A Recipe for a Tech-Savvy Vacation
How many digital devices do you take along when you head out to work in the morning? By now, many of us will have counted more than one, and certainly no one answered none. When we go on vacation, this need for digital connection increases. You need devices to make sure you’re entertained when travelling gets tedious and to make sure you can document your trip in whatever medium you choose.
Vacationing is a technological feat however you look at it. Without advanced technology, like cars and planes, we wouldn’t be able to travel further than a horse could carry us. Cutting-edge technology ensures that, besides getting where you want to go in a reasonable amount of time, you are also entertained for the whole trip. And when you arrive, you have all the technological capabilities of home.
We’ve all met with the dreaded “memory full” message while taking pictures with a digital camera. Never end up needing to delete photos again in order to free up space with the Eye-Fi Connect X-2 Memory Card. This SDHC card, which can store quite a lot of pictures (about 2000), connects to Wi-Fi and sends your valuable pictures to the photo storage device, program or cloud site (including Facebook) of your choice. It’s like having a wafer-sized personal assistant with you.
I know I’m not the only one who misses beach parties with boom boxes. That little iPhone speaker just doesn’t cut it. You need something with real muscle. That’s where the Jawbone Jambox comes in. It’s small. It’s light. But it’s still undeniably a super-stylish boom box. It comes in a variety of colors and grill designs to suit your personality and your unique style.
The kids aren’t satisfied with singing songs and playing punch buggy during vacation drives anymore. They’re used to the constant entertainment of home. With the handy iPad Motomount, you just connect an iPad to the back of your vehicle’s seat, and ka-zam, the kids are entertained. And when they’re having a good time, you’re having a stress-free time. The iPad also stays still when the car meets with turbulence.
Your car’s cigarette lighter supplies DC power, and your electronic devices want AC power. There’s a handy-dandy solution to this problem: the Coffee Cup Power Inverter. This device, both stylish and utilitarian, fits firmly in standard coffee-cup holders. It looks just like a to-go coffee cup, yet it is actually a device supplying much-needed AC power to you through two outlets and a USB jack. Your devices need energy as much as you do. Get the Coffee Cup Power Inverter so that they can get their “caffeine” fix, too.
If you’ve got your kids in the backseat watching a movie (one they’ve likely seen many, many times before), you may not want to listen to the sound. A solution to this allows all the kids to listen to sound from the same movie on headphones using the Belkin Rockstar Multi-Headphone Splitter. With this useful little device, five separate sets of headphones can listen to the same audio source.
After a day of tech-savvy vacation, you’ll want to kick back at a comfy, tech-friendly hotel—one with free Wi-Fi, so you can send those photos you took with your X-2 memory card to your storage device or the cloud. Extended Stay Hotels have everything you need to satisfy your tech needs and your family’s needs.
Modern Travel Devices for the Modern World
We live in a tech world. The future is now! All those science fiction movies our parents and grandparents watched were about our present. Leaving your house without your digital devices is pretty much unthinkable. You would certainly never dream of going travelling without your gadgets. You absolutely need them for work and fun in the modern world. But it really is quite a big hassle taking your home tech gear on the road with you. It can make you feel like a touring rock band or carnival, toting all that bulky gear. Unless you have roadies or carnies to carry your stuff for you, it’s a wise move to have separate home and travel tech gear—stable, workhorse gear for the home and sleek, portable gear for the road.
First off, you need a case to put your tablet computer and other small digital devices and power cords in when you’re on the road. You don’t want this stuff taking up space in your suitcases and getting lost in them. The Grid-It Wrap is the perfect solution. Its grid of elastic bands holds tightly onto all your small devices and power chords, and its neoprene pocket holds your tablet computer as snugly as a kangaroo holds its baby. Because the Grid-It Wrap is an open field of elastic bands layered over one another, you can arrange your devices however you like. There are no pre-determined slots here telling you how to organize your life. This Grid-It is 100% personalizeable. It’s 100% you. This sleek and efficient tool can be slipped into your laptop case when it is loaded up. Then all your tech gear is in the same place.
