Traveling with your new Tablet Computer

December 27, 2013

in Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

So Santa brought you a shiny new tablet computer for Christmas.

Lucky you.

Here’s what you need to know before you go traveling with your tablet.

Protect Your Investment

Don’t even think about walking out the front door with your tablet unless you’ve bought a cover or case to protect it from bumps, dents and dings that it might suffer during your travels.

iPad and iPad Mini Covers and Cases

Apple sells two almost look-alike products that will cover up an iPad: The iPad “Smart Cover”  the ($39) and the iPad “Smartimage Case” ($49 polyurethane, $79 in leather) which I ordered at the time I purchased my iPad (4th generation) last year. Similar covers and cases are available for the iPad Mini.

If you plan to do much typing, consider a keyboard case. It will protect your Apple tablet and give you a physical Bluetooth keyboard for document creation and data entry.

I have the $129.99 ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ keyboard case, one of several such cases which the company makes for both the full-sized iPad and the iPad Mini. The top half of the case holds my iPad firmly in place while the bottom half’s backlit keyboard is nearly as large as the wireless keyboard for my iMac desktop computer.

I also own a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover ($99.95 full retail price) which is a compromise choice between Apple’s “Smart Cover” and the ZAGGKeys PROfolio+. It has a keyboard similar to the ZAGG PROfolio+, but because the iPad rests in a slot on the keyboard, it can quickly be switched from landscape (horizontal) viewing (the only option with the ZAGG) to portrait (vertical) viewing, or removed entirely from the case.

(See our “iPad Cases and Keyboards story for detailed reviews of these products.)

Several others manufacturers make and sell iPad covers and cases.

Android Tablet Covers and Cases

You can also buy covers and cases made for Android tablets, including those manufactured by Samsung.

If you’ve got a tablet that uses the Android operating system, check out the ZAGG ZAGGkeys Universal Keyboard for All Bluetooth Devices ( $69.99) or the ZAGGkeys FLEX Portable Keyboard and Stand ($79.99).

Logitech makes keyboards for Android tablets, too.

Internet Connections

WiFi Only

Some tablet computers, including the iPad and iPad Mini, are available in less expensive models that can only connect to the Internet via a WiFi network.

Others, like the higher-end iPad (4th generation) which I own, can also tap into cellular carriers data networks.  

Cellular Data Network Access

If you own a tablet that will let you connect to the Internet either via WiFi or a cellular carrier network when you travel, you have three options:

  1. Only use your tablet to connect via WiFi.
  2. Purchase a short-term data plan for your tablet to provide Internet access over cellular networks during your trip.
  3. Get a data plan from your cellular carrier that allows you to share your monthly data allowance between more than one device, such as a smartphone and tablet, when you are at home or while traveling.

Cell Tower

(Acid Pix Flickr Photo)

Data Plan Options

AT&T Mobile Share Value Plans cover data use by more than a single mobile device. Its DataConnect Pass plans are available on a month-to-month basis for tablets.

Verizon has a Share Everything Plan and a prepaid data plan for tablets.

Sprint offers a number of plans for tablets or data sharing.

T-Mobile has a Pay in Advance Mobile Internet plan for tablets and other devices. And it offers “free data for life” on tablets you purchase from it.

But don’t forget that if you travel outside of the U.S. and want to connect to the Internet via a cellular carrier data network, you should purchase a special international data plan from your U.S. cellular carrier to avoid paying enormous fees for such data access.

Inflight Tablet Use

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration decided that there is no longer necessary a technology-based reason for prohibiting the use of portable electronic devices, including tablet computers, during any phase of a flight.

But each airline must certify to the FAA that such devices can be safely used during all phases of flight aboard each type of aircraft it operates. So on some flights, the crew may still require that you turn off your PED, especially during takeoff and landing.

You still must use those devices in “Airplane Mode,” which means the only way that they can connect to the Internet is via WiFi system installed on the aircraft. And thus far, only Southwest Airlines, which uses a satellite-based WiFi system on its planes, offers “gate-to-gate on-board WiFi.

That means that on most flights operated by other airlines you won’t be able to connect to the Internet below 10,000 feet.

And you’re not going to be able to stream video to your device from services like Netflix, or make Skype or FaceTime video calls, regardless of the airline you choose for travel.

However you may be able to connect your tablet to the on-board entertainment system and watch TV and movies, as is the case on Southwest’s flights. And you’ll be able to watch movies and videos that you downloaded to your tablet before boarding your flight.

(Read our “Flying ‘Low’ with your Electronic Devices” story for more information on inflight use of portable electronic devices under the new FAA rule.)

Shopping for A Tablet Computer

For leisure travelers, tablet computers are a great alternative to lugging around even a light-weight laptop computer. They provide access to e-mail and Websites, as well as video and audio entertainment, and the ability to share photos and videos on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

If Santa brought you a lump of coal for Christmas instead of that new, shiny tablet computer you wanted, don’t sit in the corner and pout.

Read our “What to Know Before Buying a Tablet or E-Reader story, then consult our “2013 Tablet and E-Reader Buying Guide” to decide which of the currently available mobile devices is your best choice when hitting the road.

(Purchases made from Amazon.com through links in this story helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel related stories.)

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