For those of you wielding a Kindle as your travel computer, you don’t need to worry about running out of power anymore — or at least finding a power outlet. Just unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show, the SolarFocus Kindle Case ($80) continuously charges your Kindle with sunlight via the case’s solar panels, and then moves on to charging the onboard 1,500 mah reserve battery. The panels only need eight hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the reserve battery, and then you can use it to power the swivel LED lamp for 50 hours, or redirect the charge to your kindle in case you run out of juice while reading in a lights out hostel.
Stuck in a city for a single night due to an unexpected layover? Made an impromptu stop to party with some out-of-town friends for the night? Well if you’re in the US, and you’re in the 27 cities, or nine airports, covered by Hotel Tonight (Android, iOS; Free), you’re in luck. Fire up the free app and let it find you a last minute deal at your choice of a three hotel, categorized as basic, solid, hip, and luxe .
I just fired up the app for today’s deals in LA, and it’s showing me Crescent Beverly Hills for $99 (their website lists $132 – $176), Thompson Beverly Hills $139 (their website lists $195 – $250), and the Hollywood Roosevelt for $149 (their website lists $194 – $244).
Sure, it will get you an acceptable price for a last-minute hotel, but Hotel Tonight really excels in simplicity and ease-of-use. When the app opens, it finds your current city via geolocation and presents you with three hotel choices. Select one in your price range, and you can book right away, or check out essential info, such as wifi availability, room specs, and food options in and around the hotel. If you book on a regular basis, you can input your credit card info for quicker purchasing. From log in to check out, you could be looking at a hotel shopping experience that lasts 20 seconds if you wanted it to. Simple and fast, the kind of experience you want when all you want to do is lock down a place to throw your bags and rest your head for the night.
(Use the “gtraveler” promo code and get $25 in credit for use on Hotel Tonight. Full disclosure: On your first booking, it will send $25 credit our way, too.)
With the help of mobile apps and accessories, you no longer need to be tied to a desk and company wifi. Whether you’re traveling for work and trying to get some beach time in, or vacationing and hoping to keep on top of of business back home, you can be a nomad and a worker bee at the same time, with our guide to working from anywhere:
XCom Global Mifi Rental
It’s tough to stay connected when you’re constantly battling the wifi demons in foreign countries. Luckily, XCom Global exists, renting Mifi devices (portable wifi for up to 5 devices) pre-installed with country-specific unlimited 3g sim cards. Their plans are reasonable at $15/day (on par with questionable hotel wifi costs), and you don’t have to pay for shipping either direction if you order 10 days in advance. Going to multiple countries? Get your second Mifi for free, and each additional for $30 (fee for the entire trip) and you’re still paying only $15/day. If you’re out for 14+ days, they offer discounts, and you can even rent on a monthly basis, starting at $245/month. If you’re headed to Europe, they offer a Europe plan that uses just a single Mifi device for $40 countries (for the same sweet $15/day price) so you don’t have to lug around multiple Mifi’s.
If you can get a hold of a Google Voice account, Google Voice gets you free call forwarding, phone number, voicemail, SMS, and calls to the US. On the downside, it’s only available to US customers, international texting is hit and miss, and calling from outside the US is mostly a hack. If you want your international transition to be seamless, and you’re willing to fork over the cash for call forwarding ($0.25/min), a phone number ($18/3 months), and SMS ($0.04 – $0.22 /text), Skype is the way to go. The perks are that you can get unlimited calls for a flat rate ($3 – $14 /month), voicemail (recently made free), and free Skype-to-Skype voice, text, and video chat direct from the Skype app (iOS, Android, Symbian; Free).
If you want to get the best of both worlds, setup your Google Voice to forward to your Skype phone number. This gives you more control with call forwarding, texts, voicemail, and call routing while still getting the pro quality of Skype. Then setup your Skype Caller ID to only display your google voice number. Voila!
Hit the jump for more mobile toolkit essentials! Click to continue »
Nowadays, your travel computer can do everything; my iphone is my book reader, audiobook/music player, movie screen, picture taker, and communication device. However, with great power comes great power usage. And it seems like the speed and capabilities are far outpacing the available battery juice that they can cram into small mobile packages these days.
So if you’re worried about being stuck in coach, or the backcountry, without an outlet in site, you might want to consider the following options for a backup battery.
Monoprice Universal Backup Battery ($42) – This unassuming white box is actually a 7800 mah battery with two outputs. With this many milliamp hours (mah) at your disposal you could charge up your iPad (~6900 mah) fully, and have some left over for your neighbor’s iPhone (~1400 mah).
