Hotels have not always been known as beacons of the latest and greatest technological amenities. Business travelers everywhere have groaned in despair as they encounter superslow in-room Wi-Fi, antiquated desktop computers sitting in lonely business centers, and indecipherable TV controls that never seem to have that channel you’re looking for. But hotel guests are getting pickier about where they will stay based on the technology a location offers. In fact, according to the 2012 Hotels.com Amenities Survey, free Wi-Fi is the No. 1 factor in choosing a hotel for 34 percent of travelers, even those on vacation. For business travelers, that number goes up to 56 percent.
However, when it comes to tech amenities, wireless access is just the tip of the high-tech iceberg. Travel budgets are shrinking, causing some hotels to stretch themselves further by offering fancy extras such as room automation through RFID, free smartphone loans and Apple devices everywhere from rooms to front desk check-ins. Here are LAPTOP’s top picks for the most high-tech hotels in North America.
Marlin Hotel Miami Beach (Florida)
Perk: iPad connected to Savant Systems room automation
Sometimes, smaller is best for business travel hotspots and rock stars alike. This boutique property has only 16 rooms, but also offers two fully functional recording studios complete with a MacBook Pro. Each room offers a 60-inch HDTV concealed behind a mirror when not in use and powered by an Apple TV. Guests use an iPad that controls the lighting, shades, TV, audio and the temperature. In fact, you're handed an iPad to use during the stay as soon as you check in, and that iPad is customized prior to your arrival with your favorite movies, music and games. The hotel promises 10 MBps wireless Internet access, and each round is outfitted with a Tannoy Surround system and subwoofer.
Hotel 1000, Seattle (Washington)
Perk: Body heat sensor alerts staff you are in the room When you check in to Hotel 1000, you’re immediately offered a glass of champagne, and then things get interesting. But when you’re this close to the home of Microsoft and Amazon, you’d expect a few tech advancements. Hotel 1000 has two separate 100MB super-fast lines of broadband goodness flowing into the hotel. Each room has a sensor that detects body heat to let the housekeeping staff know they should not disturb you, or you can set an electronic Do Not Disturb with the push of a button.
Still not impressed? You can play with the large Microsoft Surface table in the lobby, which offers relaxing games of virtual chess and a virtual concierge for exploring the neighborhood. Or visit the Golf Club, a holodecklike room with an infrared tracking system that provides real-time ball flight, interactive practice situations and your choice of up to 50 different courses. Phone calls are all free to anywhere in the world, and of course Wi-Fi is free.
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Hyatt Regency Atlanta (Georgia)
Perk: Uses SwankDraw to arrange meeting space
Check in to this 1,260-room hotel in Atlanta and you’ll notice the tech amenities right away. The staff use a system called Hotel Service Optimization System (HotSOS) to track guest needs and resolve issues. If you are planning an event, you can meet with the staff to plan the look of your conference room. You’ll use the SwankDraw app to add photos of the room, equipment and even chairs to visualize the event and approve it. This is in addition to in-room high-speed wired and wireless Internet access, and remote check-in for your room. Plus, you can check in to your flight and print your boarding pass in the lobby using the Hyatt Fast Board kiosks.
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Andaz 5th Avenue (New York)
Perk: Completely automated iPad mobile check-in
This elegant hotel in New York has 184 rooms and 42 suites, and, of course, free wired or wireless Internet access. When you arrive, you don’t have to check in at the desk. You can grab a coffee or catch up on your email while charging your devices at the plug-in stations in the lounge. The staff will note your arrival and ask if you are a guest. They can process your check-in using an iPad, including the credit card transaction and room preferences. Once inside your room, you’ll find a Geneva Sound System with iPod dock, a 54-inch LCD HDTV and a speakerphone.
Radisson Blu Mall of America (Minnesota)
Perk: Room automation like RFID doors and lights
This brand-new 517-room hotel in Bloomington, Minn., near Minneapolis, is outfitted with many high-tech perks. There are iPads everywhere in the Radisson Blu: in the exercise room, business center and event rooms. When you have a meeting, you control the temperature, lights and video conferencing equipment with an iPad. New RFID-based access cards provide better security in elevators and allow you access to your room. Of course, you will get free wireless Internet access throughout the hotel as well.
Bellagio Las Vegas (Nevada)
Perk: CleanAir Wi-Fi tech reduces interference
This landmark hotel and casino in Las Vegas is known as a prime destination for entertainment, thanks to the drama of the dancing fountains out front. But it’s also a tech marvel. Many hotels have a couple of Wi-Fi routers per floor. The Bellagio has 330, spread over every hallway, meeting space and room. The hotel uses Cisco CleanAir technology, which adapts the wireless signal to combat RF interference. That’ll come in handy for connecting your iDevice that sits docked in the room’s iHome speaker, and the laptop that you’ll stow in the large in-room safe. The 40-inch Samsung HDTVs in every room are equipped to stream content from your handheld device so you can watch your own movies or practice your PowerPoint before the big presentation.
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Courtyard Baton Rouge Acadian Thruway (Louisiana)
Perk: GoBoard 4.0 in room lets you check flight, send nav to phone
Large HD screens in hotel lobbies are nothing new. At this Courtyard in Baton Rouge, there’s a GoBoard that shows flight info, news and upcoming events. The coolest feature: If you have a Windows Phone, you can scan a Microsoft Tag, which works like a QR code, and send directions for something you see on the board directly to your phone. Guests also enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout the location, and each room features a 32-inch HDTV. Or you can check out the meeting rooms outfitted with video conferencing equipment.
Garden Court Hotel Downtown Palo Alto (California)
Perk: 50 meg access in each room, Uber car service
Some hotels provide fast Wi-Fi in the room, but during busy times, you’re all sharing a high-speed line and your connection might be throttled down to 1 MBps. At this Silicon Valley hotel, each guest can tap into a 50 MBps connection over Wi-Fi. In rooms, you’ll find 52-inch HDTVs with 30 HD TV channels, iPod and iPhone docking stations and two phone lines. And if that’s not enough tech for you, this 62-room hotel provides round-trip service from Palo Alto up to San Francisco using Uber app car service vehicles.
OPUS Vancouver (Canada)
Perk:Every guest gets a Samsung S III phone with unlimited service.
When you arrive at the recently revamped OPUS in Vancouver, you receive a free drink and an iPad 2 to use during your stay. But, there’s an even more unusual tech accessory available. In your room, you’ll also find a Samsung Galaxy S III, which you can use for unlimited calls and Internet access during your visit. When a guest leaves, both are wiped and reset to factory settings. Of course, Internet access is free on both devices, or your own devices that come with you. Each room also features iPad docking stations, iHome DVD/CD players with surround sound, heated tiled floors and up to 46-inch Sharp Aquos TVs.
ALOFT Cupertino (California)
Perk: Every room has an Apple TV connected to a 46-inch HDTV
The ALOFT brand is already a good fit for business travel: The hotels all across the United States have reliable high-speed access and a tech-friendly design. This ALOFT in Cupertino is close enough to Apple HQ you can almost walk to the campus. Each room is outfitted with an Apple TV connected to a 46-inch HDTV for music and movie streaming. Complimentary Wi-Fi can be had all over the location, and the fully equipped business center is open 24 hours.