Best Tablet Computers for Travel

Best Tablet Computers for Travel

There are few better items to travel with than a tablet computer. A tablet can be your map, your guidebook and your reading library, your entertainment system, your photo storage and editing device and your means of communicating with friends back home—all in one highly portable package.

The qualities that make for a tablet good for travel are generally the same as those that make a tablet good for other purposes too. When you are on the road, though, weight and build-quality become especially important. Travelers tend to use their tablet for longer between charges and so there’s a premium on battery life. Camera quality is important, partly for taking photos, partly for making Skype video calls. Other qualities to consider in your tablet travel companion include the availability of expansion ports, the quality of the screen (especially for use in direct sunlight), the selection of travel apps and, of course, the price.

With that, here’s Spot Cool Stuff’s take on the best tablet computer to take traveling. Read on, your click on the category that most interests you:

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Best Overall Tablet Computer for Travel

apple ipad 2 bw Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel
Price: $514-$830
Display: 9.7 inches, 132 pixels per square inch
Weight: 21.6 ounces (613 g)
Storage options: 16, 32 & 64GB
Operating System: iOS 5
Battery life: 10 hours of wifi web surfing
Camera: 0.7MP rear-facing, 0.3MP front-facing
Ports: Proprietary Apple iPod dock only
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apple ipad 2 travel s Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel The Apple iPad 2 is not superlative as a piece of hardware. The processor speed, the screen and the build quality are all very good. We love the aesthetics, the super-thin form factor and the long battery life (that’s best among tablets of its size). But what secures the iPad Part Deux as our choice for the best travel tablet is the incredible selection of travel-related apps—no operating system has more. If an airline, a hotel, a photo-sharing service or some other travel provider makes only one tablet-friendly version of an app, 99% of the time it will be for the iPad.

If you already travel with an Apple MacBook Pro and/or an iPhone then your decision to get an iPad 2 becomes nearly automatic. The iPad will play nice with your other Apple devices. Photos, music, videos, email, contacts, notes, calendar items and the like will automatically sync between your iDevices via Apple’s iCloud.

If you don’t travel with Apple products then there are reasons to at least consider other tablet alternatives. While the iPad does have front and rear facing cameras (that can be used with both Skype and Apple’s proprietary FaceTime), the quality of both is poor. The iPad 2 does not have any USB or memory card ports. And it is expensive, especially if you get a 3G-capable model.

See below, under Best Tablet Computer for Photographers, for tips on using an iPad together with a camera while traveling

Pros & Cons

pro review Best Tablet Computers for Travel Best selection of apps (by far), beautiful operating system, high build quality, best battery life of any tablet, syncing with other Apple products, option for massive 64GB of storage

con review Best Tablet Computers for Travel Expensive, poor camera quality (especially the rear-facing one), no USB ports, average display pixel density, only 512MB of RAM

LEARN MORE & BUY |

Purchase locally in: CANADA | CHINA | FRANCE | GERMANY | ITALY | JAPAN | UK | USA

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   Runners-up Best Tablets for Travel: Samsung Galaxy Tab (see below), Motorola XOOM

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Best Android Tablet for Travel

samsung galaxy tab review Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel
Price: $500-$600
Display: 10.1-inch, 149 pixels per square inch
Weight: 19.9 ounces (565g)
Storage options: 16, 32GB
Operating System: Android 3 latest (Honeycomb)
Battery life: 8.5 hours of wifi web surfing
Camera: 3.2MP rear-facing, 2MP front-facing
Ports: Dock connector only
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If you could put the operating system of the iPad in the body of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 you’d have a near perfect tablet.

We say “near” because the 10-inch version of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab doesn’t have any USB or memory card ports. But that’s one of the few downsides.

The Tab is thinner and lighter than an iPad, yet it boasts a screen that’s a bit bigger and a lot brighter. Of all the tablets Spot Cool Stuff has used in direct sunlight (and we’ve tried out every major one), the Galaxy Tab is the only with a screen that’s readable for long periods of time.

The rear and front facing cameras that are better than their 3MP/2MP resolutions would suggest—we wouldn’t use the Tab 10.1 to take many photos but the cameras are great for Skype calls.

Another nice bonus: The speakers on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 are higher quality than most all other tablets. They get loud enough to listen to some tunes around your hotel room. Add to that a gorgeous physical design and the ability to run Honeycomb and you have your best Android-powered travel companion.

Pros & Cons

pro review Best Tablet Computers for Travel Best screen (in terms of both brightness and clarity) of any tablet, light and thin, beautiful design, fast Dual Core Tegra 2 processor, good speakers (for a tablet)

con review Best Tablet Computers for Travel A little more expensive than competitors, no USB or SD (or microSD) card ports, plastic back feels a bit less-than-sturdy

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Purchase locally in: CHINA | FRANCE | GERMANY | ITALY | JAPAN | UK | USA

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   Runners-up Best Android Tablets for Travel: Motorola XOOM, Sony S


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Best Value Tablet / Best Tablet For Entertainment

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Price: $199
Display: 7-inch, 169 pixels per square inch
Weight: 14.6 ounces (413 grams)
Storage options: 8GB
Operating System: Android 2.3
Battery life: 7 hours of wifi web surfing
Camera: None
Ports: USB
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There’s much to like about Amazon’s new Kindle Fire, the tablet computer version of the company’s excellent line of eBook readers. But here’s the thing to like most: $199. That’s how much one costs, making it the best value tablet computer on the market today—whether you plan to travel with it or not. (Amazon is taking a loss on each Fire, hoping to turn a profit later on users buying eBooks, movies and other Amazon stuff.)

For the Kindle Fire’s bargain price you get a tablet that sports a high-resolution screen and runs a full version of Android on a fast dual-core processor. Plus you get features not available on any tablet at any price-point:

• Amazon’s exclusive and noticeably faster Silk web browser;
• free storage in the Amazon cloud and direct access to Amazon’s music; and
• streaming videos (many of which are free to members of Amazon’s worth-joining Prime program).

But before heading out on your next trip with a Kindle Fire, take note that there’s a lot you will not get for your $199. The Fire doesn’t have GPS (which can be really useful for finding your way around foreign lands). The Fire can only access the internet via wifi—there’s no 3G or 4G model. There’s also no camera (so no Skype video calls) and no Bluetooth. Of course, if you travel with a smartphone some of those limitations might not matter so much.

One more note on the Kindle Fire: It only has a 7-inch screen. For traveling, we love the screen size. A small screen means less weight and device that’s small enough to slip into a large pocket and hold with one hand for prolonged periods. If you are looking for a great 7-inch tablet with GPS, Bluetooth and cameras consider the cool Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.

Pros & Cons

pro review Best Tablet Computers for Travel Superb value, fastest tablet web browser, direct access to Amazon’s huge eBook, movie and music collection, scratch resistant screen, free cloud sources, automatic syncing with other Kindle devices

con review Best Tablet Computers for Travel No GPS, no 3G (or 4G, or any number of Gs), no camera, no Bluetooth, limited to 8GB of on-device storage

LEARN MORE & BUY |

Purchase locally in: CHINA | FRANCE | GERMANY | ITALY | JAPAN | UK | USA

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   Runners-up Best Value Tablets for Travel: Herotab C8 (though it’s a distant second), ASUS Eee Pad Transformer
   Runners-up Best Entertainment Tablets for Travel: Sony S, iPad 2, Lenovo Ideapad

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Best Tablet for a Laptop Replacement

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Price: $394
Display: 10.1-inch, 150 pixels/square inch
Weight: 24 ounces (680 grams)
Storage options: 16 & 32 GB
Operating System: Android 3 latest (Honeycomb)
Battery life: 8.5/10.5 hours with/without keyboard dock
Camera: 5MP rear-facing, 1.2MP front-facing
Ports: Mini-HDMI, 2 USB
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asus eee transformer s Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to bring your tablet or laptop (or tablet and laptop) with you on a trip. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is one solution. Though it definitely looks and acts like a tablet, the Transformer can become laptop-like when paired with it’s optional keyboard. It also comes with the Polaris Office Suite, a mobile version of MS Office. Add to that a speedy Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and two USB ports for your peripherals and the Transformer makes it a whole lot easier to leave your laptop at home.

Other benefits of the Eee Pad Transformer: a screen with a wide 178° viewing angle, long battery life and elegant. It’s an excellent value for the Amazon discount price of US$394. Though you’ll pay a bit extra when carrying it around—the Transformer weighs about 20% more than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (above).

Pros & Cons

pro review Best Tablet Computers for Travel Keyboard dock (that also extends battery life), excellent value, speedy processor, wide display viewing angle

con review Best Tablet Computers for Travel About 20% heavier and 50% thicker than light-weight competitors, touchscreen becomes slightly less responsive when docked

LEARN MORE & BUY |

Purchase locally in: CANADA | CHINA | FRANCE | GERMANY | ITALY | JAPAN | UK | USA

   Runners-up Best Tablets for Laptop Replacement: Apple iPad 2, Lenovo Ideapad


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Best Tablet For Photographers

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Price: $367-$449
Display: 10.1-inch, 149 pixels/square inch
Weight: 25.6 ounces (725g)
Storage options: 8, 16, 32GB
Operating System: Android 3 latest (Honeycomb)
Battery life: 6.5 hours of wifi web surfing per battery
Camera: 5MP rear-facing, 2MP front-facing
Ports: HDMI, USB, mini-USB, SD card
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The Toshiba Thrive is not at all a good tablet for photography. Both its rear and front facing cameras are substandard, even when compared to other tablets.

The Toshiba Thrive is arguably the best tablet for photographers. Spot Cool Stuff thinks it’s between that or the Apple iPad 2. The iPad comes with up to 64GB of internal memory (great for storing lots of photos) and there are many more photography-related apps for the iPad than there is for Android. The iPad, though, has two downsides:

1) Its photo management software is surprisingly sub-optimal—there’s better on the latest Android Honeycomb, which the Thrive runs.

2) The iPad has only one port, requiring one to buy an Eye-Fi card (more on that, below) or a buggy camera connection kit to transfer photos from your camera onto your tablet. By contrast, the Toshiba Thrive is wonderfully port-full, with two full-size USB, SD card and HDMI slots.

Another great feature of the Thrive: It has swappable batteries. So while the life per battery isn’t that great, it is infinitely expandable.

Unfortunately, the Thrive is the heaviest tablet we tested. And the display, while serviceable, paled compared to Android competitors. Unless you are going to make good use of those extra ports,

Pros & Cons

pro review Best Tablet Computers for Travel selection of ports and full-size SD card reader, only tablet with swappable batteries, grippy back panel,

con review Best Tablet Computers for Travel comparatively heavy, about twice as thick as an iPad 2 or Galaxy Tab 10.1, no 3/4G, average display quality

LEARN MORE & BUY |

Purchase locally in: CANADA | GERMANY | UK | USA

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toshiba thrive tablet 2 Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel

   Runners-up Best Tablets for Photographers: Apple iPad 2, Lenovo Ideapad

Some Final Thoughts

eye fi card Best Tablet Computers for Travel follow me on pinterest button Best Tablet Computers for Travel Why did the BlackBerry Playbook Not Make the List? Spot Cool Stuff is pro-Blackberry and want to like the Playbook Tablet. But the lack of travel apps simply make it less practical than an iPad or Android device. The shorter-than-average battery life didn’t help either.

What about the Motorola XOOM? Both tablets are excellent and both made our runners-up lists. The XOOM might have made first place in a category if it weren’t for the mirror-like display; it’s a good choice for vampire travelers who travel only under cover of darkness but not so much for those who want a tablet they can use outside in daylight.

Two key accessories to remember: 1) A sturdy case. Travel can be hard on tablets. Protect them.

2) An Eye-Fi card for your camera. That will let you transfer photos from your camera directly to your camera via wifi (and a free app, available for both Android and Apple’s iOS). Getting photos onto your tablet will both clear memory for more shots on your camera and let you share your photos. For more on the later see our post about three cool ways to share your photos WHILE you are traveling.

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published: 31 Oct 2011 | above photo taken on the Tower Club at lebua, Bangkok

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Related posts:
Reviews of the Best Cameras For Travel / Best Socks For Travel
How To Optimally Configure a New Apple MacBook Pro
Kodak Pulse: The Picture Frame You Can Update From Anywhere
Reviews of the Best Tablet Computers for Kids


Have ideas of your own? Share them in a comments section, below:

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Responses

  1. Bryan @ Kata Digital says:

    It’s amazing how technology evolves everyday! Gadgets that are just released will have a follow-up model that’s an upgraded version of the original in just a span of months.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Ricky says:

    wHAT? No Nexus? Nexus 7 is the king of tablet, the bigger version is cool too, but maybe too big for some activities… I’d place the N7 with the Ipad, it is hard to choose…but definetly above the samsung tablet!

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Gisela says:


    Twitter:
    I have traveled lately with my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and it did the job perfectly. As actually I dont own any camera , my Tab was my camera and everything during this trips. And I made great pictures! So I can say that the GTab did a great job for traveling. I eve bought a travel messenger bag to keep my tab always with me around.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Armands says:

    I vote for Asus Eee Pad. I have used it and I know that it is really comfortable. Use it as a tablet, but when you need to write email or you are running out of battery, attach the keyboard.
    Armands recently posted..Romancing the Rails – Best Train Journeys in Europe’s Most Popular CountriesMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Belinda says:


    Twitter:
    I have a Galaxy Tab and love it!

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. darnel says:

    Once again, another superb review from Spot. Just got a Galaxy Tab on your advise. Can’t wait ’til it gets here.

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Mia @ programming says:


    Twitter:
    What about Kindle Fire? I think that it has a good price, and offer similar functionalities.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Spot Cool Travel Stuff Reply:

    Hi Mia,

    We discuss the Kindle Fire under “Best Value Tablet / Best Tablet For Entertainment” in the review, about half-way down.

    ~ SCS

    [Reply to this comment]

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