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.
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.
Available from: Amazon
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.
Available from: Amazon
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.
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.
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.
Available from: HYPER
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.
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.
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.
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.
Available from: Amazon
SiriusXM’s new satellite radio plan is made for two-car households
Many cars now come with Bluetooth support, which means satellite radio service is less relevant than ever. Despite that, SiriusXM is still a thing and for those who prefer the satellite radio experience while driving, it has a new plan called Platinum VIP. The new plan offers service for two cars, including streaming access, under a single rate.
SiriusXM is best known for its satellite radio service, which provided drivers in the pre-smartphone era with high-quality audio content, including music and radio shows, for their commutes. Though the company has since launched a streaming service that competes with alternatives like Spotify, it still offers satellite radio for those who have a car radio system that supports it.
There are some advantages that SiriusXM offers drivers, namely that you don’t need to mess with your phone at any point and can instead access and control it the way you would old-school radio. As well, SiriusXM has a large library of exclusive content and more niche offerings like talk shows and sports broadcasts.
If you’re someone who owns two cars — or lives with someone who has their own car — and you find value in satellite radio, SiriusXM has a new plan for you. Platinum VIP is priced at $35/month and provides simultaneous access to both the satellite radio service and the company’s streaming app for two cars/users.
As expected, customers get access to the ad-free experience, plus the Platinum VIP plan includes two Howard Stern channels, access to Pandora stations, the company’s original podcasts, a variety of sports content including play-by-play for major games, exclusive comedy bits, and more.
These offerings are joined by what SiriusXM calls “VIP perks,” including access to around 5,000 live concert recordings and videos via Nugs.net. These subscribers also get priority customer service calls. Platinum VIP joins the other newly renamed plans, including Platinum, Music & Entertainment, Music Showcase, and Choose & Save.
Lucasfilm hires Star Wars fan behind Luke face fix
The creators of Star Wars at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Lucasfilm aren’t shy about the fact that they employ fans of their most popular creations. After so many decades of creating Star Wars, it was inevitable that Lucasfilm would eventually be working with professionals that grew up watching Star Wars as a kid. This week, we have a friendly reminder that the dream is real: A creative film and special effects individual that went by the name “Shamook” was hired by Lucasfilm after he created his own take on a scene from The Mandalorian.
In the final (pre-credits) scene in The Mandalorian Season 2, we see a digitally-retargeted Mark Hammill performance, de-aged and fixed to look like Luke Skywalker just a short period after the events of Return of the Jedi. The result was fantastic, amazing, mind-blowing, and all that good stuff. But it wasn’t perfect.
Shamook saw what they did with this scene and took it upon himself to digitally edit the scene to make it just a BIT better. Below you’ll see that edited scene.
This update to the scene makes Luke Skywalker look just a bit more like his Return of the Jedi self. It pushes the performance over the edge – to a place where it feels natural enough that it’s apparent that it caught the eye of someone at Industrial Light and Magic. It’s become clear here and now that Shamook was hired by Lucasfilm after the release of that video.
In comments on a different video on his YouTube Channel for Deepfakes, Shamook revealed that he’d joined ILM/Lucasfilm “a few months ago” (a few months before he revealed the hiring in a commend made in early July, 2021). He added, “now I’ve settled into my job, uploads should start increasing again.” He also revealed that his role with ILM is “Senior Facial Capture Artist.”
It’s quite likely that future Star Wars projects won’t shy away from using tech like this again, in the very near future. Imagine what we’ll see in the Obi-Wan Kenobi show on Disney+, or The Book of Boba Fett, or the Lando show – the possibilities are endless!
Android 12 Beta 3.1 released with major loopy issue fixes
There’s a new Android update available today, Beta style, just so long as you’re part of the Android Beta program with Google. If you are a part of that program – open to the public, mind you – you’ll likely see a software update to Android 12 Beta 3.1 today. This update works with build SPB3.210618.016 with the usual x86 (64-bit), ARM (v8-A) emulator support, with a July 2021 security patch and Google Play services version 21.24.13, with API 31 for developers.
If you’re already using a device that’s running Android 12 Beta 3, you’ll more than likely see this update to your smartphone this afternoon. The update includes mainly bug fixes, but also adds stability to the build in a wide variety of places. You won’t likely notice any major difference in this software VS the previous most-recent release unless you’ve noticed one of a series of bugs that’ve been fixed.
SEE TOO: Android 12 Beta 3 released: Here’s what’s exciting
This update fixes an issue that caused Android low memory killer daemon (lmkd) to kill processes like a wild maniac. This update fixes an issue “that sometimes caused the System UI to crash.” If you’ve noticed your device getting stuck in the dreaded boot loop of death since the most recent update, this update should… fix that… if you’ve found a way to get out of the loop, of course.
For those of you that’ve never gotten your phone stuck in an “boot loop”, it’s essentially like it’s starting up, getting to the point where you’d expect to be able to interact with it, then oops! It’s starting again, getting to that point where you think you’ll be able to start using it… and so on. It’s an issue that occurs from time to time, and doesn’t necessarily mean the device is broken or useless – but it’s not always easy to fix.
If you own a Google Pixel smartphone released in the last couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ll have access to this Android 12 Beta 3.1 build. Take a peek at release notes for this build if you’re interested in getting far more in-depth as a developer or an Android enthusiast. There are also a variety of other brand phones that can access this Android 12 Beta 3.1 now, as it was with the Android 12 Beta earlier this year.
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