Does your laptop always run out of juice on long flights? Then you’re forced to watch VH1 Classic for two hours. Well... I guess that’s really not that bad. But if you’ve got work to do, it’s very frustrating not to be able to do it with all that free time on your hands. The solution to this problem is Apple’s MagSafe Airline Adapter. Apple’s air- travel adapter plugs into the power outlets that many airlines have on their seats. And since this is the MagSafe power adapter that many of us have come to know and love, you don’t have to worry about clumsy people knocking your computer to the floor on their way to the bathroom. The chord, with its magnetic tip, will release if tugged on hard enough. The Airline Adapter does not charge your laptop’s battery, but it will keep it running during your flight so you can work (or watch YouTube videos of kittens).
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a charming café on a beautiful day? It’s the perfect situation to get work done. Coffee and sunshine do magic for motivation. Then you discover, to your utter dismay, that the café has no Wi-Fi? The solution really is to carry your own WiFi hotspot with you. And why not look hot while you do it? How can you look hot and be a hotspot at once? With Brookstone’s WiFi/2GB USB Cufflinks. The sort of thing that Q would give to James Bond, these silver cufflinks contain 2GB Flash drives (for your espionage, of course) and come with software that will enable your computer to connect to its very own hotspot when one of the cufflinks is plugged into a USB port.
After a day of travelling around in the modern world, you’re probably just going to want some good old-fashioned relaxation. Extended Stay Hotels offers you just that, without sacrificing modern technological conveniences—like free Wi-Fi.
To Buy or Not to Buy: Is the New PlayStation Vita Worth the Hype?
PlayStation has been a busy beaver in recent months, and with the recent release of its new PS Vita, markets around the US and Europe have finally gotten a chance to play with the new “revolutionary” handheld gaming console. This new gaming console is supposed to revolutionize the way that gamers play, especially while they travel across the country. If you are considering investing in a portable gaming option, then this might be the new toy for you.
The Advantages of the PlayStation Vita
The Japanese gaming markets made it apparent that this new console is preferable to the PlayStation 3, and it has even sold three times more than its larger, stationary counterpart. It still is still yet to be determined whether the PS Vita is going to outsell the Nintendo 3DS or the PSP, which have been selling very well in past months.
So what’s the big deal with the PlayStation Vita, and why should you invest in it? Why would this be considered the end-all for gamers to enjoy while they travel and while they enjoy their free time at home?
- All the Extras
Firstly, it will boast dual analog sticks. Add that on top of motion sensors and front and rear cameras, and you will not be lacking any element of the gaming and social media. Even social gaming is easier with various forums for individuals to chat about games and to form groups for team play. There are also apps for gamers to download to make the system even better.
- Advanced Internet Capabilities
Some critics are calling the Vita an “almost smartphone” for its handiness. For example, you can have 3G coverage added to your Vita that would give you Internet access wherever you go. In addition, the Vita also allows you to see who of your friends are playing nearby you through the GPS, and it allows you to find the cheat codes you need on the browser. The only thing this product can’t do is allow users to make phone calls, but you can console yourself with a movie from Netflix, if you so choose.
- A Variety of Games and Purchase Options
Sony also brought along some of the top franchises in the gaming industry to make the purchase even better. For example, you can play Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or you can also enjoy FIFA soccer. A bonus about this new gaming system is that you can either purchase your new games for Vita through a retail store or through the online store on Vita.
- Bigger and Better
It’s nice to have a gaming system that is handy and portable, but it is also nice to have a clear screen. If your son or daughter is using this gaming system while on the road, he or she will want to be able to see things clearly. That’s where the five-inch screen in the middle of the console comes in. Be aware: the Vita is not a small device; it weighs over half a pound. In addition, the system stands at 3.2 inches, and it boasts a 7.2-inch width.
This is definitely an impressive toy, and if you are considering purchasing one, you might want to spend a few hours fiddling with it until it’s mastered.
