The Top 8 Travel Gadgets of 2012

Michael Frank

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Motorola MT352R

Two-way radios might seem absurdly retro, but having an open channel of communication can be priceless on a multipitch climb or when trekking through rainforest in Costa Rica. The latest of the breed, the Motorola MT352R, has serious range (up to 35 miles) and is good for 15 hours of nonstop chatter. The handsets charge via USB, include mini-flashlights, and pick up NOAA weather radio. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: They’re fat, which can crowd a climbing harness or bulk up the chest pocket of a parka. They also expose you to a scathing barrage of mall-cop jokes.

HTC Titan II

The HTC Titan II smartphone is like that annoying friend who’s good at everything. The 4.7-inch touchscreen appears bigger and brighter than the iPhone’s, and the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system is as intuitive as Apple’s—and better than Droid. Bonus: the Titan II’s 16-megapixel camera has twice the resolution of the next closest smartphone cam. It also packs a wider lens and shoots clearly in low light. Plus, AT&T’s 4G network is screamingly fast, so video streams without interruption. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: Microsoft has one-tenth the apps Apple does. Big is also bulky—not quite Gordon Gekko bulky, but close.

Samsung W300

Set the amphibious Samsung W300 camcorder to Aqua mode and it auto-adjusts its 1080p video and 5-mp stills for underwater clarity. It’s also light, palm-size, and bomber enough to handle repeated ten-foot drops from a bouldering crag—and comes with a lanyard to prevent such mishaps. The tripod threading is compatible with most helmet-cam mounts, but unlike a POV camera, this one works great as a handheld. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: Gloved hands are apt to tap the wrong button on the rear panel; lacks a raw mode for stills.

Joos Orange

The Joos Orange solar panel bests those flimsy foldable ones by combining a photon collector with a lithium-ion-polymer battery, so you can power your phone or GPS when you want to—say, overnight in the tent—and not just when the sun’s shining. It’s also waterproof, shockproof, and functions in Denali cold (minus 4) and Death Valley heat (134). After just a few hours of low-angle winter sun, it topped off both a Garmin Edge 800 and a couple of cell phones via USB and cell-phone-specific tips (included). Bonus: a giant hole in the device lets you leave it cable-locked to a tree while you bag a peak. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: It’s 1.5 pounds and about the size of an iPad.

Canon PowerShot S100

Don’t lump the Canon PowerShot S100 in with other pocket cameras. While the 12-mp CMOS sensor and range of shutter speeds (from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second) are hype worthy, it’s the SLR-like control ring around the lens—for ISO, aperture, and shutter speed—that elevates it. Use the ring in combination with the thumb-wheel on the back and you’re adjusting shots with the ease and accuracy of a video-game controller. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: It’s spendy for a point-and-shoot, putting it in competition with nicer models from Olympus and Pentax.

Magellan eXplorist 110

The color screen of the Magellan eXplorist 110 GPS is a breakthrough for the dough, but if you’re a frequent traveler it’s at least as important that the device comes preloaded with maps of almost 200 countries. U.S. coverage includes nearly every road in existence. Also sweet: it’ll run 18 hours straight on a pair of AA batteries. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: At 5.3 ounces it’s a little portly. And while the world map is cool, there’s no topo function, so for off-grid navigation you’ll be bread-crumbing it.

Beats by Dr. Dre Studio

Bumping Raphael Saadiq’s “Good Man” through a set of Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones, it sounds like the man—Saadiq, not Dre—is there in the room. It gets that personal, at least when you’re listening to bass-intense rock, blues, or hip-hop. These cans also feature active noise canceling, powered by a pair of AAA batteries, that can mute the din of a 767 engine. A microphone on the cable allows them to double as a cell-phone headset, too. QUIRKS+CONCERNS: All that bass means higher pitches fall flat.

Sony Bloggie Live

Touchscreen functionality makes toggling through menus on Sony’s new 1080p hi-def Bloggie Live camera a snap. The unit lets you serve up as-it-happens feeds via your cell phone’s 3G antenna or the camera’s internal Wi-Fi. Use and you can post directly to YouTube and Facebook, and the cam stores the footage for tighter edits once the action cools off. More goodies include superb close focus and auto rotation (the camera knows which way is up). QUIRKS+CONCERNS: Logging on to social networks is slow, due to the dinky onscreen keypad, and a little buggy; the side-mounted button for shooting stills while filming video is easy to tap by accident.