Only the most useful, hardest-working gadgets earn a place in PC Advisor's hand luggage. Here are our tips for how to pack light but still be fully kitted out for a summer trip

A gadget used to be a whimsical piece of frippery that was more of a talking point than a practical piece of electronics kit. These days, the focus is on portability, practicality and lengthy battery life. You don’t need to pack a massive digital SLR camera with three different lenses if you’re heading off on a weekend break. A point-and-shoot camera with sufficient zoom range and image stabilisation is probably a better bet. If you must have lens options, a Micro Four Thirds camera is a good compromise, since its body is far smaller than an SLR camera’s and the lenses are commensurately smaller and lighter too.
Choose wisely and you’ll be able to snap away to your heart’s content and not need to recharge the battery either, meaning one less charger eating into that tiny luggage allowance. Look for a CIPA-certified indication of battery life. A decent camera will last 300 shots between charges; some models stretch to as many as 1,000 shots, but bear in mind this doesn’t take into account how much battery is drained by browsing through the day’s photos, nor the additional power used up by capturing and playing video or zooming in and out.

Similarly, you may be able to double up on functions. Universal chargers are a great item to pack – provided that you remember to take the necessary international mains adaptor. Don’t forget media cards either, and bear in mind that a single device that does it all may not be all that useful if you need to charge several items at once. A better choice may be a mains adaptor that has a pair of USB ports – Belkin and others sell such chargers for around £19.
There’s still kudos to be had from toting just the right camera and mobile, as long as they’re accompanied by the right backpack and you’re wearing the right combination of beachwear.

Pseuds we may be, but we also like to think we know our stuff when it comes to the tech gear that matters. We’ve learned the hard way the cost – and extra expense – involved in lugging around gadgetry you just won’t use. Chargers, international mains adaptors, spare media cards and a simple, reliable camera with a waterproof case (plus perhaps a Kindle for exceptionally long trips) are all we need.

Before you go, see also:

Best Summer Gadgets: Satnavs

Depending on your experience of them, GPS/satnavs are either invaluable or a source of anxiety. They have also become shorthand for stereotypical over-dependence on technology. We like to think we have the balance about right. We'd never forsake maps entirely, but often use a satnav to help us negotiate the winding streets and one-way systems of cities with which we're unfamiliar. With less worrying over whether you need the third or fourth turning, there's more time to admire the scenery you came for.

TomTom Start 20

  • £129 inc VAT

Using a TomTom needn't be a complicated process. The Start 20 is an entry-level satnav that seeks to take the mystery out of using technology to help you get from A to B. It quickly locks on to your current location, asks you to enter a town or postcode and then choose a house number or cross street for a more exact destination.
The onscreen keyboard is frustratingly sluggish and, even though the keys are large, we had to backtrack a couple of times to correct the choice we thought we'd made. However, we were impressed that the Start knew which direction the car was facing before we set off (not a given on satnavs) and by its ability to reorientate the screen when we placed it back in its docking cradle.

The slim dimensions mean it slips easily into a pocket when you're out and about.

Despite TomTom's bold claims of having the latest maps and adding thousands more miles of tarmac to its UK and Europe database, we soon caught out the Start, and we took issue with it routing us through north London's congested streets. However, the mapping is very clear, and new context information in the form of lakes, rivers, railway lines and so on help confirm you're on the right track.

Magellan eXplorist 610

  • £399 inc VAT

GPS devices aren't just for preventing hapless drivers from going round in circles in the middle of an unknown city; they can also be used to help to explore the great outdoors. Magellan is the name to know in nautical navigation circles. It makes some similarly impressive (but not cheap) handheld satnavs that focus on exploring off-road locations on foot or two wheels.

The eXplorist 610 works with Ordnance Survey maps, but also functions as a more traditional satnav to help you get to the remote location from whence your great wilderness trek will commence. Relief maps and terrain information are all faithfully plotted. For those who like to go orienteering, a geo-caching model is also available.

Local knowledge

For smartphone users, there's little point in investing in a separate satnav device. You can get some great satnav software in the form of Navigon or CoPilot on the iPhone, or Telmap on BlackBerry. There are apps for almost every sort of activity, from clubbing to eating, to finding the most chilled-out spot to log into  a Wi-Fi connection and catch up with the world and where to rest your head. Berlitz City Guides, TimeOut, TopTable, Harden's, Frommers, Zagat and TripAdvisor all have Android, iPhone and BlackBerry apps, while WorkSnug's internet café ambience reviews app is currently only on iPhone.

