Vacation is a time for disconnecting. Or not.
Tempting as it may be to fantasize about leaving your digital life behind when you head for the beach, 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.
With that in mind, here are a few gadgets that might prove useful next to the suntan lotion, folding chair and cooler.
COMPUTER: While Panasonic Corp. 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 anti-glare screen, and the whole package weighs only little more than 3.5 pounds.
The F9, which goes on sale in July, 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 250-gigabyte hard drive, lists for $2,499.
Since no one buys a computer simply for a few hours of sun and surf, 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 in the world 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 Inc.’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: It’s better at some Hamptons than others.
Banning Book Bags
E-READER: One of the joys of the beach is beach reading, and the era of the e-reader means no more lugging that extra bag of books -- to say nothing of providing cover for readers to indulge in their guilty pleasures. (Chelsea Handler fans, you know who you are.)
Apple Inc.’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 Inc.’s 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. 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 syncs 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. Think of it as the cheap, convenient paperback next to the iPad’s elegant hardcover.
CAMERAS: In case not all your Kodak moments occur on dry land, Eastman Kodak Co. recently added the $149.95 PlaySport to its line of handheld digital video recorders. The PlaySport is physically 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.
Tunes and Dunes
MUSIC: Sure, a lot of people want to boom their tunes across the dunes, but that’s not you. All you want is a little tasteful background music, without shutting yourself off from the rest of the world via headphones or worrying that an errant wave or a little sand will send your sounds to iPod Heaven.
That’s where Grace Digital Audio’s $49.99 Eco Extreme comes in. It’s an element-resistant box, waterproofed up to 10 feet, 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. There’s no way to change what you’re listening to, though, so you might just want to put your device on shuffle, or create a special playlist -- Music to Tan By, perhaps.
PROTECTION: While the classic waterproof protector for your cell phone or other electronic gadget is the Ziploc bag, its cost-effectiveness is undermined by certain disadvantages -- such as the fact you can’t use the thing while it’s in the bag.
Aquapac (http://www.aquapac.net) sells a variety of cases for iPhones, Kindles and other mobile devices that keep them safe while in use. Some can even keep your gadget afloat, giving you a chance to rescue your BlackBerry before it drifts out to sea.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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