After choosing your phone, selecting something closer to a real computer is next. Expat life requires easy access to web resources for nearly everything. From travel planning to searching for a home, a stronger tool is needed than what we typically find in mobile phones.
As with a phone, buy as much capability as you can afford. Extra memory is particularly valuable in an iPad since you cannot add more capacity later. My NewTrent Bluetooth keyboard makes it an effective replacement for a laptop computer for nearly everything I do.
My wife uses a Samsung Tab A8 Android tablet which offers the experience of an iPad mini at a much lower cost. It does a great job with her English language students in Japan on Skype. Android devices allow you to add extra memory which is invaluable, especially for storing photos and videos. It also has keyboard case options for those who absolutely must pound away when writing.
Some high-end phones bridge the gap with the phablet made popular by the Samsung Galaxy Note in 2011. These straddle between a phone and a tablet using a screen size typically 6” or larger. Despite the nasty battery issues of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 they seem to be recovering with the Galaxy Note 8 and 9, which have proven to be solid devices. For some of us, it’s a bit odd to put a phablet to your ear for a call due to its size. In spite of that, phablets remain very popular since they integrate the phone and tablet in one device (one less thing to pack!).
There is some talk of reviving the idea of a docking station that converts a phone into a computer. I’m watching this to see if the next generation of phones can actually replicate a computer in a way that makes sense for global travel. Android phones are the only functional path I can see due to the robust Google application environment.
Mobile applications on a tablet, unfortunately, fall short in some areas compared to the full function interface of a laptop computer. After our initial months of travel using an iPad mini, I purchased a Dell laptop which became invaluable when my tablet wasn’t up to the task. I highly recommend a configuration using a Solid State Hard Drive (minimum 128GB). Standard hard drives can be sensitive to the bumps of travel and ultimately will fail over time no matter how careful you are.
Another great choice is the Microsoft Surface Pro4 which comes closest to the ideal, merging a tablet with a computer in one device. With a detachable keyboard, it easily moves from a computer to a tablet and back again. Like any innovation, it comes at a premium but does have lower price options comparable to the higher end of the Apple iPad lineup. Samsung launched the Galaxy Book to compete directly with Microsoft. Dell also offers some nice tablet/computer combo options.
Chromebook computers made popular by Google are interesting since they offer a laptop user interface at a very low price point. These require a network connection (either WiFi or Cellular) to be fully effective. Early users complained about the inability to work offline which has been fixed.
Value is NOT in the device, it’s in your content!
Though it’s unsettling at best to have a device stolen or broken, remember the value isn’t in the device. Your photos and documents are what really matter. A device can be replaced for a relatively low cost compared to losing your precious photos, contacts, and documents. Using Cloud Services is critical to ensuring content is protected and retrievable. Cloud Services, due to its importance, requires its own column.
No matter what you decide, effectively living an expat life comes closer to reality with every tech innovation. Go on your journey with confidence and share your tech story with the TCI community so we can all benefit from your experience.
by: Michael Wagner