Technology

Travelers' Tech Takes Off


Smarter and more portable tech products are making long trips more fun—and productive this holiday season

Between baggage check-in lines a mile long, overhead compartments overstuffed with gifts, and bumper to bumper traffic, the hassles of commuting during the holidays is enough to turn anyone into a Grinch. But for tech-savvy travelers this season, rest and relaxation may commence the moment the bags are packed and the train leaves the station.

Whether you prefer to tune out your travels by listening to music, watching a movie, or playing video games, make the most of your mileage getting work done, or just doze off and catch up on needed sleep, the portable tech market wants you to take a look at how they're changing the game. Indeed, tech companies have been attempting to boost interest in these devices by creating a variety of new ways to enjoy tech on the go

Many travelers rely on not one but an entire arsenal of high-tech products to ease their journey. But taking along several devices also means keeping track of a tangled mess of different power adapters for laptops, PDAs, cell phones, and iPods—until now. The first item on many travelers' lists this year is a multifunctional power adapter. "Power adapters have been very popular toward the end of this year," says Lynn Staneff, marketing director for online retailer Magellan's Travel Supplies. "People get lots of different high-tech products, then they realize they need to simplify how they will travel with them."

iPod Power

The iGo Everywhere 130 ($149.99) has a library of input tips of different sizes to handle every gadget you need to juice up, and it comes with power cords for traditional outlets as well as for power sources on the plane, car, boat, or RV. It's one more thing you have to stuff into your suitcase, but at 17 ounces, 6.1 inches, you'll soon forget it's there.

On the road and in the air, the one device great for any kind of travel and just about every kind of traveler is the Apple (AAPL) iPod. Though competitors like Microsoft's (MSFT) Zune and Samsung's K5 hope to find their way under many Christmas trees this year, the iPod's ease of use on-the-go has yet to be matched by any rival music player. Pick up a video iPod with 30GB ($249) or 60GB ($349) of storage space and you'll be set for a cross-country road trip, or clip on a convenient new 1GB Shuffle ($79) for a quick train ride home. A wealth of accessories like travel cases, car adapters, and FM radio tuners will help you personalize the device to your travel itinerary.

Flight attendants delivering the preflight safety lecture are having a harder time than usual finding attentive ears this year, thanks to the proliferation of active noise canceling headphones among passengers. The products, like Bose's popular $349 QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones, use microphones to electronically filter out unwanted sounds. The design of the new Bose model is smaller and more comfortable than past versions, so when you're done rocking out to crystal clear audio, detach the cord and recline your seatback for a peaceful nap.

On the Rails

If getting home for the holidays means flying halfway around the world, you may be worried about jet lag getting in the way of your good cheer. A company called Litebook, based in Alberta, Canada, is touting a potential cure for the weary traveler: Its Litebook ($179) and Litebook Elite ($199) products were initially designed for treating seasonal affective disorder (or "winter blues") by increasing the amount of short-wavelength light a sufferer receives throughout the day. But the makers noticed in testing that jet lag could be treated in much the same way.

When you arrive at your destination, position the Litebook toward your eyes, and in as little as 60 minutes you may begin to feel a heightened sense of alertness and energy. Over longer periods, the light beam will help you adjust your circadian rhythms to a new time zone.

Most air travelers have given up on getting work done on their laptops because there's just not enough room. When you travel by train, however, you should take advantage of the extra space by bringing along an ultraportable laptop, a PC defined as weighing less than 4 pounds.

Finding Your Way

Though it's more expensive than most ultraportables, Lenovo's $2,100 to $2,300 Thinkpad X60s currently lead the pack in travel functionality. A miniscule 10.5 in. wide and just 2.7 lbs., the X60s manages to squeeze in an impressive Intel (INTC) Duo Core processor. The 3.5-lb. battery will keep you busy for up to eight hours—so there's no excuse for not working a full day while you get from here to there.

If you're packing the family into the car for an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods commute, a host of tech devices will help you plan your trip, navigate, and spot any appropriate detours. Garmin's new Nuvi 660, going for $899, is loaded with interactive 2D and 3D maps, an FM TMC traffic receiver, and even a built-in phone to book last minute reservations. Best of all, it weighs only 6.3 ounces and can be either mounted in the car or used in the palm of your hand.

High-tech travel can make your holiday homecoming more comfy, if you can afford it. But these days, products tagged with terms like "portable" and "handheld" come with a high premium. Mathieu Milton, 22, of San Diego, recently took a four-hour-plus plane ride to visit his parents for Christmas in Louisville, Ky., and traveled tech-free. "I noticed a lot of passengers with iPods and laptops this year," he says, "and the person next to me was wearing high-tech Bose headphones. But I was content to play Travel Scrabble."

MacMillan is a reporter at BusinessWeek.com in New York.

Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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