Tips and advice for the best overland travel devices for the high wired digital adventurer.
There are many benefits to taking a laptop or tablet when travelling, whether for staying connected, typing up travel journals, editing photos, making video clips, doing some work, planning new routes, or simply just watching movies in a tent on rainy days.
Choosing the right laptop or tablet is important when you travel regularly, and more important when going on extended round-the-world trips.
The problem is picking the correct device; there are so many choices and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, or just go with whatever you have! We have used various devices on our overland trips over the last few years and have come to know a bit about what works and what doesn’t.
We are passionate and obsessed with weight and size! For us, it’s the most important decision-making aspect when we choose a device.
In this article we will be looking at the best travel laptops / ultra-books and travel tablets which are now available in the market. We need to stress; we are not IT specialists but the average user. There also might be fellow overlanders who can add their experience for us to include in this article.
First of all: Should you take a device at all?
If you are planning a shorter trip, it is actually better to take as few electronic devices as possible.
Why not take a break from the digital world for a while? People practically live on the internet these days, why not have the occasional “internet vacation”? Get back to meatspace. Posting on Facebook every day for your fans when on a trip, or being connected when in Zambia and knowing what is happening at home every minute of the day is not being away. Besides, if you really do need to get online there are internet cafes around no matter where in the world you are. Do the Coca-Cola test. Where ever you travel and you still see Coke advertising boards you are still not out of civilisation and not really away.
When you are going away for an extended time the best laptop or tablet are essential. There is still an argument to be made against taking a laptop if lightweight is the absolute goal. The average laptop weights in just over 1kg and take up more space than a 10″Tablet. Mini-laptops and tablets take up less space and weigh much less, but a proper laptop still kicks their asses for functionality and use. It is not as easy to write an article, edit photographs or do your business, make a route on Basecamp, banking, and spread sheets on a Tablet. Hopefully in the future they will evolve into proper machines.
Choosing a travel laptop:
- Size and Weight: Computers that weigh as much as a case of beer and pack half your pannier probably won’t be as beneficial as a slim laptop that can easily be packed between your clothes. The biggest screen size I can recommend is 11″ but the 13″ can also work if you have the eye sight of a Rhino.
- Price: Unless you already own a laptop, you might need to purchase one specially for a trip. Poverty spec bikers don’t have a lot of money to dish out on a travel laptops so trying to strike that balance is often quite challenging. The more you spend on a laptop, the less you have to spend for traveling! Make sure about the warranty: World wide repair warranty would be a huge benefit.
- Battery Life: At least 3-5hours minimum requirement and must be able to charge quickly. Look at how long the battery will last before making a purchase and be conservative as most brands puffer the info on battery power.
- Specifications: Speed, memory, hard drive, graphics, DVD/CD drive, and so on. Think about the main purpose of your laptop while you travel to choose specs that fit your needs. DVD’s and CD drives are not as essential anymore. SD slots and USB3 slots are quite important.
- Safety and Value: Will you be able to deal with your laptop getting damaged or stolen? If it’s just too valuable, you would be better off with a cheap device with less functionality.
Ultra-book travel laptops:
On the expensive side, ultra books are the only devices giving you full functionality while still being highly portable. If you want to be able to do everything on the road (including photo editing, word processing, easily managing your files, etc.) and do it comfortably on a regular size screen, then an ultra-book is your only real choice. Only Ultra books offer proper usability with Garmin Basecamp and mapping software like Tracks4Africa when wanting to make and plan new routes while sitting in Uganda and being able to upload to your GPS.
An ultrabook is built specifically for portability and weighs less than your typical laptop. Apple Air 11″or 13″: The Macbook Air started the Ultrabook revolution and is still about the best of the lot, with the lowest weight and best battery life. On the 13″ Air you get better battery life, and only the 13” has an SD card slot which is useful if you have to copy photos over from your camera, but with a R120-00 (12$) card reader there’s no need to pay the higher price for the 13″ over the 11″ which now come standard with USB3.
At 1.08 Kilograms 1.7cm slim it is incredibly thin — it is crazy how thin these things are, and have 9 hours battery life. Basically it is a full-fledged laptop. The negative, they are not cheap! Unless you need the ability to do a lot of intensive video editing, the Macbook Air is one of the best fully functional laptops for travel. Like a Toyota Landcruiser there’s support all over the world for Apple. Apple products do have the reputation of long life so it’s a good choice if you want a laptop to use after your trip. One nice to have feature is the illuminated keyboard which helps a lot when working in a tent at night.
Our first Acer was a PC-based ultrabook. The Acer was not as lightweight and energy-efficient as it could be. Another huge issue with PC ultrabooks is that they typically come with the unpopular Windows 8. Hopefully the new Windows 10 might help.
