Those of us who like to pack light and document our travels in a blog understand the need for small, lightweight, capable technology. Until recently, I was one of the last people on earth to remain stubbornly loyal to my beloved desktop PC, but traveling has made it necessary for me to finally leave it behind.
The mission: to find a device small enough to be tucked into a backpack, weighing under 3 pounds, with a battery life of at least 7 hours, powerful enough to perform decent photo editing.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a basic laptop that fit all of the above criteria. If the graphics were adequate, it was too big and clunky. If it was small & compact, the processor was junk, or it only had a 4 hour battery life. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of sacrificing one thing for another. (I want what I want, and I want it to be within my budget – is that so much to ask??)
Just when it seemed I would have to compromise, I met Tim at Best Buy. Tim is a world traveler himself who recently returned from Afghanistan. He told me to forget laptops. As Hilary Duff would say, laptops are so yesterday.
The future of travel blogging is tablets. – Tim from Best Buy
But…can a tablet do everything you need it to do? Can you type posts easily? Manage a website? Run Photoshop?? Turns out, you can. You can even take photos if you happen to get caught without your camera on you and you don’t mind being that guy taking a picture with your tablet. Bonus: no more clunky laptop charger – they often use the same charger as your phone!
The best option for travelers, in my opinion, is a tablet-PC hybrid (or, as my dad calls it, a ‘tabuter’).
Here are the models that made my top 5:
(Note: All of these hybrids are touchscreens that run full Microsoft Windows 8.1 as opposed to an Apple or Android OS. If you hate Windows 8 as much as I do did, give it another shot on these. It was really designed for a touchscreen laptop and is much easier to use on here than a traditional clamshell. They also all have an attachable keyboard option. For me, a traditional type – not touch – keyboard was an absolute necessity.)
5. Microsoft Surface Pro 2 ($997) – Featuring the Intel 4th-Generation Core Series Haswell processor and a speedy SSD, this 10.6’ tablet is fast and powerful (I may have copied that line from laptopmag.com). As a reference (or in case you happen to be a gaming nerd like me) people play World of Warcraft on this puppy. It’s a beast. The display is awesome (1920 x 1080) and the battery life is solid (8 hrs.) but for me, the lack of included keyboard was a deal-breaker. If I’m going to drop a grand on something that claims to be able to replace my PC, I don’t want to spend an extra $123 on a keyboard. Sorry, but that’s just greedy.
4. Dell Venue 11 Pro ($460) – Another really nice, powerful option with a quad-core Atom processor, colorful 1080px screen and plenty of ports. Its 10.8” screen is slightly bigger than the other budget tablets in its category, but the tablet itself is also a bit bulkier. Again, the keyboard attachment is sold separately ($139 for this one) but with a much lower starting price it doesn’t sting quite so bad. Bonus: if you purchase online from Dell, you get 3 points/$1 with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, one of my favorite travel credit cards.
3. Sony VAIO Tap 11 ($592) – With a 128GB solid-state drive, this one does come with above-average storage space. It also includes a wireless keyboard, a stylus pen and front and rear-facing cameras. At 1.7 pounds it’s one of the lighter tablet-PCs and features an 11-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution. Compared to other Core i5 tablets, the performance is said to be a bit sluggish. It also includes a 30-day trial version of Office. The only thing that held me back from pulling the trigger on this nice little convertible is the 4 hour battery life. I need something with a little more staying power.
2. Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro ($1,040) – The Yoga 2 Pro boasts a sharp 13.3-inch, 3200 x 1800 IPS display and comfy backlit keyboard (major bonus for typing in a tent at night if you’re a backpacker). With an attached keyboard this hybrid weighs in at 3.4 lbs., a bit heavier than what I was looking for. However, the versatility of being able to use it in laptop, tablet, stand, or tent mode is impressive. It also comes with some cool features like Yoga Photo Touch (nice for basic photo editing) and Yoga Camera Man (a voice-activated camera so you can take hands-free photos). If it weren’t for the hefty price tag, this definitely would have been at the top of my list, but it was just too far over-budget.
1. ASUS Transformer Book T100 ($349) – This was the winner for me. When plugged into its included keyboard dock, the 10.1” T100 changes from a 1.2-pound tablet into a 2.4-pound laptop that will last up to 11 hours. (Now that’s battery life!) It also comes with Microsoft Office preloaded, 1 year of free unlimited cloud storage, and a Kindle reading app. (I went ahead and sold my Kindle Fire HD for $100, making this an even better deal.) It may not be the best hybrid overall, but you definitely get the most bang for your buck.
The biggest complaint in reviews was the cramped keyboard, but it hasn’t been an issue for me. I’ve typed this entire post with only my usual amount of errors. 🙂 You definitely need the 64GB version, not the 32GB, since Windows 8 does take up a chunk of space. With so much cloud storage available and a micro SD card slot, you don’t really need the amount of space on a hard drive that you used to. Speaking of ports, this budget hybrid has a microUSB port for charging and data transfer, micro HDMI, a microSD card reader and a headphone/mic jack, while the keyboard dock adds a full-size USB 3.0 port.
My only grievance is that the cord to charge it is really short, making it inconvenient to use when it’s plugged in. Luckily my Samsung phone cord (about twice the length) also charges it just fine. I’ll probably still invest in a portable charger, especially for long, international flights or camping without outlets. Some tech reviews have said it slows down when running Photoshop but it’s been working just fine for me.
Overall, I’m really happy with my decision. If that changes at any point during my travels I’ll be sure to update this. Once budget is (hopefully!) less of a concern in a couple years, I will probably consider upgrading to one of the Lenovo Yoga series, but for now I can comfortably backpack all over with this little ‘tabuter.’
Would you ditch your laptop for a tablet hybrid?
Disclaimer: I am not a technology expert, nor is this is an exhaustive review of all available options. This article is based on information obtained from online research, salespeople at Best Buy & Staples, and my personal criteria for a travel laptop on a small budget. I did not receive compensation of any kind for writing this post (what a sucker; I should have held out for a freebie). All opinions are my own.