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Headed for a getaway? Traveling for business, pleasure or both? Whether you’re making your way by plane, train, automobile, or even your own two feet, no trip is complete these days without digital accessories. Here are 25 great sidekicks to help make the journey pain-free
The Wi-Fi Alliance would have you think you can now connect anywhere and everywhere. It’s not so. Existing wi-fi networks often fail to deliver, which can be especially frustrating when you’re paying ridiculous prices to hotels for access to their networks. Novatel’s MiFi Intelligent Mobile Hotspot takes away your wireless headaches by tapping seamlessly into Sprint’s and Verizon’s vast 3G networks. Pricing varies among service plans, but the 5-GB data plan for $60 a month is your best bet. Like with any new phone, you’ll have to sign a two-year contract, but you’ll never have to go hunting for a hotspot ever again.
Apple recently updated its baseline 13-in. MacBook with a unibody polycarbonate shell for added strength and style. Inside, an efficient LED-backlit screen helps lift battery life to seven hours and provides instant full-screen brightness the moment you turn it on. The new MacBook is greener than previous models, having eliminated harmful toxins like mercury and now using arsenic-free glass. Among its other consumer-friendly features is a spacious glass trackpad that registers multiple-finger inputs like two-finger swipes (for up or down) and four-finger swipes (to choose among open applications).
8. Optoma PK101 Pico Pocket Projector
Whether you’re catching 30 Rock or Land of the Lost on your PMP or laptop, you could use a bigger screen, right? Optoma’s DLP-powered PK101 pico projector is capable of producing a wall image of up to 60 in. that is both clear and vibrant. The projector is lightweight at only 4 oz., lasts up to 1.5 hours per charge and has an LED that can last up to 20,000 hours. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, so feel free to carry it around and show your latest photos or videos whenever you get the urge. And let’s face it: there’s nothing ever worth watching on hotel TVs anyway.
7. Live Luggage Hybrid PA
Luggage on wheels was a major advance in airport survival, but as we pack more stuff into our bags, even the wheeled ones are getting to be a bit of a burden to drag around. British luggage purveyor Live Luggage has solved the problem with its line of power-wheel bags. The Hybrid PA bag monitors how hard you’re working to pull the bag and provides enough power to the wheels to make your effort unnecessary. Also, its antigravity handle is designed to put 85% of the weight on top of the wheels, so it feels like you’re pulling a bag of cheese puffs instead of whatever it is that you’re toting. Once you’re onboard the aircraft, another helpful feature kicks in: two outer bags can be zipped off and easily fit in the overhead bins.
6. Energizer Xpal SP2000
Backpacking in Yellowstone and just noticed your BlackBerry’s power is running low? If you’re also packing Energizer’s Xpal SP2000 solar-power pack, you’re all set — well, at least as long as the sun is shining. The power pack’s solar energy can be used to recharge or extend the battery life of your most critical gadgets. Six hours under the sun — or three hours hooked up to a wall socket — will fully stoke the SP2000, which comes precharged out of the box. The device can charge cell and smart phones, iPods and other MP3 players, gaming devices and digital cameras.
5. Zipcar App
Some trips are well planned; others happen on a whim. For the whimsy in you, there’s Zipcar, which offers its members quick, cheap, hassle-free car rental on short notice. So when your afternoon meeting is canceled during a business trip to San Francisco, your boss may sulk and head back to the hotel, but you can be tooling around Napa in a Zipcar. The Zipcar iPhone app amplifies the quickness and ease of this process. Beyond helping you manage reservations, find nearby pickup locations and browse car models available, the app offers clever capabilities like remote locking and unlocking and honking your car’s horn from your phone when you inevitably forget what it looks like in a crowded lot.
4. Motorola Droid
Google’s Android operating system for mobile devices is now in six gadgets, but the new Droid by Motorola is the most exciting. It is not only the sole device running version 2.0 of the Android firmware but also the first device with Google Maps navigation (in beta), which provides free spoken turn-by-turn directions with integrated street view. It listens too. Voice-activated shortcuts allow you to say “Navigate to [insert destination]” without having to pull over to type in the location. The 3.7-in. high-res touchscreen vividly displays the 5-megapixel photos and DVD-quality video taken with the built-in camera. The Droid also handles Exchange Outlook e-mail along with calendar sync and, of course, your Gmail account.
3. iPod Touch
Big portable gaming devices are nearly obsolete as ever more high-quality games are developed for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which is why the 32-GB iPod Touch is perfect for long-haul flights or everyday commutes. We like the 32-GB model over the 8-GB because it has four times the memory, a speedier processor and voice control to direct your music. A built-in battery provides up to 30 hours of music playback or six hours of video playback, with storage for as many as 7,000 songs or 40 hours of video.
Growing tired of tunes while you travel? Yearning for a bit more intellectual stimulation on the metro? iMinds offers eight-minute audio books across 12 categories, ranging from the Cold War to the history of bank notes (for when you can’t sleep, perhaps). Think of them as audible Wikipedia entries accessible on the fly. Most devices in our Best Travel Gadgets arsenal can serve as MP3 players, so there’s no need to pick up a separate device for tracks from iMinds.
1. Virgin America Gogo
If you’re looking down on the clouds, you probably don’t have access to Web communications. Richard Branson is looking to change that. Every single aircraft in his Virgin America fleet is equipped with Gogo, Aircell’s in-flight broadband service, so you can visit Facebook, check e-mail, Twitter or stream Hulu from 30,000 feet. Power supply can be a problem for frequent flyers on other fleets, but not on Virgin, because every seat is equipped with a standard 110-volt outlet. Fly between Nov. 10, 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010, and you can thank Google for footing the bill on free in-flight wi-fi. After that grace period ends, laptop wi-fi access will range from $5.95 on short flights to $12.95 on long ones.
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