Cool gadgets that beat the heat

Summer is here, and you’re ready for some fun in the sun—but are your gadgets ready? Here are seven ideas to make your summer more tech-friendly:

Waterproof camera or camcorder: The Kodak PlaySport, a $150 pocket-size camcorder, works as well underwater as it does in the middle of Red Rock Canyon. It’s great for active families or for touring Paris (the city, not the hotel-casino—although I suppose it could work in either) during a rainstorm. The camera is simple to use, and videos download easily into your computer’s existing software. (But the PlaySport also ships with a software package from Arcsoft.) I’ve tested several waterproof, point-and-shoot digital cameras from Sony, Olympus and Pentax with great results. These products also shoot acceptable videos, both above and below the waterline.

Helmet cam: We live in the era of YouTube and we like to do some crazy things. Why not strap a video camera to your head while doing them? The VholdR ContourHD ($300) is durable and splash-resistant, but not waterproof. It also features one-touch operation, accepts 16 GB microSD cards, boasts four hours of operating time, and comes with several mounts.

Flexible tripod: The Gorillapod lineup of flexible tripods are great accessories to capture still shots and video. You can hang a Gorillapod to a tree, place it on top of a rock, or attach it to the handlebars of your bike. Gorillapods come in several sizes, from the original $20 model for point-and-shoot digital cameras and pocket-size camcorders, to a bigger, $100 model that mounts professional-scale video cameras.

Portable power: Responsible vacationers should pack supplemental power. If you’re an iPhone owner, check out the MiLi Power Skin, a $50 iPhone case that doubles as an auxiliary battery. When your iPhone starts running low, turn the case on and you’ll get an additional three-four hours of use. The Power Skin is thinner and lighter than my longtime favorite, the Mophie Juice Pack Air ($80). For a universal power source that works with just about any gadget and can be charged in your car, with a wall socket or from the sun, check out the Kiwi U-Powered: Solar & USB Portable Charger. This $50 unit has three panels to capture the sun’s energy, much like the popular Solio Classic ($80), which I’ve used for years. And attention company picnic planners: Kiwi also brands solar chargers with corporate logos, making this charger a unique corporate gift. Perhaps BP should consider it.

Solar radio: Etón makes great radios for emergencies, the back porch or camping trips. That includes the Etón SolarRadio, a $50 unit that charges via hand crank or exposure to the sun. As a radio, it picks up AM and FM stations and all seven National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather channels. It’s easy to fit into a backpack, and doubles as a gadget charger in a pinch, too.

Portable speakers: Radio may not cut it if you want to cut loose on vacation. Hence, a pair of portable speakers may be in order. There are plenty of choices, from tinny-sounding iPod cases that double as speakers to compact speakers that plug into a 3.5mm headphone jack. The company iLuv offers both of those options, but one of the newer options to soon hit stores is their Portable Stereo Speaker Bar. Frankly, I have low expectations regarding the sound quality, but at less than $30, I love the price, and the size, too—it’s about 15 inches long and weighs a single pound. It should work with just about any gadget you own—iPod, iPad, smartphone or otherwise.

Geocaching: Have you tried Geocaching? Me neither, but it could be a fun way to keep the kids busy. Here’s how it works: Treasures are hidden in random (public) places, and you use GPS devices to find them. I admit, it sounds kind of wacky—and geeky—but the pastime has developed a massive international following—check out Several iPhone apps can help point you in the right direction, or you can buy a handheld GPS device for about $200. I particularly like GPS products from DeLorme, Garmin and Magellan.

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