Chromebook vs. iPad: Which is Best for Travel?

May 30, 2014

in Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

Next week my wife is headed off to Arizona on a 10-day trip. She’s plans to take her 15” MacBook Pro with her so she can stay connected with the “outside world,” so she borrowed a laptop roll-aboard bag from a friend.

As you read this story (which I wrote on my desktop computer before leaving home), I’m in Long Beach, California, 400-odd miles south of where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. And I’ve done what my wife plans to do: Taken a computer with me.

My “travel computer” is an iPad with Retina Display which easily slips into my carry-on bag, along with camera equipment, toiletries, and other stuff, and just as easily slips out and back into the bag when I go through airport security checkpoints.

The iPad fits nicely on an airliner tray table and quickly connects to the Internet over WiFi hotspots in airports, hotels, coffee shops and nowadays, aboard commercial airliners.

I’ve got Apple’s “Pages” program which lets me edit documents created in Microsoft Word, or create new documents that can be saved in Word format.

I’ve got almost every program installed in the iPad that I would use on a bulkier, heavier, more expensive Apple or Windows laptop computer.

But would I be better off toting along a Google Chromebook when I travel?

I’ve owned a number of laptop PCs over the years. But since I embarking on my post-retirement gig as a travel writer in 2009, I’ve tended not to take one with me when on trips away from home.

Five years ago, I planned to spend all of the month of September in Europe. At the suggestion of another travel writer who I met at the Book Passage Traveler Writers & Photographers Conference a couple weeks before my scheduled departure, I bought a small “netbook” (i.e., “notebook”) Windows PC from Dell.

For about four years, I carried that laptop-wannabe with me whenever I traveled. But it was so underpowered that programs ran slowly, and sometimes (as in the case with Adobe’s Photoshop Elements photo editing program) not at all. In truth, I would have been better off using it as a hotel room doorstop, or as a weapon to clunk a would-be mugger over the head, rather than struggling to get it to function as a truly useful portable computer.

Uncertainty about how I would use an iPad and whether it would be a suitable alternative to a laptop, especially one of the small, lightweight MacBook Air models from Apple, kept my notebook in use for longer than its poor performance justified.

About a year and half ago I determined that by switching my San Francisco Chronicle subscription from the delivered-daily-to-my-driveway printed edition to a delivered-daily-to-my-iPad electronic edition I would save enough money over the course of a year-plus to cover the cost of buying an iPad. And I had long ago replaced my aging Windows XP desktop PC with an iMac desktop, and owned an iPhone, purchasing Apple’s tablet computer made a lot of sense.

In this video, Molly Woods of The New York Times shows how a relatively low-cost Google Chromebook might have all of the computing power that you need, even when you’re off-line, “on the road.”

I have to admit, Woods has made me ponder whether using a Chromebook in this everyday more “Googleized” world that we live in would be wise, especially when I’m off seeing the world.

For those who own an Android phone, or make heavy and frequent use of Google apps and online programs, the answer could be “Yes.”

But for me, with my all-Apple lineup of computing devices, the answer is probably “No.”

And as this Apple promotional video shows, for travel writer Chérie King an iPad Air is more than just a tablet computer, it’s her always-with-me traveling companion.

On two different pages on Apple’s Website you can learn more about King and the way she uses her iPad as a helpful tool when traveling, and watch videos of her “on the road.”

So while a Chromebook could be seem as more akin to a traditional laptop than an iPad, the iPad’s versatility transcends its use as a mere mobile “typewriter” while  making it a decent alternative to a laptop.

iPad prices range from $299 to $929, depending on storage capacity, whether you’re buying a Mini, iPad with Retina display, or an iPad Air, and whether the device can connect to the Internet via cellular data networks as well as WiFi. Add to that the cost of a protective case or keyboard case. You can buy iPads from Apple, either online or at one of its retail stores, from “big box” stores like BestBuy, or online from Amazon.com.

Google Chromebooks start at $199. You can buy them online directly from Google, at brick-and-mortar stores with online ordering like BestBuy, or on Amazon.com.

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

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