Leaders of the pack: super-smart travel gadgets
I’ve never been one for a laptop sleeve. Slipping your computer into a sheath only to insert it into another bigger bag seems unnecessarily fussy. Plus, memories of frumpy grey foam cases resembling wetsuits for laptops are seared into my brain from my university days.
Yet a surprising new release from 72-year-old British leather-goods firm Silviano has me thinking differently. Recalling a slim briefcase, this handsome leather number can fit your notebook, chargers, credit cards, a folded-up newspaper and other essential bits as well as your laptop. (It comes in two sizes: to fit a 13in or 16in computer.) As its retractable handle suggests, it’s not designed to be chucked into another bag; it is the bag. And it’s a pretty handy, travel-friendly one at that: an ideal carry-on piece.
Tech-device-holder offerings have flourished in recent years, with fashion brands feverishly turning out pouches for tablets, smartphones and AirPods. Louis Vuitton makes a laptop case that looks like a checkerboard while Comme des Garçons’ version is splashed with a playful bubble print and Aussie accessories specialist Bellroy sells an appealing caramel-coloured leather Tech Folio.
Silviano’s case is handmade from vegetable-tanned cowhide and comes in a traditional wrapping – but it’s smart, digitally speaking, too. The brand has developed a slim power bank that slots into one pocket and can charge your phone wirelessly in addition to powering your laptop, tablet, headphones and other devices via cables. It can juice up three things at once. And its GPS tracking makes it near impossible to misplace. Thanks to a Bluetooth chip that links with an app, the sleeve will respond with a loud bleep if you press a button on your phone (this function can be voice activated); it can also be traced on a map. Should you stray too far from the device, as happened to me one recent morning when I was overly hasty in leaving the flat and forgot it, you’ll receive a polite phone notification. It also has RFID blocking, so no one can sneak up behind you and scan your credit card or passport.
Silviano Tech Sleeve, from £195, available at Smartech Selfridges or houseofsilviano.com
If you’re about to go bush and the thought of a dead phone and no power-point access makes you feel queasy, leave room in your hiking pack for this portable power bank. Weighing 0.6kg and boasting a brave violet-and-grey colour scheme, it’s hardly the chicest or daintiest thing. But it has a hugely appealing selling point: it can be charged manually by pulling on a retractable cord. (Ninety seconds of pulling will give the bank enough power to then charge a phone – via a USB cable – with energy for a 25-minute call.) That makes it an ideal emergency power source. Created by a British industrial-equipment company, it’s fitted with a built-in LED torch and there are optional attachments for things like Bluetooth speakers, a panic alarm and a GPS tracker, all of which are operated via a smartphone app. You don’t need bulging biceps to power it up; although it offers some resistance, the cord is tugged easily enough. It’s a pleasantly analogue travel companion.
Unibank power bank, from £89.95
The thinking cyclist’s helmet
The EVO21 smart helmet, the latest innovation from Shenzhen company Livall, seduces before you’ve even synced it with your phone. Streamlined and feather-light, it was created in tandem with Spanish design studio Ruma and comes in mint, purple, white and black (I’ll take the black, thanks). It excels before dawn and after dusk, with powerful, wide-angle LED front beams; brake lights on the back of the head; and side indicators controlled with a remote that clips onto your handlebars (meaning no need for outstretched arms and balancing acts while navigating windy roads). The lights’ intensity can be altered through an app and the helmet also pairs with iHealth, Siri and the social network Strava, so you can track stats and try to better fellow riders. Should you take a serious tumble, it will detect the pause in movement and send an SOS alert and GPS signal of your whereabouts to emergency services. A clever spin on a crucial accessory.
Livall EVO21, £99.99
Barista-style coffee wherever you roam
The creators of the excellently named Picopresso are not about to tell you that their dinky new release makes for easy brewing. “With the Picopresso there are no shortcuts,” reads the stern description on the website of Wacaco, the Hong Kong startup behind a string of impressive travel espresso-makers. What this palm-sized contraption does, though, is enable you to manually pull espresso shots worthy of a Melbourne barista from your beachside shack or remote cabin. In addition to the slick black canister, which is made up of a series of stainless-steel parts, you’ll need boiling water, coffee beans, a hand-grinder, and a dose of patience. (If you do want to take a shortcut, you could buy very finely pre-ground beans.) Via a 23-step process of grinding, tamping and pulling, it produces consistently smooth and rich double shots and, while it is a touch finicky, when surrounded by nature the process can be meditative. Indeed, the drive to finesse your routine may prove as addictive as the caffeinated drink it creates.
Wacaco Picopresso, £131.88