Google Maps and BlackBerry Maps do a fine job of ensuring you can skip from recommended venue to recommended venue. If the crowded city has you befuddled, however, an augmented reality app such as Layar or Poynt (available for BlackBerry and Android) can help pinpoint the restaurant or nightclub you seek in among the neon lights. Perhaps more usefully, they also show you which way the nearest tube station is to be found and where to hail a taxi.

If communication rather than navigation is what you need, quick primers on how to order a coffee or beer, plus how to ask directions, are included with most of the travel guides we mention. The Berlitz guides are worth a look since they dovetail with the language-learning programs of the same name. We also tried out a couple of free apps to help ease us into a city break in Spain, but recommend using these in combination with a more formal learning option.

If you've no time (or inclination) for classes, flash cards and repeat-after-me exercises are offered at the BBC website. Of course, if you're taking an eReader, you can load it up with a dictionary and a phrasebook.

NEXT PAGE: music and cameras >>

Only the most useful, hardest-working gadgets earn a place in PC Advisor's hand luggage. Here are our tips for how to pack light but still be fully kitted out for a summer trip

Best summer gadgets: Groovy tunes

If you want more than just a good book to keep you entertained on the beach this summer, an audio player is a great option that won't take up much room in your case.

Cowon X7

  • £229 inc VAT

If you crave an abundance of music, movies and books, the Cowon X7 fits the bill. It may look like an oversized touchscreen smartphone, but it's a 120GB portable media player with a 4.3in (480x272-pixel) widescreen display we found large enough to read books on. This fully featured device can play up to 10 hours of video or 103 hours of audio before needing a recharge. An FM radio, voice recorder, calculator, clock, document viewer and dictionary are other notable features. A voucher for Audible e-books and DRM-free music is included.

Apple iPod touch

  • £193 inc VAT

Many people will look to the latest version of the iPod touch to entertain them on their travels. This superlative media player comes in 8GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities, priced at £189, £254 and £336 respectively – that's enough storage for plenty of iTunes tracks and downloads from the App Store. Install Truphone or another VoIP app and you'll even be able to use the touch to make web-based phone calls and check in with the folks back home.

The touch has a front-facing camera for video chat, plus a 3Mp snapper on the rear. As with the iPhone, it runs iOS 4.1 and has a super-sharp ‘retina' display. The GameCenter and a three-axis gyroscope also feature.

Creative Zen Style M300

  • £39 inc VAT

Creative has expanded its Zen line-up to include the Style M300. Measuring just 55x44x12mm, with a 1.5in screen, this tiny music, TV and video player fits into the palm of your hand. It's available with 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of internal flash storage, and supports microSD cards up to 32GB.

Bluetooth lets you wirelessly connect a pair of headphones; a 3.5mm jack features if you'd rather use a standard headset. Touch-sensitive buttons are used to navigate the device and control playback.

The Creative also features an FM radio, built-in mic and clock, and is available in red, yellow, black or white. Prices start at £39 for the 4GB model, up to £79 for the 16GB Zen Style M300.

Sony Walkman Music Clip

  • £34 inc VAT

If you're a sporty type or would simply rather wear your MP3 player while you listen to it, the Sony Walkman Music Clip is ideal. It weighs just 28g and is less than 100mm long.

A detachable clip secures it to your clothing, bag or anything you like.

From a three-minute charge, Sony claims the Clip will provide 90 minutes of playback. A fully charged player will run for 18 hours. The Clip is available in 2GB and 4GB capacities, and a range of colours.

Radiopaq Duo

  • £19 inc VAT

If you've invested in a media player, you'll want a decent pair of headphones to go with it. We like the Radiopaq Duo headphones, which come in a range of five bright colours and feature a fold-flat design for easy transportation. An adjustable headband and 15mm deep-padded cushions aid comfort. According to Radiopaq, the Duo's 40mm drivers provide detailed mid-range with a balanced, rich bass sound.

Jaybird Sportsband 2

  • £99 inc VAT

If you've plans to exercise or simply can't stand to deal with tangled wires, Jaybird's Sportsband 2 Bluetooth headphones are what you need. The flexible headband is designed to ‘hug' the head, while a rubberised underband ensures it stays put. Moisture-proof controls are located on the earpad, letting you play or pause a track or even answer a call on your mobile phone.

