It’s gift-giving season and that means the latest crop of travel gadgets are in the news.
But with all the hot items out there, who’s got time to test out products and compare reviews?
Have no fear, our gadget guy Phil Baker is here with his annual column that looks at the best gadgets of the year, based on the scores of products that he’s tested, reviewed and used during the year.
Best New Gadget: Apple iPad - www.apple.com – There’s little argument that one of the most successful products introduced in recent memory is the iPad. In spite of previous failed attempts from Microsoft and others with tablets, the iPad will have sold close to 15 million units this year and is projected to sell two to three times as many next year. It appeals to people of all ages, from 3-year-olds to seniors, and it will be one of the most desirable Christmas gifts of the year. It starts at $499 and is widely available at Apple stores as well as mass merchandisers, AT&T and Verizon.
And one word of caution: While the new Samsung TAB is being promoted as an iPad alternative, there are few Android apps that will run on it in full screen, and even some Google executives are suggesting buyers hold off until the next revision of their software comes out next year.
Best Scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300 Scanner - www.fujitsu.com – This product is an invaluable work tool that I use constantly to scan documents and sketches into my computer and convert them into digital files that can be e-mailed or archived. I use it to save travel receipts to send to clients, send signed documents and forms and share written documents with others. The S1300 is compact and lightweight, requires no power supply, and has excellent software that makes it simple to use on both a PC and Mac. The quality of the scanning is superb and it can go through a stack of documents quickly, copying both sides at once and converting them into a single or individual PDF files. $295
Get Phil Baker’s take on Tech in 2010: Privacy Is Dead, Let Google & Facebook Take Over For TSA.
Best Smartphone: Motorola Droid X – www.motorola.com – While there were a load of great new phones introduced this year, including the Sprint EVO, the Droid Incredible and the iPhone 4, my favorite is the Motorola Droid X from Verizon. Its large display, thin profile and Verizon network offers the perfect combination of a versatile smartphone with unmatched phone service.
It also represents one of a string of successful new phones from Motorola that are bringing it back from the brink and making the U.S. company a formidable competitor to companies around the world. $200 (with two-year contract)
Best Camera: Canon PowerShot S95 - www.usa.canon.com – This tiny camera takes some of the best images of any pocket-size camera. The matte black finished design is understated yet the camera has the same sensor and processor as Canon’s more expensive G12. It’s the one camera you’ll want take with you everywhere. $499
Best Carry-On: Briggs-Riley 20-Inch Wide Body - www.briggs-riley.com – The 20-inch wide-body roller carry-on bag has been a breakthrough for the frequent traveler. This new shape has been a huge hit and hard for many shops to keep in stock. It provides more capacity than the long-standard 22-inch carry-on by increasing the width, yet it also satisfies the stricter carry-on requirements for international travel. And it stores in the overhead compartment feet first. I bought and really like the Briggs and Riley Baseline 20-inch Carry-On Expandable Wide-body Upright. It’s very well made of ballistic nylon, expandable, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. $370. Its Transcend model at $289 is also a good choice.
For more affordable gift options for travelers, don’t miss: Top Travel Accessories: Don’t Leave Home Without These Gadgets
Best Notebook Computer(s): As a Mac user, there’s no question it’s the MacBook Air(www.apple.com) 11.6-inch that packs the power of a full computer into a sturdy 2.2-pound package with nearly five hours of battery life and a full-size keyboard (from $1,000).
If you prefer a PC, Sony’s Vaio X, (www.sony.com) notebook weighs just 1.6 pounds with comparable performance. It’s equally thin and offers additional battery modules to provide 10 hours of life. (About $1,100)
Bluetooth Headset(s): I’ve tested about ten Bluetooth cellular headsets this year, and my favorite is the Plantronics Voyager Pro+ (www.plantronics.com), an upgrade from the Pro. It provides enough battery life to get through the day, will never fall out of your ear and provides excellent talk quality, helped by its boom microphone. On the negative side, it still has no off-on switch and occasionally redials in your pocket due to its exposed call button. $99
Learn more: Gadget Reviews: Best New Bluetooth Headsets
If talk time is less of an issue, the Jawbone ICON (www.jawbone.com) is my next choice. It now has a programmable button for calling your favorite number while the phone remains in your pocket. While I also liked the latest BlueAnt models, its customer support in dealing with a defective unit was poor.
Best Portable Speaker: While there are thousands of gadgets on the market, very few have that special property of exciting the senses. The new Jambox from Jawbone is one of them. This tiny, yet weighty package, brings a new functionality to iPhones, iPods and iPads. It provides excellent sound (relative to its small size), convenience in its portability and wireless connectivity, and a gorgeous ID. I found I carried it with me indoors to use as a crisp speakerphone. At other times I streamed radio and played my music. I’d rank it five stars if it were $50 less, but at $200 it’s pushing the value. And while the sound can’t compare with a bookshelf speaker at a similar cost, it’s better than any other at three or four times the volume. $200
My Favorite Apps – If you’re looking for kid-friendly entertainment in planes, trains and automobiles, Talking Carl is a simple app that runs on the iPhone and iPad and will have kids from 2 to 6 laughing out loud. It’s a cartoon character that repeats back in its high-pitched voice whatever it hears. Kids find it hilarious to hear this character repeat everything they say. And it’s free. Next is Angry Birds, a game that provides hours of entertainment as you try to go after the pigs hiding inside building structures. It makes little sense, yet it’s highly addictive, and replicates the laws of physics and gravity quite well. 99 cents on the iPad, iPhone and Android phones.
By Phil Baker for PeterGreenberg.com. Read Phil’s blog here and check out his book, From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money, available at bookstores everywhere and as an e-book on the Nook and Kindle.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Tech in 2010: Privacy Is Dead, Let Google & Facebook Take Over For TSA
- Wheeled Luggage Reviews: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
- Top Travel Accessories: Don’t Leave Home Without These Gadgets
- Great Gadgets for Road Trips: GPS, Phones & Satellite Radio
- Gadget Reviews: Best New Bluetooth Headsets
- Thin Is In: MacBook Air Vs. PC Thinkpad
- The MacBook Air Review: Travel-Friendly Computing?
- Travel Gadgets & Gear section