializing. What’s great about solo travel is you can choose when you want to be alone, and when you want to hangout with other people. It’s like being on a silent retreat and being able to really enjoy your own company and not feel pressure to always be having discussions. Moreover, there is nobody else to dictate your itinerary. For example, I once backpacked Europe with a girl who was extremely cheap, and wouldn’t splurge on any day trips or go to any bars or clubs. While walking around the free parks and doing the complimentary walking tours was nice, there was a lot more I wanted to do. I couldn’t, however, because she wanted us to do all our activities together. Thankfully we ended up parting ways, and it was at this time that I began to really experience Europe the way I wanted to.The Cons Of Solo Travel

Of course, traveling solo also means heightened uncertainty. While getting lost in a big city or getting on the wrong train can seem like an adventure when with friends, it can be nerve-wracking when you’re alone. It’s also nice to have someone to share the burden of making important decisions with you. If you make the wrong one, it’s less scary when you’re with someone else. Likewise, the road can get lonely at times. Even if you’re constantly meeting new people at your hostels and on tours, it can be nice to have a real travel partner to share the experience. And of course, there’s always safety in numbers. It’s good to have someone who can watch your stuff while you go to the bathroom, and look out for your safety in general.

The Pros Of Group Travel

Along with the above-mentioned safety in numbers and relief of stresses, the best part of group travel is it can be a lot of fun. Sharing all these unique, day-to-day experiences can help you become close with your travel companion(s), and can lead to a lot of great memories together. It also relieves the lonliness many solo backpackers feel on the road. Even when meeting other people along the way, there are often many goodbyes and loose connections. Traveling with someone else can help you feel like you have a real friend and ally with you. Furthermore, you never have to worry about going to the bar alone and feeling awkward or having nobody to talk to during an activity.

The Cons Of Group Travel

The main reason I dislike group travel is I don’t like other people dictating my itinerary. When traveling, there are certain experiences I want to have, and having other people there can cause you to have to give up things you want to do. Moreover, it can be frustrating at times needing to wait around for other people to get ready, get money, unlock their bank card, pick up their laundry or do any other of the little everyday hassles travelers face. Additionally, dealing with different budgets can be difficult, as you never want to be forced to spend more than you can afford, or miss out on things because of a cheap travel partner.

Choosing A Travel Partner

While I love solo travel, I have to admit group travel can be a lot of fun. With group travel, it’s important to find someone who is compatible as a travel partner. When envisioning your trip, is there a mix of alone time and group time, or do you always want to be with your companion(s)? Do you enjoy adventure activities, seeing tourist sites or simply relaxing? What’s your budget? Do you like staying in hostels or hotels? These are some of the questions you should ask before committing to traveling with someone. As mentioned previously, I traveled Europe with a girl who wanted to do everything together. For me, it was completely stifling. However, when backpacking Argentina, I traveled with a girl who was even more independent than I am. This allowed us to both enjoy the activities we liked doing without having to worry about hurting the others’ feelings. It was also comforting to know if I wanted to do something with a partner or go for a beer, I had someone there.

Technologies That Help You Find Travel Companions

Whether you decide to travel solo or with a partner, there are many technologies that make travel more social. For example, for solo travelers, sites like Couchsurfing, Tripping and TripTrotting connect travelers with locals. This allows you to hangout with someone for sightseeing, and also to get a local point of view on your trips. For travelers who would like a travel partner but don’t have any friends who can commit, sites like Globetrooper and FindMeetGo allow you to post trips and connect with potential travel partners.

Should You Sign Up For A Group Tour?

If you don’t want to travel alone, and you’re the type of person who likes plans to be guaranteed to run smoothly, you may think about booking a group tour. Although I enjoy solo travel, I’ve done tours with Intrepid Travel and GAdventures before, and have had great experiences. Their styles cater to my travel philosophy of trying to go local and get closer to a culture. Before booking a group tour with a company, make sure to look into the style of the organization and the trip itself. If you’re a luxury traveler, check to see what kinds of accommodations you’ll be staying in and restaurants you’ll be eating at. For those looking for adventure, check the itinerary to ensure you’ll get to do the types of activities you enjoy. If you like learning about culture, what ways does the tour ensure this will happen? As long as you do some research, and you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind having each day planned out, than a group tour can be a very enjoyable experience.

