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River Rafting to Hot Air Balloons – Nicole Takes on Taiwan’s East Coast

I consider myself to be a digital nomad, the conference circuit and professional gadget hunting has me on the road a minimum of 5 months a year. So of all the places I could call home, that must make Taiwan a pretty interesting place. What I have always loved about it, is that it’s not an obvious choice, in a way that keeps the visitors interesting and the beaches almost private. In the time that I do spend here, Taipei has enough nightlife to keep my dance card full and the island is small enough that nowhere is actually an impossible road trip.

As a Canadian I’m pretty used to road trips, we do have a lot of land to drive over and a 3 hour drive to the cottage is something I’d do without thinking twice. I was a little hesitant at first about the Audi Q5, I wasn’t sure if it would be big enough for 5 people (Sascha, Stew, Hallie our videographer extraordinaire and Delia our producer and maintainer of the schedule) and all of our gear. But it seemed to work out thanks to Stew who apparently enjoys a good game of tetris more than most. With the three ladies sitting comfortably in the back and the men navigating our way down Taiwan’s curvaceous roads.

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On this journey I came armed with playlists galore on Soundcloud, which I’d luckily already listened to so they were cached on my LG G3. I selected this 5.5 Android handset out of the dozens we had at the office because of it’s camera. The 13MP shooter comes with a laser auto focus, an optical image stabilizer and a dual LED Flash. The display is Quad HD or 1440 x 2560 with a pixel density of 534. The very high resolution display means it is going to eat more battery, but the upside is that when I’m showing off the pictures they really do look stunning. Not wanting to wait on my phone for anything the G3 comes with a powerful Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM 16GB of onboard storage and a MicroSD card slot that can accommodate up to 128GB. The ability to expand my phones storage came in handy half way through the trip when I ran out of space from snapping too many shots. Connectivity wise we’ve got LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA which will make it easy to share my memories.

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LG G3

Check Out the LG G3 Reivew Here

If there is one thing that you should know about me and Smartphones, is that I am a little bit of a Sony Fan Girl, I’ve loved all of my Xperia’s and one of the reasons is that it’s waterproof. This came in quite handy when we all needed a more exhilarating experience than just lazing at the beach. We wandered off the coastal road in land a bit to the East Rift Valley River which is littered with giant limestone boulders and white water rafting.

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Taiwan is great for water rafting, in the rainy season (June to October) there are significant amounts of rain and the mountains many watersheds feed the rivers. In general I’ve always had the impression that the Taiwanese are little over cautious, no swimming during ghost month..ok maybe that’s not caution, that’s superstition. Regardless, I wasn’t prepared for caution being thrown completely to the wind in an activity that does have moments where caution is appropriate. It quickly became apparent that the dozens of safety boats accompanying us down the river had their hands full speeding up and down the waterways. During some of the more dangerous parts of the rapids, splashing water at near by boats was the primary activity, not attempting to steer the boat away from rocks. As danger filled as the activity seemed at times, clearly everyone knew better and bobbing through the rapids with a life jacket (many of them freaking out that they couldn’t swim) seems to be a big part of the fun.

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Sony Xperia Z2 – Waterproof Smartphone at Changkai Shek Memorial Hall Taipei City

Being a tech blogger definitely has its advantages, it was really lucky that we had a GoPro and the Sony Xperia Z2 with us. By the end of the 4 hours down the river, our guides began to seek out cool shots for us to get. We stopped by a small waterfall and pool where we got to muck around for a bit and he even caught a tiny fish to show off a bit. Only having to worry about not dropping my phone in the rapids is a much better feeling than worrying about ruining my phone and having to get a new one.

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Photo Credit – Spencer Huang Photography

Speed boats raced around during the most dangerous parts of the rapids making sure the boats never actually got into any serious trouble. At some point all phones are going to come with a waterproof coating, but for now you’re limited to just a few, the Xperia line from Sony being my favorite and Samsung’s S5 is also water ready.

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Taking a dip wasn’t the only type of extreme sport that we took part in on our road trip, we also went to the Hot Air balloon festival in Taitung. Ok, so riding 350 feet in the air isn’t really an extreme sport, but you’ll have to tell that to Sascha who has a pretty big fear of heights and didn’t come along for the ride. We get up at 230am to make sure that we were first in line and make sure that we could set up to catch the first rays of light which started peaking just before 5am. When the video is all said and done, you realize just how much time goes into getting just a few seconds. But hey, not complaining, it was totally worth it!

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The Taiwan International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta kicks off on towards the end of May and goes until August. Hundreds of thousands end up passing through the picturesque Luye Gaotai. The 2014 will end up seeing a total of 55 pilots from 12 countries: Thailand, Belgium, Brazil, the United States, England, Germany, Slovak, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Fiesta also claims to be the world’s longest hot air balloon festival.

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Since Sascha didn’t come up in the balloon with me, I was left on my own. I decided to take his Lumia 930 up in the air with me alongside an Audio Technica microphone that is especially designed for smartphones. I figured, a hot air balloon is pretty noisy, so this would be the perfect place to test it out. The ATR3350iS omnidirectional condenser lavalier mic which has a dual-mono 1/8-inch output plug and records on both the left and right channels.

Having great audio really makes a huge difference in the overall quality of your home videos. Having a machine that won’t keep you waiting is a necessity for anyone looking to engage in some movie making on their notebook. If you’re just looking at making home videos, Stew’s Yoga 2 Pro will be enough, considering it comes with Intel’s Quick Sync technology. Consumer video editing software like Cyberlink PowerDirector are feature packed to help you create professional looking videos. Think of Quick Sync as a graphics card for your laptop that won’t any extra battery life. I’ve exported a 5 minute full HD video in half real time.

Taking video more seriously than your average Joe, I edit the majority of our videos on Mobile Geeks which means that I’m actually in the market for a multimedia machine. My weapon of choice to keep productive on the road is the ASUS Zenbook Infinity UX301. It also comes with on board graphics from Intel, but this one comes with the ability to accelerate professional graphics programs like Adobe’s professional multimedia suite.
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The ASUS Zenbook Infinity comes with a gorilla glass lid and a stunning spun metal finish. This Ultrabook is high end class in a compact mobile package. At 15.5mm thin and weighing in at 1.4kg it comes with an Intel Core i7-4558U at 2.8 GHz 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 13.3 inch high resolution display at 2560×1440. Connectivity wise it comes with 2 USB 3.0, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, Audio Connections and a 4 in 1 Card Reader. Deserving of a special mention are the speakers, they are Bang and Olufsen Ice speakers, since when I’m not working, I do enjoy watching the odd movie and it’s nice to have great audio when you need it.

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All of my gear fit nicely into my Case Logic backpack (review here), which is being modelled by, JD aka Just Dog aka John Deere who we rescued at SanXiaTai Brige. It was a scorching 36C outside and Sascha went back to the car while Stew and I slogged through talking about weather apps and regaling you with tales of the scalloped shaped bridge. On getting back to the car there was Sascha holding little JD who collapsed in front of him. Just skin and bones we couldn’t face putting him back on to the street. Beijing the luckiest and most handsome dog that has ever lived he was adopted within a few weeks of arriving back in Taipei.

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SanXianTai Bridge

I spent 4 months of the year travelling to technology conferences, so packing my bag to be productive on the road isn’t new. Piling into a car with 4 other people for 7 days of intense shooting was unforgettable.

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.