Here we are at the end of another year. Hopefully it has been a good one for you. For the rest of us, it can aptly be put in the folder titled “meh”. To celebrate a successful last 11 and something months, you may be planning a road trip just before the year comes to a close (and if you aren’t, you should). But, it should not only be about driving aimlessly and clicking pictures of birds and trees along the way. Or about being bored by the sheer vastness of the sameness on the road.
To make your road trip that much more fun, we have handpicked a bunch of gadgets and accessories that’ll make the experience a lot more fun, convenient, and hopefully safer as well. Along with that, are (hopefully) helpful tips to follow on the journey, the trip, and on the way back. And before we start off, one sincere piece of advice - don’t be an insufferable dunce, that’ll annoy the lovely people traveling with you.
Tip: Know the roads well, before setting off
It is never a good idea to drive blind, without the knowledge of the route. If you or someone traveling with you has a fair idea about the destination, and the drive till there, then that's fine. If there is even the slightest bit of doubt, it makes no sense to take a risk. Instead, it's a safer bet to get a GPS solution that knows its way around.
GPS Navigator: MapmyIndia Zx350
Buy from: MapmyIndia
Price: Rs. 15,990
It's extremely sensible to carry a GPS navigator with you when traveling the roads unknown. And let us not let that well documented male ego that may come in the way to help you wander down the wrong path. Apart from the convenience of driving along on routes that you may not be familiar with, the GPS navigators also have the often under-rated safety feature. Particularly if you are a lady driving the car - no need to roll down the window and have to ask directions from those suspicious looking characters who may be aimlessly standing around. The latest navigator from MapmyIndia, the Zx350, builds on the brilliant work of the Zx250. It has a 5-inch screen, 3D maps, address search and lane guidance. It also has other additional features such as a video player, music player, photo browser, some built-in games as well as an E-Book reader. But, we’ll take the Zx350 for what it is meant to do - navigate. And MapmyIndia devices do that better than most.
GPS app: Sygic for Android
Download from: Google Play Store
We were delighted when this very capable GPS app went from Rs. 1,399 to...FREE! By far the best GPS navigation app that we have tested, with the excellent offline maps and voice navigation. Sygic for Android continues to use the MapmyIndia maps, with 3D maps of certain cities and landmarks. The offline maps download and store ability means you can use this on a device with no connectivity to the Internet, which means you can use it on a phone with no SIM card or network connectivity. You can download maps for specific regions across India, which not only makes the downloads easier to manage, but also take less time and space. The interface feels a tad overwhelming at times, but once you do get used to it, it just feels very nicely laid out. In case you haven’t already downloaded this, you might just want to, and keep it on your phone for emergencies.
Tip: Keep your eyes on the road
No matter how good a driver you may be, or may claim to be, it is critical to keep your eyes on the road at all times and not give in to the distractions of a ringing phone, for example. If you really have to have an important conversation while behind the wheel, it's critical to not let that come in the way of the “safety first” goal.
Bluetooth Headset: Plantronics BackBeat Go 2
Buy from: Amazon.in
Price: Rs. 4,290
The unique design of this headset, with the band snaking behind the neck, is extremely comfortable. Plantronics has enhanced BackBeat Go 2’s usability, with the P2i nano coating which protects the earphone against moisture. Battery life is a delight. On a single charge, usage of about two hours a day got us through three working days straight! Additionally, some neat features help with the battery life. One is the deep sleep mode which the headset goes into, the moment the paired smartphone or media device goes out of range. Secondly, the charging case adds another 12-14 hours of music playback and voice calls, in our experience.
In-Car speakerphone: JABRA CRUISER2
Buy from: Amazon.in
Price: Rs. 5,912
If a bluetooth headset isn’t something you'd like to use, or more people in the car would like to participate in a phone conversation, then a bluetooth speaker for your smartphone would be the ideal thing. The Jabra Cruiser2 is one that is possibly the most impressive at the moment. Clip it to the sun visor or leave it lying secured anywhere on the dashboard, and you can continue with the call.
Tip: Deal with the traffic
No matter what, you may get stuck in a traffic jam at any given point of time. One way to deal with that (by finding an alternate route, to be more precise) is to know what is happening before you reach there.
This is an extremely handy app to have on your iPhone, Android phone or BlackBerry 10 device. The app detects your location, either via GPS on the device, or the GSM network (if location services are turned off to save battery). We have tested this app, and the accuracy is very good. The colour coded map is extremely useful - red means congestion, purple means slow moving traffic, blue means moderate traffic and green means you are good to go! We have tested this app in Delhi and the NCR region, and the results have been precise. Services are currently available in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Tip: Let the music play
Be it a camping trip, or just lazying around at that rich friend’s unused house in that city, there must be a soundtrack for everything. But since you cannot carry and deploy a proper music system everywhere, why not carry an accessory that can use your phone or iPod?
Portable Speaker: Transit by Soen
Buy from: Love4Apple
Price: Rs. 12,990
There aren’t many affordable portable Bluetooth speakers out there that actually sound good. And if you aren’t the one who follows the “that’ll do” routine, then just any sound will not be acceptable. When we suggest the Bose SoundLink Mini, the instant response is one of wide eyes and an incredulous expression and “Isn’t it very expensive?” is the query. So, rather than get into a detailed explanation, it's sensible to recommend the best alternative, that also costs less. At Rs. 12,990 MRP, the Transit speaker packs in very good sound quality in a rather compact form factor and acceptable battery life. The materials used, and the build quality precision is something that would do justice to a much more expensive product. Soen may be a new brand to you, but these experienced engineers clearly know their stuff.
Read our review of the Transit by Soen Audio Bluetooth speakers.
Tip: Catch up on the reading
A vacation is the time to relax and recharge your battery. And for some of us who have our eyes jaded by hours of screen time on a daily basis, the time to catch up on some reading as well.
E-book Reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Buy From: Amazon.in
Price: Rs. 10,999
The Kindle just got better with the Paperwhite upgrade, that introduced the front projecting light on the E-Ink display. This means, the Kindle is usable in the dark as well, without the need for the pop-out case. With 2GB of internal storage, you can buy and load literally 1000 books on the device at any point of time. The Kindle Store itself offers rather enticing prices for books. It's perfect for someone who likes to read, and there really is no alternative good enough.
Tip: Father Time makes no round trips
Looking at a watch and telling the time is just too mainstream. How about making that simple activity fun (or unnecessarily complicated - depending on how good you are at Maths)?
Geeky watch: Equation Watch
Buy from: ThinkGeek
Price: $23.99 (Rs. 1500 approx.)
This is the watch for anyone who is a Math wizard, or just wants to show-off. Each conventional hour on the watch dial has been replaced by an equation that equals the standard expected integer. Now figure that out! This watch will ensure that some of you resort to checking out the time on your smartphones instead.
Tip: Power to the gadgets
When you are carrying so many phones, tablets, Bluetooth devices etc., with you on the trip, there needs to be a source to give them power. There may not always be a wall socket available to charge the phones. Which is why, a portable battery pack is extremely essential.
Power Pack: Samsung Universal 9000mAh
Buy From: Amazon.in
Price: Rs. 2,949
Portable battery packs are becoming quite critical these days, and should be a part of your backpack. Poor battery lives on smartphones and tablets, coupled with the kind of obsessive load we put on them, means that you may need to charge the phone more often than you would like to. The Samsung universal pack has a 9000mAh battery, which will be enough for multiple gadgets, or recharging the same device multiple times via the single USB port.