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Travel Computer Project: I Need Your Advice

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I'm finding myself doing quite a bit more traveling that I have in the past. Since I spend a good deal of my time on the Internet, as a software engineer as well as writing this blog, I developed a bit of a dependency on it. It's probably not a good thing in terms of my social development, but it hasn't been all-together bad either. Either way, that's a question for another day. Today, I'm looking for straight-forward technical advice.

I read an article yesterday about Palm and how it's business has always been a roller coaster. It reminded me of something that I haven't seen someone use in over two years - the PDA. It's a business on the decline as people turn towards smart phones. I am one of those people who have adopted smart phones for 4 or 5 years now. However, since my Treo 700P is on the Sprint network and doesn't have wi-fi support, it can't connect to the Internet overseas. It occurred that a few years ago several made PDAs with wi-fi built-in. All I would need is one of those and I could be on the web as long as that country has some kind of public wi-fi network for me to sign onto. Such companies include the aforementioned Palm, but Dell and HP make Windows-based PDAs as well.

So here's what I'm looking for out of my travel computer:

  • It has to have wi-fi - at least 802.11b. That's key to whole concept.
  • It must have an SD slot. I have a lot of SD cards and with my camera and phone already taking them, I'm sticking to this standard.
  • It should have a fast processor. I've found that my 700P can connect to the Internet fast, it often is slow to render a page from the web. When I use the connection for laptop it's nearly broadband speed. The Treo has a Intel XScale 312MHz processor
  • It should have a very nice screen, a size that could make those with a video iPod jealous. This is most so I can load some entertainment on an SD card and watch it on the flight to and from my destination. It will also help with the browsing experience.
  • It should be easy to learn. In an ideal world, my non-tech-savvy fiancee could bring it on her business trips as an option instead of her laptop.
  • I'm leaning heavily towards a Windows-based PDA for one reason, but it's a biggie. Being able to use Skype (via SkypeOut) to make phone calls in an foreign country would save me some solid cash.
  • I'm not looking for something like the OQO Handheld Computer or this Sony Handheld Computer. They are marvelous devices and would be perfect, but their price is way too high for what I need.
  • I've touched on the main uses, but they are more or less the following: update this blog, check and respond to e-mail, web browsing, some small word processing, some multimedia applications - MP3 player, Video player, Skype calling, etc.
  • Battery life is more or less unimportant. I don't envision needing to use it for many, many hours without a power source. The longest would be on the plane traveling. The rest of the time I would imagine the use to be intermittently.
  • Portability is important. One thing that I hate about bringing laptops when I travel is that they don't fit into any hotel safes. This solution would do that.
  • Some PDAs may come with a thumb-board, I'd rather have bigger screen.
  • It must have bluetooth. In order for this to be a real useful computer on the road, I'd like to be able to use a bluetooth portable keyboard with it.

While on the topic of the portable keyboard, I'll need one of those as well. Here's what I'm thinking:

  • Something like this Fabric Keyboard is of interest to me. It seems extremely portable and it can connect through bluetooth. I'm nervous that it might not feel like a keyboard though.
  • This Wireless Foldable Keyboard is also of interest to me.
  • Those are the two main options that I'm considering. Feel free to give my your opinions of each.

Budget: I'd like to get this under $250 for keyboard and PDA if possible, but I can go to as high as $300. I'm willing to convert my Sony points into spare cash using a method that I outlined here. I think this is very possible since Ebay and Craigslist are relatively full of these devices. If I can get 90% of it done for a lot cheaper, I will consider it as well.

Are there are features I should consider that I missed?

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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13 Responses to “Travel Computer Project: I Need Your Advice”

  1. I have been very happy with my Dell x51v.


    I definitely underutilize it, since it is almost solely a GTD device for me. I think Dell jumped out of the market, so I am not sure that there will be new versions of PDA. I got one slightly used of Ebay for 310 with extras and that was probably 8-10 months ago.

    Movies work fine, stability has been very good, and Windows Mobile is a piece of cake. Personally for me, it is not that useful to be on the net with it. The screen is just not conducive to much other than a quick check of email or directions.


    Hope it helps.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    Happy Rock: This is the best device that I’ve found (the x50v works as well). I didn’t want to mention it in the article for fear of biasing people. I’ve seen good prices on Ebay and Craigslist. I’m a little concerned that Dell has indeed closed down their Axim line. Considering that it happened a long time ago, I’m surprised that this is still the best device out there. I guess the market is really dying. I can make due on the Internet with my Treo 700P and the screen looks better, so I might give it a shot. How’s the page rendering speed if you don’t mind me asking?

    A Tentative Personal Finance Blog: It’s really not going to work for price (as you noted) and size. I have a laptop as it is, but I want something that can fit in a pocket and especially a hotel safe.

  3. Lazy Man says:

    I think they announced that they’d support the ones on the market for another 3 years. For the price that they are used, I’m fine with that compromise. I think that may be one of the reasons why they are cheap for all that they can do.

  4. Lazy Man says:

    David: If it’s less than $300 (with Bluetooth Keyboard) and requires no contract, I’d probably consider it. It’s not going to be close to that. I think the Treo 700P is much more capable (Edge is slow) with the exception of wi-fi. I look forward to seeing the the 30 minute battery life on the iPhone.

  5. dong says:

    I think it’s time to short AAPL….
    I’m with Tenative. I love Apple, but I don’t think the iPhone is going to be resouding success everyone thinks it’s going to be. It’s gonna be good, but the cell phone makers react better and faster unlike the people make mp3 players…

  6. GeekMan says:

    Depending on your phone carrier you should look into their higher-end phones. I just got the Samsung SPH-A900 which is an amazingly good phone able to do internet, email, music and video. I’m sure that your carrier has something similar and for what you are willing to pay and what you want this device to do, a mobile phone sounds like exactly what you’re looking for.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    GeekMan, my carrier, Sprint, is useless overseas. I think the Treo 700P is one of the most capable phone on the market, but it’s missing a couple of key features that I need (wi-fi for one, Skype software client for another.)

  8. Kevin says:

    On the mention of Apple and the iPhone (even though this is getting off-topic a bit): I’ve also been floored by market advisors saying that Apple will go to $150 a share. Unless the iPhone’s “surprise” application is a “disruptive technology” the iPhone is not the next iPod (in terms of Apple’s bottom line).

    HOWEVER, though I think Apple may be overpriced, I don’t dare short it! For one thing, something appears to be brewing between Apple and Google (big enough for Google CEO Eric Schmidt to join Apple’s Board). The iPhone may not be everything that the pundits think, but Apple may have another ace up its sleeve. They’ve done it before, so while I won’t buy Apple at $120 or so a share there is no way I would short them either.

  9. Lazy Man says:

    I think if the Apple iPhone can work like it does on the commericials, it’s a “disruptive technology” in the way that the iPod was a disruptive technology to MP3 players (and to CD sales – see Tower Records). MP3 players already existed, but it changed the game.

    The iPhone could change the game for phones, but I don’t see how it’s going to be as smooth as the commercials. One commercial for the web browser doesn’t really show how one would click on a link. I don’t see anyone typing in the commercials. I get the feeling it’s like the great looking burger that fast food places show in their commercials. I will believe the product when I’ve seen it. My fiancee got a demo of one a couple of months ago from a lead engineer at Apple while on a airport shuttle. She came away impressed, but not being a tech person she couldn’t give me any real useful details.

  10. Khurram Farooq says:

    I would suggest you wait a bit for the announcement of the new Intel MID devices, or even the Asus EEE PC (rumored to be a full ultra portable compact PC for 200$). The new generation of UMPC’s is also clocking in under 600$, so I guess waiting for at least 5-6 months will pay off big.

  11. Lazy Man says:

    Unfortunately, 5-6 months will be after two big trips for me (and about 3 or 4 for my future wife). Also $600 is twice my budget. I went out and got a great deal on a Dell Axim (more on this in it’s own post later this week). This should get me through the next 18 months (minimum) and then the new generation of UMPCs should be down in price.

  12. […] making that travel computer a poor financial decision on my part. Perhaps I should have listened to reader Khurram Farooq who said: I would suggest you wait a bit for the announcement of the new Intel MID devices, or even […]

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