Connected Traveler Technology Showcase Panels at the New York Times Travel Show
Digital cameras, mobile phones, tablets, apps and electronic gadgets were the subjects of the New York Times Travel Show’s first-ever panels on technologies that make travel easier, more rewarding and more fun. I moderated three sessions with:
Condé Nast Traveler’s Director of Consumer News and Digital Community Wendy Perrin, LAPTOP Magazine editor Mark Spoonauer, Digital imaging expert, author and photographer Sally Wiener Grotta, Food Blogger and author of dining app “Rome for Foodies” Katie Parla, Pascal de Hesselle of global mobile operator Truphone, Bob Gulino of wearable camera company Looxcie, Rachel Zisser of Condition One demonstrating a player that displays 180% interactive video on an iPad.
Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops
Mark likes the new Windows 8 hybrid laptops. Detach the screen and it becomes a tablet.
He also likes the iPad Mini with its brilliant 7.9 inch screen. Much easier to tote on a trip than a full-sized tablet.
We both like the Samsung Galaxy Note II, with its 5.5 inch screen, which works as an all-in-one phone and tablet (sometimes referred to as a phablet). It fits in your pocket but is is still big enough to use as an e-reader. It also has a stylus so you can draw on it.
I showed a combination case and Bluetooth keyboard made by Zagg that makes typing easier. It works on both Apple and Android phones and tablets with the flip of a switch.
“Don’t text while walking” was a warning from all on the panel. Snatching phones from tourists has become great sport among thieves around the world.
Mark recommended the Lookout Security app to stop malicious viruses and apps and to find and lock your phone should it get lost. It is free but with a paid version you can also erase the data from your phone before it lands in the hands of spies and other miscreants. He also recommends three apps, iPassword, which he considers the best (but most expensive) or the free KeePass for Android and LastPass for storing and protecting passwords.
Power and Chargers
Your gear is valuable. I once fried an expensive videotape machine in Beijing after a power spike. Always carry some sort of surge surpressor. Mark recommends a Global Adapter from Brookstone.
Mark says the Energizer XP18000, an standalone battery, can keep a laptop charged for seven hours.
I showed a Voltaic Systems solar charger. The Connected Traveler Technology Showcase on the floor of The New York Times Travel Show displayed several models, including solar backpacks that are virtually indestructable. The folks at Voltaic were real heroes when they helped re-power Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy.
Traveling with a smartphone can be an expensive proposition due to high roaming charges for both phone calls and data. That can happen even if you call your mobile carrier and work out an international plan, but you might have to settle for low data limits. Some overseas data plans can reach their limit after one cat video. Downloading maps and using Facebook can also run up your data charges.
Pascal de Hesselle of Truphone said you can significantly cut the costs of roaming using Truphone.
You may be able to cut corners using an unlocked phone and buying SIM chips, the little wafers that control your phone, overseas but they can be a real hassle. Some may have to be chopped down to size to fit in your phone using a SIM card clipper. And you have to buy different ones for different carriers as you cross borders.
I talked about unlocking your phone. AT&T, for one, will help you unlock an iPhone that is out of contract. If you are lucky enough to own a Samsung Galaxy, there is an app in the Play Store called Galaxy Unlock that will do the trick. Don’t expect to go back to your mobile provider for help, however, if you “brick” your phone (render it as useless as a brick). Bringing it back is an easy task, however, for a real phone nerd.
The cheapest and safest way to avoid phone bill shock is to leave your roaming off and use Wifi only when you can find a connection. Just remember to shut it off and leave it off. Pascal told of a butt call (making your phone dial while sitting on it) that cost $6 thousand dollars in roaming charges in Beijing.
I added, watch out for Canada! Crossing the border puts you in international roaming territory, even if they speak the same language.
You can sniff out free Wi-Fi using an app called Free Zone for Android or IOS. But beware Will Robinson, free Wi-Fi connections can be aliens in disguise. Make sure your phone is secured (see above). Free Wi-Fi connections are also notoriously slow. I sometimes sneak into hotel lobbies or use coffee shops to use their free connections but those aren’t necessarily safe from malicious people who want to tap into your data.
Mark recommends a portable internet hub you can rent. Xcom Global’s MiFi has a flat rate of $14.95 a day. But that is what a lot of hotels charge, so it depends on where you are staying.
