Posts Tagged gadgets
Straight out of a spy novel or movie, this Swann HD PenCam video camera pen is a cool gadget that can be used in many ways. It automatically records conversations, which for me as a business traveler is a great tool. I could use it during meetings when I cannot write or type fast enough, but my mind turned directly to even more clever opportunities.
Imagine dealing with a rogue airline agent. I could switch it on and pretend to be writing something without them ever knowing. This is a great way to record poor customer service actions if needed. While I may still feel uncomfortable about video taping a conversation without someone knowing, others may find that tool useful. And a spy or investigator certainly would!
With 8GB of internal storage, there is plenty of space for still pictures or recorded audio or video. All of this is housed inside a professional, elegant ballpoint pen, which on its own makes a great gift as it looks quite expensive. My favorite part is that no one would have any idea that this is a recording device!
The data that is recorded can be transferred to a computer via an internal USB stick and has surprisingly high-quality resolution. The pen’s battery remains fully active for 45 minutes, which allows the device to record a significant amount.
I am no law enforcement officer and have no need to record people without their consent, which I consider to be an invasion of privacy, but this makes a fun gift for casual use or even business transcription purposes. As a travel writer, I often have trouble taking notes fast enough, and this is perfect to record someone speaking while I am writing down other important statistics or information. It really helps with both accuracy and can save time so I don’t have to go back and email sources for verification.
It retails for about $80 on Swann’s website or for under $60 for the 4GB model on Amazon and is probably one of the coolest things in my carry-on bag. Being lightweight and small, I can take it with me anywhere and simply recharge it via the USB port on my laptop.
Sony’s answer to the Go Pro, the Sony Action Cam with Wi-Fi is quite the fun toy to bring with you in the backcountry or during travel days to capture on-the-go footage of a variety of activities and sports. The Action Cam is completely hands-free, rugged and waterproof (with casing), and very simple to operate. Its Wi-Fi model comes in well under the Go Pro price, and it packs easily for travel.
How the Action Cam compares to the Go Pro:
HD video quality? Check. WiFi option? Check. Waterproof casing and durable camera? Check. Accessories galore? Check. The primarily difference between the Action Cam and the Go Pro is found in the design and usability. You don’t get a screen with the Action Cam, though it mounts via helmet or headband in a similar manner. (See Tim’s addition below on the handlebar mount.) Instead of a screen display, the Action Cam can sync directly to your smart phone, where the camera view is displayed. There are pluses and minuses to this: on the pro side, you don’t have to remove your helmet or take the camera off your pole or bike bar to see what you’re filming. On the negative side, I found the camera-to-smart-phone syncing to be testy with my iPhone. Often, syncing the camera view to my screen takes multiple attempts at connecting Wi-Fi (even though it’s supposed to work anywhere, anytime). Because I don’t like fiddling with a camera or a phone while I’m in the outdoors doing something active, I simply skip checking my display and film away: what I get, I get.
Action Cam usability:
Aside from the pesky Wi-F connection with smart phones, the Action Cam is a breeze to use. There’s only one main button, easily accessed at the back of the camera (even with ski gloves on). Because the same button is used to stop filming, I always have a buddy check to make sure I’m rolling film when the camera is mounted on my helmet (instead of stopping it). When not mounted, it’s easy to scroll through camera options using a second button on the side of the camera, in order to pick between filming, syncing to the phone, charging, etc.
You can upload video directly to your smart phone, but I find it easier to load video onto my laptop with the USB cable or memory card, and edit video on the larger screen. I do try to take multiple short videos instead of a few lengthy ones, to assist with editing.
The camera weighs 2 ounces, has a Carl Ziess lens, an aperture of F2.8, and auto exposure settings. It takes a micro memory card, and produces JPG video. It’s wifi enabled, and offers HD 1920×1080 resolution video.
Examples from the Action Cam:
Below are three very raw examples from the Action Cam, taken by me in the past few months. None of these videos are edited in any way.
