Posted by: Michele Erdvig | August 19, 2013

Gizmos and Gadgets: Confessions of a Techno Geek in Ireland

By Robert Emprimo Bob Remprimo afc

I have to admit – upfront – that I’m a bit of a Techno Geek, so I doubtless tend to pack more gear then the average traveler to Ireland. But, after 14 years (and nearly 20 visits), I have gotten fairly consistent with my weapons of choice. I don’t do Apple. I’m neither a fan, nor a hater of Apple products. Why, my wife even owns a 4s – though it is a Sprint device and therefore would not work in Ireland, without a goodly amount of ‘hoop jumping’. Apple makes some very nice devices, but I think they are over-priced and too proprietary for my taste, so I do not buy them.

And, while I will freely admit that I spend entirely too much time on the Internet most days, I have never felt the urge to be constantly ‘wired in’. Even though I always carry a ‘Smart’ phone, I have the data connection disabled and only use it for occasional calls. I am not so gratification oriented that I can’t wait an hour or three to look up a certain fact or piece of information – using a real computer – One with a nice, big screen. Maybe, it’s an age thing?

gadgets 1 af WEB

Outlet Plug Adapters 

I normally pack two or three plug adapters to convert the Irish / UK style outlets to my US style devices. I can get by with less, but they don’t take up much room, weigh very little and they have been known to fail (or get left behind) on more than one occasion.

All of my devices are rated for dual voltage input, meaning that I neither need, nor bring a voltage converter. Other than my Ultrabook and camera, all of my devices can be charged via a USB cable of one sort, or another. I have one small, wall plug and one, 12v outlet plug (that fits the typical car cigarette lighter port), each of which has two USB outlet ports. I also purchased two retractable ‘reel’ USB cables that came with a set of interchangeable ‘tips’ (ends) that match virtually any electronic device. Excluding the plug adapters, all that paraphernalia fits into a small zippered bag that easily fits in the palm of my hand. It also has enough room for a couple of spare phone batteries, a couple of USB thumb drives, any spare SIM and SD memory cards.

The charger for my camera is smaller than a pack of cigarettes and weighs only a bit more – even with a spare battery resting within. Like-wise, the Ultrabook charger is less than half the size of a typical power ‘brick’ found on older laptops – and less than 1/3 of the weight. My Ultrabook battery usually gives me six or more hours between charges, so the inverter has been retired from travel.

hair dryer commons Hair Dryer

My wife cannot function without a hair dryer. After a couple of years of fighting the good fight (trying to use converters and one or two different, dual-voltage devices), we broke down and bought a small, basic, Irish hair drier at some small shop for about 20 Euros and we schlep it back and forth. It must be eight or nine years old and has never failed us, but she uses it less and less – as most accommodations now provide one.

Flashlight

As has been recommended – numerous times – carrying a small, portable flashlight is always a good idea. I found one, on Ebay for $12, with free shipping, that not only provides a bright, steady light and is rechargeable via a USB cable (see above) – but also  does double-duty as a 2800 mAh, battery booster/recharger (via the USB cables that I carry) for any of my phones! It, too, fits handily into either my pocket – or my little zippered bag. Sometimes, carrying a lot, does not require a lot of space – or extra weight.

Cameras

I purchased my first digital camera just prior to our first trip to Ireland, in April of 1999. It had a maximum resolution of 640 X 480 and I managed to take some great pix – that are fine for viewing on a computer, but make for horrible prints. That trip, we also, of course, carried along a good quality, traditional film camera, as well. A couple of trips, we even dragged along our trusty, Minolta SLR and all its attendant ‘extras’ – assorted lenses, power winder, flash, etc.

As digital cameras improved, we upgraded, again and again – to 1 MP, 2 MP, 5 MP and then, to 7 Mega Pixel. I even purchased a DSLR (an Olympus) for my wife, one birthday, since she has the better eye of the two of us. I have managed to take a few good shots, though – even a blind squirrel manages to find an occasional acorn, every now and then!

Our current, ‘Go To’ camera is a Canon Powershot Elph 300HS, with 5X Optical Zoom, rated at 12.1 MP. It takes excellent pictures, fits in any pocket and is lightweight. We set it to record at Maxi mun Quality and it normally carries a 32 GB SD Memory card. I pack along a spare battery and an extra 1 or 2 SD cards – although the 32 GB will hold thousands of pictures – even at a couple of MB per image.

Other than occasionally using the built-in camera on my Nokia Lumina, the Canon is usually all that we carry, any more. Neither of us are ‘professionals’ and we harbor no illusions about making money from our photographs. Plus, to be honest, we’ve both gotten a bit jaded and lazy about picture taking – partly, I suspect, because we know that we’ll likely see these sites, again and again.

gadgets 3 afc WEB

Computers

Over the years, as I’ve acquired them, I’ve dragged a few different laptops to Ireland. The biggest drawback has been the weight. A full laptop usually weighs in at 4-5 pounds and the charger and cables usually add up to a couple more. By the time all was said and done, I was stuck, constantly lugging a 10-12 pound bag around every airport.

I hate to not have one along though, as I’ve found them to be incredibly useful tools. Having a computer enables me to down load and save my pictures on a regular basis – which has saved me from losing them on a couple of occasions. It also allows me to perform research and stay in touch. It also helps to mitigate those odd moments of boredom during long layovers and those interminable flights.

I bought a spiffy, light-weight ‘Netbook’ – under 3 pounds, ‘All-In’ – back in 2008, but I found it too frustrating to use with its undersized screen and painfully slow processing speed. Just before our 2012 Trip, I purchased a quasi ‘Ultrabook’ – a Samsung NP530U3B, which I’ve been quite happy with. It has no CD or DVD built in and unlike a TRUE ‘Ultrabook’, mine has a traditional, hard disk, not a Solid State Drive. Even though that makes it a tad heavier and slower (maybe ¼ pound) the whole package still only weighs about 3 pounds and it is still nearly as quick as my home desktop computer.

