Flying Colours Ltd / Getty Images
May 26, 2012 --
Here in the States, Memorial Day officially marks the start of barbecuing season, swimming in lakes, attending amusement parks, wearing white slacks and taking serious road trips. With the latter in mind, we've put together a series of gadgets to make your interstate sojourns more fun and easy. Wherever your journeys take you, you'll be better informed, more entertained, powered up and in the know.
BIG PIC: How Memorial Day Came to Be
Goal Zero Yeti 1250: $1,999.99 Charge the Yeti 1250 for 20 hours through a wall outlet or its dual 30W solar panels and it'll return the favor, powering your phones, tablets, home health care equipment and major appliances. It's got an impressive array of DC, AC and USB ports to plug in your various devices. And this 100-pound backup battery comes with its own roll cart. So in addition to having around the house for emergencies, it's great for camping trips and other outdoor adventures when you're "roughing it."
ION Audio Road Rocker: $119 The Road Rocker is quite the versatile sound system. This portable, rechargeable speaker lets you stream music from a Bluetooth-enabled device. It's got an eighth-inch jack for non-Bluetooth players. And a quarter-inch jack for a guitar or microphone. So you can wail out -- or make loud, pertinent announcements, as the case may be. This 21st century answer to Mr. Microphone will be available starting in August.
Root Four Imagination
Lemur Vehicle Monitors BlueDriver: $39.95 Nothing kills the buzz of a good road trip quicker than that annoying Check Engine light. Stay informed about what's up with your vehicle, using BlueDriver. It plugs into your car's OBD-II port and feeds driving stats and diagnostic info wirelessly to your tablet, phone or computer. A free app helps you identify and clear trouble codes. Inside the app, you can pay extra to add features that freeze frame data, ready you for a smog check, or graph and log live data. Or if you want the whole kit and kaboodle, $49.99 unlocks all current and future features -- which will include ABS, airbag and transmission data.
Supertooth Crystal: $69 The simple, sleek, stylish new Supertooth Crystal Bluetooth speakerphone is so easy to set-up, it's practically grandparent-proof. Once paired, it'll automatically recognize your phone(s) each time you get into your car. (The sound of your door closing triggers it.) When not enabling your phone gabbing, it can stream music or turn-by-turn directions. And not only does it offer great battery life -- up to 20 hours of chat time -- but it can also monitor your phone's battery meter.
Griffin Technology WindowSeat 3 HandsFree: $39.99 For the long journey ahead, you've got your fancy adjustable leather seat with lumbar support...and your phone has the WindowSeat 3 HandsFree. Securely suctioned to the dash or windshield, this 3-point bracket will snugly cradle your trusty buddy in or out of its case. That keeps it at eye level, so you won't have to reach or look far for info. It also has a built-in microphone for fielding calls and comes with an audio cable for plugging into your car stereo's auxiliary input.
Iconosys Alternative Energy apps: Free GasBuddy is fine, but we're not always looking for gas, buddy. So it makes sense to have apps that help us find alternative energy fuels. This directory includes four apps that can help you pinpoint the nearest electric plug-in, bio-deisel, natural gas or ethanol. So drive on and feel good about it!
Roamz: Free Roamz is a community- and location-based app for iOS and (just released last week) Android. It vets such social feeds as Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram to give you helpful, current info on restaurants, bars, events and hot spots. It's free, you don't have to check in to use it and it helps you find hidden gems and happenin' places along the way, so you can enjoy them just like a local.
Sceptre E165BD-HD LED HDTV: $199 The 16-inch E165BD-HD LED HDTV works perfectly fine at home, but is just as happy on the road. This thin, light monitor has an ATSC/NTSC/Clear QAM digital tuner, for TV on-the-go. It's also got a built-in DVD player, two HDMI inputs and a USB port, for watching a whole range of stored media in 720p. And most importantly to its mobility, it comes with a car adapter -- plus, it's energy efficient, so it won't drain your battery.
