Gadgets for the fun and games of summer

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      A year ago, I thought the ultimate definition of a summer gadget was anything with a handle on it. This year, I’m revising that definition. Portability doesn’t just mean a gadget that can be grabbed and taken on a road trip or a bike ride or hiking up the Stawamus Chief. We’re much more demanding of our gear these days, wanting long-lasting power, lightness, and durability. These gadgets meet that test.

      Gerber Steady Tool
      ($49.99; London Drugs)
      The Gerber Steady combines the utility of that famously neutral country’s army knife with a tripod. The tripod is steady enough to support a camera weighing up to 340 grams. This isn’t the tripod for your SLR, obviously. It can also prop up a smartphone 170 grams or lighter. So an iPhone 4S—at 140 grams—will work, but the Samsung Galaxy Note is eight grams too heavy for this multitool. The rest of the tool is all useful stuff: a fine-edge blade, a serrated blade, three screwdrivers, a bottle opener, pliers, and wire cutters. The only thing missing is a USB memory drive, and the only problem with this gadget is it won’t be flying with you in the cabin.

      (US$69.99; Olloclip)
      Here’s yet another add-on that transforms your iPhone into a more powerful camera. This one is useful and not as bulky as your whole camera bag, but is it a better than bringing along your larger camera on your summer road trip? That’s debatable. The problem with relying on the iPhone is that, when you multi-function the device too much, it sucks all the battery life out of it. Every season there are more accessories that diminish the main functions of the iPhone, which are—in case you’ve forgotten, as I have occasionally—phone calls, texting, and email. But if you do need a new accessory, this would be the one. The Olloclip includes fish-eye, wide-angle, and macro lenses in one small package that fits in your pocket. The fish-eye lens captures an 180-degree field of view, the wide-angle doubles the field of view, and the macro applies a 10-times multiplier and allows the iPhone to focus within 12 to 15 millimetres of the subject.

      Nikon Coolpix AW100
      ($319.99; Future Shop)
      There are still functions that dedicated digital cameras have that smartphones can’t match. For those times this summer when water is involved, leave the iPhone in your bag and take out the 16-megapixel Coolpix AW100. It’s waterproof to 10 metres, freeze-proof to –10 ° C, and impact-proof up to heights of 1.5 metres. The camera itself is pretty basic, with a five-times zoom lens, and shoots the expected full HD, 1080p video. For a high-impact, outdoor, go-anywhere camera, this brawny device is your best bet.

      Beats Wireless By Dr. Dre
      ($299.99; Best Buy)
      Those Dr. Dre headphones from Monster look ridiculous to me when I see people on the street with the unwieldy things cupped over their ears. Too big, too flashy. The wireless ones that came out a couple months ago still look too bulky to me, but I understand why they’re so popular. The sound is incredible; you’re not going to get the same depth and bass with tiny earbuds. The built-in Bluetooth technology pairs these headphones with most Bluetooth devices including tablets and smartphones. Built-in mic and voice controls are right on the ear cup for quick and easy access. A micro-USB charges the device which lasts, according to the company’s specs, for 10 hours in operation and 100 hours on standby. Freedom means not tripping over your headphone cords while cycling, running, or mowing the lawn.

      NIKE+ SportWatch GPS
      ($165; Mountain Equipment Co-op)
      For the dedicated runners, this combination of watch and GPS device tracks pace, distance, and time. It also keeps tabs on your heart rate and calories burned. The built-in GPS receiver works with the Nike+ shoe sensor to pinpoint how far and how long you’ve run, and the tap screen is used for setting laps and activating the backlight. For the not-so-dedicated runners, this unit also has reminders. So you can set the SportWatch GPS to remind you that it’s time for a run just when Breaking Bad is about to start.

      Samsung Galaxy Note
      ($149 to $199, with three-year contract; Bell, Rogers, Telus)
      You may not need another phone and you already have a tablet, so maybe what you really need is a hybrid. Every summer, I write about an unnecessary device and, this year, that would be the Galaxy Note. It’s awkward to hold, too difficult to use one-handed, too big to tuck into your pocket, and too small to do intensive work such as data entry or report writing. Yet this device, powered by Android 2.3, has one of the clearest and most responsive touchscreens I’ve ever used. My friend has one and he has to demand I give it back every time I borrow it. The 5.29-inch display has the iPhone 4 beat by almost two inches, but is it too much screen? For jotting, drawing, texting, and quick notes using the stylus, it’s better than a tablet. I just wish they didn’t call it the phablet, a term that shouldn’t be allowed to catch on.