For phone calls, there is always the now-ubiquitous Skype. But give Libon a try. Right now it is only available for iPhone, but Android will be coming soon. It is free and like Skype offers free calls to other users and deeply discounted calls to landlines. But it is much more elegant with personalized messaging and voice recognition. It can even locate your caller on a map.
Apps of Use to Travelers
Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler and food blogger and app developer Katie Parla joined me to discuss travel apps, some useful, some just fun.
Wendy Perrin’s 16 Travel Apps To Save You Time And Money
Find them in the iTunes or the Android Play Store
See how far away it is.
Map shows how to get there.
Browse maps without Internet connection.
Perfect for the great outdoors.
City Maps 2Go
Find a Map Anytime, Anywhere
7,800 maps worldwide
Cities, provinces, regions, islands
No network or Wi-Fi required.
Score a Luxe Room for Less
Last-minute deals in 8 countries.
Rates announced at noon on day of check-in.
Can’t request specific bed types.
Eat Where the Locals Eat
Escape strip malls
Choose “Nearby” and you get non-chain spots recommended by local food critics.
Peruse menus too.
YP Local Search & Gas Prices
Eat Where the Locals Eat
Craving a particular food? Kung Pao Chicken? Lobster roll? Key lime pie?
Seeking the least expensive gas on the highway?
Find Fun Close By (in the U.S. only)
Points you to nearby events and activities suited to your interests.
Pack a Virtual Tour Guide
Get info, culled from Wikipedia entries, about wherever you are: noteworthy sights, culture, history, beaches, parks, university, famous people, and more.
Puts all your travel reservation details and confirmation numbers
in the palm of your hand.
Adds info such as weather, maps, driving directions
Just forward all confirmation emails (flight, hotel, restaurant) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Be the First to Learn About Flight Changes
Tracks your flight, notifies you of delays or gate changes.
Faster and more thorough than similar apps.
Make a Beeline for the Best Airport Food and Shops
Punch in your airport and terminal, and find out the best eateries, services, and stores nearby.
Use GateGuru before you get in the security line.
Snag a Better Seat on the Plane
No seat assignment? Victim of aircraft switch?
Choose “Seat Map Advice,” punch in flight number, pull up the plane’s seat map; when the agent tells you which seats are still available, you can choose wisely.
Convert Foreign Prices into Dollars
Calculate dollar values instantly, using real-time exchange rates
Get Local Intel
Connects you to more than 3,000 English-language newspapers worldwide.
Helps you monitor local news and events.
Save Time in the Subway
Punch in your origin, destination, day of week and time of day you’re traveling, and this app will find the shortest ride.
Tells which trains to take, where to switch trains, and how long
the ride will take.
Best of Mexico
One of the Conde Nast Travel Guides
Find the Best of Mexico
Comprehensive guide for the iPad
76 luxury hotels
Exclusive region-by-region restaurant reviews
Exclusive videos, slideshows, interactive maps, expert tips, and more.
Katie Parla’s Travel Apps for Foodies
Sustainable Seafood Guides from California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium
Tells you what seafood is safe and not endangered.
Built off the success of Gwyneth Paltrow’s weekly lifestyle journal goop.com.
The app comes pre-loaded with guides to New York, London and Los Angeles, including dining.
More cities will be added.
A wine diary with a built in wine label reader that can identify some 500 thousand wines by their labels.
Had too many to type in a name?
Just aim your camera at the bottle.
A beer diary with barcode scanner
300,000+ beers and millions of user reviews at your fingertips.
Browse and rate beers from every brewery, as well as find nearby stores, restaurants and bars all serving and selling beer.
The Scoop NYC
The New York Times Insiders’ Guide to New York City
A guide to New York City from the staff of The New York Times. Lists their favorite restaurants, bars, coffee shops, stores, events, New York City experiences and beyond the boroughs day trips.
Rome for Foodies
Katie Parla’s own curated dining drinking and food shopping guide to Rome.
Katie has spent years helping visitors and locals alike discover the city’s dining culture. Rome for Foodies brings together 150 carefully vetted venues including restaurants, pizzerias, wine bars, craft beer pubs, gelato shops, and bakeries and gives users access to an expert’s view of the finest food and drink Rome has to offer.