Sennheiser HD238i

  • £79 inc VAT

If it's high-end headphones you're after, Sennheiser's HD238i are a great buy. These stylish cans feature foldable earpads and a sleek black metallic finish. A smart remote and mic lets Apple iPod users control audio tracks, while iPhone users can also accept incoming phone calls.

Best Summer Gadgets: cameras

A camera is a must-have travel companion for your summer holiday, if you're heading to a faraway beach or staying somewhere closer to home. Whether you want a waterproof model to document your snorkelling adventures or a point-and-shoot that can record HD video and capture stills simultaneously, great cameras to suit all budgets are available.

Kodak EasyShare Sport

  • £59 inc VAT

Kodak's EasyShare Sport is waterproof up to 3m and a great buy for taking to the beach at £59. An Underwater Picture mode selects the best focus and white-balance settings to give true-to-life colours when capturing shots in the pool or under the waves.

This 12Mp camera is also dustproof, has a 2.4in colour LCD screen and can record VGA-quality video with audio, even underwater. In-camera controls let you edit footage, then share it directly with friends and family via Facebook, Kodak Gallery or YouTube upon connection to a PC.

Fujifilm FinePix Z900EXR

  • £219 inc VAT

Fujifilm's FinePix Z900EXR will turn heads this summer. This 16Mp camera is available in four colours, including eye-catching pink and blue, and has a high-gloss finish. Despite housing a generous 3.5in touchscreen and a 5x wide-angle lens, the Fujifilm is just 18.2mm thick and can be easily slipped into a pocket.

You can elect to let the camera select the most suitable settings based on the surroundings, or choose between three shooting modes: high-resolution; signal-to-noise for low-light conditions; and dynamic range, which takes two pictures and combines them to create a superior image (see How to create dramatic photos with high dynamic range.)

The FinePix can record 1080p video at up to 320fps. The resulting footage can then be admired on the big screen via the camera's mini-HDMI connection. The Z900EXR has 63MB of internal flash memory, but also supports memory cards up to 32GB in capacity.

Olympus SZ-30MR

  • £299 inc VAT

If it's a super-impressive zoom you're after, then the Olympus SZ-30MR is the perfect camera for your trip. This 16Mp compact's 24x zoom allows shots to be captured anywhere from 25mm to 600mm distant.

Another feature worthy of note is Multi Recording, which lets you simultaneously capture full-HD (1920x1080-pixel) video and still images. Olympus suggests that
this option could be useful if you want to capture the full scope of a scene but also have a high-resolution close-up photograph of someone in the same shot. It can also be used to capture the same shot or scene at more than one resolution setting, making it suitable for output to the web or to an HDTV without prior scaling.

The Olympus has a number of preset scene modes and a range of ‘Magic Filters', including two new ones – Watercolour and Sparkle – that can be overlaid on to a shot or video as it's captured.

Pentax Optio RS1500

  • £89 inc VAT

The Pentax Optio RS1500 is a 14Mp compact camera with a difference. By placing one of 10 ready-made ‘skins' over the device and clipping on its protective layer, you can customise this compact's look. If none exactly matches your mood or location, five blank skins are provided for you to create your own designs. The Pentax's black lens ring can also be swapped for an orange version.

Despite this somewhat gimmicky feature, the Optio RS1500 has some useful skills in the way of photography. It features a 4x zoom lens and a 3in LCD screen, and is also capable of capturing HD video at 30fps. Movie Shake Reduction and Digital Blur Removal help to combat blur caused by accidental movement during composition of movies and still images respectively.

The Pentax also features Smile Detection and Natural Skin modes.  A ‘DC Superheroes'-inspired special edition Optio RS1500, which comes with skins depicting characters from the comics, is also available.

NEXT PAGE: video and books >>

Only the most useful, hardest-working gadgets earn a place in PC Advisor's hand luggage. Here are our tips for how to pack light but still be fully kitted out for a summer trip

Best Summer Gadgets: Camcorders

You can record video clips on a mobile phone, but you'll invariably get much better results from a device designed specifically for the task. What's more, unlike smartphones, candybar-shaped camcorders tend to be at least splashproof, if not waterproof. Most (but not all) have flash memory for storage, while video capture at 720p or 1080p is the norm rather than the exception. For more accurate composition, choose a pistol-grip camcorder with a flip-out, angle-adjustable screen. The latest camcorders offer fun filter effects, image stabilisation, face recognition and even onscreen editing.

