Sometimes you come across a tool so useful you wonder how you worked without it.
Over the past few months I travelled extensively – and for the first time with a netbook. I had a fairly typical example, an MSI Wind U100+ (where do they get these names?) with an Atom processor, 2GB Ram and a 160GB hard drive running Windows XP. It is a rather natty blue and apart from a slightly-tempremental wireless card, performs perfectly. Its light, easy to pack and can do most things a laptop could do a few years ago. Its certainly capable enough for word processing, web-surfing and email, which make up what 90% of travellers do 90% of the time.
Many ultra-portable laptops also have these virtues, but in my view these aren’t the main reason for buying a netbook. There are two reasons why netbooks make the ultimate traveller’s tool: the first is their phenomenal battery life – around five hours with a 6-cell battery, which is still better than most “conventional” laptops. The second is how cheap these things are – I picked up mine for under $A500. This means that if the thing gets stolen it isn’t the end of the world (except for the data you have on it, of course).
I’ve travelled with laptops before and its great to have a comparatively large screen and a full set of programs, but their comparatively poor battery life and the fact that they are considerably more expensive can make them more of a liability than an asset.
The wider issue, however, is how easy it is to access to social media and online tools is when you are on the road, irrespective of what device you are using. There is of course wireless broadband, but this can be an extremely expensive proposition, especially overseas. Access via wi-fi can be extremely variable – it can be free in hotels, but elsewhere often involves casual user charges, where it is available. This means that you may have to lower your expectations of being able to access key programs if they are available only online – or look at those applications which can be downloaded and used offline.