The 5 Best Portable Devices for a Long Plane Flight

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The 5 Best Portable Devices for a Long Plane Flight

Post  TheOracle on Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:56 am

Life is good when you're down on the ground and have access to all the wonderful things that keep you entertained. Life isn't exactly peachy, however, when you're stuck in coach during a 10-hour flight to Tokyo. Fortunately, portable electronics offer a way to keep you occupied without occupying too much space. Here are five portable devices to consider bringing with you on an extended plane flight.

1. MP3 Player
The "Old Reliable" of portable devices, music players provide plenty of listening enjoyment in a tiny package. They also typically have great battery life—a must when traveling for a long time. For tips on choosing an MP3 player, check out this guide.

Question: What do I look for in a MP3 player?

Answer: Digital audio players (also known as MP3 players) have become a major staple in the lives of those who have embraced technology on a personal level. Whether it be on the treadmill at the gym, on the bus on the way home from work or sitting in your living room, these little electronic devices have found their ways into the hearts of many.
For those considering the myriad of players out on the market today, both online and in stores, it can be bewildering. Do you go with a well known name like Apple and their iPod, or do you take a chance on a cheaper, less known maker and player? Do you take the larger square model with the big hard drive, or the smaller one which the sales rep tells you is good for jogging with?

Ultimately, the most important thing for you to consider is what makes you happy as you listen to your tunes. Fancy features, unknown buttons and dancing icons on the screen make for fun bells and whistles, but if the player is too complicated, will you really want to use it? That's where this guide comes in. Listed below are the features we feel are five basics you should consider before you plunk down your money.

• Connectivity
What exactly is connectivity? Plainly put, it is the way your digital audio player talks to your computer so that it can transfer music files. Though a few players are beginning to offer the ability to wirelessly transfer files, your main options at this point will be one of two: USB or FireWire. Both require connecting a special type of cable (sometimes included in the packaging, sometimes not) from your player to your computer. The computer then recognizes the player and you can begin moving over your music.
The first type of connection option, known as USB, is the more common one found today and is something supported by both PCs and Macs. It is also somewhat slower in regards to how quickly it transfers music from your computer to the player then the other standard, FireWire. FireWire however, is primarily supported only on Macs.

Regardless of which standard you use, keep in mind that transferring music can take some time, especially depending on how many files you want to copy over.

• Display
The display screen on most digital audio players these days is tiny. Using the screen is a must though if you want to see what music is playing, as well as navigating through options like volume control, song shuffling and the equalizer. The main things to consider here include making sure you can see the display under all conditions, including being outdoors when there is a glare, as well as being able to read the characters on the screen without going blind.

• File Types
When music is copied onto your computer from a CD or downloaded from a Web site, the type of file it is saved as can vary. While it will often default to the .mp3 format, which is the most widely handled by digital audio players today, it could also end up as a .wav, .aac, .wma or something else. The important thing to know from all of this is to check what types of music files your player supports: it doesn't help to waste an hour prepping music to transfer to your player only to realize it’s not compatible in the first place.

• Software
How you get your music onto your digital audio player is important to consider. Most players ship today with some type of software which will allow you to compile play lists and copy files. The big question here is: is it easy to figure out? Does the software provide guided instructions, or are you left to struggle with a cumbersome help file? Is the interface easy to navigate, or a cluttered mess of buttons and words?

• Storage Type
Do you plan on taking your player jogging, or using it as a supplement to your home entertainment system? This is a big question to answer because players come in two types of flavours for storage: hard drive models and flash-based units.
Hard drive models store files in the 1000s and are great for when you want to kick it with all of your tunes in your cubicle at work without having to lug dozens of CDs around. The downside with hard drive units however, is they tend to have movable parts, which means bouncing along on the treadmill may make your music skip if your player doesn't have a memory buffer.

Flash-based models are small and sleek, usually slipping into your pocket with no problem. They are great for more active users and those on the go a lot, but are offset by the fact that they can't carry more than a few dozen songs unless you add a usually expensive memory card.