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

  • £131 inc VAT

We really like the rugged Kodak PlaySport range, and the previous model won Best Camcorder at 2011 PC Advisor Awards. They are built to withstand being knocked about a bit and can be submerged in water up to 1.5m. The Zx5 offers full-HD video recording (an Action mode records HD footage at 60fps), and has a 5Mp stills camera with autofocus and face detection. Underwater footage can be shot by switching to a dedicated submarine setting – there's even an underwater white-balance setting to ensure colours are faithfully reproduced.

There's no internal memory, but the camcorder uses an SD or SDHC Card for storage. Unlike the previous Zx3 model, the battery is fixed and is charged via a microUSB port. You don't need to download your video clips to a PC before sharing them with the world; an onboard editing facility trims them back to the interesting bits. You can then share photos and video at YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and the Kodak Gallery, directly from the PlaySport.

Toshiba Camileo P20

  • £119 inc VAT

We were surprised to discover that Toshiba is the second-biggest name in flash camcorders after the now defunct Flip. However, its P20 offers a solid feature set that includes full-HD video capture, and comes from a well known brand at a good price.
The slimline Camileo is a pistol-grip camcorder, which makes it much more flexible than candybar video cameras. You can compose a scene in a more natural way, angling the 3in landscape screen to suit. You can also zoom in with far more accuracy, although many camcorders use a digital zoom rather than the optical type found on digital cameras. The Toshiba's 16x-zoom rating compares favourably with the 3x and 5x of most flash camcorders, however.

The other big advantage is that this style of camcorder has a ‘proper' lens shutter and CCD, allowing in more light. Experience tells us not to depend too heavily on the stills function of this type of camcorder: the P20 is rated at 5Mp, but sluggish response times mean you may miss the action.

As with the Kodak PlaySport, you need to stump up for a media card to store photos and videos you record – here, SD cards up to 64GB are supported. There's also a one-touch upload feature for sharing your footage on YouTube.

Kodak Playfull

  • £115 inc VAT

The Kodak Playfull takes a slightly different tack to the Zx5 and P20: in shape and size it's more like a feature phone than a camera. It weighs 92g and takes up just 16x41x100mm of luggage space. Nonetheless, it's a 1080p video recorder with a 5Mp CMOS for still photos and digital image stabilisation.

The Playfull can take 16GB SD cards and has a 1.8in colour screen for image previews and playback. We found this screen rather small and were also concerned by the flimsy way the fold-out USB arm was attached.

Kodak has kept the range of shooting options to a minimum. A Share button lets you upload footage to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Kodak Pulse and Gallery or email them to a friend.

Best Summer Gadgets: E-book readers & cheap tablets

Even if you've no intention of packing an arsenal of electronic gadgetry, an eReader may well be on your list. Paperbacks take up far too much room and are relatively heavy, whereas an Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader weighs a fraction of the amount and can store hundreds of novels and reference books. You can even use some e-book readers to play music. Models that support MP3 playback tend to be supplied with a pair of earbuds, too.

Another point in the e-book's favour is that its pages won't wrinkle. They won't thank you for a dunk in the sea, of course, but with no moving parts and in essence a sealed unit, the average e-book device is better equipped for a day on the beach than most gadgetry. Folio protective cases are also available.

Amazon Kindle 3

  • From £111 inc VAT

Easily the best-known e-book reader on the market, the Kindle comes in Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi + 3G versions. With the Wi-Fi model, you need to remember to load books on to the device before you set off on holiday, whereas the 3G option lets you do so from anywhere you have mobile reception. Handily, Amazon foots the data bill too.

The Kindle weighs 246g, which is marginally more than some similar readers. However, it's noticeably slinkier than the Sony Reader, for example. It measures 9x122x190mm – a frame that snugly fits its 6in E-Ink screen. Those familiar with the original Kindle's design will notice that this version has less spare white space surrounding the hard plastic keys used to type in search keywords. Back and forward buttons make it easy to move from page to page. A D-pad is used for navigation.

3G connectivity means you can use the Kindle as a rudimentary (and somewhat sluggish) web-browsing device. However, its forte is serving up page after page of lovely words in whatever size you choose.

Archos 70

  • £217 inc VAT

If you like the idea of an e-book reader but wonder what else that slim slate could be doing for you, the Archos 70 may appeal.

It's a hybrid Google Android tablet and e-book reader with Wi-Fi but no 3G. It's a little heavier than the Kindle at 372g, but it offers a much better browsing experience thanks to the inclusion of a ‘real' web browser.