Tablet Gadgets: Getting More Out of Your Tablet
Even if you’ve already joined the legions of tablet fans, you may have only uncovered a fraction of how useful these little machines can be. With the accessories now available, many users are finding that their tablets can replace many of their other devices, especially during travel, when packing light really calls for a less-is-more approach. By selecting just a few of the small add-ons for your iPad, Galaxy Tab or other similar device, you, too, may find that you can have all the networking, entertainment, composing and presentation capabilities you need, courtesy of your tablet.
One of the major complaints many people have about tablets—at least in relation to extensive use—is how touchy the touchscreens can be. If you can’t hit the right angle, have bigger fingertips or lack just the right degree of pressure, you can find yourself inadvertently closing pages, typing an entire sentence incorrectly or (maybe even more frustrating) not getting anything to happen at all. Here’s where a stylus can save you hours of aggravation. The Targus Touch-Screen Stylus (about $17) is compatible with most tablets (and other touch-screen devices). Its rubber tip is sturdy, but it will not scratch the screen as you turn pages, type or draw. Targus’ deluxe model, the 3-in-1 Stylus ($40), gives you a touch-screen stylus with a ballpoint pen and a laser pointer (with low and bright settings)—all in one compact and classy design.
Even with a great stylus, most of us prefer a real keyboard for doing extensive composing. Fortunately, the most popular tablets do offer add-on keyboards—all running in the $60-$100 range. One of the best Bluetooth wireless (and relatively universal) keyboards is the Scosche freeKEY. Marketed as flexible (it actually rolls up!) and waterproof, it may be a traveler’s dream with it’s advertised battery life of sixty hours before recharging is needed (retractable charging cable is included).
If you’d like a keyboard that doubles as another accessory, check out Samsung’s soft-touch, full-sized keyboard dock for the seven-inch Galaxy Tab, which lets you charge your tablet while using it. The built-in headphone jack in the dock can also come in handy if you’re trying to work during a layover in a busy (and loud) airport. Another two-fer is the Adonit Writer for the iPads. This Bluetooth keyboard is fashioned as part of a protective carrying case for the iPad, and it also folds to provide an angled prop, secured by magnets, for the tablet itself as you use the keyboard. The lightweight (1.1 pounds) keyboard and case still leaves you with all the carrying convenience of a tablet.
Okay, maybe an MP3 player isn’t that much extra to carry along, but hey, when the goal is to simplify, why not fully outfit your tablet as your sole music and entertainment device? With the number of earbuds, headphones and speakers out now, it’s pretty easy. You can choose among brand-specific models and universals, as well as a wide variety of the quality levels (and prices). For the Motorola Xoom alone, choices range from $15 earbuds to Monster Lil Jamz High Peformance Headphones ($100). As you might expect, iPad’s options run pricier, from about $40 to upwards of $400. If you want something that’ll work for your iPhone and your Android tablet—and something good for your budget in case you lose it—the GE 98974 Voip Stereo Headset (around $15) gets solid reviews.
While a tablet may not fully replace your laptop or iPod (after all, how handy is a tablet while you’re jogging?), perhaps during business trips and vacations you can equip that one mighty little machine to efficiently and compactly serve your needs, and give you one less device to schlep along and keep track of on the road.
Focus Photos After Shooting Them with a New Lytro Digital Camera
While certain photography icons are rumored to be deliberating bankruptcy because they cannot compete with the digital age, other photography companies are thriving and actually taking advantage of the evolution of digital photography. Having ways to hold onto memories is easier than ever with the convenience of digital cameras, but there are still shots what are missed because someone might not know the basics of digital photography.
This is especially aggravating for individuals on vacations. Individuals on long-term vacations want to be able to take beautiful shots, and go to once-in-a-lifetime viewpoints in order to obtain these shots. Sadly, photos taken by an amateur photographer could come out blurry and out of focus, which can ruin a perfectly good shot that would otherwise be perfect for framing and displaying at home.
Scientist Ren Ng, who specializes in imaging at Stanford University, spearheaded a research project that just may have made photo problems a thing of the past. Lytro’s first consumer available camera—a digital camera that can capture living images that can be refocused after being captured—is perfect for travelers looking for a camera to capture ideal images from vacations.
