Essential Travel Gadgets

July 19, 2013

Going on that longed-for winter holiday, but worried how to fit your gadgets into the luggage? Pat Pilcher has got it down to a fine art.

AS THE DAYS get progressively more dark, damp, cold and miserable, there comes a time to admit defeat and head for warmer climes. Aside from choosing a destination, the travel part is relatively easy. Choosing which gadgets to pack is another challenge altogether, especially considering most airlines are charging a king’s ransom for overweight luggage.
Having decided to take a break in Southeast Asia, I put this to the test. How to choose which gadgets to pack? First and foremost any gadget seeking a place in my luggage not only had to be as light and compact as possible, but must also serve a real purpose, or even better still, several. Here’s what I packed:

Noise Cancelling Headphones
Noise-reducing-headphones1Flying long haul means sleep deprivation and lots of jet engine noise. Imagine taking a vacuum cleaner, switching it on and using it as a pillow while trying to sleep for at least eight hours. Get the idea?

Noise cancelling headphones have small microphones built into both ear-cups, so that ambient noises (such as jet engines, spouses but sadly not screaming kids) are sampled and cancelled out using digital signal processing. Picking up an airline plug adaptor (why airlines insist on using such a weird plug configuration is beyond me) also had the added benefit of allowing me to watch inflight movies with decent audio. Jet engine noise was thankfully reduced from a roar to a dull but bearable whisper.

Playstation-4-controllerStaying sane throughout a long haul flight can mean sitting through a bunch of movies (most of which I’ve already seen), or on a more positive note, can be an opportunity to catch up on missed gaming time. To this end my trusty Playstation Vita secured a spot in the hand luggage. In the interests of hedging my gaming bets, I also installed a few games on the iPad. Where the Vita had some serious multi-level games that required a serious investment of time, making them ideal for being stuck aboard a plane, more casual games such as Bejeweled were better for the iPad, which is ideal for poolside gaming.

Kobo_Glo_eReaderHaving taken care of one pressing entertainment need I also needed to address another: reading. To this end I packed a Kobo Glo. Not only is the Glo USB chargeable, but it also sports a backlit display which proved really handy for when lights are extinguished on the plane. Given the fact that e-books weigh nothing while books crafted out of dead trees can quickly blow out one’s luggage allowance, packing an e-reader with heaps of trashy holiday reads loaded made a lot of sense.

ipad-mini-with-hand-bigWith Wi-Fi pretty much a complimentary default for most hotels and guesthouses, internet access is pretty much a given at a growing number of destinations. This not only means you can email photos home to taunt colleagues suffering in the New Zealand winter, but you can also do practical things such as checking in for flights, or even conduct a little online research about what to do and where to eat at your holiday destination – thank goodness for Trip Advisor. Because of this, taking a Wi-Fi capable smartphone/notebook or tablet is a must.
Unfortunately, most notebook PCs are lightweight in the same way that bricks aren’t – especially when their power supplies and accessory bags are factored into the mix. With weight and available space both at a premium, I packed an iPad Mini and my trusty Acer S3 Ultrabook. Not only did this mean that my wife could get her Facebook fix, but as both are wafer thin and feather light, the amount of weight added was negligible.
Another travel essential is a smartphone. Unfortunately this also opens a can of worms. As smartphones become increasingly designerish, they’ve also migrated away from relatively durable (but ugly) plastic chassis to more exotic materials that exude designer-bling. The downside of this is that if dropped, they’ll dent, scratch or worse still, break.
The obvious solution is to add a protective case. The trouble with this is that having plunked down a sizeable wedge of cash on the hottest looking smartphone money can buy, you then end up sticking it in a case that not only hides it away but that also uglifies things considerably.
This needn’t always be the case, though. HTC have just crafted what they call the snap case for the HTC One. While it is plastic and has a colour scheme reminiscent of Technical Lego, it isn’t bulky and provides unfettered access to the HTC One’s screen, camera and controls. Instead of the Snap, I’d have called it the Slim as it doesn’t add extraneous layers of blubber to the HTC One.
260345706An equally clever solution for iPhone and iPad users are the BookBook cases. Resembling a small leatherbound book, the iPhone 5 or iPad/iPad mini pops inside where it is protected from bumps, knocks and drops. The iPhone BookBook case also handily does double duty as a wallet, which is great for stowing hotel room key cards and other travel detritus like subway cards. About the only real downside with the BookBook is that locals may mistake you for a missionary pulling out a bible when you want to snap off a pic, check email or send a quick text.
Staying on the iPad theme, Logitech must have been watching Microsoft’s Surface tablet closely as they’ve launched the Folio iPad cover which sandwhiches the iPad into a folio-style case complete with a Bluetooth Qwerty keyboard. This has the added benefit of not only protecting your iPad, but also greatly extends its usefulness by adding some QWERTY goodness, and potentially reduces the need to pack a notebook PC (unless of course you’re travelling with a Facebook- addicted spouse).
The other can of worms is roaming charges. Avoiding this was as easy as sticking to Wi-Fi spots and purchasing a SIM at my destination to get local calling rates.