2. Media Player
A step up from the MP3 player, portable media players allow you to not just listen to music but also watch video. Top contenders include consumer slate tablets such as Apple's iPad or Archos 5. Many of today's mobile also double as media players so you might have such a device already. If you do use a phone, make sure you put it on "airplane mode" or turn off your connections. Looking for a media player? Here are some pointers.

Portable media players are, by definition, MP3 players which do much more than just play your favourite digital audio files. These specialized devices also let you watch your favourite television or movie programming in a portable format as well as letting you view lots and lots of your favourite digital photos. There are a lot of portable media players on the market today, so it is important to consider the most important features when making your selection. To get you thinking about these critical functions, take a read of the list which follows below.

The size of a portable media player is important in two areas: screen size and body size. Screen size you need to consider, especially with digital video, because the smaller the screen, the harder it is to make out all of the video details. Larger screens typically add more cost though. As for body size, you probably want to aim for thinner and lighter, so as to keep the device more truly portable. Screen size will generally dictate body size, though some players add extra to the real estate around the screen.

Control functions
Controls typically involve buttons, touchscreens or both. A typical button configuration on a portable media player will let you handle most basic commands, such as file navigation, volume, power and fast forward or rewind. A touchscreen, when available, might also let you handle the basics plus letting you delve in a variety more advanced functions. An ideal player combines buttons and touchscreen design, though these will also cost typically more then button only players.

Battery life
Battery life you know to be a big deal because, the longer that is, the more you can enjoy your digital audio or video. A typical battery for a portable media player will have two different battery timing ratings: one for audio and one for video. Audio playback on a rechargeable battery will almost always be longer than that of video playback, owing a lot to the fact the screen needs to be on constantly when watching a movie. You want at least five hours of video playback so you can enjoy a couple of movies on a long flight.

The interface, usually displayed on the player's screen, is what lets you visually determine which functions you wish to use. An ideal user interface is one which lets you quickly and easily find the feature you are looking for, be it for watching a video or browsing your digital photos. A good interface should almost be self-explanatory, having only a slight learning curve and being intelligently designed to let you make the most of your player with the least amount of work.

Digital media storage
Most portable media players these days let you store digital media files on a choice of hard drives, flash memory or removable flash memory cards. Hard drives, on the one hand, will usually hold more than the other two, but are subject to more failure because of internal parts being bumped if you are in an active environment. Flash memory, with non-moving parts, works around this issue but also doesn't offer as much storage. Flash memory cards, the cheapest of the lot, allow for taking your media with you from device to device but can be easily lost.

Digital media playback
What kind of digital media do you want to take with you? Your favourite MP3s? Those most recent episodes of Lost? How about photos from your last vacation? A good portable media player will offer support for the most basic of digital media file formats, including MP3/WMA (audio), AVI/WMV (video) and JPEG (digital photos). An ideal portable media player will also offer support for more advanced media file formats for those who want to get better enjoyment from the advanced features these formats offer.

3. eBook Reader
If you're more the intellectual type, an eBook reader such as Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader line fits the bill nicely. The fact that you can load several books on these devices also means you don't have to agonize over which book to bring due to space limitations. Not sure which one to buy? Here's some help.

As someone with blackmail-worthy photos of older relatives sporting afros and bell bottoms, I’m quite aware of how quickly “fresh” stuff can get dated. Take it from me I know.

So given all the recent developments in the eBook reader landscape, here’s a list of things to consider when selecting a new eBook reader.

Screen type
Remember when an eReader display pretty much meant E Ink? Well, the arrival of the Apple iPad as a viable eReading device has since changed that.

When picking an eReader, ask yourself if you don’t mind reading books on an LCD screen or prefer the more paper like look of something like E Ink. Each has advantages and disadvantages. E Ink tends to reduce eye strain and greatly improve battery life. An LCD screen can display colour and typically comes with touchscreen capabilities as well. Then you have hybrid readers such as the Barnes & Noble Nook and Spring Design Alex, which feature both an electronic paper display and LCD touchscreen at the same time.