Imagine this: a photo of your child running in a field wouldn’t be blurred; if you wanted to focus the photo on your child, a simple touch on the screen would adjust the image. An image filled shot would have endless focuses, all with a few taps on the screen. The Lytro camera allows its user to point at what he or she would like to be the focus of the photo and change the focus as he or she pleases, as many times as he or she wants. This would make it easier to use the same photo for multiple prints but with each having a new subject in the frame.
It sounds like this would be complicated, but the camera has an easy-to-use design and a moderate price. Essentially, anyone can own this equipment and take breathtaking photos. For those so inclined, the camera has an 8x optical zoom lens and a fixed f/2.0 aperture, and the shell is an anodized aluminum.
With its long cube shape, the new camera does not look like a traditional camera at all and uses light field technology to create its amazing photos. Essentially, this means that images are taken in a very low light, and they are captured almost instantly. The information taken from the photo can then be reorganized from the data, allowing the endless variations of focus.
Since the camera is easy to use, nearly every photo taken will be the “perfect shot.” Though the cameras have not yet hit the market, Lytro has a preview of what the “living photos” caught by its camera will look like once taken for users to play with on its website. It’s truly amazing to see how the photos change with a click of a mouse, and it almost appears as if the image shifts with the movement of the eye.
The Lytro camera will be released in early 2012. The Lytro desktop application is already available for Mac computers, and the Microsoft version will be available at a later time.
Kindle’s New Fire—Perfect for Long Trips
Some people like road trips; some can only withstand them if they’re unconscious the entire drive. Some prefer enjoying the vast scenery of the landscape from their car’s window, while others prefer a book, movie or any alternative to the world outside of their car. For people who are the latter, having an e-reader, music player and/or tablet is not just an alternative; it’s essential for staying sane on the road.
Kindle’s newest e-reader, the Fire, is a perfect companion piece for anyone on a road trip. It’s light, durable and made for long-time use between charges. Recently unveiled by Amazon, the Fire is a strong rival to Apple’s iPad and the other tablets on the market. So what’s the big buzz on this new product?
Finally, It’s Here
The Internet has been abuzz with rumors that Amazon was going to launch a tablet for months, and the hope was that it would offer solid competition against Android and Apple products.
This tablet has a seven-inch multi-touch display with in-plane switching (IPS) and anti-reflective treatment. Unlike some of the first e-readers launched by Amazon, the Fire has high resolution and brilliant colors.
Documents can be read from Word or PDF, and e-books and magazines are displayed with a startling clarity. These vivid images jump out at the user—something that isn’t expected from a “simple” Amazon toy.
Fire vs. iPad
The question begs to be asked: which tablet is right for you? There are some obvious differences between the products, such as screen size (the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, as opposed to the 7-inch screen on the Fire). The Fire is a fraction of the cost of even the least expensive iPad, which makes it a better purchase for a child who wants to play online but cannot handle expensive products.
Experts enjoy the fact that iPads can be either 3G or Wi-Fi, whereas the Fire is only Wi-Fi, leaving users only able to go online when they have a connection. There is also no speaker or camera on the Fire, meaning that it is not meant for face-to-face communication, either.
However, what the Fire does, it does well. There are several thousands of apps available on the Fire, and the tablet is optimized to stream content. Plus, users can try out Amazon Prime, which allows free streaming of over 11,000 movies and television shows. Movies or shows can be watched on the Fire, or it can be watched on TV, right from where it left off.
The Fire is made for one thing: for users to download content from Amazon’s website. It’s easy, accessible and uncomplicated.
Runs on Silk
For those who absolutely need online access, the new Silk browser allows them access to the Amazon Web Services cloud (AWS). Silk can work more and faster through what Amazon calls the split browser architecture.
Plus, Silk computes power in the cloud, something not traditional with tablets. The server fleet is used to retrieve website components simultaneously in an efficient stream. This also helps extend the battery life of the Fire, since the intense tasks are done in cloud.
More to Come?