The Action Cam comes with a waterproof casing to use in snow or water, plus two sticky mounts for helmets. Also of use: the headband (for use when the sticky mounts may not cut it), a bike handlebar mount, a tilt adapter, and extra helmet mounts. Also invest in fog strips to keep moisture out when using the waterproof casing.
Tim tried out the Sony Action Cam too and after a lot of fiddling with the rubber adapters to make it fit the bike handlebar properly, he set off on a ride along the water in Tampa Bay. Consider this footage a zen-like alternative to the usual gnarly action vids. He got home, put the microSD card into an adapter, and transferred footage to a laptop for editing.
Note that this was compressed for YouTube editing so it wouldn’t take hours to upload. The original would display in full HD on a large TV screen.
Pick up an Action Cam with WIFI on sale at Sony for $219. If you, like me, don’t use the wifi often, preferring to wait to edit video at home, the standard model may be for you though you don’t save much. Pick up the standard HD model for $199.
I often find myself competing with my own devices when traveling. Hotels may only have two outlets or I have to share that one outlet by my airport gate with 30 other people. Sure there are multiple spots where electrical outlets are plentiful, but never when I am running completely low on battery. This Twist & Charge device from Bracketron allows me to double up on charging power when I am in a bind.
Even airplanes now often have electrical outlets at seats, but it is typically just one. Not helpful if I am charging an iPad and laptop simultaneously or am in a hurry trying to juice up my devices during the ten free minutes I have in between flights.
The Bracketron Twist & Charge charger instantly adds a USB charging point to an electrical charging cable. As a result, I can charge both my laptop and my iPhone simultaneously while fighting fellow airport gate lice for a spot at the one wall outlet in the terminal. Essentially, it turns one outlet into two.
It is lightweight (which is helpful when I am trying to keep the weight of my carry-on baggage to a minimum) and easily stashed into a pocket or messenger bag. The unit rotates making it easy to squeeze into tight corners or when sharing an outlet with someone else.
The device is also surge-protected, which is great for international travelers uncertain about the voltage coming from an outlet. This makes a great gift for the frequent traveler or even a college student who may be tight on space. Bracketron has a host of efficient gadgets and charging gear.
We’re a bit ahead of the market on this one: right now it is just available at Bracketron’s website for a fair price of $17.95.
This durable, waterproof EcoXBT Bluetooth speaker from EcoxGear is a unique gift for those that like to entertain outdoors. It also wins out with those who like to have pool parties thanks to its floating Bluetooth speaker capability making it perfect for summertime.
With an integrated full range stereo speaker, the EcoXBT draws in and pumps out sound with incredible force. And its Bluetooth connectivity insures that no favorite tune is forgotten thanks to more than 10 hours of on-average (floating) play time.
The durability of this speaker is exceptional thanks to a waterproof exterior that allows it to be placed poolside without worry (or even left out in the rain). Its lightweight nature and waterproof exterior give it a lengthier life than other comparable waterproof speakers. Even more uniquely, if dropped into the pool or ocean, this stereo speaker floats giving it a lengthier usability than comparable units. While I am not a fan of people blasting their music on the beach for everyone to hear, this would make an ideal gift for those with more private parties in mind.
Its price point of slightly over $100 is just right to lure serious outdoor partygoers into investing in this high-tech gear without making it an every-man’s fad. It comes in a variety of colors and is grabbable from its convenient side handles.
Even for those that have no travel plans for this device, it could even serve as a waterproof shower speaker with a high quality of sound that is emitted even when submersed in water. The strength of music that comes from the speakers is unlike any other similar model immediately propelling it to “numero uno” status with shower singers.
The EcoXBT’s built-in battery can be easily recharged via USB making it a favorite of frequent business travelers with only limited charging access. My carry-on is too small to cart this around often, but if I were headed to an island vacation, I would certainly consider taking it with me.
