The holiday tech list
Whether you’re on the road, by the beach, or in the air, the best gadgets take the anxiety out of travel. David Phelan reveals what to pack for a stress-free summer
Wednesday 13 July 2011
What's the attraction?
Gadgets are there to make our lives easier, richer and more enjoyable. So while many of us will look forward to leaving the laptop behind when we go on holiday, for others that lifeline to emails and online information is essential. Email and photo-messaging save sending postcards home, an ebook reader will lighten your luggage, and the right gadgets will stop you getting lost, burgled or bored. Of course you can switch off on holiday, but with all this modern technology to choose from, why would you want to? Left to your own devices, mobile or otherwise, there is a gargantuan array of "travel gadgets" on the market, ranging from practical tools to wacky gimmicks.
Read 1,000 books
You won't, of course, however long your trip, but the Amazon Kindle might make you think you could. The leading electronic book reader is lighter than a paperback and – crucially – entirely legible in bright sunlight through sunglasses (and you can't say that about Apple's iPad). The Kindle can store thousands of books and you can download wherever you are. The wifi-only version must be in a wireless hotspot to connect, but the 3G edition feels like magic. You can sit on the beach, browse the bookstore, and download a digital tome in under 60 seconds. £111 wifi-only, £152 wifi and 3G; available from John Lewis (08456 049 049; www.johnlewis.com).
Find your way
Putting it bluntly: satnavs can save marriages. Pack a TomTom and you'll avoid many of the arguments caused by driving in a foreign country. Many smartphones have GPS built in but a dedicated navigation device has an advantage over this, since most phones download maps on the fly using a 3G data connection, which can add to the cost significantly when you're abroad.
TomTom's satnavs have the simplest operating system and lots of features. The entry-level Start 25 Europe has a big touchscreen (5in), spoken street names and helpfully clear lane-guidance animations to make sure you don't miss your turning. £169.99; available from TomTom (0845 161 0009, www.tomtom.com).
Keep taking the tablets
If lugging the laptop doesn't appeal, a tablet PC is lighter and fulfils many of the same needs: email, internet browsing, word processing, video playback and more. The best is still the iPad 2, from £399, because of its neat styling and outstanding ease of use.
Other contenders include the BlackBerry PlayBook, also from £399, which is a great piece of kit. It's smaller and lighter with a 7-inch screen. For now, it's best used in conjunction with a BlackBerry phone but updates will change this.
Or there's the beautifully designed HTC Flyer, which is also a 7-incher and has a special stylus for taking notes (from £479). All available from Carphone Warehouse: 0800 925 925, www.carphonewarehouse.com.
Never worry about the plug sockets at your destination. The Fujifilm World Adaptor has connections for nearly all eventualities. Any plug will fit the adaptor and the adaptor fits any socket. What's more, you can swap the lid for a USB connector to recharge any electrical item that comes with a USB cable. This may mean you can get away without carrying chargers for your phone, camera, MP3 player and more. Check first, though, and remember you may want to charge more than one thing at a time, in which case the Exspect EX875 Triple USB charger is recommended. It has fittings for most countries and three USB connections. Fujifilm World adapter (left) costs £17.99 from Amazon (0800 279 6620, www.amazon.co.uk). Exspect EX875 costs £16.19 from Play (0845 800 1020, www.play.com).
Security is important when you're away and the 3-in-1 Mini Travel Attack/ Burglar Alarm should help for peace of mind. There's a motion detector alarm so you can hang it from a door or window. It also has a personal alarm (both alarms emit a 100dB siren – that's as loud as the music in a nightclub and louder than a passing motorcycle). There's also a handy LED torch built in. It's simple, effective and affordable. £10.99; available from Travel With Care (01980 626360; www.travelwithcare.com).
Cut out the noise
Noise-cancelling headphones should be in every frequent flyer's carry-on. A tiny microphone on the outside of each earpiece "listens" to the ambient noise and this noise is then reversed in phase and fed back into the earpieces. The out-of-phase anti-noise cancels the real noise. Continuous noise in aircraft, trains and cars is significantly reduced and all listening can be carried out at lower volumes, which is healthier. The Denon AH-NC800 headphones sit comfortably over the ears and sound excellent; £249.99; available from Denon (01234 741 200; www.denon.co.uk).
Phone with care
Making phone calls abroad is pricey, especially beyond the EU. Remember also that you have to pay to receive calls. Some networks are trying to make overseas use less daunting. Vodafone has a scheme called Passport: opt in before you go abroad and costs fall sharply. You pay a 75p connection charge per call but then calls are charged at the same rate as within the UK. This quickly becomes cost-effective for longer calls. Data is charged at £2 for 25MB a day in Europe.
Meanwhile, Orange has call and data bundles that reduce costs too. For voicemails consider HulloMail. Normally, to pick up messages you have to dial the network's voicemail number, which is a pricey call. HulloMail is a free app available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. It sends voicemails to you as MP3s in emails, so you can listen to them in a Wi-Fi area.
What Google will tell you
Flight Track for iPhone and Android, (from £2.99): "This is a well-designed app that smoothes out some of the wrinkles of air travel as effectively as a G&T often does once you are finally aboard. Type in your airline and flight number and it will confirm which terminal the plane is to leave from, if it's on time, and whether it's likely to be leaving at all. You can also view your flight or in-air timings and even details of seating arrangements for your exact plane." From www.lifeofandroid.com
What Google won't tell you... until now
Stuart Miles, editor of the gadget website Pocket-lint, has the insider's track on tech for travels. "Taking the right gadget abroad can make things easier," he says. "But don't forget that you'll be packing extra chargers, batteries and stuff that bulks up your luggage. And some of it is worryingly valuable.
"If I had to pick one tech holiday essential, I'd choose the iPad 2. The kids are kept entertained on the journey and because I've loaded it with films and TV shows before I go, we avoid a dull rainy night in a hotel with nothing to do. Just remember to check email using wifi or you'll have a big phone bill when you get home."
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