Friday, August 26, 2011

The iPhone 4: Best Travel Gadget Ever

I'm not a geek and this is certainly not a technology blog but traveling in India with an iPhone 4 has made such a big difference on my trip. It is really such a cool thing that I feel the need to share it with others. I'm sure any other smartphone would work just fine as a travel gadget, they should all perform more or less the same functions, but I've only used the iPhone 4 and I love it! And honestly, all other smartphones that I've seen looks like cheap copies of the iPhone. I prefer to go for the REAL thing.

Why traveling with an iPhone 4 or smartphone? Because it is so many devices in one: an amazing digital camera, a video camera, an e-book reader, a magazine reader, and if you ever thought about getting a netbook to browse the web, check your e-mails, Facebook, Twitter or Skype during your trip then the iPhone 4 can perform all those functions even better (and I guess the iPhone 5 will be much better still), and then you can put it back in your pocket. Oh yeah, and you can also use it as a phone :-)

My family wanted me to get a BlackBerry, they all have one and they are fans of the BB messenger. But I hated this phone from the very first time that I use it. I hated the design and that ugly mouse ball in the middle. I borrowed once my father's BB to send an SMS and I found it so complicated, not intuitive at all (at least in that old model). So I decided to go for the iPhone 4 and although it was very expensive I think it was an excellent choice. And now with apps like Whatsapp I can still send free text messages, audio files or pictures from my iPhone to any BB just like the BB messenger.

10 reasons to use the iPhone 4 as a travel gadget.

So here it is how I use my iPhone. You should be able to do more or less the same things with any other smartphone though the apps might not be available on other devices.

1. A digital Camera

I love my Canon Powershot, I can take really nice pictures with it but my iPhone has replaced my Canon. And it is not just because I'm always carrying my iPhone with me, the iPhone 4 just takes photography to a new level. Making pictures with it can be such a fun experience.

The native camera app of the iPhone 4 is pretty good. The shots that you can make are incredible, and even better than many compact digital cameras... if you have good light. Unfortunately it sucks with low light pictures. I hope the iPhone 5 comes with a night shot feature. By the way, a good tip for taking pictures with flash: make sure you are very close to the subject, a meter an a half perhaps.

But the fun starts with the third party apps...

The best iPhone 4 Photography apps for your trip

Hipstamatic. My favorite one, is just amazing. Almost any picture that I make with it looks awesome. The app cost 1.99USD and it comes with a set of lenses, films and flashes. Before making a picture you select the film, lens and flash that you like to give a nice retro look to your pictures. The problem is that it can be overwhelming cause there are so many possible combinations and is hard to remember which are the best. You can buy additional packages with more lenses, films and flashes.

Camera Plus Pro: CP Pro. 1.99 USD Another cool app. Is a regular camera like the native iPhone camera but it also includes the option to add filters to your pictures to give them a nice effect. I normally use the native camera to take a shot and then go to Camera Pro to edit it if I want to. You can also add borders to the pictures but I prefer to use PS Express for that. But the main reason why I got this app is because it includes a timer for self portrait pictures and a burst mode which are not available in the native app. An indispensable accessory for taking self portrait pictures is the Joby Gorilla Tripod

There is a similar app called Camera+ which actually is more popular than CP Pro but they both seems to do pretty much the same things with the same quality. Camera+ might have nicer border effects.

PS Express (PhotoShop Express). You can make pictures with it or just use it to edit your pictures. It includes very few effects but they are all pretty good. I love the borders features and the best thing is that it is FREE!

Borders edited with PS Express
Color Splash. 0.99 USD. This one is really fun to use. You can take a picture or load an image from your camera roll. It will automatically convert the picture to black and white and then you can start to bring the color back to any part of the picture that you want to highlight.

SwankoLab. 1.99 USD. Another fun but addictive app. It is from the same creators of Hipstamatic. It brings you back to those days when people still used a dark room to develop pictures. The app resembles a dark room and it allow you to choose from different chemicals to create different cool effects. You take a picture with the native camera and later load it into the app. It takes some seconds to develop the picture but while you are waiting you can see the picture developing in the bucket with all the chemicals. Pretty cool!

At the beginning I was disappointed cause the quality of the picture was not maintained but then I realized that I could choose "High Quality Print" in the phone settings for all apps.

2. A HD video Camera

This is one of the main features of the iPhone 4. I thought about getting one of those HD Cam Recorders like the Flip but luckily I decided to wait for the iPhone 4 hoping that it will come with a HD video camera. I guess all those HD Cam Recorders wont survive for too long.

But again, it is all about the apps!

The best iPhone 4 movie apps

iMovie. 4.99 USD. Have you ever recorded videos with your compact digital camera to never seen them again? I know I've done it many many times. Who takes the time to save them into a computer to later edit them with a movie edition program? Well, this is the problem that iMovie solves, is just awesome. You cannot only shoot HD videos with the iPhone but you can edit them right on the phone with the iMovie app. Or you can also use this app to do photo slideshows with background music. It's really cool! Here is a good example of a video edited on iMovie.