1337913926325Keeping this gadgetry charged could present a real challenge, with power supplies having the potential to take up at least as much luggage space as the actual gadgets themselves. Thankfully, one of the criteria I used when chosing hardware was that they must have a micro USB socket as a power adaptor connector. This meant that just a single iPad USB charger, and a spare USB port on my Ultrabook could (with the addition of travel plug adaptors) keep all my travel gadgets fully juiced up.
Another important consideration is to check that any power supply you’re planning to pack also supports the local voltages at your destination – failure to do so could result in chargrilled gadgetry or fried wiring at the hotel.
Another great idea that was a lifesaver on more than one occasion was HTC’s portable power supply. Essentially a small red and black rectangular block containing a rechargeable battery, the portable power supply sports both a micro and full-sized USB sockets as well as a handy integrated LED charge indicator. Once it’s charged up, it’ll keep gadgets charging even when a mains socket isn’t within reach (and most hotels are bizarrely stingy with wall sockets for some frustrating reason).

Snap, Crackle & Pop
sony wx100 silver zoom1Another must pack item was a camera. My snapper of choice was the Sony DSC WX100. It’s a feather-light and ultra-compact camera which handily means a minimal amount of luggage space was consumed. Best of all the WX100 is literally bulging with features. An 18.2 mega-pixel sensor and some decent optics means that the WX100 can snap a decent photo. Add in an HDR shooting mode and the number of photos that were over (or under) exposed was also greatly reduced. Add to this the ability to shoot panoramic photos or even 3D pictures (which are viewable on a 3D capable TV) plus the ability to shoot 1080p video, and there’s a lot to like about the WX100.
In addition to the WX100, I was also packing two other cameras in the form of an iPhone 5 and HTC One. Both phones come with pretty capable cameras and both feature a bevy of shooting modes. Thanks to the wonders of the cloud, any photos taken were also backed up (using iCloud on the iPhone and Google+ on the HTC One).
An equally useful widget for reviewing the days’ adventures back at the hotel was the HTC Media Link HD. The Media Link HD is a tiny rectangular device, about the size of a small stack of business cards that connects to the HDMI port on the hotel room TV and then wirelessly to the HTC One, allowing you to review photos and video on your phone using the hotel room TV.

Holiday Oonst
a84ba4525fca87387c162c076d1c268a51828No holiday would be complete without some decent sounds. Having transferred a metric tonne of music onto my iPhone, I re-purposed the noise cancelling headphones I’d already packed for listening to music by the pool.
While this was great for my own use, it was also unfortunately a tad anti-social. Remedying this involved the Logitech UE Boom, a small tube-shaped Bluetooth speaker with a pint-sized form-factor that took only a tiny amount of space, yet delivered astonishingly big sound.

Space (the final frontier)
8348637So, how much space did all this tech take up? Surprisingly little. I managed to cram everything into a laptop bag, which when taken with regulation sized handluggage for all my other travel belongings meant I didn’t need to check-in any luggage, also eliminating the risk of lost luggage. Better still, I was also able to get off the plane, luggage in tow and exit the airport without having to wait several eternities at the luggage carousel. PAT PILCHER

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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