For electronic paper displays, make sure you compare screens because some have better contrast than others. Sony’s PRS-300 Reader Pocket, for example, has great white levels and tack-sharp text whereas its siblings the Reader Touch and Reader Pocket have greyer screens.

Size and weight
Size matters. Especially on just how portable you want your eReader to be.

Fortunately, there are all sorts of options out there when it comes to size. Sony’s Reader Pocket, for one, actually fits in my jeans pocket, but its 5-inch screen is still big enough for comfortable reading. It’s also pretty light and is easy to take with you on the go. In the middle of the pack, you have devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Spring Design Alex, and Sony Reader Touch and Reader Pocket. Then you’ve got the huge devices, such as the Kindle DX and Apple iPad, which sport screens that are about 10 inches in size. Unless you’re a kangaroo, you aren't fitting those in your pocket anytime soon. But they’re pretty good if you value a screen with larger real estate.

Controls for eReading devices are typically based on either buttons, touchscreens or a combination of both. Button-based controls require less power and are more accurate but can be more cumbersome to use. Touchscreens are more intuitive but can be laggy, smudge-prone, and typically suck more juice from your battery. The latter appears to be gaining popularity as the interface of choice, though, even for E Ink-based displays.

Button-based devices include Amazon’s Kindle 1, 2, 3 and DX models, plus Sony’s Reader Pocket and the original Kobo eReader. The iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet all use LCD touchscreens. Sony’s Reader Touch and Reader Daily, and Spring Design’s Alex use both touch- and button-based controls.

In 2011, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Amazon also launched touch-based E Ink readers of their own.

Battery life
Depending on whether you plan to read primarily at home or on the road, battery life is an important consideration. Basic eReaders without fancy bells and whistles typically have longer battery life that’s measured in “page turns.” Sony’s Reader Pocket sports 7,500 page turns wile the Kobo boasts up to 8,000 page turns. Devices with Wi-Fi and Web browsing on the other hand, tend to have shorter battery life. Spring Design’s Alex, for example, lasts pretty long between charges when primarily using the E Ink display but runs out of power faster when browsing or watching video on its LCD screen.

Do you want an eReader just for reading eBooks or do you want to your device to do much more?

Some devices — such as the Reader Pocket and Kobo Reader — are designed purely for reading and skip on extra features, including music playback. The Nook, on the other hand, plays tunes, has Web browsing, and also throws in a touchscreen interface. The Alex also has those features plus video playback and the ability to download Android apps. At the higher end of the features spectrum is the iPad, which is almost like a mini-computer.

On a related note, you’ll also want to check the formats that a device is capable of handling. Popular file formats include EPUB, PDF, TXT and HTML among other things. The more formats a device can play the better.

Also check if an eReader is more open or uses a proprietary format. A more open format such as EPUB, for example, means you can move your eBooks easily from one device to another. In contrast, Amazon’s proprietary AZW format can only be played by Kindle devices.

This determines just how much media you can fit into your device at one time. The higher the memory, the more eBooks and files you can fit in. High capacity is especially important for multimedia eReaders that can also play music, video and apps. Besides internal memory, some devices also come with a slot for an SDcard, which allows you to typically bump up your capacity up to 32GB.

Store access
Depending on the device, an eReader can have direct access to certain eBook stores, which means extra convenience, a wider selection and also the ability to easily get the latest bestsellers.

The Kindle, for example, has direct access to Amazon’s online bookstore while the Nook and Kobo have access to Barnes & Noble and Borders respectively.

Devices that don’t have direct store access can still display compatible eBooks but you’ll have to download them from a PC first. Free sources such as Project Gutenberg are an option as well.

Ultimately, this can be the biggest factor when deciding to buy an eBook reader. After all, your wallet pretty much dictates what you can or can not afford.

