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Category: Travel

Traveling with the iPad

Shortly after Apple announced the iPad, I began planning a trip to Europe. I had been thinking about buying a small-and-light notebook computer; the iPad seemed like the ideal travel device, so I bought one instead. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m traveling without a laptop. Here's what's worked well on this trip, and what could have been better.


  • Battery life. I flew from Portland, OR to Paris by way of Philadelphia, and still had plenty of battery left when I arrived. Apple’s estimate of 10 hours is conservative.
  • Instant-on. Using the iPad feels more like using a smartphone than a computer: press the power button and you're ready to go. No waiting for a PC to boot, or even awaken from sleep.
  • Portability. At 1.5 pounds with a 9.7-inch screen, the iPad is easy to bring almost anywhere; my carry-on bag has never been lighter. The tablet form factor is a pleasure to use, even for an overweight guy seated in coach.
  • Capacity. I wasn’t sure if 16 GB would be enough space, but it’s plenty. I keep music on my phone, freeing up the iPad’s gorgeous screen for video and e-books. I’m carrying 9 full-length movies, 5 books and several TV shows, and I still have about 4 GB free.
  • Remote desktop. I use an app called iTap RDP to access my home desktop computer from the iPad. This has allowed me to check my work e-mail even though my employer doesn’t support connectivity from personal mobile devices.

Not so good:

  • Sharing photos. I like to upload photos from the road to Facebook or Picasa; there’s currently no easy way to do that with the iPad. Before leaving the U.S., I made several attempts to purchase Apple’s Camera Connection Kit; the local Apple Store never had one in stock, and the wait was 2 to 3 weeks if I ordered one online. But even if I had one, I don’t know of a good way to upload multiple photos to an online service: the services’ Web sites don’t play well with the iPad’s lack of a file system, and there are no iPad apps for Facebook or Picasa. Fortunately, I’m traveling with friends who brought a laptop, so I’ve been able to impose upon them to upload my photos.
  • Limited content options. With a laptop, I can download fresh content, such as new episodes of my favorite TV shows. I can do that on the iPad, too, but only from iTunes at $2 a pop (plus DRM). Hulu is not an option on the iPad (since I’m outside the U.S., it wouldn’t be an option even on a laptop); I’m using an app called Air Video to stream content from my media center PC at home.

I brought a Bluetooth keyboard, which has turned out not to be necessary. I’m writing this from a café in Brussels using the on-screen keyboard. Maybe I’d prefer a physical keyboard if I were a touch-typist, but for this hunt-and-peck typist the on-screen keyboard is fine. When I do use the external keyboard, I find that I miss the iPad’s auto-correct feature (which converts “Id” to “I’d”, for example), and it feels awkward to have to touch the screen to select text.

Bottom line: the iPad is a great travel companion; overall, the pros outweigh the cons. For my next trip, I'll bring a Camera Connection Kit and leave the external keyboard at home. Maybe by then someone will release an app that makes it easier to upload photos. If you have any suggestions, please post a comment!

Update: Add blogging to the list of “Not so good.” I wrote this post in Pages, Apple’s word-processing app for the iPad. When I went to post it, I discovered that my blogging software’s Web interface doesn’t work well with mobile Safari: the rich text editor doesn’t work at all, and the HTML editor doesn’t display a scroll bar; if your post doesn’t fit on a single screen, you’re out of luck. [Update: I discovered, quite by accident, that a two-fingered drag scrolls a text area in the browser. Still, I’d have to edit raw HTML in order to post from the browser. I wish Pages could post to blogs!] There are a lightweight Web interface and a native iPad app, but neither of them supports formatting text — not even hyperlinks! I ended up e-mailing the Pages document to myself and remoting into my home PC to post it.

So now it’s a tie: I love the iPad’s size, weight and battery life, but blogging and uploading photos are a hassle. Add the fact that I’m limited to iTunes for additional content and I have to connect to my home PC to check my work e-mail, and maybe a small notebook computer wouldn't be so bad after all.

Travel Tip: How to Beat the System at the Airport

If you’re flying Northwest Airlines out of Portland, OR, you can take advantage of short lines for passengers who have only carry-on luggage, or for those who have bags to check and have printed their boarding passes at home. Unfortunately, this morning I was in the much larger third group: passengers without a boarding pass who have bags to check. The line for those kiosks looked like the line for Space Mountain.

In case you ever find yourself in that situation, here’s a tip: First, use the kiosk for passengers with only carry-on luggage. When the machine asks if you have bags to check, lie and answer, “No.” The kiosk will happily print your boarding pass. Next, get in the line for passengers who have bags to check and who already have a boarding pass (which you now do). After you check your bag, smile and wave at the people who are obediently waiting in the Space Mountain line.

I don’t know why Northwest makes its customers do this little dance, but this tip can save you about 20 minutes the next time you’re on the dance floor.