12 travel-friendly tech gifts you’ll want to take with you
Whether it's a clip-on camera accessory or a great organizer, it's all worth taking with you.
By Liane Cassavoy
PCWorldNov 24, 2015 2:00 pm PST
Technology that’s easy at home can become a burden on the road—whether it’s too big, too heavy, or helpless when you’re away from a speedy Internet connection. The travel-friendly tech in this gift guide can save your favorite frequent flier some stress on their next trip. Whether it’s a clip-on camera accessory or a great organizer, it’s all worth taking with you.
Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens
Having an iPhone eliminates the need to carry a big, bulky camera with you everywhere you go. But it’s no secret that an iPhone alone can’t do all the fancy trick shots that a standalone camera might be able to handle—unless you outfit it with an Olloclip.
This handy device simply slips over the existing camera on your iPhone, adding wide-angle, fish-eye, and two different macro (10x and 15x) lens. The resulting photos are sharp-looking and fun, and can be shared and saved just like any other photos you snap with your phone.
With prices ranging from $50 to $100, the Olloclip is cheaper than an extra camera, and far more compact. The $80 4-in-1 Lens for iPhone 6 also works with that phone’s front-facing camera for selfies, and comes with wearable pendants for toting the lens around.
Olloclip couldn’t be easier to use—unless your phone is protected by a case. Chances are, you’ll need to remove the case to attach the Olloclip. That’s why Olloclip now offers its own Ollocases (for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus only) that work with the Olloclip lens.
The Olloclip works with iPads, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPhone 6/6Plus, as well as with the Samsung Galaxy S. The lenses are not interchangeable between devices, so you’ll need to make sure you’re buying the correct version for the phone or tablet in question.
Knomo Knomad Mini
Few things make you look—and feel—less professional than digging around in a big bag for your phone, or your tablet, or your charger, or your passport, or your…well, you get the idea. That’s why the Knomad Mini from Knomo is perfect for the traveler who wants to stay organized – and look the part.
This folding, clutch-style organizer comes in a variety of colors and fabrics, with a canvas version that costs $60 and a leather version for $100. Both models hold an 8-inch tablet (it’s perfect for an iPad Mini or Kindle, but too small for a full iPad), as well as a phone, chargers, pens, and more. I love the elasticized tabs that hold cords and chargers firmly and neatly in place, and I love all of the pockets for holding my business cards and more.
Frequent travelers will appreciate the passport-sized slot that’s perfect for keeping travel documents easily accessible. And I love that its polished, professional look will be at home in almost any setting—even when I’m out at night. But best of all, I love that just putting all of my gear into this case makes me feel more organized instantly.
Booq Boa Squeeze Bag
The Boa Squeeze is billed as a lightweight laptop backpack, but it’ll look more at home in an office than in a high school, thanks to its sleek, curved design. Clad in black, water-resistant nylon, it’s nicely padded to soften any collisions between your gear and your back. I especially like that the inside is lined with a super-soft ivory nylon that makes it easier to spot the gear you’ve stashed inside.
I also like all of the compartments, pockets, and straps for keeping things neat and organized—including the quick-access pocket on the outside that’s perfect for storing a phone or travel information. Frequent travelers, and anyone using the Boa Squeeze to carry expensive gadgets, will appreciate that it comes with a Terralinq number, which can be used to track the bag if it ever gets lost.
There isn’t a laptop bag out there that will please everyone, but I’d wager the $130 Boa Squeeze bag is likely to impress plenty of people with its simple, sophisticated style.
Brunton Power Knife
The Brunton Power Knife has attracted a few glances in the time that I’ve been testing it. That’s because it looks a lot more like an actual knife—especially when closed—than it does like any sort of tech gadget. And that’s okay, because it means that this $25 gadget packs plenty of tools into its easy-to-carry design.
The Brunton Power Knife isn’t actually a knife at all. Instead, it’s a pocket-knife-shaped gadget that contains adapter ends to connect to most of today’s most popular tech products: Apple Lightning, Apple 30 pin, and micro USB. It also has a standard USB connector, which you can connect to a power source (not included) to charge up your gadgets on the go. Your own USB power source will work fine, but if you’re going to be using the Power Knife outdoors—which is what it’s designed for—you’ll want to make sure you have a weatherproof option.
