Summer tech toys are all about portability

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      At Christmastime, gadgets are all about maximizing indoor fun. That’s when consumers buy Blu-ray Disc players, 3-D TVs, and Wii consoles so that they can cocoon inside their homes.

      Summer gadgets are expansive, quirkier. It’s all about portability. Let’s face it: if you can’t grab it and go, it’s not a summer gadget. Look for items with handles—that’s how you know you’ve got the right gear to take to the beach, on camping trips, and out on the road.

      Here are some of our favourite gadgets for the summer of 2010.

      Flip Ultra ($199.99;, Best Buy)
      What I like best about Flip camcorders is what they don’t have—any cables or memory cards. The previous version of the Ultra offered 60 minutes of recording time, while this second-generation model delivers 120 minutes, has four gigabytes of flash memory, and uses AA batteries. With more storage and the ability to swap batteries once they run out, this new Flip is a better traveller than its predecessor, which could only be charged using a USB connection. But the flip side is that the newer camcorder is slightly heavier. Still, an HD camcorder for under $200 that fits in your pocket with just a little bulge? That’s pretty sweet.

      Electric Bike Conversion Kit ($299 to $1,199, depending on power; RayBen Motors)
      Some bicycle conversions are just bizarre—yes, I’m referring to you riders on the seawall with your pimped-out ghetto blasters and devotion to Loverboy—while others make you wonder what the point is. Here’s a conversion package that’s elegant and makes sense. RayBen Motors (1703 West 4th Avenue) sells kits that can get you cruising at 25 kilometres per hour with a 250-watt motor for $299. Ray Kwan, one of the store’s owners, told the Georgia Straight customers are generally active seniors, students, and commuters who want to use the motorized option on the way in to the office and work up a sweat on the way home. “By far, our 500-watt option is the most popular because it gives the most torque, the most distance, and the most value for the dollar,” Kwan said by phone. Go up to $1,199 and you can get a speed of 45 kilometres per hour on the 500-watt motor. The motor will stay charged for 40 kilometres—60 if you put in some effort of your own.

      Skullcandy Pipe Speaker Dock ($69.99; Best Buy)
      This two-sided speaker for your iPod or iPhone also charges the device, which makes it an ideal item to pack for the road. It charges with an adapter when you have access to an outlet, and can run on four AAA batteries when you’re on the go. Perfect for those picnics, when it’s you and the outdoors.

      Roam Mobility Cellphone ($99 to $349; Gulliver’s, London Drugs, Wanderlust,
      At travel store Wanderlust (1929 West 4th Avenue), salesperson Monika Boldak says travel adapters are usually her biggest-selling electronic summer gadget, but a new item in the store is being snapped up by travellers this season. Roam Mobility cellphones are being purchased by vacationers who don’t want to bother with phone cards or the horror of opening their phone bill when they return home to find massive roaming charges.

      “It’s pretty much a ”˜wow’ when people know they can bring their own cellphone to Europe and be reachable,” Boldak said by phone.

      Roam—a small, privately held company based in downtown Vancouver—is the first in Canada to sell local-number cellphones that combine a SIM card with a quad-band GSM cellphone. That makes the phone accessible on all four frequencies (850, 900, 1,800, and 1,900 megahertz). The company offers low roaming costs in more than 200 countries and has no activation or system-access fees.

      Talk time will cost you about one-fifth of what it would to use your regular cellphone in another country. Phone packages (including a SIM card and a $10 calling credit) range from $99 to $349. Roam SIM cards for use with your own cellphone start at $50.

      Nintendo DSi XL ($199.99; Best Buy, EB Games, Future Shop)
      Its screens are not quite 100-percent larger than those of the DS Lite (93 percent, to be exact), but Nintendo knew what it was doing when it released its newest portable gaming device in time for summer. The bigger screen isn’t the only reason to upgrade; the DSi XL is a significant price jump from the $140 DS Lite, but it has some handy features. These include a built-in camera that allows users to snap photos, edit them, and easily post them on Facebook.

      BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone VM-605 ($119.99; Best Buy, Future Shop,
      Legally, you need a hands-free headset in order to talk on your cellphone while driving. Not only does this one keep your hands on the steering wheel, as an FM transmitter, it allows you to hear your BlackBerry calls and listen to your smartphone’s music through your car stereo. The entire unit is mostly one large button that is as big as a BlackBerry itself and clips onto the sun visor on the driver’s side; it’s quite light at 86 grams. Sound quality is great for phone conversations, but not so much for listening to music through your car stereo—more AM than FM.