Category: Tech

A Review Of The World’s Thinnest iPhone Charging Case: ChargeTech ThinCharge

The ChargeTech ThinCharge is a such a simple piece of technology, it’s hard to appreciate how useful it is, until everyone who sees it asks you about it. ChargeTech sent me a ThinCharge for the iPhone 6s, which I’ve been using for the past few months. You can see more in the video above on how it works, how thin it is, and what a benefit it is to expand your iPhone’s battery capacity by 1.5 times in an 85 gram, 11 millimeter-thick protective case.

chargetech thincharge  ThinCharge: World’s Thinnest iPhone 6 / 6S Battery Case [Black]

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The ThinCharge takes around 4.5 hours for a complete charge, which should comfortably get you through the day (or a long flight). An LED light on the side indicate how much charge the case itself has (the more it flashes the less power is left).

Nearly Perfect For Case Haters

The buttons of the case where the LED light is located is my only real gripe with the ThinCharge. Although you can charge the case and sync your phone with iTunes on your laptop without having to take it out of the case, you need to turn the case on by long pressing the top volume button. That means every time you turn on or off the ThinCharge, your ring volume will jump to maximum and you’ll need to remember to turn it down.

thincharge chargetech

Otherwise, the ThinCharge is an ideal charging case for people who both hate cases for adding bulk to a phone and hate Apple for making anemic batteries. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users, ChargeTech’s Indegogo campaign was successful, so those should be available for purchase soon. I’ll post links here when the iPhone 7 model is released; available now is the ThinCharge for iPhone 6 and 6s which you can find here.

Do Airfare Booking Sites Offer Different Prices Based On The Device Or Browser You’re Using?

vienna international airport

There is a lot of evidence that airline booking sites and airfare search engines offer different pricing to people based on their location – more specifically, by country. There is less evidence for, but many more rumors of, airlines manipulating prices based on the physical machine you’re searching from (e.g. an iPhone 7 versus a Galaxy S7 Edge) and even by the web browser you happen to be on.

It’s pretty easy to change the country you appear to be in using a VPN to find lower prices on plane tickets but is it worth it to go through the trouble to make it seem like your iPad is a Surface Pro? Or obsessively switch between Chrome and Firefox? This is a question more than one reader has brought up so here is what we know – and don’t – about how airlines change ticket prices based on your digital fingerprint.

Evidence Is Hard To Collect

All airfare search prices are the result of many, many, reasonable factors such as how full a flight is, how many people are searching for it, and the number of days before departure. You can search for the same flight and get different prices within minutes for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with browser cookies, for example.

airport line havana

Added on top of all this is, as the consumer, we don’t really know the actual cost of a seat on a given flight at a given time. The airlines obviously want to profit as much as possible on a given seat (whose costs vary considerably up until the last ticket can be sold) plus search engines take their cut too. Many people logically assume both the flight search engines as well as the airlines, want to squeeze as much out of us as possible.

Conspiracies Fed

I’m not saying airlines working fares in their favor is a conspiracy but like conspiracy theories, when one of them turns out true, it gives credibility to the rest. Orbitz, for example, shows Apple users higher prices first, since they tend to spend 30% more on hotel bookings. It’s not that the lower prices aren’t there, they were just being shown a lot lower on the list.

Test Results

The problem during my testing over the past few months is that prices went up and down, but I was unable to correlate them to browsers or devices. Web browsers in privacy mode (i.e. no cookies, or search history) tended to show lower airfare more than half the time, until it came to actually booking. The infamous “this fare is no longer available” appeared regularly, making me think airlines show (what they think) are new users enticing rates to get them to click closer to a purchase.

istanbul airport activity

Consumer Reports also found anomalies after several hundred test searches but similarly, couldn’t determine a definite pattern. To their credit, Kayak denies they use cookies or other browser information to slyly hike up prices:

“Cookies or no cookies, it is impossible for us to show different prices to different users,” a Kayak spokesman told us [Consumer Reports] when we reported our findings. He suggested that a difference of even a few seconds on simultaneous searches may have affected our results.

