The sun's out and the beach is beckoning, so it's time to throw on some shorts and head to the airport. But what gadgets should you take along? You'll want a camera, of course - but what about a satnav, a music player, an e-book reader (primed with a guide to your destination) or even a laptop?
The following article details some of the lightest, cleverest and most useful gadgets worth a space in your luggage.
Planning your trip
One of the most enjoyable aspects of going on holiday is deciding where to go and where to stay. Rather than take a travel agent's word for it, you can use sites such as TripAdvisor.co.uk to get other travellers' opinions on the best destinations.
If you're looking for inspiration for where to go, BestTripChoices.com uses a fun questionnaire to suggest suitable destinations based on your personality. Triporati.com, TravelMuse.com and Tripbase.com, meanwhile, suggest locations based on your interests.
Flights and accommodation
Many sites are devoted to getting you the best deal on a flight. LastMinute.com, Expedia.co.uk, eBookers.com, CheapFlights.co.uk and JustTheFlight.co.uk are among the best known. Some offer more comprehensive searches than others, so check the range of airlines covered by each site before you begin.
When it comes to booking hotels, LateRooms.com and Hotels.com help you to find and book accommodation in hundreds of cities worldwide. Such websites can narrow down searches based on price or star rating, and provide local maps to pinpoint the hotel.
It's worth checking out the hotel on TripAdvisor before you book your stay there. Here, you can read honest reviews by customers who have stayed there previously.
Where to go
Once you've booked a trip, you'll want to check out the locale. Google Maps is an excellent aid here, particularly if your chosen area is also covered by Google Street View. Plenty of detail is also available at streetmap.co.uk and Microsoft Bing Maps.
For suggestions of restaurants and attractions, try PlanetEye.com. This offers colour-coded, geo-tagged Microsoft Virtual Earth maps and photographs and reviews of restaurants, tourist attractions and activities in your chosen location. TripAdvisor and Expedia are worth visiting, too.
You'll need to keep track of all your different booking confirmations to save them being mislaid. A folder full of printouts is one option, but Gmail and other webmail clients offer a handy place to store your various web receipts - you can save them in PDF form and even store the attachments separately.
Forward your flight, hotel and other booking confirmations to TripIt.com once you've registered and the website will create a master itinerary. You can then customise this with maps, weather information, photos and walking or driving directions.
WorldMate.com offers the same function, but does so from your BlackBerry, Nokia or Windows Mobile handset. The free version lets you export confirmations and other travel information from an email into the application, and then create itineraries that can be accessed while you're away. Other useful tools include a currency convertor, weather forecasts and a global clock.
Upgrading your membership to 'Gold' status (from $29 - around £18 - but depends on your particular handset), lets you access real-time flight information from your mobile phone, so you can keep a close eye on whether your flight is delayed.
Next page: Destination anywhere: satnavs and GPS devices >>
One of the most immediately useful items to take on holiday is a travel guide. If you’re driving from place to place and travelling for more than a day or two, it’ll probably be worth getting hold of a satnav or buying additional maps for your existing device. Two of the latest are reviewed here. Click here for more satnav reviews.
Remember to plug your satnav into your PC before you go, log into the manufacturer’s online portal and update the maps. You may also be able to download new safety-camera locations for where you’ll be travelling, along with the most current points of interest.
If you’re a smartphone owner, you may be able to take advantage of a trial version of a turn-by-turn navigation service that will see you through the duration of your holiday – although you may then decide that having the TomTom or CoPilot service installed on your phone is worth the extra £5 or so monthly subscription. The PayOnce BlackBerry Pearl comes with a 30-day trial of the Telenav service as well as BlackBerry Maps, for example. The freshly updated iPhone 3G S offers real-time navigation too, as do many Nokia, HTC and other handsets.
Smartphones are particularly handy because you don’t need to carry two devices, and they even let you surf the web. It’s easy to load them up with travel information, too.
Look out for hotel and restaurant reviews and details of attractions that are worth visiting. If you research the destination in advance and store details of the places you want to go, they’ll be easy to retrieve when you’re there.
Medion GoPal P5235 satnav (£229 inc VAT) - full review here
Navman Spirit 500 satnav (£199 inc VAT) - full review here
Garmin Forerunner 405CX GPS watch (£190 inc VAT) - full review here
Even if you aren’t planning an overseas escape this summer, there’s plenty of gadgetry that will allow you to work outside or while away the long lazy days in the sunshine.
Keeping it light
If you want to have a laptop with you when you make a break for the sun, it makes sense for it to be as light and compact as possible. For the ultimate in portability and connectivity, you can’t go far wrong with a netbook – a robust type of laptop that weighs around 1kg and has a long battery life and sub-£300 price tag. The down side is its limited processing power.
