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Find the nearest free Wi-fi hotspot with Facebook, a portable laptop charger that doesn’t suck, and Google’s improved its translation tool and released an app that makes turning old print photos into digital a lot less painful.
It’s time for the last Travel Tech News of the year!
A Portable Battery That Can Charge Your Laptop and Isn’t Awful? Maybe So.
There are very few portable batteries out there that can charge a laptop, and for good reason. The capacity and power management requirements mean the battery will inevitably be much larger, heavier and more expensive. Dealing with all the different charging socket types is also a big hassle.
We’ve never found one we liked, but that might be about to change. The Omnicharge just raised over two million dollars on Indiegogo, with shipping due early next year.
It packs up to 20400mAh capacity into a relatively small package, and gets around the charging socket issue by providing a standard wall socket instead. Just plug your existing charger in, and away you go. It’s surprising more companies haven’t done this, really.
There are also two fast-charging USB ports, as well as Qi wireless charging if your device supports it. Using the company’s own charger, the Omnicharge itself will recharge in 2-3 hours, which is much quicker than most of the competitors.
As USB-C laptop charging becomes common in the next few years, it’ll get much easier for portable battery manufacturers to offer compatible devices. Until then, though, and assuming it lives up to its promises, the Omnicharge is the best we’ve seen yet.
Find the Nearest Free Wi-fi With… Facebook?
There have been apps for finding free Wi-fi hotspots for several years now — we’ve been recommending Wifi Map for ages. That company, and others like it, must be running scared after recent hints that Facebook is testing a similar feature on mobile.
Usefulness for travellers will largely depend on whether it works offline, but if it does, it’ll be a super-useful addition to the Facebook app. It apparently shows not only the name of nearby businesses offering free Wi-fi, but also how long it’ll take you to get there, and the wireless network name.
At the moment, it only seems to be available on the iOS version in certain countries. To see if you’ve got it, scroll through your menu options and look for “Enable Find Wi-Fi.”
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Google PhotoScan: Moving Old Photos to Digital Now Sucks Much Less
If you’re old and crusty like me, you’ll remember a time before digital cameras and smartphones. Somewhere in my parents’ garage sits a box of albums, crammed with photos I barely remember of trips I took in the 90’s.
I’d love to have those on my laptop, like the 95-bajillion shots I’ve taken since, but the hassle of scanning them all is way too high (trust me, I tried). That’s why I was happy to hear about Google’s new PhotoScan app, which deals with exactly this issue.
The process is simple — fire up the app, hover your phone over the photo and line it up with the on-screen dots. The smarts come when the app compensates for the things that usually ruin this type of shot — crooked photos, rotation, glare from overhead lights or flash, shadows from your body, and the like. The end result? A much better image than trying to do it all yourself.
And Its Translate App Got a Whole Lot Better, Too
Speaking of Google, its Translate app is pretty indispensable for travellers these days. Not ones to sit on their laurels, the developers last month announced the product got a whole lot better. It now uses “neural machine translation” to translate entire sentences at once, rather than breaking them down into smaller chunks of a word or two.
The end result? Better, more natural translation, with improved grammar. It has apparently improved “more in one single leap than in 10 years combined,” and cuts down on errors by 55-85%. That’s huge.
At the moment, this new technology applies to English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish, but we’ll undoubtedly see that list added to over time.
If you use the Translate app already, there’s nothing you need to do — the improvements are automatic. Bring on better communication!