When airlines upgraded from overhead TVs and projection screens to individual seatback units, it was a big deal. Instead of one film option for the entire plane, passengers had the power to choose from a variety of entertainment options.
But an increased use of portable devices in flight means the seatback screen has started to lose some of its sheen. If you prefer to bring your own entertainment, these are the best tech toys for the trip.
A top tablet for in-flight movies
By year end, American Airlines will start lending Samsung 10.1 Galaxy tablets to business class passengers. Thinner and lighter than the iPad 2, the device runs on the Android and Google Honeycomb operating systems. The Galaxy stands out for its TouchWiz UX software, which creates a magazine-like interface that makes it intuitive for a user to send an email, check the weather forecast or edit photos. Entertainment-wise, the tablet stands out for its Music Hub -- Samsung's version of iTunes. The store sells millions of songs and downloadable video content from major studios like Paramount, Warner Brothers, MTV, Fox, CBS and NBC. Once purchased, your content can be shared with up to five Samsung devices. Recently $500 on Amazon.
A top portable DVD player
The entertainment offerings of many airlines and hotels may not always be to your liking, and you might not want to download movies that you already own on DVD. The antidote: bring your own discs and watch them on Pansonic's not-so-thrillingly named DVD-LS86, a portable DVD player. Panasonic has been a leader in the portable DVD player market for nearly a decade, and it’s easy to see why. This latest player’s eight-and-a-half inch screen runs on a 13-hour battery, longer than any laptop we've heard of and certainly long enough to watch the 558-minute Lord of the Rings trilogy. The screen is mounted on flexible hinges so you can adjust it according to your space and lighting conditions. An included "headrest mounting bracket" can be attached to the seat of a car to entertain your kids on a long road trip. Recently $235 on Amazon.
A top device for gaming
Many gamers are anxiously eagerly waiting for Nintendo to release its next-generation game console, the Wii U, in early 2012. As BBC's tech reporter David Gregory recently explained, the Wii U has a new controller with a touch screen display, allowing travellers to take their favourite Wii games with them on the road without needing a TV. In the meantime, the next best option is the Nintendo's 3DS, which simulates a 3D viewing experience. The console’s LCD screen is covered with tiny stripes, in such a way that your left and right eyes see different images. This display creates an illusion of depth and space without requiring the user to wear 3D glasses, providing a distinctive edge over other palm-sized, portable gaming options. Recently $169 on Amazon.
A top device for reading While the iPad 2 gets all the hype these days, its glassy reflective screen isn't ideal for extended reading or use in bright sun. So we continue to salute the Kindle as a traveller's best reading friend. The latest version Kindle can store up to 3,500 novels, guidebooks and documents, and uses easy-to-read e-ink on a glare-free screen. The device's one-month battery life (if you leave the wi-fi or data connection switched off) means you don't have to bring a bunch of cords on your next trip. Font size is adjustable, and you can search text — like a phrase in a guidebook – easily. More than 700,000 books can be downloaded from Amazon's store on the thin device that can fit inside a jacket pocket. Recently, a Kindle with built-in wi-fi was recently $139, and one with 3G data connections was $189 on Amazon.
Sean O'Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel