Inland Crossing

Notebooks, Netbooks, & Tablets

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IMG_4057Having a computer around on a trip is pretty much required these days. Email, maps, and other services provide connectivity and resources. Which to take and which to leave behind? Travel light or travel fully equipped?

A while back I bought a netbook to provide for portability a step better than the notebook computer could provide. I was looking primarily for a small footprint and light weight, since I often also have to travel with a work computer. After some consideration I chose an MSI U120 running Windows XP, and it turned out to be a capable little machine.

A bit later I was bitten by the perceived need for a tablet, set the netbook aside, and bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. After some weeks spent getting acclimated to the Android OS, I felt an iPad would have been a better choice and bought one of those, only to find that the Samsung was a better choice for me after all. Sherry put the iPad to good use however, and did a much better job of leveraging its capability to diminish her dependency on a computer than I did.

The Samsung offered GPS and Google Maps out of the box; the IPad required add-on GPS hardware. The Android OS also allowed me to use some useful widgets and to navigate the file structure of the tablet’s storage space. For the most part it has worked out well. In spite of distinct advantages such as instant-on, extended battery life, and a plethora of free or nearly free applications though, the tablet is still no substitute for a regular computer.

A computer provides access to software that makes creating documents much easier than the tablet does, which is really best suited as a consumption device. The tablet is an excellent reader and browser, for example, but I can’t write more than a few paragraphs on it and maintain a train of thought due to the awkwardness of the screen’s keyboard. More capable mapping software is also available for PCs, and computers are necessary for transferring waypoints and routes to GPS devices or performing updates.

The computer also provides USB and serial connectivity to radio equipment for programming and for amateur digital communications. There are numerous other things that can be done on a computer that haven’t translated quite easily to a tablet, so I’ve had to conclude that one is required on the road in addition to the tablet.

It’ll get the netbook configured to handle the duties that are required for road and trail duties with mapping, radio, and basic connectivity capabilities. The pdfs for vehicle maintenance, equipment manuals, and other documents get loaded.

It’ll also include connection to my semi-retired Garmin GPS V to take advantage of its NMEA output to provide time synchronization for digital communications and for mapping purposes. The output will additionally provide a level of detail against topo maps that isn’t available with any of my GPS units.

The notebook then remains the computer of choice around the house or when the heavy lifting is required. This heavy lifting includes graphics editing, development, database work, and running applications such as Visio or Project.

The tablet is too convenient to not have around for instant-on communications where connectivity is available, portable GPS mapping services, or as an E-Reader for those same pdfs or books, so it’ll always be brought along.

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