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10 suitcase-friendly gifts for frequent flyers – TechCrunch

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Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year — more than any year in the past. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, so thanks, TechCrunch, for that. Honestly, I should probably be packing for Asia instead of writing this, but I’m looking out for you instead.

Rather than writing the standard Travel Guide or Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve opted to combine them into one. Because if there’s one key to making the most out of your time on the road, it’s efficiency. Technology can play an important role in helping streamline the packing process and generally making the most out of your trip.

Of course, as with everything, too much tech can also be a bad thing. I know I’ve found myself packing too many gadgets or jamming a messy rat king of cables in my carry-on, making a mess of things in the process.

What follows is a collection of gadgets, accessories and other products designed to remove some of the biggest pain points from travel and help you make the most of your trip, whether overnight or longer.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

Okay, maybe including a Kindle on here is a bit of a cheat, but very few devices have improved my travel life like an e-reader — and the Oasis is currently the nicest one you can get. It wasn’t all that long ago I used to jam several paperbacks into my carry-on. I do miss the tactility of real books from time to time, but when it comes to traveling, nothing beats the ability to jam thousands of books into a seat-back pocket.

Price: $249-$279
Available from: Amazon


Anker 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger

A lot of modern hotels are getting better about USB ports. I recently found myself staying at one in LA where every single link had a place for me to charge my iPhone. But it’s still a crapshoot — especially when traveling to a strange city — and hey, if you can avoid plugging your personal devices into a strange port, all the better.

I started traveling with my own combo mini power strip/USB hub years ago, but Anker’s 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger is a much more compact solution, bringing four USB ports directly to the wall. Best of all, like all of Anker’s products, it’s dirt cheap.

Price: $26
Available from: Amazon


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BUBM Cable Bag

I’ve tried a LOT of cable organizers in my many years of gadget blogging. It’s the only thing that keeps my travel bag from turning into the Indiana Jones snake pit. At the end of the day, all of them ultimately suffer the same compromise: you can either have a lot of compartments for your various tech doodads or you can free up more space in your bag.

Ultimately, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when it comes to carry ons, anything you can do to free up space is a net positive. Lately, I’ve been digging this one from BUBM. It looks snazzy and the fold-over design helps free up precious bag real estate.

Price: $12
Available from: Amazon


Calm Subscription

This is one is admittedly an odd choice. Sure there are plenty of travel-specific apps out there, but when it comes to helping tamp down the stress associated with travel, the Calm app is a good place to start. This is coming for a very anxious flyer, mind you. It’s not a fear of flying — that part’s fine. It’s everything else. From the getting to the airport to the endless lines to the $3 airport water to the occasional middle seat.

I’m also, not coincidentally, an anxious meditator. I’ve tried a LOT of different apps to pursue mindfulness on my smartphone, and Calm is far and away the one I like the best. The guided meditation sessions are terrific and ditto for the the more freeform ones. It’s also a great way to get your bearings after waking up in a hotel room in some unknown city.

A year’s subscription runs $60, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Price: $60
Available from: Calm


Harman Kardon Traveler Speaker

This one admittedly feels like more of a luxury than many of the others, but don’t underestimate how much a small Bluetooth speaker can improve hotel time. The vast majority of laptops have pretty terrible built-in speakers and even middling Bluetooth speakers are a major improvement.

Harman Kardon’s Traveler fits the bill and won’t add much size or weight to a carry on. It also has a built-in mic for teleconference — a definite bonus for work trips — and doubles as a power bank for charging up devices. The 2,500mAh battery isn’t much, but on the road, every little bit of juice counts.

Price: $150
Available from: Harman Kardon


HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach

I travel with a LOT of gadgets. It’s kind of my job. As such, you’re no doubt catching onto the fact that lack of charging ports is a consistent theme in all of this. HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach is a clever take on TwelveSouth’s iconic PlugBug that brings USB ports directly to the MacBook’s charging brick. Here, however, you’ve got the decided bonus of a third active USB-C port for data transfer. At $50 for the larger version, it’s also priced to match TwelveSouth’s offering.
Price: $50
Available from: HYPER


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Luna Display

As I noted in my write up last month, the Luna Display isn’t for everyone, but those who need it will find it to be a downright lifesaver. Once this thumbnail-sized $80 device plugs into a MacBook, it connects to a nearby iPad over Wi-Fi, converting the tablet into a second screen.

I’ve been using the hell out of it every time I’ve found myself working from the road or at home. I’ve become entirely dependent on my monitor at work, and now find myself being the guy with both a laptop and tablet out on the table at the coffee shop. Totally worth it for the ability to monitor my RSS feeds while working on a story.

Price: $80
Available from: Luna


RAVPower Wireless Portable Charger

Powerbanks are a dime a dozen these days, but RavPower is making some of the cleverest ones out there. It’s tough to narrow them all down, but this one lands on my list for its inclusion of a Qi charging pad that lets users wirelessly charge compatible handsets on top of the brick.

Keep in mind, some airlines and airports are limiting the size of batteries that can be stowed in a bag, so if the person you’re buying for is a frequent visitor to, say, China, double check the limits — though this 10400mAh battery should be fine in most cases.

Price: $50
Available from: Amazon


Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

I always thought I’d outgrow backpacks, but aside from a brief flirtation with the messenger bag in the aughts, I’m rarely seen without one. Of course, no two are the same, and if there’s a frequent traveler in your life, a solid backpack makes all the difference in the world.