There are already rumors that this version of the Fire is merely a teaser to something bigger and better, but this multipurpose tablet is already blowing its competition out of the market. With the release of the Fire, other Kindles are a greater bargain, so parents looking for a way to entertain their children on long road trips may have a practical and affordable solution in the Kindle products.
The 7-inch Fire will be released on Nov. 15, and pre-orders are available on Amazon now.
Staying Power-Full and Connected, Part 2
While maintaining battery charges in our phones, laptops, tablets and MP3 players is probably the most basic and vital issue as we travel, connectability is a close second. A lot of good it does to have all your charge bars lit with zero Internet bands. Free (or nominal charge) wireless service is available in many places, from hotels to cafes, airports to malls. But the service itself is not always optimal, and there are also those times when you don’t know where the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot is—or even if there is one nearby. That’s when having one of the following Wi-Fi gadgets comes in mighty handy.
Finding Wi-Fi Hotspots
JiWire Wi-Finder app has been out for a couple of years, though until recently it was only available for Apple devices. Now offering an Android version, the most recent update (June 2011) of JiWire is getting four-plus-star reviews from users. The free software works in over a hundred countries and provides constantly updated information on nearly half million Wi-Fi locations. While you’re traveling, you can search and get GPS directions on your phone to the nearest locations. Your searches can also be filtered by specific providers, locales (café, hotel, etc.) and cost. Those of us who like to have everything planned ahead of time can download Wi-Fi hotspot locations through JiWire before we even get on the road.
Bringing Your Own
Novatel’s MiFi devices, offered with carrier-specific coverage by the major phone coverage companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Virgin Mobile and Cellular South), have been the tried and true travel routers since they debuted in 2009, for those who do not yet have mobile phones that can create their own hotspots. Given the extreme battery drain of cellphone hotspot use, though, even many owners of these newer phones choose to have a separate wireless travel router, and Zyxel’s MWR211 Portable Router (under $100) has proven to be a hot item since its release in spring. Not tied to a specific carrier (and the user’s data plan with that carrier), the MWR211 router supports USB mobile broadband adapters as well as Ethernet, and they can be used in wireless or wired mode. Although it is a little thicker than the MiFi, the device can still be easily tucked into a laptop or tablet case.
Getting Stronger Signals
Whether you’re using your own Wi-Fi device or connecting to a public source, finding the strongest signal is important, which is where FarProc’s WiFi Analyzer can help. This Android app gives you real-time signal strength readings, including channel bandwidth ratings to help you pick the best for your own router. You can also gather information on the various signals’ stability and security. The app’s signal meter can even let you know where in your hotel room (or home) you’ll get the best signal.
Staying Connected with the Office Computer
When you’re on the road with a small tablet or laptop, you may find that you need access to certain electronic files that are only on your office computer. Or perhaps you don’t even have a computer with you at all—just your cell phone—but you want to check on something back on the office machine. Virtual network computing software can make all of that pretty easy, and the mobile device leader in this field is RealVNC. The company offers free and paid software to allow remote access between devices, even between different operating systems (e.g., Windows and OSX). With the Viewer app (available for both Android and iPhone), you can be another step closer to single-device, full connectability while on the road!
Staying Power-Full and Connected, Part 1
We could start with something about getting a charge out of travel or any number of other bad puns, but we’ll spare you (well, okay, we did just slip one in). In point of fact, keeping our cell phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic devices juiced up is serious business—literally. It can also be a huge hassle, not to mention enormously expensive if you succumb to the sales pitches all over the Internet for battery chargers that don’t really give you much of a charge (oops, sorry—couldn’t resist). We’ve weeded through a number of these to come up with a few that get solid reviews as well as a caution or two—from techies and us average-folk users.
