Travel Tips

Holiday Gift Guide: New Technology on the Road and at Home

Think you’re getting the latest travel technology? Cross-check your Christmas list with the expert.  This year, our own product tester Phil Baker has put together a holiday gift guide that will satisfy techies and non-techies alike. From new phones and tablets to radios and speakers, find out the best technology to carry on the road and to bring home from your travels.

On the Road

1. iPad Air

ipad air

The iPad Air is Apple’s latest model and the company’s best ever. Most notably it’s 30 percent lighter, has a sharper display and runs faster. While you can pay less for a tablet, nothing matches its ease of use and the breadth of apps that are available for it. $499 for the 16GB version. (Spoiler alert — this is what I’m getting my wife!)

2. MotoX Phone

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Motorola’s Moto X Android smartphone is a fine Android phone that gets everything right. In particular, it has a nice 4.7-inch Amoled screen size, likely the same size as on the next iPhone. It’s attractively slim, feels good in the hand and doesn’t add lots of junk software or a complicated interface that other Android phone makers do. Because of its association with Google, it’s already been upgraded to the latest KitKat version of Android OS and it’s becoming a showcase for inventive ideas from their new research group led by Regina Dugan, formerly head of DARPA. Users were recently treated to an entertaining animated video, “Windy Day,” created by a Pixar producer that uses virtual reality. Expect more surprises throughout the year. From free to $99 with a new account at most of the carriers.

3. Tumi Brooks Slim Brief

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I buy many more computer bags than I can ever use, but I’m always searching for that perfect one. This is close to that: a lightweight bag that’s perfectly sized for carrying a 13-inch notebook and tablet, with pockets for each. It’s just 11″ x 15″ x 4″ yet has a number of outside pockets for carrying power supplies, cords, a water bottle, cards, pens, keys and other essentials. It has a back zipper pocket to fit over a rollerboard handle and is small enough to pass for a large man-bag as well. ($325,

4. Keyport Slide


This is a clever device that reduces the bulk of carrying lots of keys and other items in your pocket. The Keyport Slide is replacement for the conventional keychain by consolidating those items we carry everywhere, including keys, USB flash drive, flashlight and bottle opener into a single, streamlined device that fits your pocket.  It can hold up to six keys and other tools in the same volume as a box of Tic Tacs and provides quick access to each with the slide of a thumb. Keyport has created a way to replace the wide range of large, oddly shaped key heads with its own patented, universal head that is only slightly larger than the stem of the key. A complete Keyport Slide 2.0 plus 6 Standard Blades is  $58.94.

5. Lenovo 7” Yoga Tablet


Not an Apple enthusiast? The Lenovo 7” Yoga tablet is one of the most original tablet designs ever and I like it a lot. The Yoga is a very thin device with a cylindrical tube running down one side, resembling an Apple keyboard. The cylinder holds the batteries and, doubles as a handle and a serves as the hinge point for a really solid stand. As a result, it’s easy to hold, provides a 15-hour battery life, and is easy to stand next to your computer to use as a second display. I’ve used it for book reading and then sit it on my desk with Gmail open to see my incoming email. While its processor and display’s 1,280 x 800 pixels are just adequate, the aluminum housing and build construction are outstanding. ($249)

6. Orbita Lighthouse LED Flashlight


Think of a miniature lighthouse with multiple LEDs on top and around its circumference. It’s Orbita’s new Lighthouse LED Flashlight. The combination pocket beacon and lantern emits 350 lumens of intense white light, selectable in six different patterns with lamps rated for 100,000 hours. The construction is all stainless steel with a sapphire lens, polished aluminum reflector, and rechargeable lithium-Ion battery. It uses Cree technology, (the leading U.S. LED company). Great for emergency use, camping or carrying with you in your briefcase. ($235)

7. Casio Digital Watch GBX6900


We’re still waiting for the true iWatch that many, including me, expected by now. While Samsung has pre-empted Apple with its Galaxy Gear watch, it’s huge, clumsy, not very useful and limited to using with a few Samsung phones. Casio’s latest second-generation G-Shock Digital Watch GBX6900 Bluetooth watch is a better bet. It connects with most smartphones to control the music player and display alerts such as incoming email. The smartphone can be used to set many of a watch’s functions as well, such as the alarm, countdown timer and world time. ($200)

8. CCRadio from C.Crane


I found this little radio to perform nearly as well as the company’s famous full-size model. The CC Pocket Radio from C.Crane can pull in stations from hundreds of miles away, and is  well-engineered and intuitive to use. It has a built-in speaker, 55 station presets, and AM, FM and weather bands. It also has a large LCD lighted display, sleep timer, clock, alarm, battery meter, signal meter and removable belt clip. It uses two AA batteries providing 75 hours of earphone listening. ($60)

At Home

1. Sonos Play 1 and Playbar


Sonos, the company that invented wireless audio systems that play music in multiple rooms and from multiple sources, has two new products. The new Play 1 ($200) is its lowest cost powered/connected speaker that’s simple to set up and can play the tunes on your computer, Pandora, Spotify, Internet radio and XM/Sirius, all controlled by an app on your iPhone or Android. The second product, the Playbar ($700), is designed to provide surround sound from your HDTV, as well as deliver the same audio content as their other products.

2. Gene Café Home Coffee Roaster

gene450_300x300One product I’m testing for an upcoming review is the Gene Café home coffee roaster. This may be the present I’ll ask for. So far I’ve found it roasts green coffee beans — costing about a third of roasted coffee — with little effort and great results…most of the time. Expect a full review in a few weeks. ($515)

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By Phil Baker for Baker is the author of “From Concept to Consumer,” published by Financial Times Press.