Scosche reVOLT c2: $24.99 Road trips are fun, but tiring -- for both you and your oft-used gadgets. The reVOLT c2 is the smallest and most powerful dual-USB car charger on the market. It pumps 10 Watts and 2.1 Amps into each of its ports. Yep, that's enough to simultaneously charge two big, hungry iPads...or other tablets, phones, music players and the myriad devices one needs on a jag.
Verbatim 8GB Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB: $14.75 This miniscule 8GB Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB is barely bigger than the male USB jack itself, but can hold a couple thousand songs. So load it up from your Linux, Mac or Windows computer and plug it into the USB port on your head unit. You'll have enough tunes to drive straight across the country, no iPod necessary!
PHOTOS: Top Strange and Impractical Techs from CES
In less than three years, Android tablets have gone from an embarrassment nobody should buy to the cheapo alternative to the iPad to a surprisingly capable rival to Apple’s tablet. Now, with Google’s new Nexus 7, the iOS-or-Android decision has gotten tougher still.
This successor to last year’s slightly wider and thicker Nexus 7 looks a lot like it until you turn it on — at which point its fabulously high-resolution screen makes both its ancestor and the iPad mini look bad. This 7-inch, 1920 by 1200 pixel display, like the gorgeous Retina Displays on full-sized iPads, makes even the smallest text look as sharp as print.
But at $229 for a 16 gigabyte model, the new Nexus 7 costs about two-thirds as much as the 16 GB, $329 iPad mini. That advantage widens if you want more storage or mobile broadband. A 32 GB Nexus 7 costs $269, against $429 for a 32 GB iPad mini; the upcoming, 32 GB LTE Nexus 7 will cost $349, while a 16 GB LTE iPad mini will set you back $459.
Battery life represents another big advance, even though this has a lower-capacity battery than the 2012 model. In my usual test of nonstop Web-radio playback with the screen illuminated at its default brightness, the 32 GB Wi-Fi model loaned by Google PR didn’t just blow past the company’s “up to nine hours” estimate but outlasted every device I have tested, 17 hours and 16 minutes in one test, 15:27 in a second. That’s kind of crazy.
Its standby time wasn’t as terrific, but maintaining 94 percent of a charge after 24 hours left idle only falls just short of the iPad. And the Nexus 7 recharges over any micro-USB cable — or, less practically, a Qi cordless-charging surface — while Apple requires its proprietary, expensive Lightning connector.
(That said, I can only hope that the 2013 model doesn’t suffer from the defect I and two other reviewers saw months after testing the 2012 version: Leaving it unplugged for too long resulted in it losing its ability to charge or boot up.)
This year’s Nexus 7 also adds a 5-megapixel back camera, but its often washed-out, ill-exposed results suggests something’s off with the software running it. That’s also the case with its GPS, which I and other users have found sometimes stops working; Google says a patch is on the way.
As a Nexus device, this tablet gets its updates direct from Google (it ships with the current 4.3 version of Android) instead of having them arrive months late or not at all.
The “but…” sentence in every Android tablet review is the one mentioning the selection of tablet-optimized apps. Here, Google remains well behind Apple; where iPad users have 375,000-plus apps for their tablets, Google won’t even say how many tablet apps have been shipped for Android. And some Android apps, such as HBO Go and Electronic Arts’ Need For Speed: Most Wanted, don’t run on the Nexus 7.
But in practice, this obstacle can shrink a bit. First, phone-sized apps look better on the Nexus 7, where they automatically and cleanly fill the screen, than on an iPad mini, where they’re either surrounded by a thick black border or crudely magnified, with text and images appearing as blurry bitmaps. Second, I spend most of my time on my own iPad mini just reading the Web.
If the worst thing you can say about the Nexus 7 is that it’s only good for browsing through the world’s largest collection of human knowledge and creativity — sort of like the reading-only Newspad in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, sadly without a Pan Am space shuttle to read it on — well, that’s not so much of an insult.
Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images