Vacation vicariously with these must-see summer travel films

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Didn't get away this summer? These videos let you vacation vicariously.
Didn't get away this summer? These videos let you vacation vicariously.
Photo: Stefanie Magnolia/Vimeo

Vacation films used to be something to fear. The blurry Super 8 home movie from the lake or the two-hour slide show of the neighbor’s trip to the Badlands would quickly put us to sleep (although we might have preferred death).

But these days, anyone can shoot and edit their vacation films with cinematic flair thanks to the latest smartphones and software that gives us tools that once required a film school degree. Just look at these stunning videos and you’ll see state-of-the-art summer memories, circa 2015.

Picorama puts a cute face on tricky strategy gaming

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Picorama for iPad
Picorama's cute, but it will also mess you up.
Photo: MicroCosmos

I like strategy games as much as the next person, but they’re all missing something. Like maybe they could use a pink bunny that tickles opposing pieces to death, or a little, blue, tentacled … thing that can distract enemies with its soothing singing voice. And for good measure, maybe they could throw in a green guy who can fire deadly shots out of his head and an orange monster that eats lightning and fireballs.

Picorama has all those things, and it’s as weird, silly and fun as it sounds. But the iOS game’s innocent art and adorable characters belie a title that will quickly test your strategic and problem-solving skills and have you staring at your iPhone or iPad trying to plan your next move.

Straighten out your mess with this stylish messenger bag

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Stylish and attractive, the Kastel Donjon is a constant companion.
Stylish and attractive, the Kastel Donjon is a constant companion.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I’m always on the lookout for a better, more efficient, useful and stylish bag to carry my MacBook Pro, iPad 3, and various electronic accoutrements, including an external battery, noise-cancelling headphones, and a ton of different cables to power and charge everything in there.

I also like to add a paperback book, various papers and flyers (if I’m covering a conference) and room to drop in a little reporter’s notebook, a pen or three, and a digital audio recorder for interviews. Oh, and it helps to have an easy pocket to slip my iPhone 6 Plus and wallet in if I need to go through security at the airport.

The Kastel Donjon bag is a European-style messenger bag that meets all these needs in an attractive, useful way.

Lust List: This stealth speaker is a Power Mac’s Mini-Me and more

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FULLSCREEN

Lust List: August 2015

Each month, Lust List rounds up the gear that gives us a fever of 103. August's secret rendezvous includes a stealthy Bluetooth speaker, a smartwatch that's not made by Apple, sweet Star Wars headphones and much more.

HiddenRadio2 Bluetooth speaker

This stealthy little speaker would look right at home next to an inky-black Mac Pro. While most Bluetooth speakers go for a rugged, sporty look — hell, this year's cutest model even comes with a pool-ready float — the HiddenRadio2 will really class up the joint.

The secret is the glossy black dome that slides up an inch when you touch the top of the HiddenRadio2. A sensor in the sleek cover lets you adjust your music's volume, jump between tracks or answer phone calls, with nary a button to be seen. It's not the loudest speaker you'll ever hear, and at just 5 inches tall and 3.5 inches wide, it's not designed to pump out the bass like bigger speakers.

Instead, it's all about subtlety, clean lines and that aforementioned class. The audio is crisp and vibrant, whether you're streaming AC/DC or a Bartok cello concerto, and the utterly clutter-free design makes the HiddenRadio2 truly remarkable. Currently on sale for $179, it comes in glossy black, platinum silver and a pricier gunmetal. It'll bring a smile to your face every time you fire it up, and I can't wait till the promised apps (for iOS and Android) arrive to give HiddenRadio2 even more subtle powers. — Lewis Wallace

Buy from: Hidden

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Mission Workshop Division Chino Pants

These are some of the greatest travel pants I've ever slipped into. They're not really "travel" pants, but this is what I used them for during my recent travels to Italy. I was packing light and I wanted a pair of pants I could be comfortable in on the plane and then use for any and all occasions on the ground in Europe.

