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Travel tech Pt 1: The vital art of airport Wi-FI

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The single biggest challenge when travelling internationally is to remain connected. In the first of a series of articles on travel technology, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at the most vital of needs: Airport Wi-Fi.

The biggest benefit of an international flight from or to South Africa is that, for anything from 8 to 16 hours, one is out of touch with the world and forced to catch up with work – or sleep, reading, entertainment or conversation.

That, of course, it also its biggest drawback. Especially in business travel, where it is almost dangerous to be uncoupled from the office for more than half a day, the first priority on getting off the plane is to get connected. But even for leisure travellers, there is often a great psychological need to reconnect, download email and deal with anything urgent that may have cropped up during the time in communications limbo.

For South African travellers, using mobile data is out of the question – unless one is desperate or – more rarely these days – on a generous expenses account. For MTN, Vodacom and Cell C customers, roaming data in most countries outside Africa costs a near-criminal R100-plus per Megabyte.

This means that someone using 10GB – which would cost less than R1000 as a bundle in South Africa – would face a bill of more than R1-million on returning home. And it does happen, especially on arrival in another country, when mobile data has not been disabled and the user allows the phone to update apps via that mobile data. Without even knowing it, you can be ruined before you’ve left the airport.

Fortunately, most international airports now offer a quota of free Wi-Fi. A business traveller in particular should be aware of the fact that mobile data should be disabled as a first priority when switching on the phone. Some assume that Wi-Fi should be included in that disablement, when it is in fact the solution rather than the problem.

The key is to find the network offering free airport Wi-Fi. In most airports, posters advertise the presence of hotspots, but the danger exists that one may inadvertently access a fake hotspot, set up by a hacker to con people into typing passwords for online banking and the like into this “honeypot”. If it is at all unclear whether official Wi-Fi is being accessed, financially sensitive sites like online banking should be avoided.

It is fairly easy, however, to find out in advance what Wi-Fi is offered at the airports in which one is likely to need a connection. As they say in beginners’ guides, Google is your friend. Make sure the information is up to date, though.

At the time of writing, among major airports, unlimited free access is offered at Dublin, Hong Kong, Moscow Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vienna.

Heathrow has just upped its quota from 45 minutes to 4 hours free, going one up on Stockholm’s 3 hours. Amsterdam and Zurich both offer the first hour free. South African airports, with their 30 minutes free Wi-Fi, are matched by Frankfurt, Munich and Rome.

In the United States, LaGuardia, Newark and JF Kennedy in New York also offer 30 minutes free access throughout the airports, while JFK’s  Jet Blue Terminal (terminal 5) offers unlimited access.

Other airports are more generous, with Las Vegas, Boston, Dallas, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington among the unlimited free airports in the United States.

Airports that have yet to wake up to the public relations benefits of a good chunk of free Wi-Fi include London’s Gatwick, Spain’s Barcelona and Madrid, and France’s Charles de Gaulle, which are each open for a near-unusable 15 minutes. The technical geniuses behind these services appear not to have noticed that it can take almost that long just to get the connection working, let alone getting to use it.

If that Wi-Fi connection is truly urgent, and no free Wi-Fi is available, it is obvious one should pay the price to connect to commercial WI-FI in the airport, or even subscribe to a global Wi-Fi service like iPass or Boingo.

There was a time when such services were regarded as a luxury. For many travellers today, they are as essential as a passport. After all, connectivity has become the entry visa to the mobile office.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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