Travel Gear gift ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

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Other features include some voice recognition options (such as asking the headset whether you’re connected, and how much talk time / battery is left), A2DP stereo streaming (which lets you listen to music on your phone in between answering/making calls, and access to a new online voice service – Plantronics Vocalyst.

The Vocalyst service – also available with the Voyager Pro+ headset – lets users listen to their e-mails and text messages, record reminders, post audio messages to Twitters (as well as listen to their Twitter feed), update Evernote,  and listen to news, business, sports and weather reports. The service comes with a free one-year trial (a $24.95 value) for Savor and Voyager Pro+ owners.

My favorite part of the headset is its on/off switch – not only does it save on battery power, but turning the switch back on instantly pairs the headset back with your phone – and the voice inside the headset informs you of this. It’s a lot easier hearing that than trying to figure out whether you’re connected or not through menu options on a regular headset/phone.

My only complaint is that while the ear loops are designed to stay in your ear, at times it felt like the headset was dangling – I prefer the over-the-ear loop style rather than the in-ear options.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: About $100Company Web site Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Jawbone Icon, by AliphFinally, a Bluetooth headset that stands up to my old favorite, the Jabra BT250. It’s pretty much perfect.  It’s small, it’s comfortable, and it sits firmly in place.  It comes with a bevy of different size gel fittings to customize for your ear, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t fit you.

Finally, a Jawbone headset I didn’t get any complaints about from users on the other end of my phone conversations.  Well documented are the issues that have cropped up around Jawbone headsets in the past, where users could hear just fine, but the NoiseAsssassin technology muted the user to the listener on the other end of the call.  Those days, finally, mercifully, seem to be over.  Others can hear you fine.  And boy can you hear them clearly.

This Icon has a tactile on/off switch, which you actually slide to toggle.  It works well and is a welcome departure from the trend toward making everything touch-sensitive these days.  The switch is easy to work and intuitive to find, which means you won’t spend ridiculous amounts of time trying to figure out whether the device is on or off.  An interesting note: while it’s not exactly difficult to turn off most Bluetooth headsets, it’s never as straightforward and simple as this.  I found myself turning it off whenever I wasn’t using it, which means I was charging it far less often than I would another headset with similar battery life.  On that front, expect four to five hours of talk time.  You charge it with micro USB, same as most phones these days – which was one of the best things I noticed this year.

It has “in ear caller ID”, which I didn’t find to work well with my Android phone.  It knew when I was getting a call from “Unknown Caller” and said so, but when I got a call from anyone in my phonebook, it wasn’t able to identify them by name, only by the phone number they were calling from.  Better than nothing, but on this front at least, there’s still room for improvement.

The only push button sits on the far end behind the ear bud.  It’s just large enough, and again, quite easy to find.  It depresses just right, and seemed custom-fitted to my index finger.  The number of times you press it depends on what you want to do, and whether it’s during a call or you’re trying to make one.  If you haven’t made a call, press it twice to redial the last person you called.  Press once to answer an incoming call, or to voice dial.  Press twice in-call to toggle NoiseAssassin on and off.  It’s all in the manual, and was pretty easy to commit to memory.

In today’s world, this is as close to perfect as you’re going to get.  It blows away the Jabra Stone in every meaningful way, save the stone.  It’s what I would buy for someone that wanted a Bluetooth headset this year.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $70Company Web siteReviewed by Dan Hunt

iSafe School Backpack, by iSafe BagsA backpack with its own alarm system? Cool! I was starting night classes to earn a Master’s degree, so yes, I needed a new backpack, but also, the parking garage that I used at night was a pretty desolate place at night.  Admittedly, I was a little nervous about safety.

This backpack, while being a legitimately nice bag, is also built to scare off would-be attackers, including bullies. On the right-hand strap of the bag, under a Velcro flap, is a pull cord. When you pull on the cord, it removes a pin from a socket, making an alarm go off through two small speakers on the front side of the bag. And holy cow, is the alarm loud! In addition, a small line of red LED lights on the front of the backpack will flash.

I’m confident that the alarm system will scare an attacker if they don’t know about the bag. Heck, the first time I pulled the alarm, it scared me! I was so shocked by the volume, it took me a couple of attempts to get the pin back into the socket to turn off the alarm. If you plan on using the bag, I’d recommend that you test it first – go to an empty parking lot and pull the cord to learn what the alarm sounds like and learn how to turn it off. It took me about three attempts before I felt comfortable with the alarm system.

Because of the noise, I was a bit worried about accidentally pulling the cord – how embarrassing would it be to be standing around, chatting with friends, and accidentally pulling the cord? Luckily, as long as the Velcro is securely fastened, it’s really difficult to even access the pull cord, and it’s impossible to pull it out through the strap.

Besides the alarm, this is one serious backpack. For starters, it’s a strong bag with large, sturdy zippers. It has two large pockets to hold notebooks, books, etc., one medium size pocket, one small pocket perhaps for house keys, two side pockets for pens and pencils, and one pocket on the left strap that would fit an iPod nano. All in all, I think it’s a really cool product that seems to be made really well.

Other notes: Other models are available, and the alarm takes two 9 volt alkaline batteries. The product manual also warns that going through airport security with this bag will most likely take longer than going through with a normal bag.

