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Travelling? Don't forget these tech toys

November 10, 2005 14:33 IST

Travelers who forget a crucial charger, break a BlackBerry or venture out of cell phone coverage can find themselves marooned, cursing the gadgets that looked so new and shiny coming out of the box.

A dead cell phone is enough to ruin even a week on the beach. And a business trip without your laptop? You might as well rely on smoke signals.

Worse, international travelers must endure that particular form of torture reserved only for those who discover too late that their cell phone doesn't work in Singapore, or that they left their adapter back home on the kitchen counter.

Slideshow: Tech toys for travelers

Fortunately, many devices these days are universal, thus obviating for regular overseas travelers the need to have two laptops, two PDAs and two cell phones, and consolidating the expensive and easily misplaced accessories, such as chargers and charge converters, one needs to keep everything operating on full battery power.

Today, because of developments like tri-band technology for cell phones, GSM networks from T-Mobile for BlackBerries and multi-purpose chargers from Mobility Electronics, travel between nations -- at least technically -- has become increasingly seamless.

All the same, frequent travelers should make sure to consult with salespeople before committing to a new product in order to verify its functionality abroad -- even if that means getting the more expensive model.

Coolest communication devices of the future

Consumers are adopting new technology -- costly or not -- as soon as it hits the market. Forrester Research, a Massachusetts-based technology and market research company, issued a report this summer predicting that, by the year 2010, 85 per cent of American households will have a cell phone, 53 per cent will have a laptop, 37 per cent will take advantage of DVR (digital video recorders) for watching TV out of the home and 35 per cent will own an MP3 player. The number of digital cameras, PDAs and camera phones will get a jolt as well, according to the report.

While young consumers (under the age of 17) lead adults in the adoption of almost every new travel tech device out there, including DVRs, camera phones and portable game players, productivity devices, like cell phones and laptops, appeal to an older audience, with one gadget leading the way: the personal digital assistant, or PDA.

Coolest gadgets for your car

Adults are 65 per cent more likely to own one than young consumers are, and tech companies are taking notice, introducing PDAs and even new "travel assistants" that do everything but chauffeur your town car (though these days they actually can navigate it).

A good example is a new product from Garmin, a Kansas-based manufacturer of navigation and communications equipment, that incorporates global positioning system technology into portable, user-friendly products.

The index-card-sized nĂ¼vi has GPS functionality (including detailed maps, turn-by-turn voice directions and automatic routing), a text and spoken-language translator, which includes a database of 17,000 words or 20,000 phrases in nine languages, an international currency converter and a world clock.

World's coolest gadgets

Add in an MP3 player, audiobook player and picture viewer, and the product still only weighs one-third of a pound. At $899, the price is a bit heftier. Still, carrying around nine dictionaries, an almanac and a stereo system on your next trip would be considerably worse.

Because a laptop with 15 hours of battery life, widely considered the next breakthrough for business travelers, has, so far, proven to be an insurmountable hurdle for PC manufacturers, some of the most noteworthy -- and profitable -- innovations in recent travel technology are entertainment-oriented.

Mobile Digital Video Recorders for example, are great companions for frequent travelers. They allow users to pass hours during an airport delay or a long plane ride while catching up on the last season of a favorite TV show, or as many as 30 movies.

Gadgets we love

The latest gadget in the MP3 player craze, the iPod nano from Apple Computers, is much more fun than noise-canceling headphones for travelers trying to block out loudspeaker announcements or the grating voices of the couple arguing two seats over.

Apple doesn't release sales figures for specific products, but did say that it had sold over 21 million iPods since the introduction of the product in 2001. At (a minimum of) $299 a pop, that's about $6.3 billion, not counting iTunes sales or the higher prices for models with more storage capacity (though the figure does include iPod Minis).

So, what do tech companies have in mind when designing gadgets for travelers? And what did we look for in compiling our list? Almost everything comes in a portable size these days, and laptops are just as functional at less than three pounds as the huge desktop consoles.

Not only that, but tech consumers who don't travel much still prefer smaller, portable devices. In short, the line between gadgets for travelers and gadgets for everyone else is blurring.

So while we did include functional tools, like a Toughbook W2 laptop from Panasonic and a Treo 650 Smartphone from Palm, many of the other gadgets on our list are intended to entertain and divert you from the tedious process of getting there -- even if it's just a cab ride or a few stops on public transportation. Style and function were big criteria, as were portability and a reasonable cost. But if certain products looked perfect but pricey, we included them anyway.

After all, we aren't buying them -- you are. And with business travel up, you'll be buying more of them than ever. So take a moment to look at our choices of the best tech toys for travelers.

Leaving home has never been so easy.