The iPad 3G, Travel and the Ying & Yang of Packing

As a frequent traveller I take many factors into consideration when I choose what to pack. Not all tools are equal for some jobs, sometimes a tool can be left home, and as the options for potential tools grow, the line between “must have” and “leave behind” are becoming blurred.

A year ago I never would have considered packing my bags to go anywhere without my laptop.  An Apple laptop has been the mainstay of everything I pack since 1994 (except for the brief year or so I switched to Windows against my will in ’01-’02). Regardless of the type of business most travelers are in, a laptop holds all their information, allows them to stay in contact with  the world around them and often provides a source of entertainment on the road.

As much as I love my Apple MacBook Pro, there are times I want  to, and need to, shed weight and increase battery life. For less weight and more battery life I picked up an EeePC 1005 HA netbook six months ago. The weight and battery life performance of the EeePC 1005 HA allowed me to get over the fact it was a windows operating system and use the full potential of this fantastic computer. Often times I found myself packing both the MacBook and EeePC 1005 HA for longer travel to maximize my working potential on the road…

…now after a month of having an iPad 3G in my hands and having traveled just over 25,000 air miles with the iPad 3G (I’d probably have flown more, but I had a cast on my right leg when the iPad 3G first arrived which meant no flying for me)…I have to wonder the future of traveling with other components of my regular travel tools.

When I look at my basic travel technology tools now I see a whole new horizon, a horizon where I can shed my laptop or netbook in a way I never would have though possible even two months ago.  Breaking a mindset is difficult, breaking habits are harder and frequent travelers are often creatures of habit. As creatures of habit we’re often prone to adding equipment rather than removing equipment.

…so what is the point of all of this? Well after multiple trips to Europe and flights across the United States I have found a new horizon for some of my travel. Over that horizon is a world where I am able to simultaneously pack heavy and pack light.  My packing for my first few trips with the iPad included packing both the iPad and the MacBook Pro … and while I am sure I will frequently need to travel with both … last Sunday evening as I boarded a late night Amtrak train to catch a flight from New York’s JFK to San Francisco I took a leap of faith in the iPad.

In packing for my two day trip I knew I’d be writing extensively, working in-flight with wifi on my flight, editing photos…and traveling with a full kit of camera equipment. Normally, this type of travel would put my MacBook Pro front and center of my kit, however as I packed up to headed out for the train I looked at my gear, and  my Mountainsmith Day pack looked empty. The Mountainsmith Day almost looked lonely, without a laptop inside it.  As I headed for the door I had a twinge of panic and almost tossed my EeePC 1005 HA netbook in ‘just in case,’ but instead I got in the car and drove to the train station.

Shortly before midnight I made my own personal history, I was about to embark on a two day journey, where I’d shoot hundreds of photographs, write blog posts and spend most of my time on a transcontinental flight using in-flight wifi and working on a project…and I departed with no computer.

Sometimes you need to just leap off the diving board and hope there is water in the pool.

So, how has the iPad 3G changed my view of packing? For starters, for more than half of my travel it means I can safely reduce the size and weight footprint of how I pack and know I am covered.  On the road with only the iPad 3G I found my freedom to be significantly increased.

For starters, with the iPad 3G and no MacBook Pro I am able to reduce my bag size. In addition to not hauling the space and weight of the laptop, I am also eliminating the power supply and the basic accessories I travel with, including USB cords, CF card adapters, USB data ‘web-stick’ and the ‘bulk’ of the ultra thin neoprene laptop case.  This reduced bag size increased my physical freedom and reduces the weight and strain on my body. Given that I like to pack in such a way that allows me to work while hauling everthing I have packed, dropping weight and size is significant to me.

When working with a MacBook Pro on the road I need to stop, sit down and utilize a USB data web-stick to access the T-Mobile 3G network. With the iPad 3G I find myself standing up, moving forward, wherever I am, and getting the information I need quickly. By being able to work quickly I am able to move more freely, and even gather information in a large visual way while shooting photos…something almost unthinkable with a laptop. Sitting in an airport or train station if I want get up and move, I don’t need to unplug my MacBook Pro, remove the USB data web-stick, place the laptop in its case, wind up the power supply, put it away, then get up. Since I can use the iPad 3G on the mobile GSM network, from within its case and with its substantial its battery life, I can just keep it in my hand, or toss it in the bag and start moving.   I know this seems minor, but this feature is something I quickly noticed and continue to appreciate.