8mm Vintage Camera. 1.99 USD. Another awesome app. It converts your iPhone into an old 8mm video recorder to shoot old style videos. You can choose different types of films: 60s, Siena, 1920, 70s, Sakura, Xpro and Noir. It also includes a frame jitter to make the film jump just like in those old movies.

3. An e-book reader:

The first thing that I did when I got my iPhone 4 was to get rid off the print version of the India Lonely Planet and replace it by the digital version. The print version is almost as big as the little larousse dictionary. Can you imagine how inconvenient it is to travel with it?

There are many different e-book reader apps out there. The ones that I use are iBooks by Apple, Kindle by Amazon and Nook by Barnes & Noble, and of course they are all FREE cause they want you to buy books not just the app.

iBooks has the best interface ever but I rarely find the book that I'm looking for.

Kindle. The interface is not that nice but you have a very large selection of digital books to choose from.

Nook has a better design than Kindle which makes it easier to read books.

So if I want to buy a new book I just look in these three apps to find the cheapest version, my preference is always for iBooks but most of the time I end buying the books on Kindle.

Actually when I got rid of my India Lonely Planet I searched for it on iBooks and it was not available so I had to buy it on Kindle but they sold it only by region. I recently check iBooks again and now it has a lots of Lonely Planet and other guidebooks. I downloaded the sample version of the India Lonely Planet and it is awesome!! Oh, I wish they have had it a year ago!!

I thought it wouldn't be possible to read a book in such a small screen but I have read already several books with no problem at all. But I think I will always prefer a printed version of a book. You don't need to worry about battery power, sun light effect, radiation problems or dropping the book on your face when you are almost falling sleep. Is so much simpler but when traveling an e-book reader is super handy. Besides I guess we are saving some trees.... though probably destroying our eyes ;-)

4. A magazine reader

Believe it or not reading a magazine with an iPhone using the Zinio app feels almost as reading a real one. I haven't use it on the iPad but I guess it must works beautifully. The Zinio app is FREE and I got with it three FREE magazines. I liked it so much that I decided to buy a subscription for the Yoga Journal Magazine, the only yoga magazine on Zinio for the iPhone.

But I think the price that they charge for the digital magazines is not fare. They priced them as the print editions but with no printing costs and distribution costs it just doesn't make any sense to me. The production costs is now shared between the printed and digital versions and on top of that they can reach a larger amount of customers through all these smartphones and tablets, but they still keep all the ads. And if you are in India or Nepal you can buy the printed version for less than half the price. I hope one day all these businesses will come back to senses and charge a more reasonable price.

And this goes the same for the digital books. In iBooks, Kindle or Nook you can find books that are sometimes more expensive than the print version.

5. A Netbook or mini computer

You have probably thought about getting a Netbook, those very small and cheap computers, for your trip. Because of the size they are very convenient for traveling. You can browse the web, check your e-mails, check your Facebook account, have a Skype video conference call, follow the updates on Linkedin or Twitt. But if that's all that you need to do then you can easily use the iPhone 4 for the same activities. And it is very convenient cause you don't need to switch it on or off. You just pull it out of your pocket and start browsing. And if you don't have a internet plan with a mobile operator then you just need to find a wifi connection. Read more about using mobile internet on your iPhone in India.

  • My favorite app is Skype. Every time that I have a video call with my family or friends I just think "wow, this is just amazing!" even though I have done it so many times. Really, nothing can be so cool as having a video conference call with your family or friends directly from your phone when you are abroad. I love this technology!
  • The native Mail app works excellent. I configured my Gmail to work with the Mail app and it works much better than the Gmail web version. And it is very convenient if you don't have internet connection. You can write all your mails off line and whenever you get internet connection you just need to refresh it to send/receive all mails.
  • And browsing the web with the Safari app is very easy. The screen size has not been a problem at all for me. You can easily pinch an zoom any section that you want to read in more detail. Even my friends have been able to book flights or check the Indian train schedules from my phone. There is also a Opera Mini web browser app that works in some cases even better.
  • There are free apps for Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and any other social site that might think of.

But I do travel with a Netbook. I have an Asus EEE PC 1005H and it's perfect. It's a very popular one, I've seen many travelers carrying one. Before I bought it, almost two years ago, I made a very good research and it was one of the best Netbooks at that moment. I mainly use it to write for my blog, which would be to difficult to do it on the iPhone, and to do more technical work on the web. Is also very convenient for managing my pictures, copying them to a hard drive, and upload them to FB or Picassa. But unless you need to do this kind of work and iPhone would work just fine.

