5 Key Travel Hardware Items (Travel Computing Part 1)

Working on the iPad

Working on the “big” screen in the garden.

Travel Hardware

Travelling? Working on your blog? Processing photos? What hardware do you need? The answer is pretty simple – your travel hardware needs a hybrid, light weight computer like the Microsoft Surface. That will cover everything you need.

BUT does it?

A decently powerful hybrid computer is expensive. Is it the answer if you do short trips? A couple of weeks and long weekends at a time? I would rather be spending my hard earned budget on the trip! Aside from that I have no need of the “travel computer”when I am not travelling. At around £800 for a decent hybrid system that makes it very expensive!

As an IT Manager I am surrounded by all sorts of technology and often called upon to find a build working solutions. Over our recent travels I have made a point of trying out various solutions, generally leaving the laptop at home.

In this, first article, on the subject of travel computing I’ll be taking a look at the other options available, And they may surprise you.

What’s the Point?

In deciding on your travel hardware you need to be clear on what you want to do. Here’s my requirements list:

  1. Process photos, including those on my DSLR, and post them to Instagram, Flickr, perhaps 500px;
  2. Write blog posts, both quick, short posts, and longer ones, and promote them;
  3. Take notes and note locations;
  4. Post and check in on Facebook;
  5. Reply to e-mails, social media and the like;
  6. Play some music;
  7. Read books;
  8. Keep in touch with family on SMS, WhatsApp and the like.

Pretty much everything that most of us want on holiday. Obviously doing all of that needs a combination of hardware, software and connectivity. For now let’s just look at the hardware and come on to the rest in later articles.

My Travel Hardware

My travel kit contains five key pieces of hardware which allow me to do everything in the list above.

1. Smartphone / Mobile phone

Most, if not all, readers of this blog are likely to carry an Apple or Samsung, or other Android smartphone. Both iOS and Android support common apps which will do everything in the list. In fact the mobile phone is the cornerstone of most of these processes, for the simple reason that it is the device which you will generally be carrying. It’s also the device you are likely to be using for a WiFi hotspot for others. Mine frequently has a couple of other devices attached via a hotspot when we are on holiday.

At present my phone of choice is the large screen Samsung Note 4 with it’s stylus. In fact most of the modern phones with their larger screens will match anything I can do on it. The key here is to have as much storage as possible. This is where the Androids score, as they use a micro SD card, as opposed to the bigger cost of the larger capacity iPhones.

In the next couple of articles I will discuss the software and connectivity issues.

2. A 10 inch Tablet

The bigger screen of the tablet simply makes it easier to use. There is another consideration, though. That is battery capacity. Continual use on a WiFi or 4G link does drain the mobile phone pretty quickly, while the tablet will last significantly longer.

My device of choice at present is an iPad 3. So i have the best of both worlds – Android on one and iOS on the other! For quick weekend trips the iPad will often stay at home and everything will rely on the mobile phone.

A key requirement of my systems is that everything is sync’d (within reason depending on connectivity). Like many I struggle to sleep on long haul flights, especially being over 6 foot tall. Using the tablet, loaded and sync’d with the phone, I have a couple of days of music loaded. I simply start the music, put on headphones and that soon helps me to drift off. As part of sync, all of my Kindle books are also available.

Using an Android phone to blog

Blogging from a mobile phone, with a view of the sea from a hotel balcony.

3. Bluetooth Keyboard

At this point some of you will have said “you can’t be typing on a mobile keyboard all the time”. Some may have noted the keyboard. The bluetooth keyboard is probably the most important productivity aid in the whole process!

Bluetooth keyboards are not expensive, and there are many types available. I use two:

  • A small, rechargeable keyboard. It’s most useful for short “hand luggage only” trips, though in use it is a bit small;
  • The larger keyboard shown in the photos. Note that it is the same keyboard, just connected to a different device. This one is AAA battery powered, which means that I can pack it in checked luggage – something you should never do with a rechargeable lithium battery device. Its larger size does make it cumbersome in hand luggage.

Compatible with just about any device, the keyboard really takes most of the pain out of using the mobile devices.

 

4. The “On The Go” OTG Hub

Most of the more recent Android devices have the built-in OTG functionality. Basically this gives the device the ability to access files, such as photos, on an SD card, USB memory stick or external hard drive (with additional power). It’s a quick and easy way to load photos to the device for processing, posting, backup, etc. It’s an inexpensive but incredibly useful add-on to the system.

In my setup the OTG device will obviously only work with the mobile phone. Given the right software (see the next article) that’s not a problem. The iOS world has it’s own similar devices, which I have never bothered about, as My initially investigation of them suggested they were expensive and had limited capability.

5. Power – the Backup Battery

The iPad has sufficient battery capacity that I have never bothered about spare power for it. Any modern mobile phone, when asked to move around, stay connected and run location services, consumes battery capacity quickly. Here’s what I use:

  • A solar battery backup. This delivers about 60% of the full Note 4 charge, and is VERY slow to recharge on solar. It generally is recharged from mains power, but will run the phone directly from the solar panel in a pinch;
  • A second battery, recharged from USB, which delivers around 70% of the charge to the mobile;

On rare occasions both batteries have been necessary, but generally one or the other does the job nicely. Here’s a similar but higher capacity unit:

 

Other Bits and Pieces

Depending on what you want to achieve there are many accessories available for both the iOS and Android worlds. For example I find a stylus is a vital tool. There are also adapters to let you display the screen on a TV. It is really up to you. These are the five most important pieces of hardware in my kit.

And they are not only limited to holidays. On more than one occasion at work, but out of the office I have used both devices to access spreadsheets, and even server screen using VPN and RDP software. In fact I frequently don’t use my PC e-mail software at work, opting instead to use one or the other or both mobile devices.

Looking to the Future

Typically technology prices come down over time, so it’s worth watching the market for bargains, both in the hybrid computer arena and the tablet space. For the present a fully featured Windows 10 system really needs to be one the better / more expensive hybrid laptops. Having said that, there are a number of lightweight laptops with 2GB RAM and Windows 10 available at low prices. I am cautious as these are very small systems to run Windows. Hopefully, in due course,  I’ll have an opportunity to check out one of those devices. From the specifications, I suspect that their performance will be similar to an iPad or Android tablet. They may be a good alternative to the tablet in this article. Then again maybe not (I am NOT a Windows fan).

To Conclude…

Staying connected, blogging, uploading photos and so on does not need an expensive, lightweight computer. While there is no argument for long term travel – I would haul a laptop along for that, on a short trip that’s not necessary.

In two more articles to come, I’ll cover the software which powers it all and some of the connectivity issues which come up in short trips away.

Please let me have some feedback if you are interested in more on this topic.

 

 

 

 

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