Slim Down: Travel With A Tablet Instead Of A Laptop

While there are some lucky folks among us who can travel the world carefree, many of us have matters that require regular attention. In other words, some of us need to work and earn some money to fund our excursions. That normally means toting along a laptop. While this has become less of a burden with the shrinking size of laptops — and especially with netbooks — lugging around a computer can still be a pain. Thankfully, there’s a budding alternative.

Previously we discussed the best laptops for travel. By looking at a few general criteria — size, hardware, and software — we described which current tablets work best for frequent travelers. What we neglected to analyze is the suitableness of various tablets for working while you travel. While many of the same criteria apply, there are a few other aspects to consider.

Identification and Size

The No. 1 concern when traveling with any expensive electronic device: theft. There are just so many opportunities for someone to swipe your expensive stuff. While this is a nuisance when traveling for pleasure, it’s crippling when you’re required to work. Not only do you likely have sensitive information on the device, but there’s that whole issue of replacing it. Depending on where you are that can become an expensive, and perhaps impossible, proposition.

It’s an unfortunate fact that a more recognizable device will probably get swiped more frequently. Of course, if someone’s going to steal your iPad, they probably wouldn’t think twice about stealing your Android tablet. This is why smaller tablets might work best. Sure, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is not the iPad, but it’s roughly the same size. That makes it a bit more recognizable as a valuable item to thieves. A smaller tablet, such as the BlackBerry PlayBook, might not attract as much attention.

(Well, chances are it will, but hey, every little bit counts.)

Now we go from physical tablets to platforms. This might be an issue, because in the case of Apple and BlackBerry you have only one choice. That necessarily brings the focus to Android — and that shiny new Galaxy Tab. But for the moment let’s put them back on even ground and determine which platform will best serve your communications needs.

The BlackBerry has long been known for communications. But if you walk into a store today and buy a PlayBook, you won’t have email, contacts, or calendar unless you also have a BlackBerry smartphone. While an update is coming, it’s still not available. Maybe in the future the BlackBerry will reign supreme for communications on a tablet, but for now it trails far behind.

If you use Google services, the Android stands out on top. It has apps for all major Google communications, including Gmail and Google Talk, while it also hosts apps for a number of other IM services. These integrate right into the OS and notifications, so you’ll instantly know when you have new email or messages. The iPad does have a native email app, but it’s not nearly as good as Gmail’s — though it’s obviously more useful if you don’t use Gmail. Apple doesn’t have many Google apps in general, though it does have all-in-one instant messengers that will give you access to Google Talk and others.

Bottom line is that Android handles communications better out of the box than any other tablet platform. Even better: if you don’t use Google services, you can always route your current email through Gmail, receiving messages and even replying from your non-Gmail address. This makes Android the best for communications on a tablet.

Business Software

While the BlackBerry PlayBook might currently lack some important features, it certainly does not lack business software. It comes pre-loaded with the premium version of Documents To Go, so you’re ready out of the box. Anything along these lines — apps that provide a word processor, presentation editor, and spreadsheet app — will fit business needs well. That it’s free with the PlayBook makes a big difference.

Documents To Go is thankfully available on both Android and iPad platforms. For Android it costs $15 and on the iPad it’s $17. Those are both incredibly reasonable, especially given how much Microsoft Office costs for your PC. The relatively low price takes away some of the PlayBook’s business software advantage. That is, if you were going to go with another tablet, but thought twice because of the free Documents To Go on the PlayBook, you might be better off paying the $15 to $17 extra.

General Software
Beyond the business-specific apps, you’ll probably want a selection of other useful apps that will help you better simulate your laptop. These include not only other business apps, but also leisure apps. After all, a tablet is a powerful device that can accomplish many functions. Why settle for something that’s singularly focused on business?

Both iPad and Android tablets have enormous application libraries that provide access to any type of app imaginable. The Android Market holds a slight advantage here, because it contains far more free apps than the App Store. Plus, as we can see in the Documents To Go example, some apps are cheaper on Android than they are for the iPad. In either case, it’s tough to go wrong with either tablet selection here. Unfortunately, BlackBerry App World contains far fewer apps than the other two. It’s difficult to find any apps in App World that you can’t find in the other two.

The only question remaining is of whether people will actually make the switch from laptops to tablets. They’re smaller, and they run an increasing number of useful business apps. Traveling with a tablet, rather than a laptop, could make your life just a little easier.

photo credit: Shutterstock/15999052