In this installment, we look at technology and the role it can play in your summer. Technology these days affects all aspects of your life, everything from allowing you to capture your memories digitally to letting you bank online with Ally Bank (where you can save for all your big summer fun). With so many tech options out there, it’s always good to get an expert opinion on which electronics can help you make your summer a great one.
To do this, we enlisted the help of Marc Perton, director of content at gdgt (part of Engadget). Below, he shares his picks for the summer’s hottest electronics and best values, plus, he reveals the smart way to step away from the grid, for those times when being less connected is better.
Tech that Can Better Your Day at The Beach
Perton points to wireless headphones as an accessory that can add a nice soundtrack to your days at the shore.
He also declares eBook readers (even non-backlit types) to be “the number one technology to improve your day at the beach.” In fact, Perton recommends eBook readers over tablets. “Anybody who’s tried using an iPad at the beach can see pretty quickly that even the brightest ones are almost impossible to use in daylight,” he says. “But e-ink readers are designed for those conditions. So for people who just like going to the beach and reading, invest in an e-ink reader.”
Plus, Perton notes, “If you get sand or water in your iPad, you’re out 500 bucks. If you get sand or water in the cheapest Kindle, you’re out 70 bucks.”
This Summer’s Must-Have Electronics
“There are a couple of things that have really taken hold this past year that really weren’t around a year ago,” Perton says. “One is affordable, small, wireless Bluetooth speakers. They’re great for travel. You can pair them with your cellphone, your iPod (if you still use one), your iPad, a laptop. They’re just great in terms of taking your audio with you, whether you’re going to the beach, the mountains or wherever. You can get a decent set for under $100 and they fit in a bag really easily.”
With your audio needs now taken care of, Perton also has a video recommendation: action cams, such as GoPro’s Hero3. “If you’re a mountain biker or if you go kayaking – if you’re into pretty much any outdoor activity – the action cams are waterproof, they’re rugged. And now they’re much more affordable, much more accessible. They’re just great to have.”
‘Real’ Cameras vs. Cellphone Cameras
With so many people these days relying on cellphones for pictures, is there ever a reason to pack a separate camera for vacations? “Yeah – there are a few specific-use cases,” Perton says. One is for adventure photography (see his action cam recommendation above). In particular, Perton advises bringing a waterproof camera when appropriate.
“If you’re going underwater a lot, if you’re diving, if you’re snorkeling, if you’re canoeing, it’s a good idea to just leave your cellphone on the dock or in the boat in a dry bag,” he says. “That way, if you need it for an emergency, it’s with you but you’re not just pulling it out to take pictures. There are a lot of companies that make ruggedized or waterproof cameras at prices ranging from $150 to $300. I’d recommend staying on the cheaper end of that. A lot of them are not necessarily the best cameras in terms of taking incredibly good pictures. But even the cheaper ones will give you pictures that are at least as good as your cellphone’s.”
Bringing Media Into Your Backyard
Electronics can liven up your backyard in the summer. To bring sound to the outdoors, “I’d recommend systems like Sonos to anybody who entertains,” Perton says, referring to the wireless sound manufacturer. “Sonos is good for the backyard, as long as it’s in range of your WiFi network and you have an available outlet. If you’re going out to yard’s end, consider a large, battery powered Bluetooth speaker, like the $250 Logitech UE Boombox.”
And if you want to take your A/V to the next level, you can always turn your backyard into an outdoor movie theater. While a flat screen TV can certainly do the job after dark, Perton says you may want to consider using a projector. “The advantage of a projector, obviously, is that it can project on a sheet, a screen or any large wall, so you can make the image as big as you want,” he says. “You can also bring it back into the house easily.”
Best Summer Tech for Kids
If you’re looking to entertain or educate your children during summer trips, “A tablet really is one of the best things you can get a kid,” Perton says. “It’s probably the best educational tool and fun for a kid. You can put whatever you want on it. There are educational apps, there are games.”
Perton continues, “The iPad mini is great. It’s kid-sized – a great size for most kids’ hands. A 7-inch Android tablet like the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD is also good – and certainly more affordable. So if your kid is sort of just learning his way around, you don’t want to spend $300 plus for the iPad mini. You can get a decent Android tablet for $150. And if the kid drops it, you’ve spent a lot less money.”
Getting ‘Off The Grid’
With cell phone and Internet service available in so many places around the world now, there’s no reason you have to “disconnect” while on summer vacation. This can be good or bad.
“There are pros and cons to that, obviously,” Perton says. “Sometimes you have to work or be in touch with people. And if you aren’t, there are ramifications. But sometimes it’s a lot healthier to not be in touch and to be off the grid.”
If you do want to stay somewhat connected, technology can help you do that. “Google Voice is great because you can access it from anywhere and any device,” Perton says. So instead of relying on voicemail that’s tied to your phone provider, Google Voice will pretty much work with any phone service. If you’re somewhere with no cellphone coverage, you can have your phone ring on as many different devices as you want – even a pre-paid phone.”
Generally, though, when you’re away on vacation, “You have to manage expectations of the people who assume they’re going to be in touch with you,” Perton says. “If you sort of think you’re going to be on the grid, and suddenly you find you’ve been traveling and the cellphone reception isn’t as good as you’d hoped, the people who are counting on you back at work may not be able to reach you.”
What kind of tech helps your get the most value out of your summer? Do you ever try to “disconnect” during the warm months?