A few weeks back we took a look at the best tech going around for the mobile business traveler .... now it's time to take a break. Whether your idea of relaxation involves spending your weekends kicking around a campfire, trotting down a wilderness trail or taking on sporting challenge, technology is here to help enhance your leisure time. Here's our pick of some of the best gear to take with you on your adventures.
Off-the-gridWhile relaxation for some of us starts with switching off the smartphone, others like to stay connected ... and either way there's no shortage of useful, power-needy gadgets that require a charging solution when you're off-base and on the go.
This task of keeping all your gadgets charged when you are miles from mains power is getting easier each year. Portable solar arrays are getting cheaper and more readily available all the time, but if you really want to scale down, one of the established players worth checking out is Solio. The pick of the company's range for campers is the H1000 "Rocsta", which can keep your phone, camera, music player or GPS unit topped up using the Sun's rays and incorporates a carabiner clip and durable shell. A full charge takes 10 hours giving you enough power for approximately 80 hours music playback or 6.5 hrs talk time (US$80).
The company also goes beyond solar power with its wind-powered portable charger (called the HYmini) which can also be charged up via a hand-crank, mains power or a dynamo mounted to your bicycle (US$50).
Another versatile option is the hybrid Kinesis K3 portable charger which combines a solar panel and a wind-generator into one handheld device that can also be charged up via mains power before you leave home. (US$100).
Turn on the lightWhen the sun goes down, the lights go on and a portable, reliable torch or lantern is essential. The Gorillatorch Switchback gets top marks for versatility - its both an LED lantern with enough grunt to illuminate an 8-person tent and a headlamp, and its stand doubles as a camera tripod ( US$60).
A warm brew and a hot meal
A decent coffee is often lacking in the great outdoors but these two innovations - the Flip-N-Drip portable coffee maker (US$45) and the Handpresso Wild lightweight espresso maker (US$145) - might turn things around for those of us who aren't fond of resorting to instant coffee .
On the cooking front, the 21st century nomad is no longer limited to gas appliances or a camp fire. The Wavebox is the world's first portable microwave oven, it can run from a 12 volt battery as well as mains power, weighs just 6.3 kg (14 pounds) and costs US$250.
Hear the music
Once upon a time, musical diversions around a campfire were limited to listening to one of your buddies (attempt to) play the harmonica, but the age of portable music players has broadened the options for those looking to break up the serenity with a few tunes. Eton's Soulra is pretty much the complete package in this regard as its a solar powered iPhone/iPod dock with 11 W speakers that can provide 4 hours of audio playback at mid-volume and continuous charging of iPod and iPhone ... and it's ruggedized casing is designed for life on the road (US$200).
If you are willing to rely on battery power for your music playback there are of course many products out there and one that's impressed us both in terms of form factor and performance is Altech Lansing's Orbit MP3. This tidy little circular unit boasts a 360 degree sound field, is designed to handle bumps and scrapes and provides playback for up to 24 hours on 3 AAA batteries (US$30).
If you're after a wireless speaker solution then the Parrot Party is worth a look. It weighs only 21.8 oz (620 g) and features 6 W output and audio effects to enhance stereo and reinforce the bass frequencies (US$140).
On your bike
Those of us who relax by pedaling through the countryside or careering down a mountain on two-wheels are spoiled for choice when it comes to high-tech accessories. Among the best we've seen is the Polar CS500 cycling computer. The headstem mounted unit monitors speed, distance, heart rate, calories burned, incline, altitude, ascent/descent and temperature, but it's the clever design which really appeals - along with a large, easily viewable screen the CS 500 features a rocker-switch mechanism that allows you to switch screens without taking your hands off the bars (US$320).
iPhone owners have another option in the form of LiveRider - a bike mounting system that turns your iPhone/iPod touch into a wireless cycling computer. A dual-mode sensor mounted on the bike's frame near the rear wheel measures both bike speed and pedal tempo and sends data wirelessly to the iPhone, while GPS and accelerometer functionality handles tracking, position and records inclination. The US$100 system now caters for all types of iPhones.
If keeping you smartphone topped-up during your cycling tour is a priority there are some options that make use of your pedalpower via a good old fashioned dynamo. These include the PedalPower+ system and Nokia's Bicycle Charger Kit.
When it comes to listening to music on two-wheels, we should also make mention of another handlebar-mounted tech innovation - the CiFi wireless speaker system. The speaker has a battery life of over 5.5 hours and the Bluetooth version also acts as a hands-free speakerphone. It's safer than using earbuds because it doesn't block out ambient traffic noise and with a wireless range of 30 feet (9 m) it can also double as a handy portable travel speaker (from US$180).
While on the subject of cycling safety, here's a new tech solution that will protect your head without ruining your hair-do. The Hövding airbag collar is worn as around the neck and inflates in one-tenth of a second to enclose the rider's head in the event of an accident ($US455).
If chasing a white ball around a green field is how you like to relax then technology is here to help. Suunto has been producing golf watches for some time and the latest example, the Suunto G6 Pro, measures swing tempo, rhythm, backswing length and club head speed. It includes a 10 course memory and Golf Manager software which allows you to analyze your game in detail once you plug into a computer on the 19th hole.
Garmin has also recently introduced it's take on the golf watch. The Approach S1 combines a GPS receiver with a comfortable waterproof watch to show precise yardage to your target. The watch joins the company's Approach G3 and G5 (2.6-inch and 3.0-inch respectively) handheld touchscreen units which come come preloaded with 1,250 courses.
There are accessories that help fine tune some almost every aspect of your game and the SensoGlove is one of the latest. Billed as the world's first digital golf glove, it reads the user's grip pressure 80 times a second and displays the results on a 1.2-inch LED digital monitor on the back of the glove (US$89).
And for golfers who just can't hold on, there's the somewhat low-tech UroClub. This is basically a hollow cylinder disguised as a 7-iron that 's designed to provide last resort relief on the links (that's right, you pee in it). This is one club we'd prefer to leave in the bag (US$25).
On the slopesFinally, two tech gadgets for those on the go above the snowline. Columbia's Bugaboot Thermo Hiking Boots are the first hiking boots to integrate a three-temperature heating system to provide protection from the cold. The power for the heat is provided by built-in rechargeable batteries and controlled by a three-setting LED temperature control on the ankle. When it's particularly arctic, a high setting will keep your feet warm for about three hours. In less frigid conditions, a low heat will warm you for eight hours. ( US$250)
Our last item has to be one of the coolest on the list tech-wise. Transcend ski-goggles from sports lens developer Zeal Optics and display innovator Recon Instruments combine both GPS technology and head-mounted display. Two lens options are available for US$499 and $399 respectively.
Stay tuned for our next installment in our "On the go" series where we'll ask what mobile technology of the future will deliver.