With the holidays coming up, it’s a near-certainty that we’ll be spending some quality time in the car with family. And it’s also certain that we’ll have lots and lots of tech to help us get around, communicate and while away the hours as we get wherever we’re going. We’ve rounded up 10 of the best tech for travel entertainment to help make your trip easier and more fun.
1. In-Car Connection
The first step before heading out on a tech-outfitted trip should be checking the car to see how well it’ll play with your smartphone. You’ll be using your phone for music, radio and, especially, directions, so you want to make sure you can plug the phone into your car stereo. Most new cars will have either Bluetooth, so you can connect your phone wirelessly, or an AUX jack, which looks like a headphone jack. If you have AUX, grab one of these cables to plug your phone right in. Internet access is also key. Many navigation systems, like OnStar, offer a 4G LTE hotspot. Or you can use a portable hotspot like Delphi Connect to connect your car — and all the people inside.
2. A Car-Charging USB Converter
Phones, tablets, cameras, gaming systems and even some computers charge over USB, but it’s the rare car that actually has a USB port. To keep gadgets all charged up and happy, it makes sense to invest in a converter that’ll turn your ordinary DC (or cigarette lighter) port into USB. This Scosche converter has two ports and great reviews on Amazon, and it’s really cheap, too.
3. A Good Tablet Is Hard To Find
Tablets can be ideal for travel: they’re big enough to watch a movie, but small enough to slip easily into a backpack or even a large pocket, and their battery life is much longer than most laptops. Our two favorites are the Apple iPad Mini 3 and the Google Nexus 7. These tablets are small and easy to use for kids, but have great screens and lots of power to run high-def movies, lots of storage for music and plenty of games as well. Google just announced its newest Nexus, the Nexus 9, which will be bigger and more powerful than the Nexus 7.
4. An On-the-Go Movie Theater
Movies are perfect for long car trips because they can take up hours at a time. In order to entertain everyone in the backseat, set up an in-car theater. Headrest mounts make use of what you already have — no need for a new gadget, since you can just use your tablet — and they let you sit back and watch comfortably without having to hold a tablet upright for hours on end. This one looks sturdy and has great reviews.
5. Unlimited Flicks
The days of having to bring a folder of DVDs with you are over. Instead, you can use a service like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or Hulu — you won’t have to worry about syncing up before you leave, since all those movies are in the cloud whenever you want them. (Another reason why Internet access is so important).
6. A Personal Assistant That Really Listens
All the major smartphone platforms have “digital personal assistants” that can perform functions when you talk to them. The iPhone has Siri, Windows Phone has Cortana, but our favorite is Google Now, on Android phones. You should never operate your phone while driving, but sometimes you have to make a phone call to update a relative on your location. Google Now lets you do all of that without ever touching or even looking at your phone: just say “OK Google” and then dictate everything from dialing a phone number to sending a text or email. You can find some specific instructions here.
7. A Truly Amazing Gaming Experience
Portable gaming has come a long way since the Game Boy. Today’s modern portable gaming systems are as powerful as the home consoles of just a few years ago, but with the connectivity and controls of a high-end smartphone. We like The Nintendo 3DS XL, which boasts two screens and has a 3-D effect that doesn’t even require glasses and is great for kids: Nintendo’s games, like Mario Kart, are fun and family friendly. For older gamers, Sony’s PlayStation Vita is the grown-up version: amazing graphics, a huge and beautiful screen and lots of great games that can be downloaded digitally, so you don’t have to remember to carry them with you.
8. Portable Power
In case the car charger isn’t enough, it’s vital to have enough juice to keep the smartphone going — it’s probably doing everything from navigation to music to phone calls, which can drain it quickly. We love external battery packs; this Zagg one is great because it plugs right into the wall to charge before your trip, so you don’t need an extra cable. And it’s got enough juice to charge your phone about twice.
9. Unlimited Music
There’s nothing better than singing along in the car, but the days of CDs have long passed. Instead, opt for a subscription music service: for only $10 a month, you get access to pretty much every song you could ever think of. Think of them as the Netflix of music. That means if all of a sudden you’ve got a hankering to sing along to every Billy Joel song, you’re covered. Our favorite is Rdio: it has a great, easy-to-use interface and a huge selection.
10. Don’t Forget Headphones
Not everyone has the same taste in music. Sometimes it’s best to close yourself off and blast your tunes. For travel, you want to make sure you get headphones that don’t leak sound. Earbuds are super portable and private, and often really cheap; Panasonic makes great ones. For a bit of a bigger sound, you can upgrade to over-the-ear headphones. Sennheiser has lots of models, but these have thousands of gushing Amazon reviews