Tempting as it may be to fantasize about leaving your digital life behind when you hit the beach, the option may not be feasible, or even really desirable. Although the era of accessibility makes complete escape harder, it makes partial escape easier—and more enjoyable. Here are a passel of products that might prove useful next to the suntan lotion and cooler.
While Panasonic (PC) makes military- specification computers meant for use in some of the world's most inhospitable locales, its F8 and F9 Toughbooks belong to a class of machines known as "business rugged," meaning they may survive having a cup of beer dumped on them, although not necessarily a full pitcher.
The magnesium-alloy case, with a built-in handle, encloses a 14.1-inch antiglare screen, and the whole package weighs only a little more than 3½ pounds. The F9, which goes on sale this month, starts at $2,899 and includes Windows 7, an Intel Core i5 processor, and 320-gigabyte hard drive; the older F8, with a less powerful Core 2 processor and 250-gigabyte hard drive, lists for $2,499.
Since no one buys a computer simply for a few hours of sun, consider these 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 in the world you happen to be.
If you're worried about missing live World Cup action—or, admit it, a critical rerun of Jersey Shore— Qualcomm's (QCOM) 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. You can watch Flo TV for up to six hours in between charges.
Qualcomm also makes Flo TV available as a service on phones from Samsung, LG, and other manufacturers on both the AT&T (T) and Verizon networks. The advantage of the standalone unit is that you won't deplete your phone battery. Make sure, though, that your particular beach is within the Flo network. Coverage can be spottier at some Hamptons than others.
The e-book not only relieves vacationers of having to lug hardcovers wherever they go, it also provides cover for them to indulge in their darker habits. (Chelsea Handler readers, you know who you are.) Apple's (AAPL) 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 direct 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 (AMZN) $189 Kindle thrives outside. Its grayscale digital-ink display is easily readable even in direct sunlight; it weighs a mere 10 ounces and goes for days on a single charge. Best of all, its built-in AT&T 3G connection lets you buy and download books anywhere you happen to be. Additionally, Amazon's family of free Kindle apps syncs your reading material across devices, so you can pick up on your iPad precisely where you left off on the Kindle.
Kodak (K) recently added the $149.95 PlaySport to its line of handheld digital video recorders. The PlaySport is small—4½ ounces, less than an inch thick—but it shoots big: full high-definition video at 30 frames per second. You can use it in depths of up to 10 feet of water. And if you find the controls a little hard to maneuver under 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 five megapixels.
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.
Grace Digital Audio's $49.99 Eco Extreme is an element-resistant, waterproof case that holds your portable music player or iPhone, combined with a three-inch speaker that provides decent sound without earning you dirty looks from the next blanket over. The Eco Extreme, which plugs into the headphone jack of your music player, runs on three AA batteries and has an external volume-control knob.
While the classic waterproof protector for your cell phone may be the Ziploc bag, its cost-effectiveness is undermined by certain disadvantages—such as the inoperability of the phone while it's in the bag.
Aquapac (www.aquapac.net) sells a variety of cases for iPhones, Kindles, and other mobile devices that allows you to continue to use them while they remain protected. Some of the cases even keep your gadget afloat, giving you a chance to rescue your BlackBerry before it drifts out to sea.