Travel Tech News – January 30, 2013

No more phone unlocking in the US, reattaching buttons without needle or thread, a real travel monitor and interesting developments in North Korea.

All in this edition of Travel Tech News for January 30, 2013.


Unlocking your phone in the USA can now land you in jail

iPhone 5 sideIn another wonderful example of governments helping big companies improve profits at the expense of their customers, a previous DMCA exemption allowing phone unlocking in the USA has just been removed.  After much review (read: lobbying by US mobile carriers), the Library of Congress rescinded the initial exemption and, as of January 26, it is now illegal in the land of the free to unlock any new phone for use on another carrier.

You can still unlock your old, so-called legacy phones, but doing so with a new one can land you with a fine of up to $2500 – or, if the court believes it was done for “commercial advantage or private financial gain” (our emphasis), you can end up with up to five years in the slammer and/or up to half a million bucks in fines.  Does “private financial gain” include saving money on ridiculous international roaming rates, for instance?  Until someone tests this in court, it’s very hard to say.

So, if you’re from the US and planned to save money overseas by unlocking your phone and dropping in a local SIM card, you might want to think again.  Better still, next time your phone contract is up for renewal, buy an unlocked phone to begin with.  Carrier-subsidised handsets have long been a false economy for travelling customers, and this law change just proves the point.


Too lazy to sew your buttons back on? No problem

ticThis is probably one of the lowest-tech travel gadgets we’ve ever featured around here but, given its usefulness, we reckon it’s worth a mention.

How many times have you had a button fall off a shirt when you’re travelling?  Personally I know it’s happened to me at least half a dozen times.  Now I’m one of the geeks who actually does travel with a sewing kit – but that doesn’t mean I’d have any desire to use it if I had another option.

Enter: the Tic

This Swedish-designed invention costs all of about 5 euros for four ‘tics’, little plastic fasteners that can be pushed through your shirt fabric to reattach your button in a matter of seconds.  No needle, thread or bloodletting required.

Let’s face it, having a shirt with all of its buttons attached could make all the difference when you’re trying to work your magic at the hotel bar tonight … right?


Two screens, one suitcase, no problem

HP u160For designers, developers, share traders and others who work on the road, using two screens makes a huge difference to productivity.  Unfortunately that productivity tends to come at a high cost – the weight.  Lugging around even a 15″ LCD screen, stand and power cables rapidly becomes impractical for all but a very few.

It’s a niche requirement, sure, but one that HP aims to fill with one of its latest gadgets, the U160 travel monitor.  Weighing 3.4 pounds (1.5kg) and a little over an inch thick, the U160 also only needs a USB socket to draw its power from.  Resolution is acceptable rather than superb (1366×768), but depending on what you’re using it for, that may not be a show-stopper.

With an iPad-esque flip-out case/stand to protect and stabilise the device, it seems pretty decent value at $179 when it becomes available in the next week or two.


Useful maps and working cellphones in North Korea

North Korea Google MapsOne of the most secretive (and ridiculed) nations in the world, North Korea is rarely visited by travellers.  With permanent minders guides required, and severe restrictions on what can and can’t be seen, the authoritarian country is a difficult, expensive destination.

Despite this, a couple of interesting developments for intrepid wanderers have come out this week.  If you’re planning on ditching your minder once you’re in the country (not recommended, by the way), Google has announced updated North Korean maps based on crowd-sourced data.  The infamous prison camps are even shown, labelled as “gulags”.  The term is controversial, if likely not inaccurate.

The North Korean telecommunications company Koryolink also recently announced that visitors to North Korea can now use their phones inside the country.  Up until now, mobile devices have had to be handed over at the border, but now local SIM cards can be purchased for around $65 USD after the phone has been registered.  The catch – and it’s a big one – is that data and local calls are still forbidden.

Still, if you’ve got an overwhelming need to make overpriced international calls, you now can.  Let the celebrations commence.


Images via Yutaka Tsutano, tic, HP and Google

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