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Alan Zisman on the Mac

iPad a Good Travel Companion for Business or Pleasure

- 2011.07.14 - Tip Jar

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I just got back from several weeks' holiday travels; lucky me.

As many of you do, I take my high-tech office with me, putting a premium on portability and usability. In past years, I've written about travelling with a MacBook Air and with a netbook. This time around, I took a tablet.

While I've recently reviewed tablets from Motorola and RIM in this column, both of those had already gone back to their manufacturers. Instead, I took my own iPad - not the new iPad 2, but last year's original model.

And I was glad I had it. While both the Motorola Xoom and RIM BlackBerry PlayBook models I'd had for review (and previous years' MacBook Air and Dell Mini 9 netbook) have WiFi networking, iPad models optionally include 3G networking. It's easy to get the sense that WiFi is readily available, but that hasn't been my experience when travelling.

A few moments in a Florence Vodafone storefront in Italy got me an iPad-compatible micro-SIM good for a month's wireless data access. The cost: €20.

The account automatically cancelled itself at the end of the month. No muss, no fuss. and online access pretty much everywhere - on the train, hiking in the Tuscan countryside. and in the several hotels we stayed at with limited or no WiFi connectivity.

At its best, 3G networking is slower than WiFi, and I never figured out whether there were limits to how much bandwidth my 3G account provided.

As a result, I avoided things like watching online video or downloading apps and updates. But email and everyday web browsing was fine. (Over three weeks, I used about 500 MB of data.)

That always-available connectivity also let the iPad double as a GPS, handy both when hiking in rural Tuscany and in the medieval maze of cities like Venice. In addition, I had an Android smartphone, but without an international data plan, the phone's GPS was unable to download and display maps.

The iPad's tablet form factor made it a nice travelling companion - smaller and lighter than a notebook or netbook, and easier to use on an airplane seat-back tray table. I easily carried it in my backpack while hiking, something I wouldn't consider doing with a notebook computer.

The tablet screen worked well for watching video (in horizontal landscape mode) and reading books (in vertical portrait mode). Before leaving, I loaded it with movies, TV shows, and novels, avoiding any need to pack pounds of paperbacks.

Some libraries eBooks on loan, downloadable and readable on iPads and other portable devices.

The 10-hour battery life let it remain usable throughout the long flight from Vancouver to Italy, though carrying any sort of eBook reader means not having anything to read during takeoff and landing. (And yes, even my older iPad continued to really have 10 hours of battery life; I checked usage on the nine-hour Venice-to-Vancouver flight, and it dropped by 10% with every hour of use.)

Instant-on was also a plus, letting the iPad be available as needed. (It's not really instant-on, but rather, resume from suspend. However, given the iPad's long shelf-life when suspended and little need to be shut down or restarted, that's a technicality.)

I didn't find myself regretting having last year's model. The iPad 2 is thinner and a tiny bit lighter, but my older model is thin and light enough.

The new model has a faster processor and more RAM, but the older model never seemed sluggish. And the current iPad has built-in cameras lacking in mine, but the one time I saw someone using an iPad 2 to take photos it looked pretty clumsy. LEM

First published in Business in Vancouver July 12-18, 2011 issue #1133.

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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