Mission Workshop's Division chino pants fit the bill beautifully. They looked the part whether I was wandering the streets during the day or getting a little dinner on a piazza at night. They were lightweight without being flimsy, and when I spilled an Aperol spritz on my lap, it just rolled right off. The addition of the zippered pocket on the leg of these $225 pants gave me peace of mind about my cash on hand. — Jim Merithew

Buy from: Mission Workshop

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Fenix 3 smartwatch by Garmin

The Apple Watch is the prettiest smartwatch I've ever put on my wrist, but when it's time to go on adventures, I've been cheating on it with the Garmin Fenix 3. It may not be much of a looker, but what the Fenix 3 lacks in the sex appeal department it makes up for it with sheer utility.

Features like GPS, altimeter and barometer make it a better fit than the Apple Watch for activities like hiking through the Grand Canyon. And it comes in a stainless steel body with a domed sapphire lens, so I'm never afraid of scratching it up.

The Fenix 3's control scheme looks slightly intimidating. Instead of featuring a touchscreen, the watch uses five side buttons to navigate to functions and control apps. Once you get oriented, though, it's actually easier to use than Apple Watch's UI. For instance, you just press the Start button twice to start recording a run, hike, swim or bike ride. It doesn't boast 8,000-plus apps like Apple's wearable, but I've found that to be a positive — it's a less-distracting piece of tech.

Yes, you can connect the Fenix 3 to your phone and get all the email and text alerts you're accustomed to from other smartwatches. It even has music controls and some cool fitness features that Apple Watch doesn't, like the ability to estimate the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume per minute, a recovery advisor and running dynamics metrics.

The Fenix 3 isn't necessarily the smartwatch you want to wear all day, every day, but its bigger-than-big battery can keep it running in watch mode for six weeks, just in case you want to. It's also great for when your Apple Watch dies and you're a three day's hike away from the nearest electrical outlet. — Buster Hein

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

My 2nd Brain bags by ThinkTank Photo

Camera bag makers ThinkTank Photo have a knack for making your brain work better. The construction of ThinkTank bags, the way the company designs every little compartment and pocket, seems to gently guide you into organizing your digital life on the go.

The company's line of laptop and tablet briefcases called My 2nd Brain includes a number of sizes to give you the right amount of bag. I walk a mile to my office (um, coffee shop) and carry my 13-inch MacBook Pro, charging cord and a few other tools comfortably in the 2nd Brain bag designed perfectly for the size computer I carry. Sometimes, I don't need that much computer, so I switch to the vertical tablet bag, which easily carries my iPad mini, a camera and a few extras.

One bonus: Of all the bags in my life, these seem to stay put on my round right shoulder. — David Pierini

Buy from: Amazon (13-inch briefcase) and Amazon (tablet) 

Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Jawbreaker sunglasses with Prizm lens by Oakley

I feel like a freaking superhero every time I put on these sunglasses. Oakley's Jawbreaker frames were designed in partnership with professional cyclist Mark Cavendish, and while they're the perfect eyeball shields for mountain biking and street riding, I've found they're also great when hitting the trails on foot.

The frames are built with the same durable plastic frame and impact-hesitant lenses we've come to expect from Oakley, except they're way bigger than any pair of sunglasses I've ever worn. That proves to be incredibly beneficial because you don't have the frame obscuring your peripheral vision, and it almost makes you forget that you're wearing glasses.

The Jawbreakers look like a pair of shades from the '80s, only they boast some fancy tech that sets them apart as more than just futuristic goggles. The added ventilation keeps sweat from fogging up your vision on a jog. They also use Oakley's Switchlock lens-changing technology that lets you swap out lenses on the fly.

I tested the Jawbreakers with Oakley's Prizm lenses, which were a revelation for my vision. The world looks sharper when donning the Jawbreakers, thanks to Prizm tech that emphasizes colors where the eye is most sensitive to detail. Adjusting to the orangey sepia tone can take a minute, but once your retinas adjust it's like upgrading your eyeballs to 4K after living in HD for 20 years. With a $220 price tag they're definitely expensive, and they will draw some strange looks from your friends, but it's impossible to beat these large lens' performance. — Buster Hein

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

Star Wars second-edition headphones by SMS Audio

While we wait for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens to blow us out of the water in December, we want to show our true fan colors with these fantastic over-the-ear wired headphones from SMS Audio. These second-edition designs come looking like R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader or a TIE fighter.

