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The Best and Worst in Travel Tech Today

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Gadget Toy GuyWhether you’re jetting off to your third business trip of the week or planning your summer beach getaway, gadget guru Phil Baker gives us his top—and bottom—picks for travel-related technology, gadgets and gizmos.

From computers to camera to carrying cases, get an independent eye for what’s useful and not from a traveler’s point of view.

PACK IT AND GO

Computers: Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (recently reviewed). Each is lightweight with a full-size keyboard and excellent screen. The Air’s screen is so bright it can be used outdoors.

Portable Battery ChargerComputer accessory: The Battery Geek 222 Lithium Ion Portable Power Station will relieve any concern about running out of notebook power on the longest flight. This slim, four-pound package provides 15-20 hours of power for a Mac or PC notebook. The individual batteries are made by LG and there’s circuitry added to insure longevity and safety. This is one of the few companies that offer a cable with a magnetic connector that works with the current Mac notebooks. $499. A six- to eight-hour version is available for $299. Batterygeek.net

Cameras: The Pentax K20D digital SLR is my current favorite for travel. It’s the company’s latest, top-of-the-line product and based on early tests the images are better than anything I’ve seen from any digital SLR. It’s the same size as its older K10D, but has a new 15-megabyte sensor and many new features including live viewing. Why is it best for travel? It’s weatherproof, more compact than most SLRs, and used with Pentax’s pancake lens ($250), it’s easy to fit in a briefcase, eliminating the “snout” of most SLRs. $1,299; pentaxslr.com

Canon Elph Digital SeriesFor the best ultra-compact camera, I’m partial to the Canon Elph series. I’m still using last generation’s 900SD, but anticipate that the new 890SD IS, just announced, will be even better. It has a 5x zoom, image stability, face detect, and an optical viewfinder. $399

Phones: I like both the iPhone and the BlackBerry Curve 8310. I use both, the iPhone in the United States and the BlackBerry for e-mail around the world and calling when I’m out of the country. The BlackBerry is better than the iPhone for e-mail, while the iPhone is better for Web browsing and music.

Music players: The Apple iTouch is the best iPod yet. It has a large touch screen for watching videos, viewing album art and surfing the Web using its built-in Wi-Fi. You can also buy and download content over a Wi-Fi connection from the Apple iTunes store.

Best computer briefcase: Glaser Designs’ new briefcases have a system of add-in organizers for storing your gadgets, paper, computer and accessories any way you want. They are all meticulously handmade in its San Francisco workshop using the finest leather, which is processed in-house. Its products are unmatched for durability and wear. While not inexpensive, they’re a bargain because of their longevity. I’ve been using one for 10 years. From $800.

NOT WORTH THE PRICE

Holding iPhoneiPhone with costly data plan: The iPhone is one of the worst phones for international use, not because of the product itself, but because of AT&T’s data plan. Unlike the BlackBerry, which has an unlimited international data plan ($70/month), the iPhone has none. That means you can rack up hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars in data charges for a week or two of use. For example, sending a large PowerPoint file costs $6.

Motorola phones that lock out universal chargers: Lugging multiple travel chargers is a pain, but some companies have begun using the same mini USB connector for charging, so one charger will work with many devices. Motorola sells phones with USB connectors as well, but designed them to detect the charger, and if it’s not a Motorola brand, the phone won’t charge.

Planon’s R800 scanner: This portable scanner is a thin cylindrical device that scans documents and receipts into its internal memory and then lets you move the file to a PC. But this $300 device was nearly impossible to use. Scanning was very tricky and most attempts were futile, due to an inability to move it smoothly across paper. Good idea, but terrible execution.

STRAIGHT FROM THE TRAVEL GOODS SHOW

The Travel Goods Show is a trade exhibition of luggage and travel gadgets. Here are a few of the more interesting products I saw:

ETA, part of the company that makes Swiss Army brand luggage, introduced a two-piece luggage locator with a transmitter and receiver. Attach the receiver to your suitcase and carry the transmitter. When you arrive at the carousel, press the transmitter and your bag will beep and flash. Works up to 60 feet. $30; etatravelgear.com

Rolling Parliament Swiss ArmySwiss Army Luggage introduced The Rolling Parliament case, a wheeled computer travel bag with a clever mechanism that automatically retracts the wheels when they are not needed. It also includes a breathable computer sleeve that releases heat from the computer, which the company claims will extend battery life. Lists for $449; www.swissarmy.com

ZUCA showed an unusual looking carry-on, wheeled bag with a built-in seat. It’s an open aluminum box with a fabric interior. Zip open the front and there’s a series of pull out packing compartments. $300; zuca.com

Plane Clean Air Filter is a small device that attaches to the passenger’s overhead air nozzle found on most airplanes. It’s designed to remove contaminants from the air stream. (It’s too bad that the air you breathe on a plane doesn’t come solely from your overhead vent.) $20; planecleanair.com

Kena Kai showed its leather wallets and passport cases with “DataSafe” technology that have layers of radio frequency shielding to protect data from being stolen from the new ePassports and contact-less credit cards. From $80; www.kenakai.com

Originally published in the San Diego Transcript. Visit Phil Baker’s blog at http://blog.philipgbaker.com.

Looking for more helpful gadgets? That’s why we created the Travel Gadgets section.

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