6. A video Game device

As a child my father never allowed me to play video games and I feel very grateful about it. I know, the iPhone is probably one of the best video game devices but I prefer to stay away from the Game Center, I have not even seen Angry Birds. Anyway I already spend a lot of time on my iPhone playing with all the other apps. But if you like playing video games I guess this is another plus for getting an iPhone or any other smartphone.

7. Regular iPhone iOS Software updates

The iPhone literally gets better and better with every new software update. These are not annoying updates like those that we get from windows almost every day. There are maybe one or two updates per year and they can really add more value to the iPhone and any other device that uses the iOS mobile operating system. The new iOS 5 will be available this fall and it includes more than 200 updates.

One very interesting update will be iMessage, which just like the BB messenger will allow you to send free text messages, photos or videos to not just another iPhone but to any other iOS device. meaning the iPad and iPod. Check it out: iMessage.

8. Regular Apps updates

These is another thing that I really like. The apps that you buy can also get regular updates to fix bugs or just to improve them.

9. Apple Cloud Service: iCloud

This is a new service that will be released this fall along with the iOS 5. I think is really interesting and something that no other smartphone will be able to match. You can store for free all the music that you buy through iTunes or books that you buy through iBooks and you can easily push content like pictures to other apple devices like the iPad. That could be pretty cool cause you could take a picture with your iPhone 4 during your trip and then your girlfriend could see it automatically in her iPad. Or maybe that's not so cool.... Make sure you have check all the settings before taking any pictures. Check it out: What is iCloud.

10. And a lot more

It really depends on what you are into, the iPhone can become very personal. Other apps that I use are

Currency. FREE, by Useful to find current exchange rates
HomeBudget. To keep track of my daily expenses
Voice Memos. Native App. To record talks, speeches, chantings,
USB Disk. FREE Converts the iPhone into a USD disk to store files.
Insight Timer. FREE and an option to upgrade for 1.99 USD. This is one of the apps that I use the most. Good for Meditation and Yoga. I use it to time my relaxation, concentration exercises or meditation. It comes with a nice bell sound.

Here you can find Iphone Travel Apps Review by TopTenReviews just to give you an idea of the unlimited posibilites. I personally rarely use apps like Google Earth or Trip Advisor since you need to have a pretty good internet connection to be able to use them properly, and that's not so easy to find while traveling in India.

And some really cool iPhone 4 travel accessories

Joby GorillaMobile tripod for the iPhone 4 which includes an iPhone bumper case and camera adapter. Is my favorite accessory. I use it all the time. The purpose is to make self portrait pictures but I use it for many others things.

  • It's excellent for a Skype video call, you can easily stand the phone on a table and skype without holding the phone on your hands.
  • I also use it to watch videos. Every time that I get a good internet connection I download the free video podcasts from TED to watch them later. Have you never seen TED? What are you waiting for? Check out this video that I recently shared on my FB. Very inspiring. Janet Echelman: Taking imagination seriously
  • I also use it to read books. I don't like to hold the phone on my hand all the time, even if those researches founded by "mobile companies" says that there is no risk associated to mobile radiation. Anyway, it gets uncomfortable after a while.

The downside is that the material of the case is hard plastic so my common sense tells me that is not going to be as protective as a rubber case but it does helps to avoid my hands from sweating. If I hold the phone without any case the metallic border makes my hands sweaty right away. Another negative point is that it is not so easy to put and remove the case when you need to clean the phone, you need to be very careful to not break the case or scratch the phone.

X-mini II Capsule Speaker. Is a super small portable speaker that can easily fit in the palm of your hand and with a really nice design that fits well with the iPhone. Just like the add says, it is incredible loud, but it will depend on the song sound quality. Difference song sound qualities that you might not be able to hear with the phone speakers or even with the earphones becomes very clear with the X-mini. When I tested it on my iPhone I was not so surprised but then they guy from the shop tested in his iPhone and I was like "Wow..." and then he connected a second speaker together and I was like "WOOOW".

You can find more accessories for the iPhone 4 on the Path to Yoga - Gadget Store

Get an unlocked phone

If you want get an iPhone and use it when traveling try to get an unlocked phone. That's gonna be more expensive but you'll be able to use a Sim Card from almost any country. Sure you can Jail Break it yourself but that can be an inconvenient when upgrading software or updating apps.

And if you are not convinced with the iPhone 4 or if you just prefer another smartphone here is a recent Top 5 Smartphones Review by PC Advisor. Note that the iPhone is still No 1, and I guess that the new iPhone 5 that should be release in November will be even better.

Other related posts

Life used to be so simple

Before I got my iPhone 4 I had an old cheap Nokia phone. I was very happy with it cause it was just that, a phone. I used it only for phone calls and SMS and never even bother to add a new ring tone. But when I started this trip to India I knew I would need something better to easily help me to stay in touch with my family and friends. So I got my iPhone 4 (which I rarely use as a phone), and although it has added some "complexity" to my life I still love it cause all the things that I can do with it.

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