10 of the Coolest Travel Gadgets of 2018
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It's been a huge year for travel, loyalty and credit cards (hello, American Express® Gold Card!) but 2018 has also brought us some very impressive travel-friendly tech, from noise-canceling headphones to smartphones and more.
In our roundup of the year's top travel tech, we're focusing on big-ticket items: You can find a good enough plug adapter for a couple of bucks, but smartphones, laptops and even wireless headphones offer a better return on your (sometimes hours of) internet research.
So dig around in your carry-on bag and see if you need to make an upgrade (hint: if you notice a tangle of headphone wires, it may be time).
The Best Android Phone
Google Pixel 3 XL
My top Android pick for 2018 is the Google Pixel 3 XL. It has native support for Google Fi (more on that below), and offers a killer photo mode called Night Sight that captures incredible still photos in low-light, as you can see in my tour of United's new 787-10. Even if you missed Google's outrageous holiday deal, it's available at a reasonable price of $899. And if you don't need a 6.3-inch screen, you can save $100 by opting for the smaller Google Pixel 3 instead.
Runners-Up: There were a number of top contenders this year, including the very affordable $429 OnePlus 6T and the gigantic $999 Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
The Best iOS Phone
Normally, you'd assume the top-of-the-line option will be the best, but when it comes to Apple's latest batch of iPhones, I'm not convinced. The iPhone XS Max is a bit too large for smaller hands, and tremendously expensive, at $1,249 for 256GB (the minimum storage you'd need if taking full advantage of its photo chops). That's why the iPhone XR is the smartphone most Apple enthusiasts should get this year, because at $799 for a respectable 128GBs, you're saving an awful lot of money. You are forfeiting an OLED screen (the XR's is LCD) and 3D Touch, and you don't get a dedicated 2x lens. But Apple's still managed to add Portrait mode, thanks to additional "Focus Pixels" — with support for wide-angle, shallow-focus shots as well. And don't forget the XR's fun colors. Personally, I'm a fan of the (Product)Red.
The Best Mobile Network
OK, so it's not a tangible device you can toss in your suitcase. And Google's own cellular service has been around in its current form since 2015. But this year, Project Fi was rebranded to Google Fi, and the company officially added iPhone support, making it a really compelling option for millions more users. All of the service's best aspects are still here as well, including free data-only SIMs for secondary mobile devices and $10/GB data in most countries around the world.
The Best Laptop
Dell XPS 13
I'm a Mac guy, I'm not going to lie. But 2018's top PCs have a lot going for them, especially since you can download streaming apps like Netflix that let you store content locally ahead of a long-haul flight. Dell's XPS 13 is a bit more traveler-friendly, with a weight of 2.67 pounds, a widescreen display where content fills the screen and a starting price of $1,000.
Runners-Up: My initial top pick was the Huawei MateBook X Pro ($1,200), but at around three pounds, it's a tad too heavy to qualify. If you aren't willing to venture beyond Apple's ecosystem, it's not a bad time to upgrade there, either. The new MacBook Air (also from $1,200) is a huge step up, with a smaller footprint and a high-res Retina display.
The Best Headphones
It may not have a catchy name, but Sony's WH-1000XM3 ($348) is the noise-canceling set to beat. This year's model is the latest and greatest version of our 2017 pick, and reviewers agree that it does an exceptional job of canceling out ambient sound, and it's the first Sony set to support USB-C charging, reducing cable clutter if you happen to carry another USB-C device. But my favorite feature of all: a fast charging mode that gets you five hours of playback with a 10-minute charge, and a battery that lasts up to 30 hours if you have enough time to fill it all the way.
The Best Photography Equipment
Sony RX100 VI
I've been a huge fan of Sony's pocketable RX100 series since the very beginning, but my favorite model is the RX100 III (or M3), which does everything a frequent traveler needs, and then some. The RX100 VI is the 2018 model, and at $1,198, it does not come cheap. But you do get a lot of bang for your buck. A 24-200mm lens, large 1-inch sensor, 4K video, a tilting LCD and the "world's fastest" autofocus system — all in a (relatively) tiny package.
DJI Osmo Pocket
DJI has brought its drone-making prowess to the ultra-portable photography space. The Osmo Pocket, which went on sale just this month, lets you shoot professional-quality video with a device that you can literally carry around in your back pocket. A built-in LCD lets you frame shots directly on the screen, or you can slide it onto your smartphone for more control and a larger display.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
There's a reason I'm including a second DJI product on this list: The Mavic 2 Zoom is one incredible drone. It's the first DJI aircraft with a 2x optical zoom lens, letting you get much closer to your subject without moving an inch. That feature was especially useful at the St. Regis Bora Bora, which doesn't seem to like when guests fly directly above the resort. You can also fly longer and farther than before, thanks to the 31-minute battery and 5-mile 1080p streaming range.
The Best Tech Accessories
Apple Watch Series 4
The $399 Series 4 is the first Apple Watch I've owned since the company launched its original wearable in 2015, and it was worth the wait. I love the health and fitness tracking, larger screen and traveler-friendly features like mobile boarding passes and instant flight notifications. A $100 upgrade gives you cellular functionality as well, letting you place calls and use other features even when you don't have a phone nearby.
Fire TV Stick 4K
While some hotels now offer smart TVs, with access to your own Hulu and Netflix accounts, the vast majority don't (and probably won't for years to come). But armed with Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K, travelers can bring content to their rooms on the road, assuming there's a manageable Wi-Fi network and a TV with HDMI support. Plug it in, hop online and get instant access to many of your favorite shows. You'll never pay $20 for an in-room movie again.
For more on TPG's gadget picks and other traveler-friendly gifts, see: