John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Travelling with gadgets blog

I’ve just returned from a two week trip abroad. Travelling puts our gadgets to work. In this blog entry I will try and highlight some of the things that worked and some that did not. Maybe you will find it helpful, maybe not.

First thing one has to decide is what gadgets in your electronic arsenal to take, and which to leave. Let’s start out with the short list of what I didn’t take. Ok, up front, I admit, I over plan and over pack. I’d rather take something I don’t use than to leave something behind I wish I took with me.

So what to leave home. I recently purchased a Windows tablet. A Samsung XE 500 T Windows tablet. I found no point in taking along my previous favorite Android tablet the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″. Frankly the Windows tablet is more versatile and the bigger screen once we got there is more useful. My phone a Samsung international S3 has a big enough screen and a data connection so I could see not use for the tablet. In the end, I didn’t miss it at all. I find myself wondering when I will use it now 😦 Problem is it’s not worth much on the resale market and I paid quite a for bit for it.

Second up I left my tried and true companion Garmin foretrex 401 wrist GPS at home. RunGPS provides all the functionality this might give me on my phone so one less device to carry, one less device to keep charged. Again I didn’t miss it.

So now what to take. The centre of my digital world today is a Samsung S3 International edition (so quad core) Android phone. I love this phone. The big screen and quad core make browsing on the go a reality. Conveniently! I bought a SIM for the place I was going. Roaming voice calls can be arranged inexpensively but roaming data is still stupid expensive. So for $35 EUR I got 1G of data on the go and I highly recommend it. Having data connectivity was a god send. Very handy. For everything from Google maps to email. I will definitely do this next time. Of course this assumes you have an unlocked phone. iPhones especially are not easy to unlock. Unlocking a phone is pretty easy. You buy an unlock code for your specific device (on Ebay or there are lots of web sites that provide them). You tell them your IMEI (it’s like a serial number for your phone) and they provide you an unlock code. You put a SIM from a company other than the one your phone came from and it will ask for the unlock code. Enter the one provided and your permanently unlocked. You can then use any SIM from any provider. It’s easy, inexpensive and permanent.

One word of warning. Some European SIMs are password locked. This password has to be re-entered every time the phone is powered off or rebooted. The device is useless if you get into this state. And if you enter the password wrong 3 times your euchred. I made a mistake and rebooted my phone in the middle of the day and I had left the password back at the hotel. DOH. Not the smartest move. It left me without a way to navigate for the day (hadn’t even brought paper maps). I literally had to power off the phone, remove the SIM, power on the phone, put it airport mode then I could use it without data plan for the day.

I used the phone extensively on the trip. I would have been lost without it. I probably should have taken along a backup phone but my backup phone is an S2 and it takes a normal size SIM and the S3 a micro SIM so this is problematic. I hate these transition times as devices change standards like this. And I don’t like the converters (micro SIM to SIM). The converters can catch on the gold connectors of the SIM slot. I’ve had it happen.

One of the principal apps I used on my phone was Trip advisor’s Rome guide. It gave me a top list of things to do, an explanation of them, directions to them, a point me there function, the ability to save places I wanted to see and even the ability to check in (including Facebook) at attractions and restaurants. I love this ap. And it can give you a list of the places you visited when you get back. If there was anything missing it was the ability to link to Google map for turn by turn directions. A data connection was handy but not necessary to use this ap as it had an offline mode.

It’s nice to stay in touch with loved ones back home but let’s face it making calls on the hotel phone is expensive. I found two practical ways of calling home. First I bought some Skype minutes and used them for the trip. The cost is dead cheap and the quality is shockingly amazing. You can use it on a data plan or on WIFI. Skype to Skype is free. This worked really well. You can even set it up so that it shows the call as coming from your home mobile phone. Love it! If Skype had Canadian based phone numbers I would use this exclusively at home and drop all voice services on my cell plan. Skype can also do video if that’s of interest.

The second way to call home inexpensively was using a program called GrooveIP that allows you to make Google Voice calls. I’ve tried this and it works well. Call quality is good. The only bad thing is the call looks like it’s coming from an unknown California number so people that call screen will ignore your call. I didn’t use it on my trip but it was nice to have a second option.

I made extensive use of Google maps to get around. It has an offline mode but I discovered search does not work in offline mode so you will need to insure anywhere you want is saved if your going to use this in offline mode. I found this handy to keep an eye on cab drivers who want to take round about ways to get somewhere to pad the bill. Yes this happened to me in Rome.

On the Go email/Facebook/browsing all worked very well on the S3. Great phone!

There is no such thing as enough battery life. If you get to the end of the day with juice left over you can always play one of those high res games like Defense Zone that loves to destory batteries! So the extra life Anker 4400 maH battery came very much in handy. I got through every day with HEAVY use of everything from GPS to Google Maps with this battery. I never once had to change the battery through the day. An amazing buy and a great travel companion. If you can endure the weight this battery is amazing.