Internet Access

In 2010, I purchased a Cellular USB ‘Stick Modem’ from Vodafone, for 50 Euro, that allowed access to the internet most of the time. Connection speeds weren’t exactly dazzling, but I was using a ‘Netbook’, at that time, which did tend to aggravate the problem. I found it handy, though as WiFi was generally quite limited in most places.

That situation has changed quite a bit, of late. Over the last couple of years, many B&Bs, most hotels and more than a few pubs and eateries have begun to offer free WiFi. – joining virtually every McDonalds and the native Supermacs. Some communities – notably Dublin, but also, as recently announced, Killarney, offer widespread free WiFi.

Still, there are large parts of Ireland where free access to WiFi is not available. Stepping in to fill that void (and to generate larger profit margins) a number of Car Hire companies (notably, Hertz and Dan Dooley) have begun to offer Wireless Hot Spots for rent. These cellular-based units allow up to five devices to connect to the Internet at close to full, high speed. They can be a little pricey, though – costing from 30 Euro per week, to as much as 10 Euro per day.

On my most recent trip, 18 June to 8 July, 2013, I purchased a “3” Mobile Hot Spot from Carphone Warehouse, for 50 Euro, plus an additional 25 Euro for a 30 day ‘add on’ that provides up to 7.5 GB of data usage. During our first eight days, it got a fair amount of use, as it provided my son-in-law and daughter internet access for their Smart Phones (a Samsung Galaxy and an Iphone 4s), as well as connecting my Nokia Lumina 900, mostly, just for speedier GPS service.

Both in the car and in our rental house, it worked quite well, although finding a suitable centralized location in the stone walled, two-story building initially required a bit of experimenting. That said, there were a few instances and locations, where the device failed to work, due to poor or weak signal. Generally, though, coverage was very good to excellent – both in the Republic and in the North.

While I might have saved 15 Euro or so (on this trip) by renting, I now own the unit. On future trips, I only need to have it reactivated (by buying additional credit), so future costs will be much less expensive – by orders of magnitude. Whether or not such a purchase makes sense for other travelers likely depends upon how frequently they travel to Ireland. It makes sense to me, but then, I’m the King of Rationalization.

Irish Phone Booths

 Phones

When we first went to Ireland, in 1999, there were public pay phones seemingly everywhere. Some were coin-operated and some required a plastic card to operate. You could buy the plastic cards at virtually every single shop and gas station and they were even on offer at the Post Office. Mobile phones virtually eliminated that – seemingly overnight. Nowadays, finding a pay phone has become very nearly an exercise in futility – and finding a working pay phone seems less likely than winning the Lottery!

Back in 2000, the Cousins let us use a spare mobile phone during our two-week stay and we found it tremendously useful for keeping in touch. Prior to our next visit, I purchased an unlocked Sony Ericson Tri-Band phone and a Vodafone SIM. Through the remaining years, I’ve managed to keep that account and phone number active – so we are reachable via an established and well-known number.

When the Sony proved a bit archaic, I upgraded to a Motrolla ‘PEBL’ – a Quad-Band, unlocked phone. About 2008, I upgraded once more – buying a Nokia 6110 Navigator – a Quad-Band phone that included a built-in, stand-alone GPS, loaded with maps for Ireland, the UK and the city of Amsterdam.

As you can imagine, those maps became pretty much useless after a few years, so just before this trip (Summer of 2013), I upgraded, once again. My current device is an unlocked, Quad-Band, Nokia Lumina 900, which also contains an internal GPS that does not require a data connection to function. It is a Windows phone, something I’m not thrilled with and the GPS is rather sluggish. It takes quite a while to acquire a signal without using a data assist – but the directions and mapping function and screen size –proved to be remarkably accurate and useful on this trip. Using my Mobile WiFi Hot Spot to speed up the signal acquisition really helped, though.

I don’t normally rely upon the GPS to get around, but it is extremely handy for locating ‘Off-The-Beaten-Path’ places – particularly some of the more obscure Round Towers that I have grown so obsessed with finding of late. Since I can usually secure the GPS coordinates from Google, the Lumina’s GPS proved itself unbeatable in its ability to lead me straight to their often hidden locations!

This trip, I placed my Vodafone SIM into the Nokia Navigator (since it has all my contact info for Ireland). I purchase a fresh Tesco SIM each trip, for the PEBL and use it for calls to the US. Plus, I normally have my wife carry it, in case we get separated. This trip, I gave it to my daughter and she used it almost exclusively for her many attempts to check on the status of her missing luggage.

When we entered the North, I purchased another NI Tesco SIM, to use during our time there. This was probably overkill, but I had experienced poor connectivity with my Republic issued SIMs on a previous trip and 10 GBP seemed cheap insurance.

I did not use the new Nokia Lumina as a phone, this trip, although I had recorded all of our reservation data (confirmation numbers, contact info, prices and dates) into the ‘Calendar’ and I also occasionally utilized the resident, 8 Mega pixel camera. Primarily, though the Lumina functioned as my GPS. Next trip, I’ll probably leave the PEBL at home.

 None of this should be construed as constituting a “must own” list. Everyone has their own comfort level in terms of technology and their own preferences in terms of brands and platforms. Still, my ‘necessities’ total only about 5 pounds and require minimal space. It is a set up that has and continues to work, for me – I think. But then, my wife always says that I tend to over analyze – so, what do I know?

© 2013 Robert Emprimo

Read Bob’s most recent Trip Report.

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Responses

  1. Great tips!


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