The Bleeding Edge: Augmented Reality
It is amazing to discover all that is going on all around you. I live Sonoma in the California Wine Country. There is a cow pasture two blocks from where I live and using apps such as Junaio and Layar, I am able to aim my phone in any direction and discover who near me is tweeting, posting Instagram pictures or YouTube videos, listing something for sale on eBay, selling a house or renting an apartment. I can even spot, on a map, what if any crimes have occurred in the neighborhood.
Wikitude is an augmented reality app for travelers. It maps attractions, restaurants and historical sites, dipping into the vast resources of Wikipedia and other sources.
Tune-in Radio will not only locate radio stations in your vicinity so you can catch local news and weather, but find radio stations all over the world. How about listening to the English language radio station in Bhutan? But warning, the listening to streaming radio stations can consume an enormous amount of bandwidth, so make sure you are on WiFi and not roaming.
Rachel Zisser of Condition One demonstrated a video player that displays 180% interactive video on an iPad acting like a movable window that the viewer can control. It converts and plays video shot with a fisheye lens. Expect to see moving panoramas of hotels, resorts and destinations.
American Hands photographer and digital image expert Sally Wiener Grotta just returned from the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and brought a few goodies for show and tell:
Hufa Lens Cap
Tourist trails are paved with misplaced lens caps. This clips on your camera strap
A simple $9.95 solution.
Sanho ColorSpace UDMA
A portable drive device for storing your photos and data, with built-in viewer. Starts at $249
Wirelessly links your DSLR camera with your iPhone or iPad
Davis & Stanford Traverse B11
A tiny but sturdy tripod that fits in a carry-on. $170
A tiny version of the Academy Award Winning Steadicam, which allows you to glide with your camera. For mobile phone or other small camera or GoPro sports cameras. $149
Spider-type moldable tripods
They will grab on to practically anything.
“Your best camera is the camera you have with you.”
We discussed the fact that mobile phones produce very high quality photographs, they are alway with you and that there are many alternatives to large digital single lens reflexes for non-professionals.
For “phonographers” there are high quality accessory telephoto and lenses such those made by Olloclip.
We all liked Snapseed as a mobile phone photo editing app. Sally said she found it downright addictive.
I showed my new Sony100, a technical breakthrough for a camera that will fit in a shirt pocket. It has the largest sensor of any pocket cam and a F1.8 lens when shooting wide angle. That allows it to take pictures in very low light. Not only that, its images are 20 megapixels, far more than most people need. It also shoots stabilized 1080p high definition video, which I find superb. About $650.
Watch for this one. Panasonic has always made very high quality point-and-shoot cameras, some with Leica lenses. Not out yet, this will be the latest in the popular ZS series. The ZS30’s breakthrough feature will be NFC (near field communication). All you will have to do is tap your mobile phone with the camera and it will transfer all of your pictures to your phone. And vice versa.
Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Cameras
Cameras are increasingly going mirrorless, using digital screens instead of mirrors. Mirrorless cameras often offer equal quality to the bulkier DSLRs and are very small and light. They are made by Sony, Panasonic and Olympus.
Bob Gulino demonstrated the wearable Looxcie camera, with which you can actually broadcast your travels live to the folks back home.
We also like GoPro’s sports cams with shoot stunning high definition video.
A survey of our audience determined that most people were not professionals or even photo enthusiasts, just people who wanted to take good pictures on their trips. So we offered a few photo tips that everyone can use:
Sally recommended turning on “force flash” when shooting outdoors in the daytime. That can bring out more detail in both foreground and background and, in sunshine, fill in harsh shadows.
She also offered a demonstration of how you set your zoom lens can make a big difference in how the very same scene might look. These pictures were shot with a zoom lens but with the photographer at different distances from the subject.
I explained how I approached a scene much as a cinematographer does. I look at the big picture with a wide shot. Then I search for interactions between people and things with a medium shot. Then I scour the picture for the details, the closeup. I have a screenwriter friend who uses Instagram on his iPhone to tell the stories, to catalog the details of his day. I have found that it actually makes me a more observant traveler.
As Sally says, it is all about telling a story.
We also talked about photographing people, about asking permission before you shoot. Sometimes just a smile and a nod will do. Sally suggested that with digital pictures you can actually show your subjects the pictures you have taken of them.
Professional photographers once carried a Polaroid camera around for that purpose. Now Polaroid has a new pocket camera, the Z2300 that actually spits out tiny, credit card sized pictures.