With gas prices low, family road adventures should be rampant this summer. And we're tripping on some nifty new tech toys and apps that could make your long distance outings more fun and safer.
Hit me with your best shot
Dash cams first became notorious as defensive tools in Russia, where insurance scammers slam on brakes or throw themselves on car hoods to fake an accident. (It's a living.) But when the team from Cobra Electronics showed me their new Drive HD Dual Channel Dash Cam System (CDR 895), they also proposed kinder, gentler applications.
Besides an ultra-wide (160 degree) front view camera, pointing through the windshield at the world ahead, the Drive HD system includes a second 130-degree camera you can either point out the rear window or down at the back seat. The latter ascertains that the kids are behaving or a snoozing baby is safe.
Images appear on a two-inch, split-screen LCD display integrated into the backside of the front-pointing high-def camera. A continuous loop recording mechanism captures cute moments and accidents, with a G-Sensor automatically protecting videos from erasure when an impact is detected.
Come upon a mountain you gotta climb, a scenic point worth remembering? Quickly release the core piece from its suction cupped windshield moorings, then use it as an action cam or selfie-shooter.
$229.95 at Cobra.com
Help on the way
If the false-arrest-in-the-boondocks scenario of My Cousin Vinny inspired more groans than giggles, consider Snap by LegalShield. Available July 1, this new feature of the online legal service calls a local attorney to your rescue, soon after you've taken and dashed off a smartphone picture of your newly earned moving violation traffic ticket. Attorney costs are covered by the $17.95 a month (and up) membership. Available in 49 states (stay out of Alaska), LegalShield is primed for holidays such as July Fourth, when "police activity increases nearly 50 percent," warned CEO Jeff Bell, a former Ford and Chrysler exec. Did he learn the hard way, road testing new rides?
Say hi to my little friend
I can see CarMoji getting Chevy Chase in trouble, in the umpteenth installment of National Lampoon Summer Vacation. Great for flirting with that cute someone driving behind you, the two-piece gizmo features a small wireless remote you attach to the car's sun visor (like a garage door opener) and an emoji display that attaches to the rear window. Press the remote and the emoji lights up (for six seconds) with a smile, a wink or thumbs up.
Videos to go
Rear seat DVD players are such a 2001, wasted space oddity. HopperGo and Amazon on Deck are the new ways to take the entertainment with you. Your ongoing software outlay is zero, if you're already a subscriber to Dish Network or Amazon Prime services. And the shows play on smartphones and tablets, your kids' best buds.
HopperGo is cool, a low-cost ($99) portable media storage device that holds up to 100 hours of DVR recordings (including pay movie channel shows!) transferred from a web-linked Hopper 3 or Hopper with Sling satellite TV receiver.
Once the shows are on the device, HopperGo becomes a WiFi hub media player. Meaning, it will wirelessly stream selected on-board content to up to five smartphone or tablet screens simultaneously. It runs up to four hours between battery charges.
Each receiving device must have the DishAnywhere app loaded and open and WiFi network setting switched to HopperGo. HD files are downsized before transfer, though picture and sound quality look superb on a small screen. And the WiFi signal reach of the tiny HopperGo is intense, easily beaming 100 feet away through many wall obstructions.
(Take note: While not spelled out, all transfer operations are done on your DishAnywhere smartdevice app, not on your TV screen's Dish menu.)
Just launched last week and clearly a work in progress, Amazon's new On Deck feature downloads Amazon Videos to a recent, fifth-generation Amazon tablet: Fire, Fire HD 8, and Fire HD 10 varieties for playback offline whenever, wherever. So there will always be something new to watch, Amazon is pushing some content to the tablet automatically, such as first episodes of in-house created series. You can set content rating restrictions so the little ones don't encounter raw stuff. And once you know how (operating instructions stink), transfer pretty much anything in Amazon Prime-ville.
Good parents don't let backseat fun-seekers listen loudly on headphones. They invest in downsized, kid-friendly phones such as JVC HA-KD6V TinyPhones, which limit output level to 85 dB. These colorful things have decent mid-fi sound, padded cushions that help seal out noise and come with customizable stickers.
$18.69 at Amazon.com
Likewise sound limiting, smaller tyke-sized Maxell Kid Safe KHP-2 headphones are lighter and cheaper ($7-$10), but don't block out the noisy world as well.