Vacation-friendly digital gadgets

Tempting as it may be to fantasize about leaving your digital life behind when you go on vacation, it may not be feasible, or even really desirable. Although the era of always-available accessibility makes complete escape harder, it makes partial escape easier — and more enjoyable. Here are a few gadgets that might prove useful next to the suntan lotion, folding chair and cooler. Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg News

Computer

While Panasonic makes military-specification computers used in some of the world's most inhospitable locales, its F8 and F9 Toughbooks are designed more for the road warrior than the real kind.

The F8 and F9 belong to a class of machines called business rugged, meaning in vacation terms that they may survive having a cup of beer dumped on them (but not necessarily a pitcher). The magnesium-alloy case, with built-in handle, encloses a 14.1-inch antiglare screen, and the whole package weighs a little more than 3.5 pounds.

The F9, which goes on sale this month, starts at $2,899 and includes Windows 7, an Intel Core i5 processor and a 320-gigabyte hard drive; the older F8, with a less powerful Core 2 processor and a 250-gigabyte hard drive, lists for $2,499.

Consider the landlocked benefits, too. A shock-mounted hard drive means the F8 and F9 can survive being dropped a foot onto a hard surface, and an optional Gobi chip provides mobile broadband wherever you happen to be.

TV

If you're on the go and worried about missing live World Cup action — or, admit it, a critical rerun of Jersey Shore — Qualcomm's Flo TV personal television will keep you properly tuned in.

The $199.99 unit has a 3.5-inch screen and comes with a one-year subscription to the Flo TV service, which includes programming from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. A package of additional networks, including ESPN, Comedy Central and Disney, costs another $149.99 a year.

Qualcomm also makes Flo TV available as a service on wireless phones from manufacturers such as Samsung and LG, running on both the AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless networks. The advantage of the standalone unit is that you won't deplete your phone battery; you can watch Flo TV on it for up to six hours between charges.

Make sure, though, that your particular beach is within the Flo network. Coverage can be spotty.

E-reader

The era of the e-reader means no more lugging that extra bag of books on your trip.

Apple's iPad is the all-around best, but its glaring weakness is, well, glare. The backlit display and reflective screen make it hard to use in sunlight, even if you weren't concerned about getting sand in the virtual gears of your $829 3G-enabled baby.

By contrast, Amazon.com's Kindle thrives outside. Its grayscale digital-ink display is easily readable even in direct sunlight, it weighs a mere 10 ounces and it goes for days on a single charge. The built-in AT&T 3G connection lets you buy and download books anywhere you happen to be, taking advantage of a selection that far surpasses Apple's nascent iBookstore; as an added bonus, Amazon's family of free Kindle apps synchs your reading material across devices, so you can pick up on your iPad precisely where you left off on the Kindle.

Best of all, a price war in the dedicated e-reader market has driven the Kindle's price down to $189.

Cameras

In case not all your Kodak moments occur on dry land, Eastman Kodak recently added the $149.95 PlaySport to its line of handheld digital video recorders. The PlaySport is small — less than an inch thick, 4.5 ounces, with a 2-inch screen — but it shoots big: full high-definition video at 30 frames per second. You can use it under water up to 10 feet deep, and if you find the controls a little hard to use while you're in the waves, the built-in image stabilization may help smooth things out.

The PlaySport is also capable of taking still photos, with a sensor rated at 5 megapixels. But if you need more power, Panasonic's $399.99 Lumix DMC-TS2 puts some of the Toughbook's DNA into a compact, 14.1-megapixel point-and-shoot camera that's waterproof at depths up to 33 feet and includes a 4.6x optical zoom.

Vacation-friendly digital gadgets 07/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 2, 2010 5:30am]

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