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    Tough tech gear designed to survive travel adventures and small children

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver June 9-15, 2009; issue 1024

    High Tech Office column

    It’s a cold May morning as I write this, but it was sunny yesterday, and that meant Vancouver starts to dream of summer.

    But if you’re, say, planning to kayak through Skookumchuk rapids, what kind of tech gear should you take along? (I know, some of you wonder why you would bring gadgets along on your summer adventure.)

    Motorola suggests its VA76r Tundra, “the SUV of mobile phones.” Like an SUV, it replaces the sleek lines of some models with bulky, but durable, rubber sidings. Motorola claims it meets military specifications for rain, shock and vibration.

    Available for Rogers/Fido ($200 with plan), the Tundra combines an easy to use interface and controls, a brighter than average colour display and good call quality. It includes a two-megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom , video and music-playing software and e-mail and web browsing, of course. You can add gigabytes of microSD card storage, though getting at the memory card is awkward. Battery life is rated at five hours of talk time or 14 days standby.

    Rogers recommends it for cyclists, rock climbers, construction workers and parents of small children.

    Like most mobile phones, the Tundra’s built-in camera works, but is pretty basic. No flash, for starters. And overexposed colours. If taking photos of your adventure (or small children) is a priority, Olympus has long offered digital cameras built for water and shock resistance.

    The company is cutting to the chase this year, naming its rugged products “Tough,” including the Stylus Tough-6000 ($350) and Tough-8000 ($450) models. Both include 3.6x optical zooms (equivalent to a 28-102mm 35mm lens), face detection, shadow adjustment and in-camera panorama features. Tap control lets you adjust features like flash without needing to press buttons – handy in adverse conditions.

    The 10-megapixel Tough-6000 survives drops of up to 1.5 metres. It can also tolerate being underwater up to three metres and freezing temperatures to -10 degrees.

    The 12-megapixel Tough-8000 ups the ante, surviving drops of two metres and dives down as far as 10 metres. For more serious dives, an optional underwater housing for the Touch-8000 allows it to be taken to depths of 40 metres. Like other Olympus camera models, both use xD-style memory cards rather than the more common (and less expensive) SD cards; microSD cards can also be used.

    In my experience, the most common cause of laptop meltdown is hard drive failure, even with day to day handling far more gentle than, say, whitewater rafting (or use by small children). Hard drive manufacturer Seagate’s Momentus replacement laptop hard drives are built to survive rough handling and vibration. Models with the letter “G” at the end of the model number include a “G-Force option” – a free-fall sensor that detects when a laptop is being dropped and moves the drive heads away from where data is stored, protecting the drive and your data from damage.

    These 7,200 rpm drives offer faster performance than typical laptop models in exchange for only a small penalty in battery life. Prices range from US$80 for a 250-gigabyte model to US$150 for a 500-gigabyte model.

    Laptop hard drive replacement can be a relatively straightforward do-it-yourself project; make (and test) a backup of your data first.

    Having extra-robust gear is no use if you’re lost. TomTom’s Go 730 ($400) is an update on its popular 720 GPS model. Like that model, it can speak out street names as you travel by transmitting to your car’s FM radio. This text-to-speech option, however, is disabled by default. When not needed for directions it doubles as an MP3 music player and can couple with many mobile phones for hands-free calling. A new IQ Routes feature promises improved directions with up-to-date awareness of road construction and traffic jams. Advanced Lane Guidance tries to help with complex multi-lane exits.  •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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