Tech on Vacation
Working in the technology field, I can’t help but mix business with pleasure. Technology is everywhere so it makes it nearly impossible to completely get away from it. Personally, I love technology and the things we’re capable of doing with it so I usually don’t want to get away from it. Such is the case when I go on vacation. Last week, we went with my wife’s family on their annual trip to the beach. When I go on vacation, I know I’m going to use several different devices and applications but they all need to be convenient, functional and have that “they just work” quality. I’ll also be using the technology for more than just myself. When you’re the appointed tech guy of the family, you get relied on for everything from “Can I use your laptop to check Facebook?” to “Can you fix the wireless at the beach house?” to “It’s raining. Got any fun games on your iPad?” So, here’s what I brought with me and the applications I used on each device throughout the week…
My phone is a Motorola Droid X. I love the Android platform and the big screen of the Droid X makes it great for being more than just a phone. Here are the apps I used broken down by function (note: most of the paid apps on this list I got for free through the Amazon App Store’s free app of the day):
- Photographs/Video – We used the phone as a camera a lot on this trip. It’s smaller than my DSLR, convenient and takes good enough photos without much effort. We ended up taking just under 300 pictures on the phone alone. I use the stock Camcorder app on the phone for any of the video. It takes 720p video that looks pretty decent and doesn’t require a lot of work on my part. (I still think the iPhone takes better looking videos and it’s the one part of the Droid X I was a little disappointed with when I first got it.) For still pictures, I use the stock Camera app along with two others: Vignette and Retro Camera Plus. I use Vignette a lot more than Retro Camera Plus though because it has a TON of options for giving your pictures great looking effects. My favorite feature of Vignette over a lot of other camera apps is that it keeps a copy of the original picture without the effects so if you find out your effect didn’t make the picture any better, you still have a copy of your normal looking picture. I also used PicSay Pro to fix some lighting and make minor adjustments to pictures from the phone. (And for the record, I’m still amazed at the types of editing I’m able to do directly on the phone.) Here’s a sample picture my wife took using Vignette of the rainy shore on our last day
- Weather and Maps - For Maps, I still haven’t found anything that beats the built-in Google Maps app. I use it all the time and vacation is no exception. We had some storms come through during the week and I was able to get quick updates using The Weather Channel app. It alerts me when conditions are unsafe and I have the app’s widget right on the homescreen of my phone for weather-at-a-glance. (Dear Apple, please give us widgets on iPhone and iPad. Please.) We had a few people that liked to surf with us so I downloaded Tide Chart Free and they were able to use it to judge when the best waves would hit. We also had fun using Star Chart at night to point out constellations to the kids.
- Music - I used a combination of Google Music and Audio Galaxy to keep the tunes coming. Audio Galaxy is a great app that connects back to your home computer and lets you stream music right from there to the phone. I’ve been impressed with how cleanly the music plays and how little I’ve seen the dreaded “buffering” indicator. Google Music essentially does the same thing, only it streams music you’ve uploaded to Google’s cloud service to your phone. Using these apps frees up space on my phone for my way-too-many-pictures
- Other - I also used the Facebook app for uploading pictures I wanted to share; although I had to use FriendCaster to actually tag people in them. (Dear Facebook, please let us tag people in pictures directly from the app. Please.) And several members of the extended family checked-in to the beach using Facebook Places and tagged everyone there. For sending messages and pictures of the kids back to my side of the family, I use Handcent SMS. It’s the best text messaging app I’ve come across on Android. It looks great, has lots of options, handles media well and gives you great flexibility with notifications.
I have a first gen iPad that I use all the time. I’ve found it’s perfect for vacation where I’m not creating a lot of content; but rather doing a lot more casual reading, gaming and entertaining. Here’s what I used this time around:
- News - I use the USA Today app and the CNN app for most of my general news reading on the iPad. USA Today has been my favorite news app to date. They’ve done a great job with layout and flow and I always feel like I can find what I’m looking for and skip past the items I don’t have an interest in. Pulse News Reader and Flipboard are other favorites for bringing several news sources together by topic or source. For strictly tech news, I’ve found TechWire to be a good option. It’s another app that brings together popular articles from several technology sources.
- Kids Books/Apps - I have two kids of my own and there were several others on the trip as well. Something about the iPad always gets kids excited about using it. We use it for both educational and fun games for the kids as well as reading interactive kids books. Here’s a quick list of some of the favorite books we read: Rhymes and Goosed-Up (both compilations of nursery rhymes), The Cat In The Hat, The Lorax and PopOut! Peter Rabbit. PopOut! Peter Rabbit is one of the best kids books I’ve seen on the iPad. It looks beautiful, feels like a vintage pop-up book and doesn’t overload the user with interactive options but provides easy ways for the kids to “play” with the story. As for kids apps, here’s what we used: Sound Touch (for the littler kids), ABCs and Me (for the slightly older kids), Pocket Pond and Wheels on the Bus HD. All fun, all different.
- Games - We didn’t play a ton of games on the iPad this week because, well, we were at the beach. Get outside! But when it rained, we did play a little Zombie Smash HD and Plants Vs. Zombies HD. (Dear developers, please create more levels for each of these games. Please.)
- Other - I used Friendly to check in on Facebook. We also used an iPhone app called Songify to have some fun. Basically, you speak into the microphone and it auto-tunes your voice and puts it to a beat. It’s way more entertaining than it should be, especially in a group. With all the cooking we were doing, I used Weber’s On The Grill app once or twice as well. It’s a beautiful app and definitely worth the couple bucks it costs. And of course, we used the stock YouTube app to do what YouTube was made for: watch dumb videos of dogs and cats.
That about takes care of it. I brought along both my laptops (a MacBook Pro and a custom built Windows 7 machine) but didn’t use either of them that much. Now that we’re home, I’ll use Picasa for editing the photos from the week and then post them to our Picasa Web Albums to share with the family. I’ll also use Sony Vegas Movie Studio on my home Windows 7 computer to put together a video compilation to share with the family.
So, what do you take on vacation? Any killer apps I should know about? Feel free to leave me some recommendations in the comments!
Toby is Chief Solution Architect at Delphi Global Technology. He hopes that writing about his vacation for work will allow him to write off the entire vacation on his taxes next year. To contact Toby directly, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.