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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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Pixel Pass introduces Google’s new way to buy its phones

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Many consumers, especially in the US, prefer to buy their phones from their mobile carriers, not really out of loyalty to the network. More often than not, it’s the subsidies and financing options that soften the blow when buying a new and more expensive smartphone. Manufacturers have, of course, started offering such options to convince people to buy phones directly for them, and Google’s new Pixel Pass takes that idea a bit further by putting Pixel 6 buyers knee-deep in its services for a long time.

As leaked before, Pixel Pass is Google’s answer to Apple One, but it comes with a unique twist. Both subscription programs revolve around each company’s services covering music streaming, gaming, and cloud storage. The difference is that Google is throwing in a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro with that subscription.

Of course, another way of seeing it is that Google is offering its services as a bundle for buying a Pixel phone under a financing option. Pixel Pass lets you get a Pixel 6 for $45 a month or a Pixel 6 Pro for $55 per month, with an option to upgrade to a new phone after two years. In a way, this mirrors Apple’s own iPhone upgrade program, though, for 24 months instead of Apple’s 12.

The services that are included in Pixel Pass pretty much bundle Google’s most notable subscription offerings. There’s a 200GB Google One tier, both YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium, and Google Play Pass (which might be too easy to confuse with Pixel Pass). There’s also device protection courtesy of Preferred Care coverage.

Pixel Pass is available on Google Store, where you can get an unlocked Pixel 6 to use on any network. Alternatively, buyers can also get it through Google Fi with a phone plan and get a $5 discount on the monthly fee. Pixel Pass subscribers can cancel anytime, but they will have to pay the remaining value of the Pixel phone at its regular price.

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Pixel 6 Magic Eraser removes uninvited people from photos

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A few years ago, Google teased the almost magical ability that would allow people to remove “distracting objects” from photos, whether they be a fence or innocent bystanders. While that functionality has been available on some photo editing software like Photoshop, it was far from automatic nor convenient for mere mortals. It took more than four years for that moment to finally come, and Pixel 6 owners can now confidently take photos even when they know there are people or things lurking in the background.

Almost everyone who has tried to take a photo with a smartphone or a digital camera will have experienced the photobombing phenomenon at one point or another. It doesn’t even have to be people, even, as power lines and animals can sometimes get in the way of a perfect shot. A lot of the time, we’re unable to move these objects or wait for them to step out of the frame, but a Pixel 6 can now let you magically remove those after the fact.

It couldn’t be easier than simply loading up the photo in Google Photos and letting the app suggest what objects to remove from the background. You could also manually select the Magic Eraser tool and circle or brush over specific objects you want to be exorcised from the photo. All it takes is a few taps and doesn’t require any photo editing skills at all.

Of course, the secret sauce is Google’s favorite machine learning, which predicts what pixels would have looked like without those obstacles. It then tries to fill those in and erase distracting objects and people to produce what should have been the perfect moment. This seemingly magical ability does require some heavy ML and AI processing, which is why Google had to wait for its Tensor chip to become a reality in order to bring it to its Pixel phones.

That is also why Google Photos’ Magic Eraser is available only the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting October 28. The good news is that it will work on any photo you give it, including old ones taken using non-Pixel phones.

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Brave privacy browser ditches Google in favor of its own search engine

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Brave, the company behind the privacy-centric web browser by the same name, is betting big on its own search engine. Brave browser now defaults to the company’s search engine, offering it in the place of Google for users in select markets like the US, Canada, and the UK. Users in other countries will also see the change soon.

Brave announced the big change today, one that comes only a few months after the company rolled out its privacy search engine for anyone to use. Unlike the major search engine, Brave’s search engine doesn’t include user tracking, making it a more appealing option for the company’s users. Users in the US, UK, and Canada will now default to Brave Search instead of Google.

In addition, users in Germany will now default to Brave Search instead of DuckDuckGo and users in France will default to the privacy search engine instead of Qwant. Brave says it plans to rollout this default search engine change in other countries over “the next several months.” If you don’t want to wait, you can also manually change the Brave Browser’s default search engine to Brave Search.

The change applies to the latest versions of Brave browser on desktop, Android, and iOS, assuming you live in one of the aforementioned countries. As expected, users can still manually change the default search engine, so if you’d prefer to stick with Google, DuckDuckGo, or one of the alternatives, that remains an option.

In addition to the default browser change, Brave says it is also launching the Web Discovery Project for users who want to contribute to Brave Search. Under this, users can anonymously share data with the company for improving the search engine’s quality and coverage, Brave says, without the risk of the data being linked back to specific devices or users.

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