Next up the Samsung XE500T Windows tablet worked like a charm. The detachable tablet was great around the hotel but in the room add the keyboard and you have normal netbook experience. Previewing pictures you have taken on this device is a treat. The big screen is very useful. The big screen does have a limitation, the device is too big for me to bother carrying around through the day so I left it at the hotel. Battery life is excellent. Web browsing is good and any time you run into issue with the Metro Internet explorer (and I had a few) you can use chrome in desktop mode which I did. This tablet is the ideal travel companion. It can do everything, has great battery life and is light! I love it! This is in my opinion the first tablet that can replace a laptop. (Unlike Android tablets or iPads). Microsoft have some work to do. There are times you have no choice but to break out the keyboard. There’s just no way to do it all with the touch screen. Cut and paste using the touch screen is definitely clumsy. There were even times things were off the screen and I had to rotate the screen to get the options on screen. This happened to me with the PDF viewer when I went to print. Microsoft have done pretty well but it’s just not perfect yet. I really feel like I have been screwing around with Android tablets trying to make due. No need to with this device. It all just works. The 2G of storage is definitely a limitation. Sometimes when you have too much open it just starts closing things on you.

A while back I bought an EyeFI card This card plugs in to your normal SD slot on your camera and transfers photos over WIFI (Via an app) to your phone. I love having the photos immediately transferred to my phone allowing me to view them on a larger screen, email them to loved ones, post them on facebook etc. The 4G size was more than enough for multiple days shooting in highest res (with RAW off). It did not seem to have a pronounced effect on the battery life of the camera but it did effect the battery life of the phone. To the point I could sometimes feel the phone getting warm under heavy use. This also provided a backup to the SD card on the camera as the photos are stored on the phone in full size. (Yes I checked they are full size).

I’ve had a Canon EOS Rebel XS for a couple years now, with a 55-250mm zoom lens. I love this camera. It takes tremendous pictures even in low light. The zoom lens really works well and was reasonably priced. The zoom lens is light enough to carry every day. I have a case that the camera fits in and goes on my belt, as well as another case that also goes on the belt that holds the zoom lens. The only thing I would have liked is for the one that holds the camera to take the camera with the zoom lens on it. Ok I admit it, with both cases on my belt I look like an uber geek. But I don’t like things hanging off my neck/shoulders. I find it uncomfortable. The battery life on this camera is excellent lasts multiple days of heavy shooting. I haven’t even bought a second battery for it and don’t see needing one. If you charge it every couple of days you are always ready to go. This is with taking hundreds of pictures.

My SLR case is something like this one:

I did have some trouble finding a case for the zoom lens. In the end I bought a case designed for a point and shoot camera that just happened to fit the lens.

I took along a couple point and shoot cameras for backups but never needed them or used them. I carried them from time to time. I always had the camera on the phone (as bad as all phone cameras are, no optics) if something happened.

Part of the trip I was in Rome. I’ve heard no end of stories of people getting pick pocketed, things stolen right out of the hotel etc. So I was paranoid about my pictures. The pictures are invaluable. So I took a number of steps (OK paranoia) to protect myself. So here’s what I did. The pics were immediately transferred from the camera to the phone with the eyeFI card. So if the camera got stolen, lost or dropped the pics were protected. Then I would get back to the hotel and manually copy them off onto the tablet. The tablet has internal and external storage, so I also copied them over to the external storage card using robocopy. A windows tools. So the photos are then backed up in 4 places, two of them admittedly on the tablet so if the tablet got stolen that’s two backups gone. Last but not least I used SFTP to backup the pictures to my home each night over wifi in the hotel. I’ve had flash cards die, corruption occur etc. So this gave me peace of mind.

My camera does not GPS tag the photos. So a challenge is remembering each and every place you went in a day and remembering which photos were of what. To handle this I did a couple of things. First I checked in on the Trip Advisor Rome ap. This gave me a list of places I saw in a day. Second I manually typed in the things I saw during the day. To help this as I was walking into a church or whatever I would take a picture of the name plate of the church. This made it easy to sort the pictures once I got back. I created directories and placed the photos in the directories of each major place we visited. This kept things well organized. I’m always a little paranoid about editing photos. I’ve had photo editing software munch photos by over compressing them. To alleviate this woe I kept a copy of the unedited photo. I kept editing to a minimum. Basically only editing the ones that needed rotating.

I took along the capacitive pen I bought but as expected never used it once. Never even thought of using it actually. I suspect this will be a novelty item (for me) that I will rarely use.

I also took along my Motorola FRS radios but they were useless given the size of the crowd. Between the noise and the busy channels they weren’t useful.

The 64G SDXC card gave lots of extra space including enough to backup photos. I also took along movies and music to amuse myself on the plane etc. There’s never enough storage space!

With the exception of an SD card reader that failed (and even corrupted an SD card) every one of the gadgets worked perfectly!


June 6, 2013 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff

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