Geek Getaway

Geek Getaway

By - Posted Jun 17, 2005

At my job, I spend all day surrounded by gadgets and hardware so you'd think that when I go on vacation I'd be the first person to go all Luddite and anti-tech. Nope. I see time away from the office as an excuse to load up with a bunch of gear to prove to family and friends that I really do use this stuff in the real world.

Out of all the cool tech stuff hangin' around G4TV's tech lab, here's what I took along on a recent trip to beautiful Umbria, Italy.

Moby Me
Nothing's cooler than blending in with the locals while on vacation, particularly in Europe. My Euro-trash roots tell me this.  Having a mobile phone is the first key item to masking your scorned American identity, hooking up with friends, and not getting your ass totally lost.

Cellularabroad.com ($60)
If you're headed to Europe, an unlocked GSM phone covering at least the 1800MHz band and a local SIM card is what you need. Cellularabroad.com, who offer both specific country SIM cards and mobile phone rentals, is a good bet if you totally spaced on getting a phone the day before you leave. 

Cellular Abroad hooked me up with an overnight shipment of a pre-paid Italian TIM SIM card with five Euros of talk time for around $60 ready to go once I hit the ground in Rome. There's also extra beauty in this: in Europe, all you incoming calls a free. Damn you US providers!!!

Renting or buying an unlocked GSM phone can cost you plenty, though there are plenty of secret little locations on the web to pick up unlock codes for a variety of phone models.

Bottom Line: I don't know of any other service that does this for international travelers in a more convenient way.

Sony S700i ($399)
Sony S700i Reckless as I am with the mellifluous Italian language, it comes off that much cooler with the S700i's sleek looks and nifty features. Sipping espressos at the bar and answering "Ciao" and "Pronto!" on Sony's S700i swivel mobile in Italy really fit the bill.

When closed, the phone looks like your standard Sony Cybershot camera on one side and a minimalist candy bar phone on the other. Swivel it open exposes the keypad and makes it easier to hold while talking. Both the camera and phone interface are easy to use and each has its own unique set of cool extras.

  • GSM 900/1800/1900 with GPRS data capability
  • 1.3 megapixel still imaging and 176 x 144 video recording resolution
  • Beautiful and well lit 240 x 320 display with 262K colors
  • Bluetooth
  • FM tuner via the included hands free kit
  • Memory Stick Duo support (32MB card included)

As an audio device the S700i's sound quality is passable playing MP3 and WAV files from the memory stick duo directly, but I wouldn't use it as my primary player unless I had to. The S700i also has a radio that worked very well at picking up channels clearly even when I had little in the way of cell coverage strength.

Sadly, you can only use the included proprietary hands-free kit headphones since they do double duty as the FM antenna and a set of ear buds in one. That meant that my $199 pair of Shure E4cs had to stay in their case.

Bottom Line: If you had to take just one gadget on vacation, the S700i is a good choice.

Hewlett Packard's Pavilion dv1000 ($1,299)
Hewlett Packard Pavilion dv1000 Earlier this month (June 05) Hewlett Packard released the newest version of the Pavilion dv1000. For a very frequent traveler like me, with an expanding library of digital media to schlep along, this notebook is what I would call the best of both worlds in portability and digital media performance.

The dv1000 sports a beautiful, glassy wide-format 14" screen, enough horse power to drive all your content (minus serious gaming) and a wide range of features to fit your tech noodling lifestyle. At around $1,200 (as tested), the Pavilion dv1000 affordably hits the serious productivity and digital entertainment sweet spot like no other HP notebook I have seen.

However, the notebook is no waif at a bit over five pounds, but what you pay for in extra shoulder strain you get back in all around flexibility and functionality. This notebook has everything from a built-in 6-in-1 media reader to a dual layer DVD multi-format burner.

  • Intel Penium M 740 (1.73GHz)
  • 512 DDR memory
  • 80GB hard drive
  • 14" WXGA BrightView Widescreen
  • Intel Integrated Media Accelerator 900 graphics system
  • DVD +/-RW and CD-RW combo drive with Dual Layer support
  • WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth

The wide design and dimensions of the dv1000 follows its targeted functionality. It's narrow enough to comfortably place on an airline tray table yet wide enough to accommodate a very nice full size keyboard and movie-friendly screen. 

Air India Flight of Doom
If you think there's no reason to bring a notebook on vacation, you haven't flown Air India with a 2-year-old.

With a 10-hour flight going to Europe and a 12 hour flight from hell coming back, serious notebook entertainment was a must. Something about Bollywood movies makes me happy but for some reason, my 2-year-old just doesn't connect with the over-the-top melodrama, randomly inspired dancing scenes, and plain old over-acting.

Using a combination of the notebook's standard and extended batteries and HP's "Quick Play" Linux based DVD software (which doesn't need a full Windows OS boot to run) we were entertained for the 10 hour flight over and almost all of the 12 hour return.  This was based on a combination of DVDs and MPEG2 playback direct from the hard drive.

Euro WiFi Ubiquity
But beyond just the flight, there are a few other reasons to schlep a notebook to an extended Euro jaunt. With WiFi even more ubiquitous in Europe than it is in the US, jumping on an open access point is doable even in the most remote locations. I found no less than 18 WiFi access points in a small Italian town of less than 15,000 people in about 20 minutes.

Check flight times, upload pictures while on vacation and making alternate reservations keeps your time away flexible and fun.

Bottom Line: Hewlett Packard has made an excellent, well balanced notebook with enough features to make even a feature whore like me happy. But be warned, the dv1000 isn't a lightweight.

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