Tech for Travel
May 11, 2014 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I am very very fortunate to have the opportunity to add some new technology to my collegiate life, now or in the future! Should I get an iPad now, or put that resource towards new tech in years to come?

As a college student, my primary device has been a 2010 13" Macbook Pro. The screen is cracked and it's pretty heavy, but it's extremely functional.

Originally, I had a 2nd gen iPod touch. I swapped it out for a damaged 4th gen earlier this year to have greater compatibility with apps. I use the iPod for music, checking email, basic internet on campus, and tracking my todo list. Up until recently, I've had an LG cosmos brickphone. I'll be swapping that out for an iphone 5c in a couple weeks. Very exciting. That said, my current setup (macBook and iPod Touch) meets my barebones needs -- I can do everything that is required for school and work.

I now have the very unexpected opportunity to either get an iPad (16gb, mini or air), or save that money (five or six hundred dollars) towards a new computer or other tech device in years to come. I borrowed a friend's iPad, and loved the user experience -- I would definitely make use of an iPad, but it feels like a luxury/unneeded item. It seems like the resources could be better directed elsewhere. I'd like some help figuring out what makes sense in terms of my current and future needs.

This summer, I'll be traveling in Eastern Europe for eight weeks on a scholarship. I'll be in an academic program for a month, traveling for three weeks, and doing research in various state archives for two. I have pretty significant back pain/joint issues, and a lighter weight setup would vastly improve my quality of life during those inevitable long walks lost in a new city with everything I own on my back. I anticipate having wifi access in most locations.

I will definitely bring:
-digital camera for photographing documents
-either unlocked iphone or dumbphone and 4th gen ipod touch

Things I anticipate needing to do during my trip:
-research travel locations, find contacts on the internet, and other browsing
-download documents/assignments/videos emailed out by professors, all of which are in a non-Latinate alphabet
-take extensive notes both in english and non-latin alphabets
-upload photographs of archival documents to the cloud from the digital camera
-google voice calls and texts, skype
-lightweight academic reading ie. a few PDFs, search google books
-relatively heavy email correspondence
-task management
-entertainment on flights -- books, videos, games, etc
-budget tracking
-check in for flights, purchase train tickets, etc

I'm already a heavy user of Dropbox, Evernote, Simplenote, Things and a variety of other apps that will facilitate syncing many of these tasks. Academically, I use DevonThink (no app) and Papers (terrible apps), but I think I can do without them during the trip.

other considerations:
-I'm graduating soon, and will not have the resources for another technology purchase for a good long while. Thus, I'm trying to balance short term needs (lightweight device for travel) with longer term (will I wish I had waited and gotten a new laptop a year or two from now? Will I use the iPad after the summer?)

-usability once I return to school in the fall: I don't mind carrying my laptop short distances around campus. Will I use my iPad after the summer, or will it be more of a novelty device compared to my laptop? Once I'm not on a campus, without constant wifi, will I be grateful for something I can slip in my pocket, or wish I simply had an ultralight laptop?

-If I were to get an iPad, would a mini meet my needs or do I need a fullsize? Would another tablet be a cheaper and better fit? I'm inclined to get the iPad for the apps, but if there's a serious price/quality differential I'd certainly consider it.

-There's likely to be a new iPad released in the next year. Will I regret not waiting for the newer model?

Thanks in advance!
posted by femmegrrr to Technology (11 answers total)
I would replace your ancient and damaged main useful computer, which you will almost certainly need every day for the most basic work that you do in college, and which you likely won't be able to afford to replace as a broke recent grad, right around the time your current computer becomes completely obsolete.

Ipads are neat, but they are a fun toy for playing games and streaming video on the go. There are a few useful purposes one can put them to, but they're nowhere near as mandatory as an actual computer.

Traveling on scholarship for a study-related long trip like the one you're planning, you'll want your full laptop, not a 7 inch video game and Hulu toy. An iPad is a fun way to entertain yourself on a flight, but it's not to meet your work/academic needs.

You will be leaving your laptop and most of your stuff wherever you're staying most of the time, anyway, so weight is not really a consideration. Get a rolling suitcase and make sure your day-pack situation works with carrying a laptop on the off chance that you need to bring it to class or the research facility.
posted by Sara C. at 1:10 PM on May 11, 2014

Given that your current laptop screen is cracked and it is four years old anyway, I would really attempt to jump to a MacBook Air. Super functional and super light. You'd have to pony up a couple hundred more bucks, but I think it would be worth it.
posted by shivohum at 1:12 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like my iPad just fine, but it's not really a fully-functional computer. It's great for watching Netflix in bed, or taking on trips where all I want to do is browse the web and check email. You can't really download and manage documents or do any multitasking. Even with an external keyboard it's still quite a bit slower to use than a regular computer.

