Roadtesting the Apple iPad

I admit it: I'm a bit of a gadget guy. I like shiny doo-dahs that look great to carry, and might even aid the travel experience.

I try to avoid going into travel stores because I know I'll want to make everything there mine. The pocket knife with the built-in USB? Mine. The head torch with settings like "flashing disco ball"? Mine. The travel scales with electric display? Mine.

So when Apple finally released the iPad*, I was an obvious candidate. It's shiny. It's pretty. And it has the potential to make all the other travel gadgets that I lug around virtually redundant.

I managed to hold off for a good year or so, but with the addition of a colourful cover on the iPad 2 I was finally swayed, and I've been travelling with one of these pretty little things for a few months now.

When they were first released, I thought they would make the perfect travel companion. And I was almost right...

The good

As I travel for work, I always carry a small laptop. I also carry books, because I love to read on the road. Plus the odd magazine. Then I've usually got an iPod, and occasionally I'll have my phone out if I need to keep in touch with people.

The iPad takes all of those things and combines them into a slim, 600-gram package. I've got the Pages app for writing documents, the Kindle app for reading, the Skype app for free phone calls, a music player built in, plus space to store and watch TV shows and movies.

This not only means I've got less to carry, it also means the end to crappy inflight entertainment (or a complete lack thereof on budget flights). Everything I need is loaded onto the iPad.

There's also the ability to "top it up" with new books, magazines and videos while travelling, thanks to the Wi-Fi available in a lot of hostels and hotels now, particularly in Asia.

Plus with a nifty little connector that I had to pay extra for, I can also transfer my photos straight from my memory card to my iPad.

And while it's nice to be able to ditch huge novels, it's even nicer to ditch the huge guidebooks in favour of an "e" version. It's not a great idea to be running around a city flashing your iPad every time you get lost, but it does save on cost and weight to have all your reference material stored away to check out in private. Plus digital guides tend to be more user-friendly, interactive and up-to-date than their dead-tree counterparts.

Some people will whinge about the need to constantly recharge gadgets like this, but I've found the 10-hour life is plenty – it's pretty rare that you'll use something for 10 hours on the trot without finding a power outlet.

The bad

You would have picked this up already – outside of Asia, much of the world is yet to embrace this whole Wi-Fi thing, and if they do, it's usually not free. I've stayed in a few places recently that have provided broadband cables only, which are as useful as Nathan Tinkler's Ferrari if you've only got an iPad.

There's also a problem with all those eBooks you've got loaded up – once you've read them, you can't swap them with other travellers. I've discovered some amazing books through people I've met on the road, but that won't happen if everyone goes electric.

Another thing to note about all that great entertainment – the books, the movies, the TV shows, the music – is that if you do it legally, it costs money. As a budget traveller that might not be ideal.

That entertainment can also cut you off from the world you're supposed to be exploring. Left with no option, most people will go out on the town by themselves at night to check things out. But if you can stay in your room and watch a movie? Maybe not.

From a more practical sense, the iPad's "virtual keyboard" is a nightmare. It's fine for bashing out short emails or little diary notes, but to create long documents or keep a proper journal, it takes a lot of getting used to. So that's another added extra to buy a portable keyboard like this one.

The verdict

Is the iPad the dream travel accessory? Almost. It does lighten your load and it's great for entertainment – and I haven't even dug into all of the travel-related apps available – but it doesn't completely negate the need for other electronics.

For example, there's a music player inbuilt, but you're not going to go for a walk carrying your iPad. It allows you to create documents, but the dodgy keyboard means I'm still carrying my laptop as well.

And there's still something nice about sitting on a train with a good old-fashioned paperback.

There are also concerns the iPad will make you a target of thieves, but I can't see that it is any more attractive to the crims than any other gadget you might have on you – even your shoes.

The iPad hasn't revolutionised travel, but it's certainly made life better. And it's so nice and shiny...

Have you travelled with an iPad or similar tablet? What's your verdict? What's the gadget you never leave home without?

*I realise there are other similar tablets on the market, but I did my dough on an iPad, so that's what I'm reviewing.

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me at