Five must-have travel innovations from the Mobile World Congress
This week’s tech gathering in Barcelona saw a swathe of gadgets designed for travel, from the new Samsung Galaxy S9 to an unlimited-roaming MiFi gadget to a smart earpiece that can translate six languages in real time
Although it is mostly known for its announcements about new smartphones, Barcelona’s annual Mobile World Congress is also a great place to find travel technology.
It didn’t disappoint this year, with cutting-edge products on show promising easier and cheaper roaming, foreign language translation, an impressive new laptop for business travel, and perhaps the ultimate tablet for in-flight entertainment.
1. Skyroam Solis
International roaming remains an issue for frequent fliers, but so-called MiFi (mobile Wi-fi) hotspot devices with unlimited global data are beginning to impress. Despite being a garish orange colour, this palm-sized puck (US$149.99) offers global 4G LTE roaming for up to five separate devices.
Working in more than 110 countries, Skyroam’s roaming charges are simple; continuous global Wi-fi costs US$99 /HK$775 for 30 days, while a single global day pass is priced at a reasonable US$9/HK$70. As a bonus, the Skyroam Solis has a 6,000mAh battery inside, so it also works as a portable power bank to recharge your phone.
2. Waverly Labs Pilot
Travel a lot and too busy to learn a few phrases? That is the core reason for the flurry of new translation apps we’ve seen lately, from Google, and even on Samsung’s latest S9 phone, which debuted in Barcelona this week. While those point-and-shoot translate apps are mainly for reading menus and signs, Pilot (US$249) goes a lot deeper by translating languages in real-time in your ear. The smart earpiece uses the latest speech recognition, machine translation and speech synthesis technology to allow two people speaking different languages to communicate with each other freely. The only catch is that, for now, the other person also has to have a Pilot earpiece, although they can also use the Pilot app. For now it only deals in English, French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish, but more languages are promised.
3. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
The tech world is salivating about the lowlight photography and super slow-motion video capabilities on Samsung’s latest flagship phone (price TBC, released on March 16), but there is much more to be excited about. As well as an optional kickstand case for watching films on aeroplane tray tables (pictured), the 5.8-inch S9 and 6.2-inch S9 Plus have something about their cameras that has been overlooked by most; augmented reality. Thanks to real-time object detection and object recognition technology, the phones can recognise and label whatever you point the camera at. It’s also got a multilingual intelligent assistant called Bixby, which translates foreign languages seen by its camera in a live mode, much like the Google Translate app. However, this one also converts currencies.
4. Onkyo Granbeat Ultra HD 4K tablet
If you’re the kind of traveller who usually avoids in-flight entertainment systems in favour of your own tablet, Onkyo has news for you; the Granbeat is better. Equipped with an Ultra HD 4K display, this 12.5-inch tablet (price and launch date TBC) is primed to take advantage of streams and downloads from Netflix and Amazon Video, which are coming out in higher resolutions.
In-flight tracking app for window-seat fans tells you where in the world you are and what’s going on below
It’s also the first tablet to be compatible with DTS: X Premium 1.0, which takes multichannel surround sound of the kind you might find in a home theatre, and converts it into a 3D audio sound stage that works through any pair of headphones.
5. Huawei MateBook 10 Pro
Webcams are great for making video calls on your laptop, but many of us are now covering up our cameras to guard against hackers and snoopers. So Huawei had an idea; put the webcam in the keyboard, and make it a pop-up. From a quick demo of Huawei’s 13.9-inch MateBook X Pro (US$2,335), it did seem a little low-ranging for a comfortable video, but the idea is a good one for anyone looking for more privacy. So is a built-in fingerprint scanner for added security, which corporate travellers will love. Elsewhere, it’s all about tempting business travellers to ditch Apple; a super-slim bezel sees the touch screen stretch right to the edge of the lid, which looks great. the Matebook 10 Pro weighs just 1.3kg, and keeps going for 14 hours.