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30 Apr 2013 by GrahamSmith

Steve Dinneen suggests gadgets to keep you entertained while on the go. You’ll never be bored again…


It used to be that the traveller had few means of entertainment. Time to kill at the airport meant browsing the bookshop for a cheap thriller with the least garish cover, while economy class in-flight entertainment (IFE) consisted of a family-friendly film from the year before on a shared overhead screen. And for those who wanted to match their grossly overpriced drink from the minibar with a grossly overpriced film, hotels were always happy to help.

Now, the average traveller can choose from a multitude of portable gadgets to provide instant entertainment, no matter where they are – movies are ready to watch at the swipe of a screen, and hundreds of books can be stored on a device half the size of a magazine.

With such advances in technology, airlines are upping their game to stand out from the competition. Onboard wifi is quickly becoming as common as packets of pretzels (albeit at a fee), and some carriers are going further. Singapore-based Scoot and Qantas subsidiary Jetstar both offer passengers iPads preloaded with films and games to borrow for the duration of their flight. They’ll also stream content directly to your own device, in a move away from the screen embedded in the back of your seat.

American Airlines offers guests a Samsung Galaxy tablet on certain routes, or if you’ve brought your own tablet or laptop you can rent programmes using its wifi connection. If you don’t finish watching a movie during the flight, you can even watch it when you land. Delta, Virgin America and US Airways also offer similar services.

Things look bleaker for the world of pay-per-view films in hotel rooms, rendered obsolete by guests arriving with tablets and laptops. Earlier this year, Lodge Net Interactive Corporation, which provides entertainment services for 1.5 million hotel rooms around the world, applied for bankruptcy protection. 

Streaming movies to your device can present its own issues, however. You could potentially rack up high internet bills in a hotel room as it demands greater bandwidth and, unfortunately, on-demand streaming services such as Love Film and BBC iPlayer only work when in the UK.

Even Netflix, which operates across the world, will only let British customers stream films and TV programmes in Britain. So it’s worth spending a bit of time stocking up on downloads from sites such as iTunes Movies, Amazon and Google Play before you travel.

The frequent flyer has many options when it comes to new technology. Every tech company wants in on the act, with tablets, e-readers and other devices popping up every few months. Here is a round-up of the latest must-have gadgets.
 

Apple iPad Mini

From £269
store.apple.com/uk

Known as a “tweener” by tech geeks, the iPad Mini fits somewhere between a smartphone and a fully-fledged tablet. Despite its daintier size (7.9 inches compared with 9.5 inches for the bigger version, and less than half the weight, at 308g compared with 652g), it can do everything its big brother can. Its screen doesn’t quite have the wow factor of the ultra high-definition iPads, though. Travellers should consider it, not least because its smaller footprint makes it easier to perch alongside an in-flight meal. It costs more than rival mini tablets, but for Apple fans who have built up a big iTunes library, the premium is worth paying – iTunes offers 45,000 films to rent or buy, with a new release costing £3.49 for 30 days or from £9.99 to download and keep. The iTunes Store also has 85,000 TV shows (about £2.99 an episode for newer content) and 28 million songs.
 

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

From £249
samsung.com

What makes this 10.1-inch, 587g tablet different is its stylus – a chunky pen with a range of interchangeable nibs that makes taking handwritten notes feel surprisingly natural. There is something a bit anachronistic about using a pen with a tablet, but the hover and tap system really comes into its own when browsing the web and editing photos, allowing for a degree of precision that isn’t normally associated with this kind of device. The hardware specs are pretty impressive – it has a lightning-quick processor and a three-megapixel camera – but like all Android tablets, it suffers from a lack of apps when compared with Apple’s iPads. Films and TV programmes – which look excellent on the larger-than-normal-screen – are bought through Google Play, where prices are around the same as iTunes (£3.49 to rent for 30 days, £9.99 to download and buy). Google Play can’t quite compete with iTunes on quantity, though – it doesn’t reveal the exact numbers, saying only that it offers “millions” of songs and “thousands” of movies and TV shows.


Microsoft Surface

From £399
microsoft.com/surface

Is it a tablet? Is it a laptop? The problem with the Microsoft Surface is it doesn’t seem to know. You can pick between a traditional desktop version of Windows 8 or a tiled interface that is operated using touch and swipe gestures (the latter is much better). It connects with a range of clip-on keyboards (you need to buy these separately) that make it more laptop-like and, thanks to a flip-out stand, is good for watching movies. Films are purchased through the Xbox video store, where prices are about the same as iTunes – £9.99 to buy, £3.50 to rent – but the numbers of films available are in the hundreds rather than the thousands. The device weighs 680g and has a 10.6-inch screen but, unlike many tablets, it also boasts a full-sized USB port, micro SD memory card slot and two high-res cameras. Those who find a tablet too limiting should consider it, but by trying to be all things to all men, the Surface risks pleasing no one.


Amazon Kindle Fire HD

From £159
amazon.co.uk/kindle

The reason the new seven-inch Kindle Fire HD is such a bargain – £159 compared with £269 for the cheapest iPad – is that Amazon reportedly makes a small loss on every device sold. It expects to make its money back selling films, TV shows, ebooks and music through its online store, which gives iTunes a run for its money with 1.5 million ebooks, 9,000 TV titles and 52,000 movies. Unlimited films and TV programmes can be streamed via a £7.99 per month subscription, while books and songs can be bought individually.

The browsing and buying experience is seamless, and content can be stored on Amazon’s servers rather than the tablet itself, although this does mean you need a wifi connection to access it. The minimum 16GB memory is double that of its non-HD predecessor (a 32GB version is also available) and, unlike its older relative, it has a front-facing HD camera. It is also 5g lighter, at 395g, and has dual-band wifi for 40 per cent faster media streaming and fewer dropped connections than the original Fire.
 

Sony PlayStation Vita

From £227
uk.playstation.com

Although the PS Vita is first and foremost a portable games console (it has a five-inch screen and weighs 260g), it also performs admirably when it comes to other forms of entertainment. The crisp high-res display might be made for playing Fifa, but movies downloaded from the Playstation Network store look excellent too. There are thousands to rent or buy, with new releases available for under £5. There’s also a music player and other features you would usually find on a tablet, such as twin cameras and a simple but effective web browser. The device can be had for a little over £200, making it a strong contender for those who like to punctuate their movie watching with something more interactive.
 

Google Nexus 7

From £159
google.co.uk/nexus

Apple’s iPads are in danger of becoming too ubiquitous. Enter the Nexus 7, undoubtedly the best Android-based tablet on the market. Starting at just £159 for the 16GB model, the low price point belies its excellent specs, which include a super-fast processor and a stunning high-res screen made from the same super-tough glass found on Apple’s products. Smaller and lighter than the iPad, it weighs 340g and has a seven-inch screen. Like all Android devices, there aren’t enough top-tier apps, while the video and music buying experience through Google Play is less polished than the Kindle Fire. It isn’t going to end up in a design museum alongside the iPad, but if you care more about value than verve, it could be the one.


Accessories

BenQ Joybee GP2 Projector

From £450
benq.co.uk

There is something masochistic about squinting at a movie on a tiny smartphone or tablet screen when you’re in a hotel room with a huge widescreen TV. Some hotels allow you to connect your device to the TV via a media hub, but it can be frustrating if you find there isn’t one.

Enter the Joybee, a palmtop projector that turns your portable device into a personal cinema showing all your favourite films – it’s also handy for presentations. In a darkened hotel room on a light-coloured wall, the image quality is surprisingly good, at a width of two metres, with movies looking crisp and vivid. Not bad for a device that measures only 14cm x 13cm x 5.3cm and weighs 560g. The twin two-watt speakers produce a volume that will comfortably fill a small room, even if it isn’t quite Dolby surround sound. If you’re looking to pump up the volume, the Joybee is best paired with the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox (reviewed right).


Epson Moverio BT-100

From £429
epson.com

An entertainment gadget straight out of a sci-fi flick, this pair of glasses allows you to watch movies in 3D virtually anywhere. They are ideal for a long-haul flight, providing a much better experience than the seat-back screens found on most aircraft. Although more comfortable than you might expect, watching two films one after the other is likely to be a bit tiring on the eyes. There are a few other trade-offs, too – you can’t download movies directly to the device (you’ll need to get them from somewhere like iTunes first and then transfer them from your PC), the 4GB memory is a little on the small side, it is expensive, and the six-hour battery life is too short. You might get a few stares from your fellow passengers too. They are pretty cool, though, and a glimpse of the technology of the future.
 

Logitech UE Mobile Boombox

From £80
ue.logitech.com

All mobile entertainment devices have one thing in common – less than perfect sound. Headphones might do for a flight but can be a nuisance if you’re watching a movie in your hotel room. There is a huge array of portable speakers on the market, but few are as good as this. Despite the small size (11.2cm x 6.6cm x 6cm and 298g), the speaker is impressive and can be paired using Bluetooth, while the battery, which lasts for an impressive nine hours, is charged via USB.
 

PowerBag

From US$140
mypowerbag.com

These gadgets are all well and good, but if they run out of power then the traveller really is stranded. Introducing the Powerbag, which can charge your devices. Containing a rechargeable battery, the bag has connectors for iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Blackberrys and other portable gear. The battery will charge a smartphone four times (depending on the model). It is available in various styles – messenger, backpack and suitcase. The last, at 26cm x 42cm x 26.5cm, is ideal as cabin baggage

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