Even if you’re not using it outdoors, the Brunton Power Knife proves its value. The pocketknife-like form factor means your charging cords tuck neatly away. The shape also makes this gadget easy to stash and to grasp. It even went through airport security without any issues. I packed it in a carry-on, and took it with me on two flights. One screener pulled it out to look at it, but immediately recognized its true purpose and sent me on my way.
Fugoo Sport Bluetooth speaker
It’s rare that I enjoy a new product as much as I did the $200 Fugoo Sport, a sturdy, waterproof Bluetooth speaker. Right out of the box, it impressed me with its attractive but durable design, its ease of use, and its loud, clear sound. The company says the sound quality is due to its six custom audio drivers, which face all directions. Whatever the reason, it sure sounds good.
It looks good, too. The Fugoo Sport feels sturdy and rests securely on just about any surface. While it’s about the size and weight of a brick, it’s a lot better looking than your average brick, thanks to its black-and-teal coloring and its tapered shape. The controls are handily located across the top of the speaker and are easy to use. Within a few minutes, even my four-year-old was playing and pausing his tunes—and I didn’t have to worry that he’d destroy the speaker.
The Fugoo Sport is snow-, mud-, water-, and shock-proof. While I didn’t test these claims extensively, it held up to the elements during an outdoor barbecue and plenty of hands-on time with young kids.
You can even swap out the Sport jacket for a different shell, called a Style jacket. This involves unscrewing the case and prying it off the innards of the speaker, which was hard enough to manage that I thought I might be damaging it. I managed to get the speaker into the red Style jacket, which is lighter and would make this a nice accessory for a holiday party, but I wouldn’t plan on switching jackets on the fly all too often.
Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard
This $40 gadget works with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, iOS, Android, and Apple TV devices—and it can connect to three of them simultaneously. I tested it with a Windows PC, an iPhone, and an Android tablet, and it worked seamlessly. It paired easily and typed just as efficiently as a wired keyboard. I also like how compact it is—it’s slightly longer and narrower than a hardcover book—while still remaining roomy enough for typing.
While devices with touchscreens are all fine and good, I’m still a sucker for a good, solid physical keyboard. If I’m taking it with me, it has to be small and light enough to tote around, but still big enough to make typing quick and easy. That’s why I love Logitech’s K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard.
RHA T10i in-ear headphones, Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2
Headphone style—whether over-ear (earmuff) style or in-ear (earbud) style—is really a matter of taste. I’ve always been firmly in camp earbud, so I was excited to try out RHA’s T10i in-ear headphones ($200). And they did not disappoint: I was impressed with the wide selection of tips for personalizing the fit, and the adjustability for improving the sound.
I was less anxious to try out the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 on-ear headphones ($300). I haven’t worn on-ear headphones in years, and I thought for sure they’d feel bulky and uncomfortable. How wrong I was: the P5 Series 2 were surprisingly light and comfortable, and made for a very pleasant listening experience.
Both the P5 Series 2 and the T10i let you listen to music and other audio, and include a microphone and an inline remote. Both feature excellent sound quality and impressive noise cancellation technology.
I put each pair to the ultimate test, during a long car ride with noisy kids. I was able to listen to music and phone calls easily. So easily, in fact, that I was almost able to forget there were any kids clamoring in the backseat at all.
The choice between the two will really come down to form factor. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Series 2 headphones offer a premium build, quality music sound, and cords for using them with an iPhone or an non-iOS device. I liked how easily they slid on and off my ears, while still snapping nicely into place to seal in the music, and seal out the background noise. I was pleasantly surprised to realize how quickly I could forget I was wearing them.
The T10i are smaller and easier to tote around, thanks to their in-ear design. The T10i even comes with 10 different styles and sizes of foam and silicone ear tips, meaning almost anyone will be able to find a comfortable option. I also like the moldable over-ear hooks that keep the headphones locked in place.
True audiophiles will appreciate RHA’s tuning filters, which you can screw on and off the headphones to adjust the bass and treble of the music. I also like the solid construction—these headphones are made of copper and steel. The downside of that is the weight: The T10i are a bit on the heavier side, and while I wore them on a walk, I found them too heavy to wear while running.