A big giant fat concern of mine is photo editing on the road. Truth be known I received my iPad Camera Connection Kit, with SD card reader, two days before I headed out on the road, so I had no idea how viable photo editing on the iPad 3G would be, it was a leap of faith and I was pleasantly surprised.  I did encounter some quirks, and the camera buffer filled up pretty quick using an SD-to-CF adapter, rather than a CF card,  inside my cameras while shooting, but with the bugs figured out I found myself sitting down and editing photos seconds after I had shot them. Using the Camera Connection Kit and the Filterstorm iPad App I was able to quickly import images from the SD cards, then crop, size, colour correct, caption and send images directly from my iPad. Average camera to transmit time for photos … just under 2 minutes … that’s not bad at all!  If you’re a photographer, insurance adjuster, family flying on vacation, NTSB crash site investigator … the iPad’s photo capabilities will blow you away for ‘quick and dirty’ editing.

A plus and a minus to the iPad is its keyboard. You can use a bluetooth keyboard, but for most users, the iPad’s on-board keyboard is what you’ll use most. The angle can be awkward even with a good iPad case, but I find it far easier to use than most 10″ netback keyboards. If I was writing a 2,000 word essay I’d rather have a laptop, but for e-mail and basic writing, the iPad’s keyboard is very capable.

When working on the road access to e-mail and the internet are extremely important for a wide variety of reasons. While I travel with both a Blackberry and iPhone, neither of these devices can really take the place of a computer to sit down and formulate a complete e-mail. This is where the iPad and iPad 3G different greatly. The ‘basic’ iPad requires users to be connected via wifi, the iPad 3G works off of 3G GSM networks allowing users to work virtually anywhere they can find a mobile phone GSM signal. My iPad has worked flawlessly as a 3G mobile device throughout the United States, as well as London and Paris.

I don’t think I’d be as enamored with the iPad if I had the wifi version as my freedom to work wherever and whenever would be greatly limited.

From my seat last Monday night getting ready to push back from the gate at San Francisco International Airport I was able to open my iPad, no where near wifi and receive three PDF files to review on the flight, send off two photographs and have a quick chat via Skype Chat (Skype Voice won’t work unless on wifi).  These basic business functions set the iPad far apart from my Blackberry and iPhone … and take the place of my MacBook when working on the road.

One of the big reasons for my acquiring the EeePC 1005 HA netbook was the ability to watch the entire Jason Bourne trilogy of movies on a long flight … I mean … the ability to work from wheels up to wheels down on a long flight … however the iPad 3G is lighter than the netbook, smaller than the netbook , has a battery life that is superior to the EeePC 1005, the screen and audio are superior to the netbook and its built in 3G connection allows for a more flexible user experience.  Granted, the EeePC 1005 HA has some significant advantages, such as a much larger hard drive, 2gb RAM and access to a full version of Windows 7 … but for most of the work done on the road, especially on a day trip, what was once the benefit of the netbook is now eclipsed by the iPad’s presence.

I cannot overlook the entertainment issues with the iPad. I have a 32gb iPad 3G, this is a hard disk space constraint for downloading content onto my iPad. Another hindrance factor is that entertainment content must come from the iTunes store, rather than from a DVD…however the battery life and screen of the iPad make the device an ideal platform for stay entertained on the road.  As I tend to rent DVDs for my laptop and usually fly with the Sony PSP as an entertainment source, the constraints of the iPad are overlooked in favour of its many travel benefits.  When traveling with the iPad I tend to look for the iTunes movie rental movies on sale, then pick off the ones that I like. Given that movies range between 1gb for an average length movie and 3.5gbs for some longer movies, a 32gb iPad can easily hold six to eight rented movies, in addition to music, Apps, images and other data stored on the iPad. To gain space as I travel I delete rented movies as I watch them freeing up more space for images or new movie rentals.

So where does this leave me? It leaves me in a whole new frame of mind as I think about how I may pack in the future.

Is it safe to get on a plane with just an iPad 3G, iPhone and Blackberry? While these items may seem redundant, they actually have very different purposes for my usage.

The iPad has unexpectedly turned into a full-on replacement for my netbook and a viable alternative to the MacBook Pro for shooting quick-and-dirty on the run. With the ability to handle close to 60% of the normal work I do on the road. The ability to pre-purchase data and not be tied to a mobile data contract for a GSM USB web-stick is fantastic.

The international data plan for the iPad is very reasonable considering all the potential this device offers … in fact I’ll be popping in a UK iPad SIM card for a week in late July while in the UK at the Farnborough Airshow, relying on the iPad to be my primary device for creating and deploying content.  The pre-paid iPad SIM in my iPad from UK provider Orange should save me somewhere around US$15,360 for 1gb of international data roaming with a T-Mobile web-stick plan tethered to my laptop … or US$153,600 for the 10gb I plan to use. The cost of 10gb with Orange in the UK for a month is £25.