Everyone’s experienced the find-another-outlet scramble when trying to charge multiple devices. Add to that the untangling and sorting of USB cords before plugging in, and you have a recipe for irritation. A great compromise to the problem of needing multiple outlets and cords for all your electronics is a charging center—a compact device containing up to six charging stations or docks to which can be attached manufacturer-specific adapters (sold separately). Two of the top charge centers out are Callpod’s Chargepod and Chargepod V2. Chargepod is designed for phones, MP3 players, cameras, gaming and other mobile devices. Compatible with over 3,000 models, it is less than three inches around and under two ounces. With its ability to work through a wall outlet or a car charger, the Chargepod is perfect for travel. Almost as compact is the Chargepod V2 (about $200). It’s powerful enough to recharge laptops (PC and Mac compatible), e-readers and portable DVD players, as well as cell phones and other smaller electronic devices.
(Almost) No Wires Charging Pads
No wonder the dream of a universal charging pad remains strong. With these “wireless” (you do have to plug in the pad itself) charging pads, you can drop your phone onto the surface without fumbling for a charging cord and connection. The problem with the existing charging pads like MyGrid, WildCharge and Powermat (this one tends to get the best reviews) is that they still rely on pad-specific contact charging, meaning that you need to switch out the standard back panels of your devices for the special backs (also called clips, sleeves or doors, depending on the manufacturer) designed to receive the charge from the mat. In most cases, these replacement backs are thicker and not especially aesthetically pleasing. Still, for some users, the convenience of not having to always fumble with wires and connections is worth the $75-$100 that charging pads run. And the pads’ lightweight and generally modest sizes mean travelers can easily pack the charging pad to plug in at their hotel.
Wireless Portable Chargers
Of course, the ultimate in wireless charging is solar units. These are handy if you are both in a sunny location and away from any outlets. However, because they charge very slowly and are often expensive, most reviewers and users are waiting for technology to catch up to practical needs. There are, however, battery operated chargers (including some with rechargeable batteries) that can give you fast and efficient charging capabilities when you’re on the go. Again, Callpod comes home with a couple of winners in their Fueltank chargers (UNO at $50 and DUO at $70), according to the top tech review site CNET. They may sound a bit pricey, but because they run on rechargeable lithium ion batteries, you’re going to get a lot of use. Additionally, you’ll be relatively environmentally friendly at the same time!
Time to Get a Tablet?
If you’re not a techie or gadget-compulsive, you may have been able thus far to keep your wallet in your pocket and not jump onto the tablet bandwagon. However, with the rapid development of models (you’re not just “stuck” with an iPad), sizes and capabilities, this just may be your time.
Smartphone or Tablet?
Do you hate carrying around multiple electronic gadgets? Do you want to travel super light—like only carrying things that fit in your pocket? Do you have excellent eyesight (or corrective lenses you love wearing)? Do you rarely do heavy reading on an electronic device? If you answered yes to many (or all) of these questions, one of the better smartphones may be all you need. Blackberries, Androids and iPhones all now have excellent resolution, larger displays and apps to let you read the New York Times, play games, get weather forecasts, check baseball scores, watch movies, take (brief) notes and do just about anything else you want.
But let’s say you get eyestrain squinting at the tiny pictures on your phone, find scrolling through a three-page article on a very small screen aggravating and sometimes want to watch a movie with a friend (or your child) while you’re flying. Tablets might just be the solution for you.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
Some reviewers are saying that Samsung’s Galaxy Android tablet, the latest generation of the Galaxy, may give the tablet-leading iPad a run for its money. The smallest of the dominant tablets, the Galaxy Tab’s 7” size and .8 pounds (less than half the weight of the iPad) make it small enough to tuck into a slightly over-sized shirt or jacket pocket or into a small messenger bag or clutch. However, the screen is still about twice the size of a Blackberry’s or iPhone’s, with fantastic resolution and sharp colors. The front and back cameras make video chat easy, and its Android platform (called Froyo) means you have access to Google goodies. Initially, it was only available through Sprint, but now all major carriers offer it. Models start around $200 (depending on features and carriers). Larger sizes are also due out soon.
Zoom in on the Motorola Xoom
Motorola Xoom is also often called the iPad’s hottest competition. Larger than the Galaxy Tab (about the same size as the iPad with a very slightly larger screen) and at a starting price of around $600 (a bit pricier than both the iPad and the Galaxy Tab), this Android is Google’s entry in the tablet market. Its grabbing power is in its, well, actual power, with multimegapixel cameras, dual-core processors and expansion capabilities.
