Holiday technology and how it makes summer easier
From headphones to cameras, technology editor Adrian Weckler looks at the gadgets that can enhance your trip
WITH August approaching, it's time to lay aside our business tablets, our Bluetooth headsets and our premium work apps. Holidays beckon.
But what kind of gadgets can enhance our trip, regardless of where we're going and what we're doing? Here are five of the best options to consider.
Getting on a plane, train or bus? Looking for a little zen in the airport? These are the cans for you.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a small miracle of science. The 'noise-cancelling' tag comes from their ability to invert the frequency of external ambient noise. In plain English, that means that they turn noise into silence.
Sennheiser's MM550x set is a higher-end set of noise-cancelling headphones that has a few advantages over rivals. First, they're very light. Second, they're wireless (using a rechargeable battery). Third, they can be used for telephone calls, too (via the wireless Bluetooth connection). The sound quality is great, too.
Worth the stretch if you're after quality cans.
Price: €350 from retailers
The best ereader
Whatever about fancy GPS gadgets and 40-megapixel wunder-snappers, one truly useful device to have when travelling is an eReader.
While there are a few different kinds on the market, it is hard to see past Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. It beats all rivals – including LCD screen rivals such as the iPad Mini – due to its excellent screen, which has a light added into its frame so you can read in bed without having to have the room's light on.
It is also a touchscreen device, which feels much more intuitive now than fiddling about with external buttons. Text is nice and sharp, while Amazon has kept the size small and slim.
Price: €155 (wifi) or €230 (wifi + 3G) from Amazon
portable battery power
While holiday homes and hotels have sockets to recharge gadgets, cycling tours, safaris and even long plane trips can leave your gadgets with little backup support. For this type of travel, it is well worth investing in a power backup slab.
Powerwalker does a number of affordable, portable options. The one to get is its 10,000mAh battery, which allows you to charge virtually any electronic gadget, so long as it has a charging cable with a USB connection on it. In other words, if you can charge your gadget by sticking a cable into your PC's USB slot, you can charge it on this device.
Price: €45 from Maplin Electronics
The right camera
Because holidays are different, there is no perfect single camera option. However, there are some good choices.
If you're going to Kenya, you'll be shortchanged by anything less than a full-sized DSLR camera with a great zoom lens. A good choice is Canon's new 700D (€800 with lens). If that sounds steep, go for Canon's 1100D (€350 with lens). But make sure you buy an additional zoom lens (Canon's 75mm-300mm is the best budget option, at €200).
If all you need is a general quality snapper with a good built-in zoom, Sony's RX100 (€500) or Panasonic's TZ35 (€240) are both good bets, albeit with differing features.
Few people will base their smartphone choice on their holiday proclivities. However, some of the current crop of top-end smartphones are more holiday-friendly than others.
Sony's Xperia Z stands out for a number of reasons. First, it's waterproof. That means it's a lot more beach-, lake- or rain-resistant than any of its rivals. Second, it has a superb 13-megapixel camera on board (see my roundup of the best cameraphones on Independent.ie).
Third, it has a gorgeous five-inch screen that can just about stretch to being a suitable mini-TV for Netflix at night, assuming you have wifi wherever you're holidaying.
Price: from free on operator contract or €600 with no contract.
Apps, maps and more to keep you on right track
You've got the gadgets and the gear. But what about other helpful tech stuff? Here are a few bits and bobs worth downloading to help your travel plans go a bit smoother.
Word Lens Translator
(€4; iPhone, Android)
This app translates printed foreign language (such as street signs or menus) into English, on-screen, as you watch. It doesn't need an active network to work but you only get one language initially (others can be bought separately).
Long plane journeys or unexpected rainy afternoons used to be about books and iPods. Now there are tablet games. For adults, try the brilliant puzzler The Room (iPad, €1.80). For kids, get the Lego-ish Minecraft (iPad, €6). For both, Plants v Zombies (iPad, €6) is a great choice.
There's more to finding decent accommodation than hotel-booking websites. Airbnb hooks you up with good-quality accommodation in the form of unused living space such as unoccupied apartments. It's used a lot by well-off tech travellers.
This is a simple, clever online translation service that you can use on most smartphones, tablets and PCs.
Just type an English phrase in and translate it to any language you like. Or vice versa. The smartphone version allows you speak the phrase, too.
If the tiny screen on the back of the plane seat in front of you doesn't cut in terms of mapping information, get a decent map for your iPad.
The best one is Atlas By Collins (€6), which gives detailed world maps without an online connection. It's a large file, though (600MB).
(free app, all phones)
It's foolish to book a hotel, restaurant or excursion you don't know without first checking Tripadvisor.
While some reviews can be gamed, overall it's a very helpful service.