Timbuk2 makes some truly terrific bags, and the Never Check certainly fits the bill. It has a spacious interior for clothes, shoes and anything else needed for an overnight trip, while maintaining a small enough footprint to be stashed in an overhead bin or under the seat in of you.

Price: $200
Available from: Timbuk2


Twelve South AirFly

This is one of those travel concerns that doesn’t really dawn on you until you’re face to face with it. Love your Bluetooth earbuds? Great. But good luck listening to the movie on your flight. Twelve South, in all of its infinite wisdom, has designed a small wireless transmitter that plugs into headphone jacks, so you can use your go to headphones with the seat-back entertainment system. Turns out it also comes in handy for the TVs at the hotel gym.

The biggest downside here is pricing — $30 doesn’t seem like much, but you can grab a pair of wired headphones for pretty cheap these days.

Price: $30
Available from: Amazon

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Google Assistant adds scheduling for a smarter smart home

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Google has quietly added support for scheduling actions with the Google Assistant, with the new feature allowing for smart home tech like lights to be switched on and off according to what time it is or for the duration you want them active. It builds on the existing smart home integration, which lets the Assistant remotely control registered lights, smart plugs, and other devices by voice command.

Until now, though, those commands would be followed instantly. You could say “turn on the lights,” for example, or set up complex actions including a series of different connected devices – like opening motorized blinds, turning on a coffee pot, and raising the thermostat’s temperature, all with one “good morning” style routine – but they’d activate straight away.

With the new scheduling feature, spotted by Reddit users, however, you can now use time as a moderating factor. For example, you can ask the Assistant to “turn off the lights in 30 minutes” to set a countdown timer, or “turn on the coffee pot in ten minutes.” Alternatively, you can specify an exact time, such as asking the Assistant to switch off all the lights at 11pm.

There’s also support for durations of activity. For instance, you could ask the Assistant to turn on the lights for fifteen minutes, after which point they’d turn off again. Or, you can use sunset and sunrise as a smart trigger, such as saying “Hey Google, turn on the coffee pot at sunrise.”

It’s a welcome change, because while having central control over things like lighting, the HVAC system, WiFi plugs, and other connected devices can be useful, over time many people discover they really just want their smart home to handle itself. Being able to issue quick commands so that something happens automatically later on can be far more flexible than doing it in the moment.

According to user reports on Reddit, those trying out the new scheduling features are running into a few bugs. That could imply Google is still tweaking things on the back-end, and that the implementation as a whole is still something of a work-in-progress.

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Lamborghini and Master & Dynamic team for new audio gear

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Lamborghini has partnered with Master & Dynamic to create new premium headphones and earphones. The collection includes the MW65 Active Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones and the MW07 PLUS True Wireless Earphones. Both incorporate design elements inspired by the Lamborghini supercars.

The initial launch collection includes headphones in silver metal, light gray, and yellow Alcantara. Headphones are also available in black metal with black and yellow Alcantara and black metal with black and gray Alcantara. The collection also features MW07 PLUS acetate earphones with the charging case tying in with the Lamborghini matte paint colors.

The earphones are available in polished white with matte silver, polished black with a matte black case, and matte black with a matte black case. All models feature the Lamborghini “Y” motif. Other than the special Lamborghini style, the headphones are the same functionally as other models already available.

The MW65 Active Noise-canceling Wireless Over-Year Headphones feature two modes of active noise cancellation to tailor their use to the sound environment. They feature up to 24 hours of battery life and Bluetooth 5.0 supporting connectivity from up to 100 feet away from the source device. The MW07 PLUS True Wireless Earphone has 10mm Beryllium drivers for improved sound quality and a stainless steel charging case offering 40 hours of battery life.

The collection launched on November 20 and are available directly from Master & Dynamic or the Lamborghini Store online. MW65 Automobili Lamborghini headphones are $549. MW07 PLUS Automobili Lamborghini True Wireless Earphones are available for $349. Both are available to purchase now. Having personally used Master & Dynamic headphones, they offer excellent sound quality and style.

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Google’s Project Guideline allows a blind man to run alone

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Thomas Panek was born with vision, but his sight began to fade until he was declared legally blind in his younger years. He’s an avid runner and has run with human guides and often runs with his guide dog. Panek said that he enjoyed both forms of running but wanted more independence.

In the fall of 2019, he asked a group of designers and technologists at a Google hackathon if it was possible to guide a blind runner independently. Panek says he only expected a conversation, but by the end of the day, the group had built a rough demo that allowed a phone to recognize a line taped to the ground and provide audio cues while walking with Blaze (his dog).

The group wanted to see if they could turn the rough demo into something more. For the concept, Panek would wear a phone on a waistband along with bone-conducting headphones. The camera inside the phone would look for a physical guideline on the ground and send audio signals depending on his position.

The system would create an audio tone if he drifted to the left of the line. In that instance, the sound will get louder in his left ear. If he drifted to the right, the sound would get louder in his right ear. After a few months of testing, Panek and the team were ready to test it on an indoor oval track. He says after a few adjustments, he was able to run eight laps on the track solo. He noted that he did have Google teammates nearby, but it was the first unguided mile he had run in decades.

He says that the next step was to see if the tech would work outdoors in the park, his preferred running location. Running in the park brings lots more challenges with variables and weather and lighting conditions and the need for new data to train the model. The team spent months working on an on-device machine learning model that could detect the guideline in different environments. The system functioned as expected, allowing him to run without a guide of any kind. In the future, he plans to run at the NYRR Virtual Run for Thanks 5K using a line temporarily painted in Central Park in New York City.

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