The iPhone is primarily used for the Apps, GPS and as a complete travel solutions tool on the road, as well as my iPod and occasional camera on the run (especially now with the iPhone 4’s 5mp camera and HD video capabilities). I like the battery life of the iPhone, the ability to have my music with me…track baseball scores live…and of course to use all the other 100+ apps that have various practical functions that I have worked into my daily life.

The Blackberry is my mail device and primary phone, plain and simple. I prefer Blackberry Mail to the iPhone Mail and the international data rates from T-Mobile (as a US user) are far more favourable than anything AT&T offers.

As I originally stated, I don’t see the iPad as a replacement for my MacBook Pro, or any laptop. As I shoot more video I’ll need the MacBook with me more often. For trips where I will create a lot of content and consume a significant amount of data, I’ll need the MacBook Pro. For extended travel, the MacBook and possibly EeePC 1005 HA, will certainly be packed, but for the short travel where I knew I’ll want to travel light, or use the excess weight I’ll be carrying for cameras, lenses and contraband cans of soda … which accounts for the majority of my travel … the iPad offers a whole new level of travel flexibility and versatility.

Looking back now to life before the iPad entered my tool kit seems so far away…looking back at my pre-iPad ownership point of view that the iPad had no place in my kit because I already had the MacBook Pro and iPhone seems so naïve and short sighted of me…

…and now looking at my kit I see how it is possible to pack heavy (camera gear) and light (computing gear) all at the same time.  The iPad has become my technological Ying-&-Yang all wrapped up in a shiny Apple case.

Below is a photo of the travel technology tools that have commonly been found in my bag – Apple 13” MacBook Pro; EeePC 1005 HA; 32gb iPad 3G; Blackberry Curve 8300; Apple iPhone 4

Happy Flying!

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Comments

  1. For me, I put a huge emphasis on traveling light and keeping my carry-on bags as simple and light as possible.

    You could easily consolidate those three devices into at high-end ultraportable such as a Viao Z or Toshiba R700 with an i5 or i7 processor. Weight around 3 lbs. – not much more than an iPad and you can do everything on one machine.

  2. Bruce,

    The difference between travelling with the iPad in conjunction with the Blackberry and iPhone compared to just travelling with the Viao Z or Toshiba R700 is that both the Viao Z & Toshiba R700 netbooks are netbooks.

    You cannot use either the Viao Z or R700 in the way you can use the iPad due to their design. Additionally, the Viao Z and R700 have a battery life similar to my EeePC 1005 HA, as well as a weight similar to my EeePC 1005HA. The Blackberry and iPhone are also my phones with phone numbers I have had in use for quite some time. You cannot walk around with a Viao Z as your mobile phone or your Toshiba R700 as your Blackberry.

    So in reality … you cannot combine the three devices into one machine, it simply is not possible or practical … especially considering for my purposes I’ve already replaced a computer that is comparable to both the Viao Z and Toshiba R700 … the EeePC 1005 HA … with the iPad in many ways.

    How do you propose replacing a Blackberry and iPhone with a netbook in a practical world?

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  3. Chris,

    Thanks for that bit of info. I was not aware that Three was offering iPad service. I had been comparing O2 and Orange as they were the original providers for the iPad.

    Thanks again and Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  4. Great column. I am currently vacationing in Europe (from the U.S.) and brought along my Acer AspireOne netbook. Haven’t purchased an iPad yet – I’m waiting for the 2nd generation – but I wanted to pay close attention during my trip to how I thought an iPad might be better or worse than traveling internationally with the netbook.

    On most counts, I think the iPad wins. However, two of the hotels I stayed in offered internet only via Ethernet cable. If I hadn’t had my netbook, I’d have been screwed. Any chance you know of any Ethernet adapters for the iPad? If someone makes one, it’d make my decision to buy an iPad a no-brainer.

    Thanks!

    Eric

  5. Eric,

    I do not know how an Ethernet connection could be created for the iPad. As I travel internationally I have been purchasing the AT&T International data plan for my 3G. For my trip at the end of this coming week I will be purchasing a local iPad SIM and data plan in the UK. I’ll be in, and around, London for a week handling social media for a major global aerospace company during an industry event, then I’m home for a day and return to the UK for a day. In this case using a local pre-paid iPad 3G SIM makes more financial sense.

    While 3G is not the same as wifi, the benefits out weight the negatives in many cases.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  6. Hello

    I was wondering how the UK SIM thing went. I am particularly interested in knowing if you needed to have your Mac and iTunes along to activate. I’d love to take just the iPad 3G (64 Gig) along and use a local SIM but so far what I’ve read suggests that you need to use your own iTunes to activate, requiring my MacBook. Also, I was focusing on O2 because they didn’t require a UK credit card. Anyway, I’d be interested in knowing what your experience was.

    Thanks!

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