In 2010, Apple launched the iPad and since then, a whole slew of other manufacturers have jumped into the tablet fray. This is good news for the traveller as tablets are infinitely useful to take on the road.
Why? They’re lighter and more compact than a laptop/netbook with essentially the same core features such as email and web browsing. They start with the press of a button and the touchscreen functionality makes it easier to access information on the go. And battery life trumps most laptops, with some lasting up to ten hours.
What can I use my tablet for while travelling?
There are a variety of applications that are travel-friendly. Install Skype for video calls. Download apps like Foursquare and Urbanspoon for restaurant recommendations in your area. Booking apps like Kayak, Agoda, Booking.com and Hipmunk let you search for flights and/or hotel rooms. And many tourism boards offer free apps, so do some research and install them before you go.
You can also load up on TV shows, movies, music and ebooks before you go, to help pass the time on long journeys. Tablets offer the closest thing to a paper book experience on a mobile device, which makes them useful for viewing ebook or PDF versions of travel guides too. And if yours has GPS support, you can use it for navigation via applications with maps, eg TomTom GPS, Google Maps and Lonely Planet City Guides (which come with offline maps).
What's the best way to get online while on the road?
All tablets are equipped with a wi-fi radio. You might also have purchased a model with an additional 3G slot in it. For the former, you can access the internet by connecting to a wi-fi hotspot – some require payment, but plenty don’t so keep a lookout for free connections!
With the 3G option, you’ll have the easy but pricey option of using roaming data. Rates vary by destination so check with your network provider before you go, and find out if it offers data roaming deals.
A cheaper option is to either pre-purchase an international data SIM or buy a local data SIM at your destination. For reference, an international data SIM with maxroam.com charges approximately €1 per MB. Other comparable services include bridgealliance.com, abroadband.com and iphonetrip.com. With local data SIMs, the more technologically advanced the country you’re visiting, the cheaper the rates tend to be. In Singapore, for example, you can purchase a SIM for US$9 and get a day’s worth of unlimited surfing for US$3.50!
To avoid any post-trip bill-shock, always check rates before you start using any service.
How can I protect my tablet from damage?
Protecting your tablet from physical harm is important. While the iPad might look really cool 'naked', it won't take well to being dropped. So get a case. We recommend one that covers the entire body of the tablet and has a flap to cover the screen when not in use. Look for tougher materials such as neoprene or leather. Avoid the ‘sleeve’ type cases which require you to pull the tablet out each time you want to use it.
To protect the screen from accidental scratches, apply a clear plastic screen protector. If you expect your tablet to take some abuse, check out the shock- and dust-proof cases by Otterbox.
And what about protecting against theft?
As with your other devices, make sure to keep your tablet in a secure place. If you’re going to be pushing through a crowded market or subway, store it in a bag strapped to the front of your body. Keep your eyes on your bag at all times.
We’ve heard about tablets and mobile phones being snatched through closing subway doors so don’t get too absorbed in using your tablet, and be alert when using the tablet in public. If you have to use it outside, try to find a quiet place to sit down.
Be sure to back up information on all devices before you go. If you also carry a laptop, keep it separate from your tablet as an extra precaution. Apple's iOS5 has cloud back-up capabilities (meaning that you can save data via the internet onto Apple's servers). You can also save files onto a cloud service such as Dropbox or Box.net.
The iPad also has a nifty 'find my iPad' function which enables you to both track its location and remotely wipe your device, in the event of it being lost or stolen. Make sure you enable this feature before you travel.
Should I get travel insurance for my tablet?
Most travel insurance policies cover the theft, loss or damage of a tablet. The same policy should also cover other devices you might carry such as your mobile/cell phone and digital camera. With so many policies out there, it’s important to read the policy product disclosure statements to find out how much you can claim per item and, if you carry a lot of gadgets, the total limit you can claim. Additionally, if you’ve got home and contents insurance, it’s worth checking whether it covers your tablet for travel – some policies actually cover your kit, no matter where you are in the world.
The bottom line: make sure your tablet is insured.
I’ve heard that some tablets don’t work at high altitudes. Is that true?
Extreme cold will affect your tablet more than altitude. Tablets will work in places such as the Arctic but you’ll experience shorter battery life. Also, take care not to expose the tablet to sudden changes in temperature as condensation might develop internally...generally a bad thing.
This article was first published in November 2011. This article was refreshed in September 2012.