Nothing says "Star Wars nerd with audiophile taste" like these high-performance headphones. They just scream Star Wars, letting all around you know whether you've chosen the dark side or the light.

The oval ear cups are simply amazing at filtering out external sounds, even without active electronics, and their unique shape makes sure you'll be able to listen to hours of your favorite cantina songs without discomfort.

The $179.95 Star Wars headphones fold up into an easily transported, themed carrying case, and come with a detachable cable with an in-line mic and pause/play button. The 40-mm drivers ensure brilliant highs, solid bass and clear midrange sound delivered at astonishing volume and clarity. There's some sweet extras in the box like a hologram card, certificate of authenticity and (in my set) a TIE fighter pilot sticker. Heck, even the box itself is a collector's item. — Rob LeFebvre

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Square water bottle by Clean Bottle

"Hey what is that bottle?" asks the animated woman in the queue at San Francisco International Airport.

"It's called Square," I respond.

"That is so awesome," she replies. "It will never roll away on the floor of the plane."

So true, so true. The form factor is perfect for people constantly chasing their water bottle around the floor of the car. And the Square Water Bottle was an excellent companion while in Rome, saving us a ton of money on bottled water as we filled up at all the amazing public fountains spewing delicious, cold and free water.

The handle is awesome and the bottle is easily cleaned and rinsed from both ends. At $49.95 list it's a bit on the pricey side, but when it looked like we had lost our Square Bottle forever in a tiny church in Tuscany, my wife went to spectacular lengths to get it back.

Turns out there is such a thing as water bottle romance in Chianti. — Jim Merithew

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

I'm a sucker for a good — or even bad — horror movie. So $49.99 board game Betrayal at House on the Hill, which has you and your friends exploring a spooky haunted house, is a pretty easy sell. And you really do explore it — each room in the mansion is on its own, separate tile, and you establish the layout as you uncover more rooms.

But exploring is only the first half of this $49.99 game from Wizards of the Coast. Eventually, you'll activate one of 50 different end-game scenarios. At that point, things transition from cooperative to competitive as one player becomes the "traitor" and everyone else has to stop them.

I wanna play this game right now, actually. — Evan Killham

Buy from: Amazon

Photo: Evan Killham/Cult of Mac

AliveCor ECG iPhone case

If you've got heart issues, like my friend who experiences premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) fairly regularly, you need to keep track of your blood-pumper.

If your cardiologist agrees, you should give the AliveCor ECG iPhone case a try. It installs on your phone with a snap, and adds very little bulk to your Apple smartphone. The case itself protects from most drops and other dangers, and it includes two metal plates on the back of the device. You simply place your finger tips on the two plates and the free app will measure your heart rate using this single-lead electrocardiogram device.

The app is fantastic, keeping track of your heart over time and letting you email results to your heart doctor (or anyone else, really). My friend was able to show her cardiologist a few weeks of PVC activity so he could interpret the results. In fact, the cardiologist's own father uses a similar device to send his heart data to his doctor son. D'awwww.

At $74.99, the AliveCor mobile ECG system costs a relative pittance, considering it gathers the data your doc needs and delivers serious peace of mind (since you'll be able to check your own heart as needed, possibly avoiding pricey emergency room visits). It's a pretty darn fantastic way to keep tabs on your beating heart, arrhythmia or no. — Rob LeFebvre

Buy from: AliveCor

Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Stupid Zombies 3 serves up brainy fun

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Stupid is as stupid does, zombies.
Stupid is as stupid does, zombies.
Photo: GameResort

The zombies are here and they’re standing around waiting to be blown to bits. See, these are “Stupid Zombies” and the object of this third installment in the franchise is the same as the first two: use a knowledge of physics to bounce bullets around each level and kill as many zombies as you can with each shot.

Stupid Zombies 3 offers over 100 different levels to blast your way through using a shotgun, flare gun, or grenade launcher (it’s bouncy!) to rid the world of these intellectually challenged individuals who experience undeadness.

Check out the trailer below to see what I mean.