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Satellite radio lets you text from the wilderness

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / July 2, 2012
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inReach satellite communicator for smartphones by DeLorme

$249.95 at DeLorme.com

It’s summer, time to get away from it all — but not too far. In case you’re planning a road trip that will take you completely out of cellphone range, a Maine mapping company, DeLorme, offers the inReach, a communications gadget that keeps users in touch no matter how far they may roam.

The inReach is a chunky device powered by a couple of AA batteries. That is enough power to send SMS text messages into outer space, where they get picked up by the Iridium satellite communications network and relayed to friends or family.

A built-in Bluetooth radio lets you link the inReach to Apple or Android smartphones, with help from a free app that talks to the inReach device. Just launch the app, pound out a text message, and hit send. The recipient even gets a Web link to a map that uses the phone’s GPS to display your current location. The recipient can also holler back, because inReach supports two-way texting.

The satellite service is rather pricey; a $24.95 annual fee covers just 40 messages. But how many do you need to say you have spotted a bear? And if the bear attacks, there’s an SOS button. Hold it down, and rescue agencies are notified of your location and asked to send help. It’s just the thing for people who want a taste of life in the wilderness, but would rather avoid a fatal overdose.

IdolPad Plus Q by Idolian Mobile Inc.

$89.99 at idolian.com

We can’t all afford an $500 Apple iPad, or even a $200 Kindle Fire. So how about a mini-tablet computer priced at less than $100?

The IdolPad Plus is pretty much what you would expect, given the price, Much smaller than an iPad, and significantly lighter, it still has a bulky, clunky feel. The screen uses capacitive touch technology, the same kind as the iPad, so it is pretty responsive. But the resolution is dull and grainy.

Still, it has a 1.2-gigahertz processor, half a gigabyte of memory, and room for up to 32 more gigs through a micro SD memory card slot. And it runs the recent Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google Inc.’s Android software.

For an extra $24.99 you can order a case with a built-in keyboard. Good idea, but the keyboard is dreadful, far too small and cramped for comfortable typing. And it plugs in with a thin, spindly wire that looks like it is bound to break under heavy use.

The IdolPad Plus might make sense as a relatively cheap gadget for kids. But as a serious tablet, it doesn’t measure up.

FlatWave digital flat TV antenna by Winegard Co.

$39.90 at flatwave.tv

Cable television costs a small fortune these days. No wonder more and more Americans are sticking with free over-the-air TV broadcasts. All you need is a TV and a good antenna, like this one.

Forget the old-school rabbit ears. The FlatWave is made of translucent plastic about a quarter-inch thick. You can tape it to a wall or window, or lay it flat on a table. Just find the spot in your room that delivers the best reception.

The FlatWave performed much better than the cheap rabbit-ear setup I have at home. It was able to pick up 29 Boston-area TV stations, many broadcasting in high-definition. And the pictures were as sharp as anything I get via cable.

Combine a good antenna like this one with a streaming Internet video service such as Netflix, and you may decide it is time to cut the cable.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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