The Best Tablet Computers for Traveling

Are you familiar with Moore’s Law? It essentially states that computer processing speed will double every 18 months. That’s great news for frequent travelers — or any travelers for that matter. It not only means that computers will grow faster, but also that they will grow smaller, since a greater number of transistors can fit on a chip. That has brought about many innovations that have aided travelers in the past few years. GPS systems and smartphones are just two of many examples. The most recent innovation is tablet PC. They might not do everything that your desktop, or even your laptop, does. But they can be powerful tools while on the road.

There are many tablets on the market. Most of them run Android OS, and there is always the iPad. BlackBerry also has its own tablet, the PlayBook. So which of these is best suited for travel? Some of that will depend on personal preference. But there are some criteria we can use to whittle down the list.

While tablet size might not be the most important factor on everyone’s list, it certainly plays a part. The entire point, after all, is to find a device that is easy to transport. If you wanted a big, bulky device you could have brought your laptop along. The idea of the tablet is to pack a lot of functions into a little space. And so the iPad, rated by many, if not most, as the best tablet on the market, falls short here.

Not only is the iPad big, 9.5 inches long by 7.31 inches wide, but it’s also heavy. The official Apple specs say 1.33 pounds, but it sure feels heavier than that. And that’s for the iPad 2. The original iPad was a bit thicker and a degree heavier, making it even less of an ideal travel device. It might provide the most apps and some of the best video resolution on the market. But if your goal is to find the devices easiest to take on trips, the iPad might not be ideal for you.

There are a number of smaller Android tablets, but most of the better ones on the market are in the 10-inch range, just like the iPad. Since the current Android tablet software is nowhere near as user friendly as Apple’s iOS, it’s tough to justify buying one solely on size. That is, if you’re OK with a bigger tablet, the iPad is the way to go. There are a few decent small tablets for the Android, the best of which might be the Nook Color. That takes a little handiwork to turn into a viable tablet, though.

That leaves the BlackBerry PlayBook. The device hit shelves in April 2011, but it wasn’t fully functional. That is, it didn’t contain the native email and calendar, nor did it have a large slew of apps. That should all change soon enough, as Research In Motion plans to add email and calendars to the device in September, and an Android Player, which gives users access to Android Apps, will come soon after. That makes it a much better buy. It also brings a compact seven-inch screen, and you can even fit the device in your jeans pocket. That makes it easy to carry around when you’re traveling the world.

Just because a tablet has the right measurements doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for you. Beyond portability, a tablet must prove durable if it makes for a good travel companion. After all, it has to move along with you. At any point it could be subject to dings, dents, and drops. As such, you’ll want a tablet that can withstand a reasonable beating.

This is where many Android tablets fall short. There are plenty of them, sure, but especially as you get cheaper they feel flimsy. They might work for someone whose use is primarily in-home, but for the traveler they won’t work out as well. There are some exceptions, though. For instance, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer holds up pretty well by itself. Additionally, it has a keyboard attachment, so you can turn it into a virtual laptop. That’s the kind of hardware that a traveler needs. Unfortunately, it won’t save the tablet if you drop it, or something smashes against it in your bag.

The iPad certainly ranks atop the durability scale for tablets. That’s one of the reasons that, as mentioned above, that it’s on the heavier side. The entire back is metal and can withstand a mild drop. The screen is also made of tough materials that, while not Gorilla Glass, still withstands cracks and nicks. The PlayBook, too, can withstand minor blows without completely coming apart.

It is recommended, of course, that you find a proper case, regardless of durability. As these guys demonstrate, even the most durable tablets can’t withstand real drops, even from waist level. In fact, treat a case in the same manner as auto insurance: neglect it at your own risk.

While there is some quality competition in terms of size and hardware of the tablets, when it comes to apps the three major tablets create three distinct tiers. There’s not much sense going too deeply into it, since it’s fairly obvious which ones stack up best.

The iPad rules all in terms of useful apps. It seems that ever developer works on this platform, so while you can find some apps on all three, and even more on two platforms, almost every quality app is on the iPad. Apple really got ahead of the game, ensuring that developers would favor their platform. The only drawback is that most apps cost at least a dollar, even apps that are free on other platforms. But it does have the most apps.

Android tablets have a slew of apps, too, and many of them are free. That does give it an advantage over Apple tablets. For example, the popular game Angry Birds costs $5 on the iPad, but is free, with ads, on the Android platform. There are many developers that choose Android over Apple, due to the open nature of the software. But the same style apps are typically available on the iPad, too.

The PlayBook falls short in terms of apps, but that’s because the BlackBerry in general has a less impressive app selection than other platforms. It does have the essentials, though, and there are a select few developers pumping out content for the PlayBook. But that doesn’t help it keep up with the others. What will help it keep up is the Android Player, which will give PlayBook users access to Android apps. But that has yet to hit the market.

There are many considerations when buying a tablet for travel purposes. Size, hardware, and software are the most important, though, and it’s hard to make a real distinction in this area. While the iPad is durable and has apps galore, its size makes it less viable for travel. The PlayBook is small and durable, but lacks the killer software. Android has some smaller tablets, but they’re typically not in the high end. That makes for a difficult decision. But in the end it comes down to personal choice, and as you can see there are plenty options from which to choose.