The best known range is the Asus Eee PC, of which around eight versions can be bought. Based around Intel’s low-power Atom processor, the Eee PC comes with built-in Wi-Fi and is designed for basic tasks such as web surfing and emailing. Conveniently, it has both a webcam for ad-hoc web calls home and a media card slot so you can back up the photos you take of your trip. If you need to keep costs really low, a model that runs on Linux rather than Windows can be had for less than £200. Most consumers prefer the familiarity of Windows, however.
Acer, MSI, Dell and Sony all offer similarly specced laptops to Asus’ range. All offer dainty proportions, and come with Wi-Fi and a card reader to back up your photos – a definite must for inveterate snappers, since you can free up SD Card space.
If you need something a little more powerful, Toshiba’s £319 NB200 is one of the first netbooks to feature Intel’s Atom N20 processor. The NB200 has a 10.1in display with an LED backlight, a 160GB hard drive and a 3D accelerometer monitoring system to protect the hard-disk drive from knocks, shocks and vibrations. More information can be found here.
Asus itself has upped the ante with the superior Eee PC 1008HA (aka the Seashell). Asus Eee PC 1008HA netbook review.
The lightest laptops of all, however, are those that replace spinning hard disks with solid-state disks (SSD). Flash memory has no internal moving parts, which means such drives are also less fragile than traditional hard drives.
Music and movement
It might be fun once you’re there, but the process of getting to your holiday destination can be time-consuming and downright boring. The Sony Clip and the Apple iPod shuffle are ideal music players if space is a prime concern.
If you’d prefer a media player with plenty of memory and the ability to select the album or musical genre that fits your mood, you might want to look at Sony’s brand-new X-series Walkman, which has a 3in (432x240) touchscreen display and can provide video playback as well as music. The 16GB model costs £179 inc VAT.
Philips GoGear Opus players are also a good buy. Available in 8GB and 16GB capacities, they are among the few portable players to work with BBC iPlayer downloads and the iTunes Store, as well as podcasts, Audible e-books and music-rental services such as Napster To Go.
The £99 8GB GoGear Opus has a 2.8in colour screen and plays video at 30fps. It even has an FM radio.
Of the Apple iPod options, we think the Apple iPod touch is the best choice. It offers a 3.5in (480x320) multitouch widescreen on which to enjoy videos including YouTube clips, for which there’s one-click access. Its Wi-Fi connectivity means you can surf the web in blazing sunshine. Available in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities, prices start at £219 inc VAT.
Next page: speakers, DAB radios and solar-powered batteries >>
Hear my voice
If you like to be surrounded by sound but don’t fancy plugging in a pair of headphones, some portable or outdoor speakers may suit. If you’re simply enjoying summer barbecues and outdoor soirees chez vous, you can get some powerful outdoor speakers such as Ion’s Block Rockers or some wireless ones that allow you to enjoy the music stored on your PC or wireless home music setup. The gear4 Duo is a good option and able to run off the mains or from its batteries.
Alternatively, you can opt for DAB radio, perhaps keeping battery use to a minimum with a solar-powered model such as the Roberts Radio SolarDAB. This radio has a solar panel on its top and you can attach an MP3 player for audio playback through the radio’s speakers. Fully charged, the SolarDAB lasts for up to 17 hrs between charges.
But if you don’t trust the weather of the country you’re visiting, an eco-friendly wind-up AM/FM radio that can charge your mobile phone and doubles as a torch may be just the thing. The Mini Eco Radio was designed by Trevor Bayliss and gives up to 20 mins of listening.
For truly portable DAB entertainment, on the other hand, try Pure’s DAB1500 or Pure Move radios.
A cheaper alternative is to get travel speakers for your MP3 player. The 7.5W Voix PYT travel speaker is compatible with the Apple iPhone 3G and Apple iPhone 3GS, iPod touch and third- and fourth-generation iPod nano. Measuring 170x170mm, the slimline speaker costs £34 and surrounds your portable player on all four sides. A stand on the back allows you to position the iPod or iPhone vertically or horizontally for viewing video or photos or use as a music player.
Logitech and Creative also do a good line in quality travel speakers. However, if you’re keeping the gadgetry to a minimum, you’re just as likely to be using your Nokia 8700 Comes With Music phone or a music-centric Sony Ericsson handset. Both come with excellent earphones. Depending on where you buy your phone, you may get portable speakers as part of the deal.
For example, the Sony Ericsson W395 has built-in stereo speakers and an FM radio and comes bundled with Sony HPM-64 earphones. A 1GB memory card can be used for storing a vast amount of music, while a TrackID feature lets you identify songs you’ve heard and liked and then purchase them through Sony’s PlayNow music store.
