Cool gadgets for summer

Serious sunglasses from Smith Optics and Maui Jim really do make the world seem a mellower place. (Jonathan Takiff/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Combined ShapeCaption
Serious sunglasses from Smith Optics and Maui Jim really do make the world seem a mellower place. (Jonathan Takiff/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Enjoying your summer? The good times might go even better with some of the warm-weather travel pals yours truly has been road testing.

Can rock, will roll: Exactly 50 summers ago, portable record players inside small suitcase/briefcase-style packages were a hot commodity at the first electronics trade show now called CES. So how ironic is it that a deceptively retro-looking briefcase-style sound system is one of the more interesting new products of the 2017 season, begging for backyard use or "take me along" vacation amplification?

Annointed the Rock ‘n’ Rolla XL and marketed by record industry vet Marshall Blonstein (who also runs the Audio Fidelity and DCC music labels), this 11-pound, multi-tasking record player has tricks. It plays all manner of vinyl records (33 & 1/3, 45, and 78 rpm), with a nice, light tone arm decorated to evoke a guitar neck. But it is annoying that the (not a diamond) needle in the lesser-grade ceramic cartridge requires swapping out every 50 hours or so.

Things get more interesting in the Rock ‘n’ Rolla XL when you pop up the mid section on the turntable to discover … a CD player underneath!

Or flip a switch, enabling the system to play Bluetooth audio soundtracks beamed wirelessly from your smartphone/tablet/computer.

There are slots welcoming both a UBS thumb drive and an SD card. Use one to play back music loaded onto a storage device from your computer. Better yet, you can also record music onto the card/drive from a vinyl record or a CD that’s spinning on the R & R machine, making it a veritable music factory.

Sound from the portable's stereo speakers is acceptable (and gets better after a few "break-in" hours). Line out jacks let you connect better, louder powered speakers. $139.95 at

Don't Drink the Water: Going camping where the water supply is questionable? Improve your odds by pouring said H2O into a 26-ounce capacity Portable Filtration Tumbler from our hometown health rescue team Zero Water. Sent by the truckloads to help out the poor folks of Flint, Mich., Zero Water tumblers have a five-stage filter (three more than the competition, it's claimed) to remove coarse and ultra-fine particles and sediment, with a charcoal stage improving the taste. (But it won't disinfect germ-laden water.) A color-changing filter tells when it's time to replace the filter (a two-pack goes for around $9). Loading the tumbler with liquid requires patience, but what price better health? $14.43, actually, at Amazon.

Get a Charge On: Is your phone often "running on empty" because you've taken too many vacation pictures? Eliminate the stress by carrying a backup battery pack that can liven up your device wherever.

New this season is the Belkin Valet Charger, the first battery recharging station with both a conventional USB power port and a built-in induction-charging circle designed to recharge an Apple Watch, which many people in Philadelphia are wearing these days. This $99.99 Belkin has a battery power capacity of 6,700 mAh, enough to recharge a phone and a watch simultaneously. But be forewarned — that’s an overnight affair.

Also charting new waters is the myCharge Adventure Ultra, a large-capacity (13400 mAh) yet still relatively compact “portable charging hub and inverter.” Connect devices via its two USB-A and one USB-C ports and, uniquely, also plug in a device to a rare AC Power Outlet.

myCharge maintains that the Adventure Ultra will power up laptops, some TVs, lamps, and fans. But the thing is finicky, clicking off devices that crave more than 45 watts and sometimes tolerating less. That Rock ‘n Rolla music machine (above) ran fine on Adventure Ultra power when I was spinning a CD but shut down when I tried to play a record.

A Better World: It's easy to scoff at people who pay big bucks for fashionable sunglasses, when the cheapo promotional shades that companies give away seem to work almost as well.

Until, that is, you test drive a pair of serious sunglasses. Then the skies part, and all is revealed.

Sure, cheap sunglasses cut the glare (if “polarized”) and brightness, so you don’t squint as much. But their inferior optics blur the overall view, often shifting colors severely and darkening shaded areas excessively.

With serious sunglasses, you’re transported to a parallel universe that eases you down the road, obscuring nothing yet making this world seem a more relaxed place.

The proprietary ChromaPop lens technology in SmithOptics glasses is amazing I’ve discovered, in the aviator style Audibles model fitted with Polarized Brown lenses ($279). ChromaPop filters two specific, clashing wavelengths of light that cause “color confusion.” By eliminating both, the lens delivers greater definition, more natural color and unmatched clarity, so you see more detail.

While I’m not cool enough to put shades atop my head in cloudy hours, that action plays out well wearing Kupuna sunglasses from Maui Jim ($299.) A favorite of tennis players and beach bums alike, Kupunas are extra light, rimless and hingeless things that grip great (never excessively) in both on/off duty positions and keep the world looking lovely with the brand’s most advanced lens material called “Maui Brilliant.”

The only downsides of expensive shades? You should keep them in a seriously bulked out, protective case. And if you ever lose or sit on the things, it’ll kill ‘ya.