You can of course, run your own tests. Web browser plugins like User Agent Switcher for Chrome or Firefox can fool most websites into thinking you’re on a Windows machine instead of a Macbook, for example. (You’ll need to jailbreak or root your phone to do the same on mobile.) When you don’t have the most time, it’s best to stick to the best flight search engines and use a VPN like this to find discounts. Don’t forget that there are a lot more effective ways to get low prices on airfare than by trying to spoof your browser – plus you can stop chasing cheap flights to really save on travel.

How To Download Google Maps For Offline Use And Why You Should When Traveling

google maps offline

Smartphone GPS are great for navigating, especially when you’re traveling, but not terribly useful if you don’t have a mobile Internet connection to actually download the background maps. (Or don’t want to burn through a data plan.) Originally I was going to write about the the best offline map apps but while free options like MAPS.ME (their all caps, not mine) are good, Google Maps is superior in nearly every way.

Until about a year ago, you couldn’t really use Google Maps offline, but they quietly rolled out the feature for iOS and Android – something a surprising number of people still don’t know about. Here’s how Google Maps’ offline feature works and how to download the maps you’ll need to get directions and lookup locations without an Internet connection.

First Step: Human Memory

For starters, you need to download the Google Maps app for iOS (simply called Maps) on Android. Both are free. Google Map files are large, usually at least a few hundred megabytes depending on the specific area you want to grab, so you need to remember to download them when you’re on a solid wifi connection. (I consistently forget to about half the time.)

google maps app

Start Downloading

Unlike MAPS.ME, where you specify specific countries for download, Google Maps has so much more detailed data you can only download a metropolitan area effectively of about 400 square kilometers (~250 sq. miles) at a time. Although the screenshots below are from an iPhone, the process is the same for Android.

1.Open the Google Maps app.

2. In the upper left, tap the three-bar menu icon.

google maps menu

3. Tap > Offline areas

4. Next, you’ll have the choice of either ‘Local‘; which is the area around your current location, or ‘Custom area‘ where you can specify the cities or region you want to download. Pinch to zoom in or out up to 1.5 gigabytes worth of map on iOS or 1.75 GB on Android, then tap Download. You’ll be prompted to name your map, tap Save, and the download will begin.

google maps offline

Be sure to wait for the download to complete because it hardly ever works if you leave it to the background.

You’re Set For 30 Days

After these steps, you’ll have the parts of Google Maps you wanted (you can download multiple maps up to what your device’s storage limits are) for handy things like walking directions, searching for the best restaurants on the fly, and starring important locations (like your hotel) on the map.

google maps offline areas

There are a few other advantages to using Google Maps offline, even in places where you aren’t necessarily traveling. Downloading maps offline obviously reduces the amount of mobile data you’ll use. A nice side effect of which is, like using airplane mode, noticeably increased battery life.

You’ll need to update the maps once every 30 days to keep using them and it’s really unfortunate Google doesn’t make an auto-delete option for maps after a certain period of time. You’ll have to remember to delete saved maps when you don’t need them or want to free up space on your phone. Aside from those two minor gripes, offline Google Maps are probably one of the most useful tools on a travelers smartphone. Unless you forget to download them.

5 Reasons To Use Airplane Mode Even When You’re Not Flying

air and space museum Udvar-Hazy Center chantilly

Despite the name, airplane mode can have a lot of advantages for travelers whether used on a plane or not. The airplane mode feature on most smartphones and tablets cuts off cellular, wireless, and Bluetooth connections so they don’t interfere with an airplane’s communication systems.

There are a few other handy side effects of airplane mode, however, you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re (literally) on the road, at your hotel, or out wandering around.

1.Extend What Battery Life You Have Left

Cellular communication is the single biggest battery drainer on your phone. To locate cell towers, your phone is always emitting radio waves to see where they are, analyzing signal strength to determine whether a switch to a closer tower is needed, or as is often the case when traveling, looking for a network to roam on.

When there is no available network, you phone emits stronger signals to extend its search in the hopes of getting you a mobile signal. This is also true when you’re indoors or moving at high speeds; basically your phone has to work harder to keep you connected to a cell tower.