Analysts and industry insiders have always said that £99 is the magic price point for wide-range eReader acceptance and it looks like the market is starting to reach that point. The Kindle 4, for example, now starts out at £109 — or £79 for folks who don't mind seeing ads on their sleep screens. It's certainly a lot better than it was, say, in early 2010, when you had more eReaders sporting price tags past £400.

4. A Game System
For gamers, devices such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are a must-have for traveling. With a lot more casual games available these days—especially for the DS—you don't even have to be a hard-core gamer to enjoy gaming on the go.

5. Portable Battery Pack
Battery packs offer a great way to extend the life of power-hungry devices such as the Sony PSP or media players used for viewing video. The only caveat is that your portable device has to be chargeable via USB, which is the de facto interface these devices typically use.

Portable chargers provide a convenient way to power up your portable devices. And in the case of portable batteries, they can even extend the use of your gadgets on the road.

Things to consider when picking a portable charger or battery are compatibility, capacity, convenience and speed.

Here's a list of portable batteries and chargers that are worth a look.

Just Mobile Gum Plus
The Just Mobile Gum packs plenty of portable power within its smooth silver exterior. The battery can recharge an iPhone or iPod Touch up to four times. I tried the Just Mobile Gum Plus on an iPad and it recharged the device halfway before it ran out of juice. That translates to about 5 more hours of iPad use.

Although, it's primarily labelled as an iPhone/iPod charger, the device actually worked with every device I tried that can charge via USB. The indicator lights for how much power it has left is also a plus. Charging devices can be a bit slow when using the Gum Plus as a wall charger while the battery is drained. But charging is pretty snappy when the device has juice. A solid performer overall.

Price: around £70

Technocel PowerPak

Technocel's PowerPak is a USB wall charger that also doubles as a portable battery.

The PowerPak is especially geared toward mobile phones. Included with the device are connectors for such brands as Motorola, Samsung, LG and Nokia. Talk time via a full charge is about three hours.

The PowerPak also works with other portables that charge via USB. It charges about two-and-a-half bars out of six bars on an Archos 5, for example. But it doesn't work with the Apple iPad.

The only quibble I really have with the device is that the battery drains faster than I'd like. The PowerPak I tried lost half its charge in about a week or so. This makes it ideal for daily use but you'll want to keep it plugged in if you won't use it right away.

Price: around £50

Richard Solo 1800
This charger comes in two flavours: a BlackBerry/Palm Pre version and an iPhone/iPod version.

The device can fully charge an iPhone in about an hour and a half. Charging the device itself takes about five hours.

The Richard Solo 1800s aren't quite as universal as some other chargers — they basically just work on the devices they're designed for. But they still demonstrate some extra multi-tasking abilities, including a pen light and laser pointer. And since the device has a charging capacity about 1.5 times of, say, an iPhone, that leaves business travellers extra juice to use the laser pointer feature for presentations.

Price: around £70

Pico Freeloader Solar Charger
Solar chargers can be all potential but severely lacking in actual performance. But the Pico Freeloader charger does a good job of balancing solar charge times with charging capacity.

Fully charging the Freeloader takes about nine hours under direct sunlight and three or so hours via USB. The Freeloader also charges portable devices fast and carries enough of a charge to adequately power a wide array of portable gadgets. Speaking of gadget selection, it also comes with a set of connectors and adapters for various portable brands.

Price: around £30

Arctic C2 Universal USB Travel Charger
If you're looking for just a basic USB wall charger that isn't a portable battery, then Arctic Cooling's Arctic C2 is certainly worth a look.

The device has four USB slots, perfect for travellers who bring along a mobile phone, MP3 player, portable media player and other device for their trips.

International travellers will especially like the fact that it comes with a variety of interchangeable plugs that work with wall sockets from areas such as South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, Japan and China.

The device also works with inputs ranging from 100V to 240V and comes with short-circuit protection.

Price: around £30


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