Omar L. Gallaga, McClatchy Newspapers, Published July 16 2012
Water, sand and heat: Your technology hates that stuff and must be protectedIf the stifling summer heat hasn’t yet drained your desire to move around, you may just make it to the pool, the beach or some other water-filled rejuvenation zone. There, you may feel an intense desire to frolic, to splash, to kick sand around as you rediscover what it’s like to do something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.
But let’s be honest: Those gadgets that occupy our lives daily aren’t going to just stay at home. You’ve got photos to shoot, nautical-themed off-color jokes to share on Facebook, trashy and popular ebooks you’ll want to read while lounging by the water.
But summer is the enemy of technology. Your music players, smart phones, digital cameras, tablets and e-readers can be rendered useless by extreme heat, die if they take a spill into water or killed slowly by creeping sand. (If sand had an ad slogan, it would be, “Sand: we’re everywhere you don’t want us to be.”) Let’s agree this summer to protect our digital things before we leave the house, to think ahead and shield these defenseless products before it’s too late.
The heat that will likely last until at least September is the easiest to deal with. Don’t leave electronics, including laptops in work bags or your phone, in a car on a hot day for more than a few minutes. Sure, the gadget may survive, but the heat wears on the electronics and could render the screen or the device temporarily inoperable. If you must leave electronics behind, at least make sure they’re not being subjected to direct sunlight.
Protecting from water is a little trickier because swimming pools, water parks and the beach are places we’re likely to want to take photos and share some memories online.
There are lots of waterproof cases for specific models of phones and cameras. Makers include Aryca, OtterBox and LifeProof. If you have an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone, it’s not hard to find a hard plastic case for around $50 that will survive a quick water dunking and still allow you to take photos and access basic functions on the device. But there’s a much cheaper option: Bag your gadget up.
In its August issue, Consumer Reports lists five plastic bags that can protect electronic gear, keeping out water even if they were completely submerged. They included the DryCase, the DryCase Tablet, the TrendyDigital WaterGuard Waterproof Case, the Seattle Sports Dry Doc Waterproof e-Tablet Case and the Lavod LMB-011 Waterproof Bag.
The ones specifically marketed for gadgets range from $16 to $38, but a simple Hefty Slider Bag (which costs 10-13 cents depending on size) worked just as well in testing.
Donna Tapellini, senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports, said that in the magazine’s testing, the bags were only subjected to a quick dunk. “Hopefully if your gadget falls in water you’re going to pull it out as quickly as you can,” she said.
Tapellini said that the smart phones, tablets and cameras could even be operated inside the bags. “The responsiveness was just as good or almost as good as outside the bag,” she said. “You could swipe, you could turn buttons.” The thing you can’t do well from inside a plastic bag is take photos. Tapellini said glare was a problem with all the bags tested. A glare filter might help, but taking the camera or phone from the bag to shoot photos is probably the best option.
Maybe I’m paranoid, but when I take my phone on tubing trips, I use a small plastic baggie inside a quart or gallon-sized bag just in case my tube or the ice chest I store the phone in should tip over.
What should you do if you drop your phone, camera or other device into water? Get it out as fast as possible, of course. Try to turn it off and get it dry. The Bheestie Bag (about $20 at bheestie.com) is a 6- by 9-inch bag that can dry out electronics. It’s handy to have one around, but if you don’t, try sticking your gadget in a bag of dry rice or silica gel packs, the kind that come packed in shoes. The idea is to absorb as much moisture as possible before attempting to turn the device back on.
Lastly, there’s the scourge of all swimsuit and contact lens wearers: gritty, horrible sand. While sand may not seem as much a danger as water to your electronics, it can easily get inside the ports, headphone jacks and crevices, causing long-term damage or messing with your screen.
Tapellini suggests being extra careful removing gadgets from plastic bags, cases or anything else meant to protect them; that’s when it’s most likely sand will end up where you don’t want it. Of course, if you want to take photos underwater or into extreme climates, there are whole tech product categories meant for extreme filming. The GoPro HD Hero 2, for instance, is a $300 HD video camera built into a case that’s waterproof and wearable and which looks extremely durable. It comes in several versions, including one with surfboard mounts.
For the rest of us, with our workaday tech, however, summer tech disasters can be avoided entirely by simply leaving most of it at home.
Think about how you’ll actually be using this technology. Of course you’re going to want to have a camera handy, but are you really going to have time to read a lot of ebooks or do a lot of web surfing (as opposed to the real thing)? The e-ink on an Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble device may be great for reading outdoors, but tablets and laptops are terrible in direct sunlight. And the more expensive the device, the better reason you have for keeping it away from the elements.
Besides, wouldn’t you rather quarantine a device that’s going to tempt you to play games, check email constantly or browse the web instead of enjoying what’s around you?