So instead of getting on Facebook to complain about how you’ve only got 2% battery life left, put your device into airplane mode to conserve what you have left. A phone without a cellular or wireless connection (by the way being on wifi is less power intensive) can still be useful as a camera, notebook, foreign exchange calculator, and more.

2. Save Data On A Local SIM

Depending on how you’ve got your particular phone or tablet set up, there’s a chance you might be wasting a lot of data on a prepaid card due to automatic downloads, app updates, or streaming services. Although it might not be expensive, spending more time topping off a SIM card is less time sightseeing. Sure, you can make a lot of changes to your settings to prevent data leak but chances are when you’re back home you’ll want to set them all back, again, more time wasted. Airplane mode is a quick and efficient solution.

3. Speed Up Charging

In most cases, the more power a device is consuming, the slower it charges because it’s using power at the same time it’s trying to store it. Particularly if you don’t have a phone that supports rapid charging (*cough* Apple) you’ll want to speed up charging so you’re not stuck inside a hostel aggressively sneering at a power outlet. (Telepathy doesn’t help charging time.)

iphone 6s airplane mode

Having your phone on airplane mode means it’s using a lot less power and can charge faster whether you’re connected to a wall outlet or using a portable battery.

4. Fix Wireless Weirdness

Have you ever been told when getting a new local SIM card (or the wireless connection at your Airbnb is flaking out) to restart your device? For phones and tablets, turning airplane mode on and off is essentially the same thing since it causes a restart of most networking services without going through needless reboots.

5. See The World Around You

A 2012 study found that even looking at a mobile phone or feeling it vibrate in your pocket can reduce your ability to complete complex tasks and significantly distract focus. Not only does that mean could be missing the small details of tile art decorating the train station in Porto, but pickpockets as well, who count on mental misdirection.

You’ll see your phone hundreds times before you upgrade it at the next possible opportunity, though the same probably isn’t true of the Taj Mahal. Turning airplane mode on can relieve your mind of messages waiting – most of which are cat memes mom is sending you anyway.

The Best Point And Shoot For Travelers Might Be This 2 Year Old Panasonic Lumix

panasonic lumix dmc zs45

The best technology isn’t always the newest, particularly for people who travel often. Gadgets tend to take a beating when you travel, from jolts of bus rides to constantly being stuffed into backpacks and pockets. A generation or two behind the latest version of a product tends to have its manufacturing bugs exposed if there are any, plus often cost a lot less.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS45 digital camera is one such device – a combination of excellent photograph quality, features and reliability, not to mention incredible battery life.

From Lumix To Lumix

In 2014 I purchased (at the time one model behind the latest) a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 on the advice of a professional photographer who told me it was the camera to get if I wasn’t interested in a bulky DSLR. Immediately the quality of my photos improved and for nearly two years I took thousands of pictures around the world with a camera I wouldn’t have replaced if it didn’t develop a black spot in the lens after its limits were pushed on a remote tropical island.

lmix dmc zs45Panasonic DMC-ZS45 LUMIX 20X Zoom Camera

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In a way I’m glad it did since the DMC-ZS45 is an improvement on the ZS40 in almost every way.

Updating A Bit Behind

The Lumix DMC-ZS45 costs around $239, while the latest DMC-ZS60 will take a nearly $500 bite out of your travel budget. The main differences between the two most travelers would care about is the lack of time-lapse and lackluster video quality (maximum 1920 x 1080) of the DMC-45. To be honest the Lumix line of cameras never took video all that well but they excel in a number of photographic features you typically only find on much more expensive cameras.

lumix dmc zs45

A Wider Perspective

You should not underestimate how useful a wide(r) angle lens on a camera can be if you take a lot of travel photos. A wide angle lens (the DMC-ZS45 goes as low as 24 millimeter) means you can get more in a shot from the same place than a camera that starts at the average 35mm. In other words, you don’t have to walk as far back to fit the stuff you want in frame, handy especially when there isn’t space for steps back to take.

tirana mountain view

On the other end of the spectrum, the ZS45 has a 480mm zoom lens, optically enlarging your view by 20 times as well as a good marco mode, allowing you to take closeup photos from as little as 3 centimeters.

