The Best Digital Camera, GPS, and Bags for Travelers

For Star Trek fans, space is the final frontier. For travelers, it's a never-ending challenge. What do you decide to pack in your oh-so-limited carry-on and checked baggage space? It's a vexing question, especially given that most airlines charge you to check a bag. Last week, I guided you to the laptop, netbooks, and smartphones well worth giving space to. This week, a look at the best digital camera and GPS device, plus where to find the best gear bags.

Digital Camera: Canon Powershot SX200 IS

Based on Tim Moynihan's glowing review, the Canon Powershot SX200 IS seemed like the ideal camera to take on my summer vacation. Here's what caught my eye:

  • 12X optical-zoom lens that goes from wide-angle (28mm) to telephoto (336mm)
  • Large LCD (3 inches)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Captures video in high-def (1280 by 720, at 30 frames per second)
  • Point-and-shoot simplicity
  • Costs about $320 online.

The Powershot SX200 IS lived up to my expectations. (I bought the red model for $320 from J&R). The camera captured images with beautiful color saturation and accuracy; took good pictures in low-light conditions (I avoid using a flash whenever possible); and is easy to use. The zoom lens allowed me to capture details of buildings and landscapes I wouldn't have caught otherwise.

The camera is a bit heavier and bulkier than some point-and-shoots (thanks to its 12X lens). And you can't use optical zoom when recording video. You can only use digital zoom for video, which gets blurrier the more you zoom. Plus, there's no dedicated movie recording button, as you get on some digital cameras. You must spin the settings dial to movie mode. Because there are 13 settings on the dial, it can take a few seconds to switch from recording images to videos.

Quibbles aside, the Canon Powershot SX200 IS is an excellent digital camera With its 12X zoom lens, wide-angle image capture, and high-def video recording (limited though it is), this camera is likely to meet many of your travel photography needs.

GPS Device: TomTom GSO 930

A portable GPS unit can save you aggravation and time when you're in unfamiliar territory. But GPS devices can lead you astray just as easily, so it pays to invest in one with reliable routing.

Among the units we've tested, the TomTom 930 GPS earned a Superior rating of 91. The TomTom GO 930 gave us some of the best routes of any GPS we tested, though we wish it had integrated traffic information.

The TomTom offers just about every feature you might want, and some you might not know existed. Example: Most GPS units give you a choice between shortest and fastest routes. TomTom's IQ Routes option, included in the GO 930, takes into account the actual speed that most drivers travel on a given road during certain times of day, as well as whether you'll be traveling on a weekend or weekday. The data is collected from TomTom users (who voluntarily submit anonymous travel information when their GPS is connected to their computer). The GO 930 is reasonably priced, too, depending upon where you shop. Currently, you can get it for about $250 from Amazon.com. By comparison, the same unit was selling for $370 at J&R.

Best Bags: Briggs & Riley, Tom Bihn

For years, I've been a devout fan of Briggs & Riley bags. They're extremely durable, nicely crafted, and reasonably priced (though not cheap). And the Briggs & Riley warranty is tops. As the Web site puts it: "If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge. Simple as that!"

Simple--and true. I've owned the same Briggs & Riley wheeled carry-on since the early 90s. I've had two minor zipper-related repairs made, and both were free.

The company makes an assortment of laptop bags. Recently, I bought and can recommend the Deluxe Computer Backpack ($219 but often on sale). Aside from carrying it around on your back, you can slip the back of the bag over a wheeled bag's telescoping handle. I love that.

Meanwhile, Tom Bihn makes stylish laptop/gear bags (and other bags) that are well-constructed and durable. Tom Bihn is quickly gaining a following, too. I've had at least three travelers who, seeing the Bihn bag I was carrying, commented on how much they love theirs.

For laptops, take a look at Tom Bihn's Checkpoint Flyer ($220) and Empire Builder ($160). Netbook owners might like the interior-padded Ristretto for Netbooks ($110) or the Imago ($90), a small-ish messenger bag. The Imago doesn't have interior padding to protect your gadget. So if you go this route, consider the Cache padded sleeve ($30).

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Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. You can follow him on Twitter. Jim is also the co-author of Getting Organized in the Google Era, to be published in March 2010. Sign up to have Mobile Computing e-mailed to you each week.

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