And Then There’s the iPad...
Undoubtedly, you have seen ads and probably even played with an iPad already. Except for the most confirmed anti-Apple, pro-Android folk, most users and reviewers still give the biggest props to this initial leader of the tablet revolution. With the second generation now out, if you’re not desperate for the latest and greatest, you may be able to snag the iPad 1 at bargain basement prices. (Verizon was selling the 16 GB for $299 this spring.) Many reviewers, in fact, note that the iPad 2’s improvements, while important (second camera, bit lighter weight, etc.), don’t make the first generation passé at all.
Even with new contenders out almost weekly (like the Nook Color upgrade, the Blackberry Playbook and the T-Mobile G-Slate), the three prominent tablets at present remain the Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Zoom and the Apple iPad.
Bottom line? First, decide whether a slick smartphone will fulfill your needs. Second, follow the links we’ve provided to read some of the techie reviews of each tablet. Third (now the fun part), just go and play with the tablets out there. Since the big three are now being sold by multiple service carriers, as well as by many other retailers like Best Buy, it’s never been a better time to buy a tablet.
You’re in the Money: Free ATM-Locator Apps
Most of us are looking to make our money go farther, and when we find ways that mean no compromise on comfort (like staying in an Extended Stay Hotel) or added time and hassle (like banking online), we grab ‘em. One such strategy is avoiding ATM surcharges, though that’s not always easy when you’re traveling. Once again, however, apps come to the rescue. While the Google Map app and various GPS systems can handle this task, there are dedicated apps that are fast, easy and, above all, free to download for all kinds of smartphones, iPads and other tablets.
You can almost always get free apps developed by your own bank, and if your institution is one of the biggies (e.g., Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup or Sun Trust), its apps probably include an ATM locator feature. Since using your own bank’s ATM saves you surcharges, what’s not to love? Well, there are a few downsides, such as:
• Not all the apps are very user-friendly
• Platforms may be limited
• The apps generally have fewer bells and whistles than other ATM locator apps.
Credit Card-Connected ATM-Locator Apps
One of the most popular is produced by MasterCard: ATM Hunter. Available in platforms for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries, you can access both lists of nearby ATMs and maps, basing your search on your current location or on an address you enter. The narrowing filters are useful, letting you select by particular bank or by such things as drive-thrus, being open 24-hours and no-surcharge facilities. You can also find out where the ATM is housed (e.g., in a store, mall or bank) which can be a nice personal safety feature.
VISA also produces an ATM locator app for its iPhone and Blackberry cardholders. One of the benefits that this locator includes is merchant discounts and special offers, redeemable onsite, online or by phone.
MoneyPass ATM Locator (available through the iPhone App Store and online for Androids) is not produced by a credit card company or a particular bank. Rather, it is the product of an independent company that more than a thousand banks and credit unions (mostly the slightly smaller institutions) join. Customers of member companies can take advantage of there being no surcharge assessed for using other member ATMs.
Another independent, Allpoint Mobile ATM Locator App, supports all major phone platforms. Easy to download and launch, the app uses a geo-locator so that you can get an instant list of nearby ATMs from the 43,000 Allpoint networks nationwide—many of which are located in convenient spots, such as Targets, Walgreens and CVS Pharmacies.
Go Cutting-Edge with Augmented Reality
If you’re into the latest technology, you’ll want to check out Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union’s newly released augmented reality ATM finder app for iPhones and Androids. The GPS-driven visual locator uses a point-and-shoot approach. Point your phone in any direction, and you get a live-time picture of nearby ATMs—each posted with a symbol indicating whether they’re free or not. Too cool!
Those small ATM charges may not seem like a big deal. However, given that they’ve been steadily rising—now up to $5 for non-customers at some ATMs—even occasional use during a trip can add up. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on another Philly cheese steak sandwich or an “I © New York” t-shirt?