Alternatives for travel are the Asus T100 or Acer Aspire One 11.6-Inch Laptop or Dell XPS13 Ultrabook The T100 is only 2.4 lbs, which is amongst the lightest laptops you can get. It is a little thicker than an iPad, but about the same length and width. The size also means you don’t get a a full-sized keyboard which can be a bit of an issue for people with tree-trunk fingers.
The T100 costs a bunch of Zim dollars less than an Apple. So when things do go wrong or your beer spills over it, you would be a bit flustered but not mortified.
Also it has full Microsoft Windows 8.1. None of the Google Android, Chrome, or whatever the hell only runs while on WIFI. You are also able to buy proper programs like Adobe Lightroom and Pastel for work. If possible, pick up a Mac second hand, I’d recommend that as an alternate. We are not Apple loyalists or fanboys, but Apple is well built and good quality.
And here is the kicker!
Having to hunt for plug points is enough to drive one to drink. Asus claims 11 hours for the T100, which seems a little optimistic. The one thing going for the T100 as a strong contender: It recharges via USB.
I can’t overstate how cool it is to have a laptop that charges via USB. It reduces the number of wall sockets you need to lug around for one. You can use a USB battery pack to recharge your laptop when you’re away from an outlet, and even some Airlines have USB ports in their seats. Man, I can even charge the laptop from my motorcycle USB socket directly from the bike battery. Okay maybe not go for a full charge, don’t want to have to push start the bike due to a flat battery. There are a couple of other laptops that do this trick, like HP’s Chromebook 11.
The best choice if possible is to go with an ultrabook with an SSD drive. These drives usually have a smaller capacity but they are amazingly fast and power efficient. If you need any more storage for photographs, video’s or documents take a separate portable USB HD. In any case back up!!
Mini-laptops & Chromebooks:
The poverty spec option will do most, but not quite all things when venturing into deep dark Africa.
You can find many small 11″ or 12″ Chromebooks for about R3000-00 (280$). You need to make sure you understand what a Chromebook is. They are designed to be used primarily while connected to the internet using Google’s Chrome OS, with files mainly stored in the cloud and most apps being entirely web-based. Most of them have really small hardrives.
Chromebooks are lightweight in terms of processing power and memory, and are designed mainly with internet browsing in mind. They’re not great for photo or video editing or doing business. You can still write documents offline or watch a movie while enjoying cocktails on a Thai beach. Most uses usually require installing separate Chrome Apps that can work offline.
Alternatively there are small 11″ mini laptops out there running Windows 8.1, also costing somewhere around R3000-00 (250$). Both these small laptops and Chromebooks are pretty light, typically weighing around 1.2kg. But you would need to stay at B&B’s, hostels, and backpackers in order to use WIFI
The best aspects of these devices is that they are compact, portable and have super long battery life. Tablets often lack in utility and usability for serious travelling. One thing that nullifies some Tablets as real world travel devices is their ability to store or transfer photos and not being able to run proper programs. When spending so much money on an epic adventure backing up photographs is a must and devices must have SD card slots and or USB slots to be able to use a SD Card reader.
It is easy to understand the initial appeal as a travel device, the battery life is exceptional, incredibly light-weight and compact, and can perform all the basics needed. It is however a very frustrating tool.
Maybe some 18 year old high school girl can speed type on a touchscreen, however to write a journal entry or do work on a touch screen is tedious and very slow. Travelling with a tablet can be convenient when reading Lonely Planet PDF’s or checking emails when in reach of Wi-Fi at cafe’s, however for productivity functions or managing your photos it’s not the tool for the job.
For route mapping and planning and mapping software like Tracks4Africa tablets are pretty useless. That said, Apple iPads make for really useless travel devices in my opinion and would only recommend them if already owning one. They’re rubbish managing your epic travel pictures, have limited storage capacity, using them for productivity stuff or filling out forms and Bank sites is awkward and slow.
Android tablets are more versatile for travel than iPads,
though they also suffer from some of the same issues.
As with the IPad they’re a bit of a schlep for typing up blogs or travel journals, doing your accounting for your business, and their capacity for storing photos or videos is limited. However if you love to look like a real common tourist when taking pictures of Machu Picchu with a 10″ tablet, then this is the device for you. Typically just 300 to 500g compared to at least 1.08kg for the lightest Chromebooks or ultrabooks.
Android tablets make somewhat more sense as a travel tool, at least they allow bigger capacity storage through SD cards. They are a lot more useful to manage and back up travel photos as well as many of the apps being quite useful. Still not really a choice for typing emails or other productivity functions. Make sure to check the procession power of the devices. Same as with the Apple if you use Skype and internet, the bastard things freeze up due to a small shity engine.
Okay, so if you use them to watch porn any device would do.