Gear: Under-$600 laptops now perfect for travelers
Ultra-portable notebook PCs have come down in price in recent years, from $1,700 for the OQO and Vaio a few years ago, to $500 now. Today, for instance HP introduced the 2133 Mini-Note PC that costs about $600 once you add basic Microsoft software to it. That makes it competitive with the similar Eee PC, launched last month for $299 with Microsoft Office for an additional $199 (for $498 total).
Many travelers may have a few good reasons to buy a second PC for vacations. For uploading photos when a digital camera's memory card gets full. Or for entertaining the kids at a hotel room, without risking damage to your main home PC that contains your precious files. Or for using the Internet to plan and book local activities at your destination.
Here are details on the two newest, most promising laptops for travelers:
HP offers a $599 version of the 2133 Mini-Note, which comes loaded with Microsoft Vista Home Basic, an Internet browser, 1.2GHz Via processor; and 100-odd gigs of memory (for storing images and other files).
I recently played with the device under the eyes of a publicist and was impressed. Its 9 inch display and keyboard were wide enough for use for a a couple of hours at a time. Its anodized aluminum shell seemed tough enough to take a beating. And at 2.6 pounds, it felt light enough to tote in a backpack. Here are the favorable reviews from , PC Magazine, and ComputerWorld.
Earlier last month, rival manufacturer ASUS introduced a line of ultra-portable computers that also include Microsoft Windows. (Up until now, ASUS machines have only run the Linux operating system.) These machines cost about $500, loaded up. I played with one at a local store (J&R;). It seemed ideal for traveling, weighing only 2 pounds. Its 7 inch screen and its keyboard were wide enough for leisure use but tiny enough to fit into a backpack.
Both companies' machines seem ideal for travelers for another reason: They have built in shock protection. In other words, these PCs have solid-state disks, reducing the number of working parts that are easily breakable. HP's devices even come with sensors that automatically detect sudden changes in movement and disconnect key internal parts to prevent damage in case of sudden impact.
Each machine mentioned here has enough memory to store your digital photos. And each has Internet access so you can stay connected on the road. DVD drives are usually an external accessory, for about $50 to $100.
Freebie: Get 1,000 prints digitized.
Paris: An ace food blogger shares her perfect Parisian food day
I'm not big on having tour guides lead me around when I visit a place (no matter how full of interesting facts they might be, I always find myself stifling yawns and plotting my escape). I do, however, love when I have a friend in the area who can introduce me to great local spots. I've never met Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the hugely popular blog Chocolate & Zucchini, but after reading her new book, Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris, I'm going to consider her that friend. She focuses on exactly what I focus on when I travel (food), and she describes everything in the most delightful, conversational way. Divided into two sections—Eats and Shops—the book covers all Clotilde's (see? we’re already on a first-name basis) favorite food spots in the city. She also gives some great tips on eating in Paris: when to drink café crème (morning only), where to put your hands during dinner (on the table, not under), whether you should eat while walking (unless you want stares, no). She’s not at all snooty about these rules, just looking out for you—as any good friend would. Recently, Clotilde took a couple of minutes away from her culinary adventures to answer a few questions… You write such intriguing descriptions of restaurants—I want to try them all! Sadly, I'll never have enough time in Paris to get to even half of them. If you were to design the perfect food day in Paris, where would you go and what would you eat? I would pick a Saturday: in the morning I'd go to the Marché des Batignolles (an organic farmer's market in the 17th), then I'd have lunch at Rose Bakery (in the 9th). I'd take the metro to La Grande Epicerie de Paris (large food shop in the 7th) to see what's new, I'd pick up some chocolate from Jean-Charles Rochoux a few blocks away (in the 6th), and then I'd go home and take a nap before I head out to dinner at Ribouldingue (neo-bistro in the 5th). You give a great tip about buying ready-to-eat foods—bread, cheese, charcuterie, crudités, pastries—and having a picnic in one of Paris's many parks. Do you have any favorite picnic spots you could recommend? The choice of a picnic spot depends on the mood of the day, and I have several favorites listed in the book, but one I could mention is the Quai Saint-Bernard in the 5th, along the Seine by Austerlitz Bridge, where there are large lawns and several arenas in which you can dance (or watch people dance) ballroom dances on summer nights. I get the impression you can't walk down a single Paris street without discovering a great new shop or restaurant. Any new finds since the book went to press? I'm certainly keeping myself updated on what new, and making notes for the next edition! In the meantime, there are sneak previews on my blog and my moblog, where I post pictures of restaurant meals. SAVE THE DATE On Tuesday, May 13, Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the new book Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris and a terrific blog, answers your questions on Paris and food in a live online chat at BudgetTravel.com.