All charged up: solar-powered batteries
With all this gadgetry to carry with you, it’s all too easy to leave behind the chargers needed to keep them all running – little wonder, since each device seems to require a different connection. Many devices can be recharged overnight using the USB port on a laptop, but that’s no good if you’re going somewhere remote with no mains to plug your laptop into or if you need to travel really light.
Festival goers and those heading somewhere really sunny should consider packing a Solio H1000 charger ($79, around £48; solio.com) or a Powermonkey eXplorer (£64 inc VAT; powertraveller.com). Both come with attachments for a range of gadgetry, including all the big mobile phone brands, MP3 players, digital cameras, the PlayStation Portable and so on.
Powermonkey’s eXplorer comes primed with 60 percent of its full charge. You can then gather additional charge using the power of the sun. The solar panel is hidden inside the device, which flips open when you need to catch some rays and stashes away neatly when you’re on the move.
Next page: digital cameras and camcorders, photo viewers and memory cards >>
Snap to it: digital cameras and camcorders
Even if you take no other gadgetry with you, you’ll want a camera handy to snap amazing landscapes and landmarks or your friends’ amazing japes. With this in mind, take a look at our huge range of digital camera reviews. One that you may wish to particularly bear in mind is the a waterproof Canon PowerShot D10.
For complete control over your photos, you’ll want a camera that offers in-depth manual adjustment and supports RAW file formats – the latter allows you to make comprehensive edits in a photo editor and doesn’t lose quality by compressing images.
The average digital SLR camera can capture around 12Mp of detail, which is overkill for most situations but superb if you intend to create large prints from your photos. Don’t forget to pack a tripod, though: even one as small as the £15 Gorillapod will help improve your shots immensely.
Fans of digital SLRs and the FourThirds standard should check out new compacts that use a smaller lens version of the same technology. Panasonic and Olympus now have Micro FourThirds compact cameras – the Panasonic G1 is a superb, ruggedised 'bridge' camera, while we review the Olympus EP-1 here.
A camera for everyone
It’s tricky to recommend one camera above all others, as everyone’s photographic needs are different. If you want to keep things simple (and inexpensive) then you won’t go far wrong with a point-and-shoot model such as the Canon PowerShot A590 IS, the Pentax Optio M60 or the Fujifilm Z20FD. These three models come with plenty of scene modes, plus face detection, image stabilisation and the ability to take panoramic shots and stitch them together.
The Canon is unusual in that it uses non-rechargeable AA batteries – useful if you’re going somewhere remote and aren’t likely to have ready access to electrical sockets. Most lithium-ion models should operate for at least 100 shots before needing a recharge and some are certified by CIPA for 200 or 300 shots. However, Casio claims to have come up with a camera battery that lasts for 1,000 shots.
Next page: Camcorders, hybrid camcorders and photo viewers >>
If you want to take video as well as photos, you’ve probably already read our round-up of low-cost camcorders from last issue. As well as models that use the ageing MiniDV format, there are hard disk-based camcorders, ones that record to mini DVD or Blu-ray Disc and others that record to flash memory. If you’re shooting something special, you might want to record in HD – the amount of detail and quality of the images will be superior to standard-definition.
If you need to conserve luggage space, however, you may want to go for a slimline flash-based model. The trail for these was blazed by the bestselling Flip – a lightweight device about the size of a mobile phone. Since this model came out two years ago, similar models have been launched by the likes of Creative, Sony and Kodak.
The Flip models weigh less than 100g, have built-in memory and connect directly to a PC to download footage. The Kodak Zx1 and Zi6 and the Sony Webbie, meanwhile, have removable memory in the form of SD Card and MemoryStick Pro Duo respectively.
Many users find the upright design and limited zoom restrictive, however – a charge also levelled at cameraphones, many of which allow you to take video footage too.
A better bet may be to go for a hybrid camera and camcorder – an idea forged by Sanyo in its Xacti models. We were mighty impressed with the Sanyo Xacti HD2000 and by the superb Panasonic SDR-S26 – our Best Buy camcorder. In common with the Xacti range, the Panasonic has separate photo and video buttons so you don’t need to remember to turn a dial to switch modes.
It’s also worth noting that camera manufacturers are beginning to add better video-capture capabilities to compacts – the Sony W290 is a good example. It can capture HD video and then upload it straight to YouTube.
Sony also makes a Bluetooth dongle that can be used to add geographical information to your shots as you take them – ideal for plotting them on a map on your return.
Epson Photo Viewer P-6000 (£384 inc VAT) - full review here
Eye-Fi 4GB Wi-Fi card (£90 inc VAT) - full review here
Touchnote.com photo-uploading service - full review here