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25 great gadgets for summer

The best cameras, satnavs, music players and e-readers

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.

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