Tips For Staying Fit On The Road

At home I’m a health and fitness nut working out six days a week and eating a diet high in nutritional value. While this can sometimes be hard to maintain on the road, it isn’t impossible. To help you stay in shape while traveling, here are some tips.

Stop Thinking You’re On Vacation

Many people often have this idea that when they’re traveling they’re “on vacation,” meaning they can eat whatever they want. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know you’re on vacation and your metabolism isn’t going to all of a sudden be put into overdrive. While you should absolutely sample all the local foods, do it in moderation. For example, if you’re in France and want to sample one of their amazing chocolate croissants, have a small one or cut one in half and have it with fruit. And remember, while different regions have delicious desserts and rich entrees, they have healthy delicacies as well.Cut Your Bread In Half

When traveling, sandwiches are a very convenient meal on the go. Moreover, most buses and airplanes that serve food will often give you a bread-heavy meal or a roll on the side. While you don’t need to cut bread from your diet completely, you also don’t need to eat the top and bottom of a foot-long sub. I usually take off the top slice and eat the meal as an open-faced sandwich. Additionally, if you’re in a place where multi-grain bread is accessible, get it.

Get Outdoors

Just being outside makes most people naturally want to move around more. Not only that, but outdoor activities are energy and mood boosters. Explore the landscape through hiking, biking, horseback riding, jogging or whatever way you enjoy. Not only will you move more, you’ll eat less because you’re busy and not sitting around.

Pack Healthy Snacks

My friends always joke that I’m perpetually afraid of starving to death. Whether I’m in a metropolitan city or the middle of nowhere, you can bet I have fruit and granola bars in my purse. It’s not that I think I’m suddenly going to find myself stranded for days without food – although if that did happen, I would be prepared – but that I don’t want to be forced to buy a greasy sausage or an unhealthy bag of chips if I’m hungry. Not only does this tactic help me stay slim, it also saves me money.

Instead Of A Bus Tour, Opt For A Walking, Biking Or Running Tour

For most bus tours, there is usually a more active option. Almost all cities offer walking and cycling tours. Sometimes these are even free, such as when taking a walking tour with SANDEMANs NEW Europe in various European cities, BA Free Tour in Buenos Aires, Free Tours by Foot in New York and I’m Free in Sydney. There is also something called “sight running,” which allows tourists to view a city through jogging.

Visit The Markets

Exploring local markets is a great way to get to know a culture and a city. They’re also great because they sell fresh foods. If you’re in a place where you’re nervous about eating the fruits and vegetables, opt for produce with a peel, like bananas, avocados and oranges. Wash your hands after peeling to remove any germs from the peels.

Take A Cultural Class That’s Physical

Classes aren’t always about sitting, reading and listening. In fact, there are many classes that allow people to gain insight into a culture in an active way. Try Tai Chi in China, tango lessons in Argentina, samba in Brazil or yoga in India. You may even discover a new hobby to take home.

Learn To Read The Nutrition Facts

Just because a food’s energy may be written in kilojoules instead of calories doesn’t mean your body can’t tell the difference. You can easily Google the conversion and figure out how to read the nutrition labels in the place you’re visiting. Furthermore, make sure to check if the nutrition facts are written per serving, package or 100 grams, as this will make a big difference in how much calories and fat you’re actually consuming.

Take Advantage Of The Hotel Gym

If your hotel has a gym or pool, make use of it. If you need to motivate yourself a bit more, think of it as getting the most for your money. Bonus points if you specifically book an accommodation because it has a fitness center.

If You Have A Smartphone, Make Use Of Diet And Fitness Apps

With our technologically advanced world, there are tons of apps available now to help us stay on track with our diet and fitness goals. No matter where you are in the world, you can have access to calorie counters, exercise trackers or workout programs via your mobile. Some of my favorites are Lose It!, which helps you count calories; My Fitness Pal, which tracks your food intake and exercise and has an enormous food database; and Daily Full Body Workout, which gives you a 10 to 30 minute exercise routine each day.

Keep A Healthy Mind

Being away from home, while exciting, is stressful at times. Make sure to set aside time to really relax. Spend a day in bed reading, rent a movie, visit a spa, or nap in a hammock on the beach. While each city offers many things to do and see, remember that you can’t see everything. Don’t be too upset if you can’t do it all, as it’s just another reason to re-visit the destination in the future.

[photos via JessieonaJourney, jessieonajourney, matt hutchinson, hotelcasavelas2]