Unlike other similar models, this piece has a charging output with protective port cover that keeps it connected. When I tested it out, I loved it. Probably too much. It left us at the point where we were uncertain how much battery life remained since there was no simple indicator. The problem was easily rectified, and future parties were planned thanks to the motivating nature of these ever-pumping speakers.
It is available for around $129 at ecoxgear.com or on Amazon.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a terrific value, a device with clear text and long battery life that you can read with in the dark.
As the author of several travel books (including the new 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations), I’m a big fan of anything that makes it easier to find, buy, and read books. As an avid reader, I’m happy with a device that allows me to carry lots of books in one device and read them under multiple lighting conditions.
Both sides of me are thrilled with the Kindle Paperwhite.
I wasn’t exactly an early adopter of the Kindle e-reader from Amazon, but I did get one early enough that it was white, rather large, and had a keyboard. It’s hard to believe now, but that device started out at $399. By the time I got mine in 2010, it had dropped to $189. After too many times of being stuffed inside my laptop bag without much protection, the screen gave up the ghost recently and I’m now using a newer version—which retails for less than my inferior original did.
You can still get the regular one that requires a reading light in the dark, just like a book, but this one is better for reading in low light. As travelers, we encounter that a lot: on trains, buses, and in hotels with lousy lighting. (Or on the Delta Airlines flight I was on two nights ago where the overhead light didn’t work on multiple seats on the plane. Sigh…)
Evolution of the E-reader
It doesn’t feel like you’re looking at a glowing screen when you’re reading with this Paperwhite though; it’s much easier on the eyes than a tablet. The low-energy LED lights don’t take much power either. You can read for weeks between charges in normal use with the Wi-Fi turned off, but even with that on and hours at a time of reading, the battery will last 4-8 times as long as your iPad will, in actual usage time. When you’re not using it, there’s almost no drainage. Plug it in for four hours (by USB or with a wall adapter) and you’re good to go again after four hours.
If you take a lot of notes you may miss the keyboard, but anyone else won’t. You can still type on the touchscreen if you want, but turning pages doesn’t require clicking a button. The only thing I miss is a home page button. I’ve found it tricky to get back there or to the control settings—to change the font size for instance—without several tries. You’re supposed to be able to just hold your finger down near the top of the screen, but half that time for me that ends up highlighting a word instead.
Highlighting a word is good though: you can look up the meaning of something you don’t understand. Or you can search for a particular word or line of text.
One big improvement is the progress read-out. You can see an actual page number if you want instead of just a percentage, and the Kindle estimates how long it will probably take you to finish the book. After a couple years of starting and stopping, I’m halfway through Moby Dick and it’s telling me I’ve got 10 more hours. Get on with it Ishmael!
In theory you can check your e-mail or pull up a website with this device, but the display is kind of clunky and not too quick. It’s better for an emergency than regular surfing. That’s actually a big plus for some buyers, especially parents. “I don’t want a tablet, I want something for electronic books” I’ve heard many people say. As in no temptation to check the Twitter feed or see if any new e-mails need a reply. Just concentration on one thing—a good book.
There’s a rubberized back on this new version that makes it easier to hold, but honestly if you’re going to do any traveling with it you need to invest in a case to protect it. The case can make it easier to hold this smaller device while laying down anyway and some of them have a built-in function that turns the device off when the cover is closed.
This thing holds up to 1,100 books, has a screen that looks great in the dark or bright light, is customizable, and…starts at only $119. How can anyone not see that as a terrific value? You have to add $20 to get rid of the promotional ads on the home screen and screen saver. Pay $179 to get the 3G version, which is useful if you’ll be traveling a lot and want the option of downloading a book from anywhere. (Or doing that emergency web surfing or e-mail checking.) The 3G service works internationally as well.
One other cool thing: when I turned this new one on and signed in, it downloaded all my books from the cloud. Unlike with the agony of getting a new laptop going, moving my Kindle library was completely painless. So was adding some new books I’ve had on my wish list.