Cool Yule Rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $59.98Company Web siteReviewed by Jennifer Finn~~

VertiGo Mambo Combo laptop bag, by Waterfield DesignsWaterField Designs' VertiGo Mambo Combo laptop bag is a stylish, well-crafted bag with an protective interior sleeve that allows you to carry your laptop vertically (standing up). The Mambo Combo pairs the company's basic black VertiGo bag with a SleeveCase that adds a second layer of much-needed protection in case of drops. The thick ballistic nylon material doesn't offer a lot of padding by itself, which is why the Combo offers more protection, since it comes with the SleeveCase (and a shoulder pad if you get the optional shoulder strap). I recommend getting the $12 strap, as it makes carrying your laptop around a lot easier.

I've had this combo for the past year and a half for my 17-inch MacBook Pro and have highly recommended it to other laptop owners. Because the MacBook Pro is a large laptop, carrying it horizontally can be a bit unwieldy, especially when traveling through a crowded airport or even walking along a busy street. That's why I particularly like the vertical orientation of the VertiGo; it lets you keep your laptop closer to you so it doesn't get accidentally knocked around.The VertiGo bag by itself weighs between 1.1 and 1.6 pounds, depending on size, and the sleeve adds a bit more weight. Even so, it's well worth the extra cost, as it's designed to provide a tight fit for your laptop, with plenty of padding. The bag has several interior pockets, as well as pockets on the front and back, and it zips at the top to keep out inclement weather. You can customize the bag with leather accents if you don't like the all-black look. (I got mine with an orange leather stripe, which makes it stand out nicely from the pack.) Best of all, the VertiGo Combo is extremely durable. Even after more than 18 months of use, the bag still looks as good as new.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $115-119 (varies by size)Company Web siteReviewed by Ken Mingis

RoadMate 3065 GPS, by MagellanThis version of the RoadMate GPS series from Magellan includes a 4.7-inch display, as well as its new Traffic Wakeup feature/service. For commuters who have lots of different road options on their way to work, Traffic Wakeup can be the difference between a 30-minute ride and a 90-minute, stuck-in-traffic hellish commute.

When active (meaning when the device is plugged in), Traffic Wakeup automatically powers up the GPS unit and gives real-time traffic updates when the user wants. For example, you can have the system wake up and receive the updates in the morning before the commute, and then in the afternoon before you leave work. This gives the commuter the option of choosing an alternate route before they hit the road, saving valuable minutes.

Other features include Bluetooth support for cell phones, allowing you to hear the caller on the GPS speaker, free lifetime traffic alerts, highway lane assist (it tells you far in advance what lane to be in for upcoming exists), and built-in AAA TourBook data. The GPS supports more than 6 million points of interest to help you find gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, etc. The device also includes AAA Member Roadside Assistance, which tells you your exact location via GPS when talking with AAA should your car break down.

My only issue with the unit is more personal – using the Traffic Wakeup didn’t really help me on my commute, since it’s a pretty direct shot without many alternatives – for me, sometimes sitting in traffic is the same as using an alternative route that takes me well out of the way. In addition, leaving the unit powered up in the car presents a potential security issue, so for the most part the unit was not left on or in the car, which prevents the Traffic Wakeup from operating at maximum level.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $220Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Scorpion, by EtonThe Scorpion advertises itself as a solar-powered, all-terrain, multi-function unit. That covers about two features in this cool device that you should have in your backpack if you’re out and about doing things like hiking or boating. But it's also a good unit to have in your car in case of emergencies.

The Scorpion includes an LED flashlight, AM/FM radio, NOAA weather radio and a rugged construction that protects it from the elements. It can be powered by the sun, or you can hand-crank the battery to provide short-term bits of power. When the Scorpion has enough power, you can also recharge your cell phone (if the phone is powered via USB cable). There's an AUX port if you want to listen to music through the Scorpion's tiny speakers. The Scorpion also includes a carabiner clip that can be hooked onto a backpack, and there's even a bottle opener on the side. Wicked cool!

If there's an outdoor enthusiast on your holiday gift list, or if you want to give your teenager some peace of mind by putting this in their emergency road kit, the Scorpion will make a great gift for them.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $50Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Carmen by Livio car audio player, by Livio RadioThis is one of the most unique device we saw this year – it combines an Internet radio player/recorder with an FM transmitter (along with AUX jack) and powers and plays through your car’s cigarette lighter adapter. It’s meant to provide the user with more than 2GB of storage for music, either your own music, or music that you can record from Internet radio stations – more than 42,000 stations from around the world are supported.

Here’s how it works – you connect the device via USB to your computer, and the included software then lets you record from the Internet radio stations. After you’ve recorded your content, you then place the device inside your car, and either stream the audio via the FM transmitter, or connect to your car stereo’s AUX jack.

I think this is geared more towards people who don’t have an iPhone, which can stream Internet radio or do other audio streaming through services like Pandora or Slacker. For those who don’t, and have the patience to record Internet radio beforehand, the Carmen can be a cool option. The 2GB storage can record up to 45 hours of content, so you can have enough content for your commute if you desire.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $60Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

PowerBolt Micro Car Charger, by KensingtonMost of the gadgets that are meant to be used in a car with the iPhone (radio transmitters, etc.) usually come with their own power cable that can charge out of the car’s cigarette adapter. But let’s just say you want to keep an iPhone or an iPad charged up while you’re in the car (maybe you’re listening to Pandora or AOL Radio in the car and you want to keep the battery alive). This simple cable and cigarette adapter is just what you need.

It’s pretty simple to operate – just unpack the box, connect the charging cable to the cigarette adapter plug and your iPhone/iPad, and then insert both into the cigarette adapter to start charging. The Micro Car Charger is now 2.1 amps, which means you can charge the iPad (earlier models of the charger couldn’t). Another bonus – you can detach the USB cable and synchronize the iPad, iPhone or an IPod with your notebook away from the car.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $25Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

This story, "Travel Gear gift ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools]" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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