Spotty Internet service is the bane of a traveler’s existence, but it can be avoided with a good travel router, like D-Link’s DIR-510L. The $100 router is small – slightly longer than an iPhone 5 and about twice as thick – and boasts both an AC adapter and its own battery. It comes with two USB ports that can be used for charging (in charging mode) or connecting devices and sharing files.
To use the DIR-510L to share Internet access, you simply turn it on (after you charge up the battery if you’re going cordless) and plug it into your router or your 3G/4G/LTE adapter. It creates its own wireless hotspot for you to use, and supports both 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n networks and 5GHz 802.11a or 802.11ac networks. In PCWorld’s roundup, the DIR-510L was the fastest travel router among four tested, so it delivers on speed. It also delivers on ease of use, which is just as important when you’re on the go.
Trakdot Luggage Tracker
Lost luggage can be a travel catastrophe. Enter the Trakdot Luggage Tracker, a palm-sized device that you slip into your bag to track its location.
To use the $50 Trakdot, you register it on the company’s Web site and activate it online. When you’re packing for a trip, you turn on the Trakdot by pressing and holding the center button.
I found this step slightly trickier than it should be, as it wasn’t always clear when the device was on or off. That minor quibble aside, Trakdot is easy to use: Once packed into your luggage, Trakdot notifies you by email and/or SMS when it reaches an airport (you select these notification options when you register the device). The company says Trakdot knows enough to go to sleep when it’s in flight, and awaken when it reaches its destination. If that destination isn’t the proper one, you can locate the bag and get it shipped to you.
Keep in mind that Trakdot’s location alerts do not pinpoint its exact location. It simply tells you it’s arrived at an airport. So if your plane is landing at LaGuardia, and Trakdot isn’t confirming that your bag made it there, too, it’s likely at the last airport Trakdot alerted you to. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a head start on finding lost luggage
ThinOptics Glasses + Phone Case
Anything you can leave behind when you travel is a good thing—especially something like reading glasses, which you need desperately to read the receipt or your phone screen, but the rest of the time, it’s just something else you have to carry.
ThinOptics’ ingenious design ($38.95 for the Glasses + Phone Case) is a modern take on the pince-nez:lightweight, but impressively sturdy reading lenses. A flexible bridge lets the glasses fold into a sleeve on the back of a phone case, and also bend out as much as needed to fit over the bridge of your nose. Even if, like me, you don’t have much of a bridge, the ThinOptics lenses hold on fairly well.
ThinOptics are clearly designed for reading while sitting. If you move around too much, the lenses could pop off—ditto if you happen to be a little sweaty from running for your train. The grips on either side of the nose are slightly abrasive, but not painful.
The iPhone case is handy, of course, but after several weeks of regular use, I found the ThinOptics lenses seemed to slip out of their sleeve a bit too easily. ThinOptics said the company’s fixed this issue in more recent batches of the case. —Melissa Riofrio
Anker Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case
Anker’s $100 Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case for the iPhone 6/6s hits the sweet spot of functionality and affordability (Tip: Despite the list price, it typically sells for $40 on Anker’s Amazon page). Its 2850mAh capacity battery promises to provide up to 120 percent of battery life. We didn’t get quite that much with our iPhone 6, but we fully charged a dead iPhone with a bit to spare. You can power the case off and on at will, and its LEDs indicate how much juice the case has left. To charge the case, just connect it to a power source via the included Micro-USB cable.
It’s easy to slide off the top portion of the case, fit your iPhone into the main portion, then replace the top cap. It has cutouts for the iPhone’s ports, buttons, and rear-facing camera. Its texture is grippy, yet it slides easily into and out of your pocket. Most importantly, the case lives up to its name: It’s super-lightweight and maintains an impressively slim profile compared to other battery cases on the market.
Some downsides: The Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case requires a headphone jack extender, as the battery portion adds about a half-inch to the bottom. (Remember when the headphone jack was on top and we didn’t have this problem?) The included jack extender is nice but also one more thing you’ll have to keep track of. You can’t use your iPhone with any dock-cradle accessories while the case is on—but that’s true of any battery case. Also, the case itself cracked during testing, along the flimsy edge of the volume-button cutout. If you’re planning on using your battery case as your only case, something more rugged may be the better choice—like the OtterBox Resurgence Power Case. —Leah Yamshon
Melissa Riofrio and Leah Yamshon contributed to this article.