You get a 7in (800x480-pixel) colour touchscreen, although we've seen sharper displays. This is no substitute for a ‘proper' Android device (see page 139 for our tablet recommendations), but we can't quibble about the price or number of features on this device. The Archos provides 4GB of storage and supports MP3 playback (earphones are provided).

BeBook Club

  • £129 inc VAT

The BeBook Club offers little that the Kindle doesn't and, at 278g, tips the scales a little more too. The 6in screen has a 600x800-pixel resolution, making it sharper than the Archos', while a claimed battery life of 25 hours (even if you're listening to MP3s as well as reading novels) is a bold claim.

Just 512MB of internal memory is included, but the BeBook supports SD cards up to 16GB capacity. The dimensions are a modest 11x121x196mm, and support for Adobe DRM content as well as Mobi comics, PDFs ePubs, txt files and so on are all included. A good alternative to the Club is BeBook's Live Android tablet.

NEXT PAGE: charging and memory >>

Only the most useful, hardest-working gadgets earn a place in PC Advisor's hand luggage. Here are our tips for how to pack light but still be fully kitted out for a summer trip

Best Summer Gadgets: Charging and memory

Whether you're going for a day trip to the coast or two weeks trekking in the jungle, it's not just gadgets such as cameras and MP3 players that'll come in handy. There are plenty of smaller items, such as media cards, smartphone accessories, chargers and even gadget insurance that are a must.

Duracell MyGrid

  • £69 inc VAT

There's no need to cart several chargers around with you on your holiday. Save space, weight and tangled wires by packing a universal charger instead. The Duracell MyGrid is able to wirelessly charge up to four gadgets at once. Connect the MyGrid charging pad to a power source, then slip a Power Sleeve (which fits over your device) or Power Clip (which connects to your device's charging port and curves round the back of the gadget) to any item you want to charge. Place the device on the MyGrid power mat to begin charging.

Seven Power Sleeves and Power Clips are available, supporting the Apple iPhone and iPod touch, the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl, Nokia mobile phones and other handsets and devices that charge using a microUSB or miniUSB connector.

The touch-sensitive MyGrid, which measures 170x214x20mm, can detect when moisture or metal such as keys and coins are in contact with the pad. In such an event charging will automatically shut off, ensuring that there's no chance of an electric shock.

The Duracell MyGrid costs £69 inc VAT, while the Power Sleeves and Power Clips cost £19.

iGo Charge Anywhere

  • £49 inc VAT

The iGo Charge Anywhere is an alternative device charger that stores energy and can be used to power up a dead gadget when mains power isn't available. Plug the iGo into a power socket and, while its internal battery is being charged, its two USB ports can be used to charge electronic devices.

Simply select and connect the relevant power tip to your iPhone, BlackBerry or other device, then connect the other end to the iGo Charge Anywhere.

Rollei iPhone lens

  • £35 inc VAT

If you can't stretch to a new camera this summer, you can always make use of the camera on your smartphone. However, mobile phone cameras have their limitations and Apple's iPhone 4 is no exception. This is where German camera maker Rollei's ingenious solution comes in. The Rollei iPhone Telephoto Lens is a suction-based lens that allows you to take extreme close-ups that you can then examine in pin-sharp detail on the iPhone's retina screen. Digital zooming at up to 8x is possible, and a mini tripod is supplied.

Eye-Fi Mobile X2

  • £79 inc VAT

The Eye-Fi is an 8GB wireless memory card that lets you transfer photos from your camera to a laptop, PC or the web. The Mobile X2 has a Direct Mode that establishes a direct connection with an Apple or Google Android device and sends photos and video direct from the camera to a free app, subsequently making it available ‘online' even when no Wi-Fi network is available.

Gadget insurance

Finally, if you're taking your gadgets out and about, consider a dedicated gadget insurance policy from firms such as Protect Your Bubble or Insure and Go. Specifically aimed at high-tech devices, these policies start from as little as £1.49 per month and protect your gadgets against accidental and liquid damage, theft and breakdown.

Protect Your Bubble has joined forces with reward-and-return service TagBak ( It provides a tag that can be stuck to the back of a device and registered online. If the gadget is lost, the finder simply uses the contact details on the tag to alert TagBak about the device's whereabouts. TagBak will then arrange the return of the gadget to its rightful owner, and reward the finder for their help. TagBak costs £12.95 a year, but Protect Your Bubble customers can register up to three of their precious gadgets using the service.