Our travel technology columnist Scott Tharler just returned from the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he tested dozens of new products to uncover the year’s best new travel gadgets. Among his favorites were several international finds from Sweden, Japan, and Singapore. Whether providing in-flight entertainment, juice for your cell phone, or assistance navigating new places, these forward-thinking devices are sure to enhance your travels this year.
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1. GrooveShark Bluetooth Car Kit
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What It Is: Bluetooth car radio player ($119.99).
Why You Need It: Using this device and your Android phone, you can make hands-free calls, stream any of 15 million GrooveShark Radio songs to your car’s radio, share music with friends, and build music libraries. Along the way, it will charge your smartphone (or other device) as it plays.
Buy It: Visit GrooveShark Bluetooth Car Kit.
What It Is: A gyro-stabilized electric unicycle ($1,795).
Why You Need It: Advertised as the "smallest, greenest, most convenient" people mover ever, the Solowheel is much less expensive and—at just 26 pounds—more compact than a Segway, yet similarly provides 15 to 20 miles of self-balancing electric riding at up to 10 mph. Other than the green and convenience factors, it’s just a really fun way to get around!
Buy It: Visit Solowheel for more information.
What It Is: A peer-to-peer car borrowing-and-lending site, powered by OnStar (rates as low as $5 an hour).
Why You Need It: The premise of this newly launched service is genius: use an app to locate a participating car in your area, unlock it with your phone, and drive it away—for hours, days, or as long you need it. The program comes with a million dollar insurance policy to cover damages, so the car owners—folks just like you—are protected. Even better, for travelers in places where RelayRides becomes popular, it will be a lot cheaper than renting a car.
Buy It: Visit RelayRides.
4. Recon Instruments MOD Live
What It Is: Alpine goggles outfitted with a HD display that shows real-time data and images ($399).
Why You Need It: From the safety of the lift, lodge, or side of the trail, you can use the handy in-goggle heads-up display as a virtual dashboard to text friends, navigate the mountain via GPS, track your real-time skiing/riding stats (like the altitude of you last jump), manage your music playlist, and line up camera shots—all without removing your goggles.
Buy It: Visit Recon Instruments MOD Live.
What It Is: A water-powered portable fuel cell charger ($240).
Why You Need It: This new product from Sweden allows hikers, bikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to get instant power to charge their cell phones and other devices, just by mixing just a tiny bit of fresh or salt water with a special PowerPukk. That means not having to worry about finding an outlet or access to direct sunlight, as required by other chargers.
6. PlayStation Vita
What It Is: Sony’s highly anticipated gaming handheld ($249).
Why You Need It: We’ll soon wonder how restless kids ever survived road trips before the advent of Sony’s latest PlayStation. The device has fancy cameras, motion sensors, and a broadband connection. Its brilliant 5-inch display is touch-sensitive both on the screen and via the back of the device, so you can interact with games without blocking the screen. It’s great for social gaming, because you can locate, connect and play with friends—whether they’re also on Vitas or full PlayStation3 consoles. Plus, the graphics are spectacular and sure to engage even the most disinterested pre-teen.
Buy It: Visit PlayStation Vita; launches February 22.
7. SpareOne Phone
What It Is: A power-efficient, world-friendly cell phone (about $50).
Why You Need It: On just a single AA battery, this phone has a shelf life up to 15 years and offers up to 10 hours of talk time. It’s perfect for storing in the car, keeping at the winter lodge, or leaving at the summer lake house. Even better, it’s compatible with networks all over the world, so it’s great for travel. Forget roaming charges—just load the phone with local minutes once you arrive, and you’re set.
Buy It: Visit SpareOne Phone for more information. The product is expected to launch later this year.
8. TYLT Band
What It Is: A fresh take on the in-car phone charger (about $40).
Why You Need It: This bright 2-foot ribbon has good reach, but won’t get in the way, and can charge two devices at once. And although it’s quite colorful, the TYLT Band doesn’t bother with a distracting light telling you your phone is charging (your phone does that anyway.) Available for either Apple products or other smartphones, the product’s flat design prevents a tangled jumble of wires from overtaking your center console when your devices are charging.
Buy It: Visit TYLT Band for more information; the product is expected to launch in the next few months.
9. jetBook Color
What It Is: The world’s first e-reader with a color E Ink display ($499.95).
Why You Need It: Support for tons of picture and document formats, speech recognition, fluent text-to-speech capabilities and the ability to load your own content make it great for travelers. A speed reading course, vocabulary builder, interactive SAT course, various subject reference materials and wireless access to online textbooks make it great for students on-the-go. And its talking dictionaries, linguistic crosswords and foreign language grammar help will make it that much easier to communicate in other countries.
Buy It: Visit jetBook Color.
10. The Kube2
What It Is: The world’s smallest touch screen mp3 player (about $50).
Why You Need It: This cute little one-inch cube can hold up to 8,000 songs, uses an intuitive interface without buttons and puts out some good sound. It comes with all the accessories you need to juice up, get songs loaded, and listen for up to six hours of continuous play. By the way, you may want to slap on one of the included snazzy skins to help it stand out…so you don’t lose the tiny thing!
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Another one of our favorite new gadgets, the Phosphor World Time Sport watch features a curved screen that uses the same technology as e-readers, making it easy to read the time outdoors. Its strap uses the same durable material as many phone skins. And rather than buttons, its sweat and water resistant case features touch controls. So you can swipe your way through big or small numbers for the local time, time in another zone, or a combination of two time zones and the date. For travelers, its a comfortable, useful, and stylish timepiece.
Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He’s written four books, plus hundreds of mobile and wireless tips for Sony and PC World. In addition to his daily Discovery News gadget blog, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
Photo credit: courtesy 1. Livio Radio; 2. Inventist Inc.; 3. RelayRides; 4. Recon Instruments; 5. myFc AB; 6. Â©2011 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.; 7. SpareOne PSL; 8. TYLT; 9. ECTACO; 10. Nic Ong/IndiVisual Communications