Feature Plateu

For every technology, there is a point of limited returns on many specs. In my tests the DMC-ZS45 powers up and is ready to take a picture in 8/10ths of a second; the DMC-ZS60 (officially) in 1.4 seconds. They both weigh around half a pound (roughly 280 grams). Yes, the DMC-ZS60 has a 24-720mm focal range, enlarging images 30 versus 20 times, and can shoot 4k video. Image quality, both for photos and videos will increase as time goes on, but the differences are becoming less noticeable. Cameras are light but can never be weightless and if you really need extreme zoom, you’re probably won’t ever be satisfied with a point and shoot.

The one spec there is never enough of however is battery life, where both of the cameras are amazing. The DMC-ZS45 officially takes 350 pictures on a single charge, but I’ve routinely taken more than a 1,000 in all kinds of weather. For all the differences between the latest DMC-ZS60 and the January 2015 DMC-ZS45 model, they’re not worth an extra $250 for most travelers. Besides, if you really want one, wait a year or so and it will probably be the cost the DMC-ZS45 is now.


The Starfleet Academy Experience In New York City Is Federation Utopia For Trekkies

starfleet academy experience intrepid

There are a lot of geeky reasons to travel so when I heard about the interactive Starfleet Academy Experience on board the Intrepid Museum in New York City, I knew I had to make it a part of my annual convention pilgrimage. The Starfleet Academy Experience (SAE) was anything but disappointing but be warned, you’ve got to be one step beyond a casual Star Trek fan to truly enjoy the exhibit.

starfleet academy experience intrepid museum

What The Heck Is A Starfleet Academy Experience?

Well timed with Star Trek Missions, the first major Trek convention in New York City in a very long time, the long standing Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum has opened a (very) interactive exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original show through October 31, 2016.

Essentially, the exhibit is broken down into the major fields of study seen on Star Trek, from tactical to communications. Your progress is tracked by a wrist band that digitally updates your own personal voyage through Starfleet Academy. The first stop is in medical, where you’re asked to scan an injured Klingon, and diagnose his condition based on a number of tricorder readings.

starfleet medical

You make your way through the individual areas, taking 30 second touchscreen tests, learning a lot of sci-fi and science along the way. The creators of SAE put in a lot of thought to make every section interactive but different so it doesn’t get boring.

Beam Yourself Up

Admittedly, I did not expect stepping onto a transporter and watching myself beam up would be nearly as fun as it was. Or plotting a course for the Enterprise around 6 or 7 astronomical phenomena on a touchscreen the size of a large television. The longest line was for phaser practice (basically a one-person arcade shooter) which, if you’re pressed for time, can be skipped without regret.

You’ll learn a few phrases and be tested on your Klingon pronunciation as well. (If you really want to try your skills, read this post I wrote entirely in Klingon.) All of this taking place in a large area built to look like the halls of the Enterprise from The Next Generation. The effort on creating the look, feel, as well as appeal to casual and hardcore Trek fans is noticeable.

Sit In The Captain’s Chair

Given that the entrance fee is $25 (or $35 if you don’t want to be forced to visit at a scheduled time) the extensiveness of the Starfleet Academy Experience is appreciated. As you make your way toward graduation, which takes about an hour if not more, you’re welcomed with a recreation of the Enterprise bridge where you take the Kobayashi Maru test. Then, pose for countless photos in the captain’s chair, helm, security, engineering stations… and again, depending on your enthusiasm.

starfleet academy experience bridge

On the way out, you scan your wristband on last time to get your Academy results, plus a read out of the starship positions you’re best cut out for. You can have that, as well as your transporter video emailed directly to you. The Starfleet Academy Experience is open 10am-7pm daily, through October 31st. I recommend arriving early, then purchasing tickets to visit the Intrepid Museum itself, on the aircraft carrier by the same name.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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