Freebie: Photoshop hits the Web
The Internet lets you touch up your digital photos with several free programs. But no Web tool offers you the power and speed of the desktop software Adobe Photoshop—used by professional graphic designers. Thankfully, Adobe debuted online last week a scaled-down version of its software: Photoshop Express, which is great for everyday touch-ups. Signing up is fast, uploading photos is painless, and instructions are easy to find. Store up to two gigabytes of photos for free. (That works out to about 500 to 1,000 photos, depending on the size of your images.) The program is similar to other photo storing sites, such as Flickr and Shutterfly, in offering basic functions like photo-cropping and red-eye removal. But Photoshop Express stands out with features like "White Balance," which fixes the light setting your camera used. "Tuning" tools allow you to fix what your camera might have missed, thus making the picture sharper and more balanced. Things get really fun with the "Effects" tools, which allow you to brighten up certain colors (among other tricks). For example, compare my original photo and my touched up version here: Whenever you choose a tool, a thumbnail bar appears at the top of your screen, so you can pick how far you want to go with each change. And it's easy to revert back to what you had before (should you make some unsightly mistakes). The site still has a few quirks to work out. It runs slowly, first of all. It also needs to improve its save system. The "save" button saves and then immediately takes you back to your library, when really I only wanted it to save my work so far and stay on the current screen. I'm an obsessive saver, so this was annoying for me. Yet, overall, Adobe gets a thumbs up. Try it at photoshop.com/express. EARLIER Freebie: Get 1,000 prints digitized. Before you buy a camera, click here. How to store digital photos while traveling.
Hotels: W offers free car service
Want a lift? Guests at all 18 W Hotels in the United States now have access to a luxury SUV that can take them to restaurants, the theater, and the airport. The car service offers begins today and lasts through Jan. 31, 2009. At most of the W properties, Acura’s seven-passenger 2008 MDX comes with a driver and is stocked with free bottled water. Gas and tolls are included, and drivers are instructed not to accept tips. Mercifully, there's no time or mileage limit. (When I stayed at the W in the French Quarter, New Orleans, this would've saved me a $29 cab ride to the airport.) There are a few catches, of course: The car service only offers a one-way ride from the hotel to your destination. The car can't be called for a pickup, but you can use it as many times as you want during your stay. Two W properties aren't playing ball. The W Silicon Valley in Newark, Calif., and W Honolulu-Diamond Head in Hawaii don't offer on-call chauffeurs. But they do allow guests to take the car out for drives with a full tank of gas. Guests don't even have to refill the tank before they return a loaner car. I recommend you reserve the car at the time of your reservation. Each property only has two SUVs, and the vehicles will probably be booked up quickly. That said, if you went to the lobby in the morning on the day of your arrival, you should theoretically be able to reserve the car for 6 p.m. or later that night. Find more info at whotels.com/acuraexperience.
"What exactly is that down there?"
Ever look out an airplane window and see an extraordinary landscape? Well, here's a guide to what you probably saw. Astonishing aerial images taken from commercial and NASA-operated aircraft form the heart of the new book, America from the Air: A Guide to Landscape Along Your Route. When seen from the air, Lake Powell, Boston Harbor, the Caprock Escarpment in Texas, and other sights may inspire you to hum "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies." In a clever move, the book provides maps of 15 popular flight corridors, making it easy for you to find aerial photographs that correspond to about 40 popular routes you are likely to fly. Authors Daniel Mathews and James S. Jackson have helpfully annotated each image with captions that identify important features of the landscape. We've put together a slide show of 10 images from the book to give you a taste. Enjoy. —Liz Webber MORE ON THE WEB A pilot is blogging photos and stories from his travels, including photographs of the aurora borealis ("northern lights") and unique cloud formations as seen from 35,000 feet. The blog is Flight Level 390.