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2011 was a great year for Gadget lovers - the tech industry pushed out new products at an insane pace. As usual, a vast majority of said gadgets were borderline useless, but especially for the traveler, the year proved to be quite rewarding.
Like most years, I went through a huge amount of new gizmos, but some of them really stood their ground - and made it into my bag for more than one trip. Here are the ten products I deemed worthy of claiming they actually changed how I traveled in 2011.
In 1991, things were different; Airfare came from your travel agent, and you did not have to concern yourself with anything technical. In fact, chances are, your travel agent wouldn't let you anywhere near their cherished green-screen terminal.
The business traveler had different needs, and for them there was the OAG guide (Official Airline Guide), a large book with the times and prices of almost every flight in the world. In 1991, OAG released their book on a CD-ROM (and delivered the required equipment with it since nobody back then owned a CD-ROM drive).
For the real hardcore users, a version was also released on the Sony DATA Discman, pictured here on the left. Think of this contraption as a very early Amazon Kindle. The unit read data off small CD's in a cartridge, and was the worlds first portable electronic flight guide.
With this in hand, you could call yourself the ultimate frequent flier - and probably find airfare quicker than the local travel agent. OAG CD's for Sony came in the mail every three months, keeping your data up to date with the latest flight times and prices. Sony discontinued the DATA Discman in the late 90's as the technology moved on to PDA's.
The Holiday season may be over, but that shouldn't stop you from paying attention to gift ideas (for yourself). If one of your New Years resolutions is to travel without landing at your destination with an empty iPad or phone, then we recommend checking out the assortment of bags from Powerbag. Their lineup covers everything from a basic sling, to a complete mobile office on wheels.
Now, a variety of luggage is definitely not newsworthy on its own, and what makes these bags worthy of a mention here is that they all come with an integrated power source. Inside each of the bags is a powerful battery pack, integrated battery indicator and power switch and a water resistant AC charger port. Pack your bag, then pop your tablet, phone, headset or other devices inside and plug them in.
The built in battery pack is rated at 6000mAh, which is more than enough to charge a phone 4-5 times, or charge multiple devices at the same time. The system includes power tips for Apple, MiniUSB and MicroUSB, though a regular USB port also allows you to use your own cable. Best of all, Powerbag will gladly sell you a second battery pack in a higher or lower capacity.
The bags start at $139.99 and are available directly from the manufacturer or a variety of (online) retailers. We'll try and get a full review up on Gadling as soon as we can.
2011 may go down as (yet another) "year of the cloud", but that doesn't mean the cloud is the solution to everything. On my travels, I rely on Dropbox, Google Music, Amazon Music and Sugarsync to provide instant access to my files, but the "instant" part relies heavily on having access to reliable and speedy Internet access. Since speedy Internet can be just as hard to find in downtown Las Vegas as it is in downtown Tallinn, I also trust locally stored files on a good old hard drive and a variety of USB drives.
Of course, the biggest risk of carrying a hard drive is always going to be physical damage - the thing is after all designed around rotating platters with magnetic heads floating micrometers above them. To combat this, there is the rugged drive. One of the most popular names in rugged storage is ioSafe, long known for their line of fire and waterproof drives for at home, but now also the name behind a variety of portable rugged storage.
Planning a 1960's style camping holiday, but not in possession of an authentic VW camper van? Firebox, the UK retailer of weird products has just what you need - a VW camper tent.
The tent is a licensed 1:1 replica of the van, with enough room for 4 adults to sleep in comfort. Unlike most other tents, this one is even tall enough to stand inside. The package includes the tent itself along with all the required ropes, pegs and accessories.
It is available in yellow, red and blue, but won't actually ship till August. Shipping is free, but you'll need to hand over just under $500 to get your hands on one.
Finding things to do is pretty simple if you are in your hometown, but if you arrive in a new destination and want to find something to do, eat or drink, you are often completely on your own. One of the newest ways to take care of this problem is the Goby mobile app. Goby has been on the web for some time now, helping you find fun things to do, but their new mobile apps take that knowledge onto your mobile device.
The app is free of charge, and is available for the iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad and Android devices. Once you've selected your current location (or hand-picked a location), you can browse over 350 different categories of things to do -- and each entry has a fantastic amount of information. Entries include reviews, the neighborhood, maps and more. Every city town and region of the U.S. is included, and once you find something fun, you can share it via email, Facebook or Twitter.
Download links for the various devices can be found here.
Gallery: Goby Mobile App
We'll file this one under "why didn't I think of that" -- EasySign is an iOS app that allows you to import, edit, sign and send documents right on your device, without the need for a printer, scanner or fax. The app was released earlier this year, but today the developers announced an iPad native version.
Using EasySign is ridiculously simply -- you sign up, and instantly get three free document credits. Your signature can be drawn on your screen or imported using the camera in your device.
Once your personal information is submitted, you can email documents to the EasySign service, and they'll instantly be available in the app. EasySign supports PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and even HTML and image file formats. In my own test, I was able to open a document, sign it, add some personal information (name and date) and send it, all in under 30 seconds. Considering simple tasks like this often take 30 minutes on the road, it is very easy to justify the minimal investment.
Best of all, document credits can be purchased directly inside the app, and use the in-app billing system. Document signing bundles start at $0.99 for 3, or just $14.99 for unlimited documents. If you know in advance that you'll be signing a lot of stuff, it'll make sense to immediately go for the $14.99 option. The app itself is free (along with your first three documents) and can be found on your iOS device or through this iTunes link.
Gallery: EasySign Mobile
A word of warning - this is a long video, but if you have the patience to watch it, you'll see what the title means. This Russian Tupolev Tu-154 took off from an airport near Moscow, and experienced a defect in its controls. According to one source, the plane hadn't flown for over ten years, and was sent skyward without any checks or repairs.
Apparently, the crazy dancing plane was able to stay airborne just long enough for the pilot to circle around and land safely. If you just want to see the highlights, point your mouse to the 3:20 mark. Any aviation experts care to comment on what they think we are looking at?
If you don't want to settle for the speakers in your laptop, but do want something that is easy to pack, then a new speaker product from Altec Lansing may be just what you need. The Orbit USB Stereo builds off the success of their Orbit MP3 speaker (my first ever review on Gadling) but moves up from a single speaker to stereo speakers.
The design is pretty slick - the speakers attach to each other, and the USB and audio cord stores inside the rear end of each speaker.
Sound from the Orbit USB Stereo is actually quite impressive -- and certainly much better than you'd expect from something this compact. Because the speakers use a generic USB audio system, you don't need any drivers either, simply plug them in and you are good to go.
While they are noticeably larger than a pair of headphones, once combined, the package really isn't that big - and I had no problem finding a spot for them in my laptop backpack. Since they are USB powered, you don't need to carry a power adapter or batteries.
The new Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 Stereo is available (and in stock) today for just $49.95.
Gallery: Altec Lansing Orbit USB Stereo
Looking to do more than play Angry Birds during your next trip? The new Scosche freeKEY Bluetooth keyboard is designed with productivity in mind. The flexible and waterproof keyboard connects to any device with support for Bluetooth input devices, including the iPhone, iPad, Motorola Xoom. The keyboard retails for $59.99 and comes with a retractable USB charger cord.
So, next time you are working on a presentation, and the flight attendant spills Diet Coke all over your tray table, just hope it doesn't hit your tablet computer because your keyboard can simply be washed clean.
You'll find the new freeKEY at Scosche.com where it is in stock and ready to ship.