Years ago summer was lo-fi -- a season more about escape than entertainment. Going on a vacation was easy, requiring little more than packing some clothes, grabbing the family and driving off to wherever the spirit moved you. There were no screens built into headrests or automated voices directing the way.
Travelers were almost completely unplugged.
That was another time, well before we lost our innocence to MP3 players and GPS systems, iPads and Kindles. Now, gadgets have become as much a part of our lives as our families (with the added benefit of volume control). So when it comes time to travel this summer, arm yourself with the right types of gadgetry -- whether you're headed to your backyard in the Hamptons or to a more far-flung destination.
Some of this season's best new items are simple improvements on older ones, like the HTC One cellphone from AT&T. It does everything a smartphone should, yet comes with a camera that's anything but an afterthought, capable of taking up to four shots per second. Then there are the more innovative options like the GoPro Hero02, a wearable HD camcorder that captures video from your perspective--no matter what adventure you've stumbled upon.
Some want a gadget that brings the vacation to them. Epson's new Home Cinema 5010e projector creates a drive-in backyard theater with a crisp 1080p high-definition picture instead of a washed-out image (it's like the difference between a perfect summer cocktail and a flat soda--no contest). Or, if vacationing means eating well, the high-tech, LED-loaded grill from Lynx will transform any barbecue into an advanced gourmet experience--though the cooking is still up to you.
Here's a closer look at our favorite summer gadgets that are fitting for whatever types of travel plans take shape this season.
At only three-quarters of an inch wide, the 520 HS 4 ($299) can fit easily into a shirt pocket. And with 10.1 megapixels, a 12X zoom and 1080p hi-definition video-recording capability, the camera can handle anything a vacation throws at it. Most impressive is the Elph’s ability to recognize faces in both video and still modes. Program in up to 12 faces, and the camera will recognize those instantly whenever they enter the frame, automatically focusing on them over anyone and anything else. Take a bad picture, and you have only yourself to blame. <a href="http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/cameras/digital_cameras/powershot_elph_520_hs_red" target="_hplink"><em>canonusa.com</em></a>
Popping in headphones for a morning run can help you focus, but it can also keep you from hearing what’s happening around you. Earhero Ear Buds ($149), a technology that, until recently, was sold only to government security agencies, are big on sound but small enough to not fill the entire ear canal, which means you can listen to music while remaining aware of your surroundings. You could even carry on a conversation while wearing them, should you choose to tune in. <a href="http://earhero.com" target="_hplink"><em>earhero.com</em></a>
Wherever you travel this summer, the Nüvi 3590LMT ($380) will get you there. And thanks to its free lifetime digital 3-D traffic and map updates, it might even get you there faster than other navigation systems (especially if you have an Android phone, which the Nüvi links to using its Internet connection to get traffic updates up to ten times more often than other receivers). The five-inch touch screen is easy to control by hand, but even easier—and safer—to regulate by voice. Just say menu options and the Nüvi responds—while you keep your hands where they should be: at ten and two. <a href="http://garmin.com" target="_hplink"><em>garmin.com</em></a>
This wearable video camera shoots 1080p hi-definition video and 11-megapixel stills, and is waterproof up to 200 feet. Available accessories let you strap the GoPro ($300) to your helmet or chest, or even to the roof of your car, so whether you’re zip-lining in Costa Rica, mountain biking in Colorado or snorkeling in Kauai, you can capture first-person video with the touch of a button. Talk about bringing “wishing you were here” to life. <a href="http://gopro.com" target="_hplink"><em>gopro.com</em></a>
It doesn’t matter how good your camera is if you don’t have it with you. Luckily, the HTC One smartphone ($199) is never far. It snaps eight-megapixel shots—as many as four per second, thanks to an innovative burst mode. (Taking four times as many pictures means the chances of getting a good shot are four times greater.) Plus, the One has aperture settings up to F 2.0, which is great for low light and gives you the ability to take beautiful artistic shots—without the need for Instagram filters. <a href="http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/cell-phone-details/?device=HTC+One+%28TM%29+X+-+Gray&q_sku=sku5980289#fbid=bib0GVhiN_L" target="_hplink"><em>att.com</em></a>
When you travel to your backyard this summer, what better centerpiece is there than a tech-savvy, professional-grade barbecue grill? Although it can’t improve your cooking, this model from Lynx ($9,119) can make it easier, with 1,555 square inches of grilling surface, LED-illuminated controls, built-in halogens to light up everything and both a rotisserie and a smoker, should you happen to feel adventurous. Plus, a feature called hood-assist lets you lift the 40-pound hood with a single finger, leaving your other hand free to handle important tasks, like holding a drink. <a href="http://lynxgrills.com/Scripts/prodView.asp?idproduct=20" target="_hplink"><em>lynxgrills.com</em></a>
The Nao ($175) brings predictive technology to camping, using sensors to automatically adjust brightness and beam width based on light conditions and the angle of your head. This makes for better functionality and hugely improved battery life. The beam narrows when focused on a map, conserving energy and directing light just where you want it. Look back up at the trail and the beam widens, lighting up everything ahead. <a href="http://www.petzl.com/us/outdoor/headlamps/nao/nao-headlamp" target="_hplink"><em>petzl.com</em></a>
Even if you don’t play video games, it’s hard not to want to after trying the PlayStation Vita ($300). The five-inch OLED screen is exceptionally bright and vivid, so you’ll be as fascinated with the images here as you were when you first experienced HDTV. It has built-in 3G connectivity and WiFi for online gaming, or a game can be started on a PlayStation at home, paused and continued on the Vita. It has obligatory apps for the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Foursquare, but you’ll be hooked on the fun and the games—even if you aren’t ready to admit it yet. <a href="http://us.playstation.com/psvita/" target="_hplink"><em>sony.com</em></a>
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