I'd definitely put the money towards something like a 13" MacBook Air.
posted by radioamy at 1:15 PM on May 11, 2014

Given your description of your current laptop, save that money and put it towards a new laptop.

The plural of 'anecdote' is not data but: my girlfriend is in a professional masters program and has a 13" Macbook air and an ipad. If she forgets the charger for the macbook at my place, she'll call and ask me to bring it over ASAP. She once left the iPad on the floor in my living room for over a month and forgot where it was.

Functionally speaking, a 13" Macbook Air isn't that much heavier than an ipad, and is (IMO) vastly more useful for the kind of work a student or young professional is going to need to do. There are very few things you can do with the iPad that you couldn't also do with a nice new laptop, and lots of things you can do with the laptop that you can't do with the iPad.
posted by Alterscape at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend putting the money toward a new laptop. I love my iPad and actually use it a lot for writing (I have an external keyboard), browsing, entertainment, email, and lots of other stuff, but my 13" Macbook Air is way more functional, and I can't imagine being on a 2-month study-trip without it.

Of the list of things you mentioned, here's some comments on whether you can do them on an iPad:

-research travel locations, find contacts on the internet, and other browsing
-download documents/assignments/videos emailed out by professors, all of which are in a non-Latinate alphabet:
-take extensive notes both in english and non-latin alphabets:
-upload photographs of archival documents to the cloud from the digital camera:
MAYBE (depends on which cloud, and whether you get an SD card adapter for the iPad. Should be theoretically possible)
-google voice calls and texts, skype:
For Skype: YES; for Google Voice calls: NO. There's a Skype app. The GV app lets you text but calling (even when you're in the US) works by dialing in/out on the active cell line.
-lightweight academic reading ie. a few PDFs, search google books:
-relatively heavy email correspondence :
-task management:
YES (though personally I prefer task management on my iPhone, it's always on me.)
-entertainment on flights -- books, videos, games, etc:
YES (this is probably why you want an iPad in the first place. It's great for while traveling)
-budget tracking:
-check in for flights, purchase train tickets, etc:
YES (probably. I've found that some sites may not really work well in mobile Safari, especially purchases)
posted by polexa at 1:55 PM on May 11, 2014

I am an elementary school teacher who owns pretty much the same macbook pro that you have and I am planning on travelling a lot this summer and doing a lot of work during that planning. I bought an 11" macbook air and am totally in love with it. The price on them is super cheap right now and not much more than an ipad. The only problem i have with the macbook air is that it doesn't have an ethernet plug in, but that is because my school district is run by dinosaurs and we don't have wireless at my school site.
posted by ruhroh at 3:02 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a similar age MacBook pro just crap its logic board. I'll add to the chorus of put it towards replacing the computer.
posted by kathrynm at 6:30 PM on May 11, 2014

Thanks, all! Sounds like a strong consensus. I really appreciate your giving this a little thought.

A little additional context, and maybe the answer is still the same (which is good to know!):

My current laptop is extremely functional, and I like using it as is. I don't need or want a new laptop now -- I'd rather wait as long as possible. The cracks are small and localized, and don't disrupt function in the slightest. Yes, a crisis is possible (and perhaps probable), but I'm not there yet. I certainly wouldn't replace it before the summer, and would guess that I have at least another year with it, if not two. The only issue with it (as of now) is the weight.

I think I should emphasize more heavily -- weight is a really really serious issue for me. Even around campus and during regular airline travel, my shoulders literally slip out of their sockets (genetic disorder) due to heavy weight on their shoulders, even if I'm pulling it on wheels. For the first half of my trip, I will be packing up and moving most days. During the second half, I'll carrying my laptop/iPad on a 20 minute commute to class/archives.

I guess what I'm wondering is what, *exactly*, are the functions that feel more possible/easier on laptop than an iPod? Thanks so much!
posted by femmegrrr at 7:32 PM on May 11, 2014

It sounds like you need to get an Air now, if the weight is that much of a problem.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I guess what I'm wondering is what, *exactly*, are the functions that feel more possible/easier on laptop than an iPod? Thanks so much!]

Multi-tasking, downloading documents, google voice, DevonThink, Papers, and general speed.

The only issue with it (as of now) is the weight.

Then replace it. The weight difference between an ipad and an air is almost negligible if you add a keyboard to the ipad, which you would need for heavy email correspondence - like 2 vs 2.38 lbs.
posted by shivohum at 5:57 AM on May 12, 2014

Followup: I hustled, raised some money, and bought a Macbook Air when they went on sale at Best Buy. I couldn't possibly be happier with my decision. Thank you all for your wise input!
posted by femmegrrr at 7:26 PM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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