The just released Hotspot Shield VPN app (Free, iOS) lets you dial into Hotspot’s VPN services directly from the app. This will be a great option for users looking to game the Google Voice access overseas. While the app is free, the service is not — though it is much cheaper than the previously mentioned proXPN ($5/month). You can buy a month of Hotspot VPN service for $0.99 or buy the whole year for $9.99.
If you’re iOS based and looking to access your country-specific services wherever you are in the world, Hotspot VPN is shaping up to be your new best friend. And luckily, Hotspot is aiming to bring its mobile service to Android soon, and they already have a well established Mac and PC VPN that is free to use, though ad-supported.
If your adventures regularly take you where there is no Wifi, cell towers, or even electrical plugs, you might think a travel computer wouldn’t come in handy. Well, if you can get your hands on a Spot Connect ($170 + $100/year), you’d be wrong. The bluetoothenabled device allows you to connect your iPhone or Android phone to satellites all over the globe and enables you to send 120-character predefined messages to facebook, twitter, 41-character custom messages to SMS or email (although there’s an “extra charge” for this but no specifics on actual price), or just your GPS coordinates to Google Maps.
Not a bad idea if you’re really off the grid. Just don’t forget your solar charger.
Mobile music while traveling is a problem. Most people don’t sync their entire selection to their phone, and if they do, what if they want to download and listen to a new track or album?
Enter Spotify (Free – $10/month). Ubiquitous in Europe for the last couple of years, and it has expanded to the US a few months ago (currently available in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, the US, France, Spain and the Netherlands). Spotify is a streaming music service, and it’s free for 10 hours per month using the desktop client, and $5 for unlimited streaming. They have anywhere from 15-30 million songs available in their completely legal catalog, and their client works well (read: much better than iTunes).
Now, to the mobile part: For $10/month, you can stream music to your mobile (iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, WebOS) and then sync playlists, songs, and albums to use offline! As long as you sign up for your Spotify account from one of the spotify-launched countries, you can go anywhere with the app. So find some Wifi in that Costa Rican coffee shop, play some tracks, make some playlists, sync them offline (up to 3,333), and then feel free to roam the world with that music, no need for an internet connection.
Spotify looks to be the best option for traveling audiophiles right now, but there is another hope. Google Music allows you to store 20,000 of your own tracks for webapp access, and gMusic ($1.99), an unofficial iPhone app for Google’s service, has surfaced. There are caveats though:
the offline mode apparently only works when your cell radio is on (a weird bug that hopefully gets fixed soon), and (Update 10/19: Found out that gMusic 1.2 should fix the offline mode problem, and it currently in review for the App Store) Google Music is only available to US customers, but if you game the system for an invite, according to reports, you can use the service to your hearts content.
Surely, you can get away with not carrying around a travel speaker; headphones are cheap, light, and private. But when you feel the need to share some tunes with your travel partners/coworkers/resort companions/fellow hostel dwellers, you gotta have something to amplify the speakers on your mobile device. Enter the Omnitech Mini-Speaker ($10-30, depending on branding/seller). Plug the standard mini-plug into you ipod, phone, tablet, or anything with a 3.5mm plug, expand the mini-speaker capsule, and you’ve got some surprisingly clear, bassy tunes for the price and the footprint. It has built in rechargeable batteries, so don’t forget your solar charger.
Google is expanding its flight shopping offerings with Flight Search and On-The-Fly apps (Android, iPhone, Blackberry/Mobile) to bring all of Flight Search’s features to your phone. While there’s no real breakthrough technology here (many of these features Kayak has had for a while), it is a clean and minimalist search offering in a easy interface. The Calendar feature that allows for adjusting the departure and a return dates based on flights is easier to use and manipulate than Kayak’s offering. And the Destination feature (much like Kayak’s Explore feature), isn’t on a separate site, you simply tell it where you’re departing from and it automatically shows you fares nearby (like the image above).
According to a few reviews around the web, people are finding that Kayak still has more destinations and offerings, but I’m sure it won’t be long before Google catches up.
Inventor Brandon Craven has designed a solar charger for those of you often needing a charge through a window. “Ray” is essentially a small solar panel inside a suction cup, and it’s inexpensive ($40) compared to better known solar chargers, however, there’s no word on the efficiency of the panel, nor the battery capacity. Plus, the product is still in development phase, with the pre-sales funding the production. Look for more details to come as the product gets closer to shipping.