Shore things: The connected beach
Saturday 23 July 2011
Beaches and gadgets have a great deal in common. Well... there's silicon, right? But traditionally they've never got on that well, with a sand-in-the-speakers scenario (or water in the Walkman) being fairly likely. You might wonder why the two need to rub along at all; beach life is, after all, about getting away from the everyday – and that surely includes the technology that enslaves or entertains us. But Silicon Valley has done a great job of persuading us that we're incomplete without our gadgets. Not bringing your battery-powered gizmos to the seashore is like leaving your mum sitting in the car. Apparently.
First problem: if it has a screen, there's a good chance that you won't be able to read it easily. Particularly if you're staring at your phone while wearing polarised sunglasses; you may as well be staring at a blank sheet of paper. Apple recently filed a patent to tackle this problem, but for the time being you'll have to take off the specs. And then squint. LCD screens weren't really meant for direct sunlight – although things are improving. Screens made by Pixel Qi are among the best, while Samsung's Super AMOLED efforts are noticeably better than most – and anything described as 'transflective' will give you an above-average experience. The e-ink display in the Kindle is great outdoors too, of course – but anything else and you'll be heading for the shade. And what's the point of that?
Second problem: water. Even if you buy a device that's marketed as waterproof, submerging it (say, to take underwater pictures) still feels as if you're consigning it to a watery grave. For the thousands of us who've dropped phones into toilets, the average gadget doesn't seem that resilient. Fortunately, brilliant waterproof cases from the likes of Pelican and Aquapac allow us to joyously fling them into the sea, or the pool, or the toilet.
The third problem (we're nearly done with problems, I promise) is charging things up. While the British sun is almost as unreliable as Egyptian snow, solar chargers are relatively cheap and cheerful and, if you're lucky, they might even work. Better still, get hold of a bag with solar panels in the side (the ones made by US company Reware are particularly good, I'm told). If the sun's shining, you can proudly take out of the bag your personal electronic UV monitor (made by Oregon Scientific, £25.99) which informs you in no uncertain terms when you should get back under the parasol.
Beach-related content has been popping up everywhere of late: famed time-waster Angry Birds has just come out in a 'Rio' edition set at the seaside, while the Beach Finder app made by Rounders Consulting is now available in a UK edition, giving the location of your nearest beaches, along with all their essential attributes. Beach information is also dispensed by a number of blogs, the most comprehensive of which is at beachtomato.com. If you're looking to get yourself in the mood with a beachy lifestyle read, check out coastal.com, blogthebeach.com or, for the shell fanatics among you, iloveshelling.com.
I'd sign off by recommending the iTowel, a snazzy cotton replica of an iPhone, but the people who came up with the idea have had to meekly issue a disclaimer about trademark infringement. Ah well. The real thing (plus a plain towel) will have to do.
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