Travelling with single convergence (divergence) devices – Still poles apart

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“One Device to rule them all, One Device to find them, One Device to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

( Apologies to JRR Tolkien 🙂 )

Having  just returned from a three week trip to Vietnam, I was putting away all my gear and was thinking, whatever happened to a single convergence device that was supposed to do it all. Did  I really need to take all this different equipment with me ( and all the associated AC adapters and cables )  ??  Read on….

So here’s a list of all the toys…ummm devices I took away with me.  We’ve all known that everyone is working towards a single device that’ll do it all, mobile/cell phone, internet device, DLNA endpoint, camera……… but to me at least, it’s still not a reality. Let’s tick  off the major pluses and minuses of each device:

Toshiba R700

While I’d really love to not have to take a notebook with me, there’s just some functions where you just can’t beat a notebook.  The large screen ( 13.1″ ), full size keyboard , the ability to have full compatibility with my corporate systems back in Australia ( that being said I actually didn’t even check my work email once while away ) are the prime reasons I still take a notebook with me.

Travelling with 4 other family members, it also gives the rest of the family a platform that they’re familiar with and it’s easy to either set up individual accounts or allow them to chop and change accounts in the browser windows.

I take a lot of photos on holiday  ( about 2000 in 3 weeks this trip, a bit down on my last trip where I took 900 in 3 days 🙂  ) and it’s quick and easy to backup your photos to ( I also chucked them up in “the cloud” for the first time ), view and catalogue, and manipulate them if required.

In fact as an example, a WordPress post like this one would be very hard to do using my Galaxy Tab as the layout would be very hard to setup properly without a large screen and decent keyboard.

The downsides, the size, weight and poor battery life. At least the notebook normally just sits in the hotel room and isn’t part of my EDC on holidays.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

With its 7″ screen, contrary to what Mister Jobs says, I think this is a perfect size for a tablet .  Easily held in one hand, it has all the connectivity options you need.  It can be used as a phone though you really need either a wired or bluetooth headset.  It’s perfect for viewing movies on the plane and for checking email, doing some quick Facebook, WordPress or  web browsing on the go. Using Press Reader , I can download my local newspaper and view it exactly as I would at home while eating breakfast, or sitting on a bus. Its small size makes it portable and even ( at a push ) pocketable.

The downsides, viewing  2000 pictures off my cameras SD Card was only just bearable speedwise  and the fact that the unit is so closely tied to a Google account means that it’s hard to share this between family members . Screen size is good for most things but see my comment re WordPress above.  Battery life is good ( third party rom, underclocked processor ) but not good enough to make this my one and only convergence device.

HTC Desire

The Desire was my primary portable  internet device before buying my Tab. While this fulfills all the same criteria as the Tab above, its smaller screen size makes it slightly less useable as a media/web device.  Its small size however means it’s much more portable and its battery life is better than the Tab. These days it’s pretty much just used as a phone or as an “emergency” tablet. Chuck it in my shirt pocket or front jeans pocket  and phone calls, SMS or a quick web browse are just a fingertip away.

Kindle 3G

For my full thoughts on this see my article here. In short, pluses, long battery life, e-ink  ( especially good for reading outdoor in sunlight ), free 3g, lightweight portable. It’s perfect for reading while on the go and “emergency” web browsing.  Its downsides the cumbersome web browser.






Panasonic G2

Digital Camera Manufacturers would have you believe it’s all about pixel count , but it’s not! It’s about glass and sensor size ( amongst other things ). The G2 is my primary camera. With its high degree of flexibility with shutter speed, aperture, exposure it really is a great camera ( though I must admit most of my photos are actually taken in iA ( automatic mode ) ) .  Most of my photos are in the 30mm focal length ( 35mm equivalent )  so the standard 14-42mm lense does me fine. Of course if I need extra reach I can put on a telephoto lens and if I need more flash ( I don’t tend to use a flash much ) I can throw on an external flash. Because of the larger sensor and quality of the lenses you  get much better picture especially in low light conditions. If there’s a negative, it’s the size and it is more fragile than a point and shoot , you need some sort of bag to carry it around in.

G2 - There's no easy way to get a shot like this with a basic point and shoot or mobile phone - Opera House - Ho Chi Minh City

Panasonic FT1

The FT1 is my spare camera. Most of the time I’m shooting with my G2 and the other family members use the FT1. Because of its durability and waterproofness, it’s a great camera for around the pool, on a boat or snorkelling. Picture quality is great in bright light however its biggest shortcoming is in low light. Even though it has the same Megapixel count as the G2, low light will result in very grainy pictures because of the much smaller sensor than the G2.  It also has a limited number of customisable settings though a lot of the manual settings can be fudged using the different modes. Because of its small size and ruggedness  you can just throw it into a pocket without a case if you want to travel light but still need to take photos.

FT1 - There's no way I'd risk my G2 in a ( leaky ) canoe on Ha Long Bay

iRiver T6

For pure music, the iRiver is the device. It’s tiny, fits in the pocket easily and has the bonus of having an FM radio receiver. With its (claimed) 28 hour life, there’s more than enough music to get you through a long plane/train flight. It really is a single purpose device.

So you can see, each device has its own pluses and minuses but to me,  each only excels at one thing, whether it be picture quality, screen size, speed, portability etc.

I think my biggest bugbear with ANY of the above products is battery life.  I’d love one device that I  could get on the plane, listen to some music, watch a couple of movies , take some great pictures and be able to get off at the other end, browse my email, and make a phone call to let the family know I’ve arrived safely.  However current battery technology just doesn’t allow for this. Most Cattle class airplanes don’t give you recharge options, and I’d don’t want to be out and about and miss that important phone call or miss that once in a lifetime picture because I had a flat battery because I watched a movie or listened to music earlier on in the day.

Each device in my arsenal fulfills a single purpose or function.  I put together an interesting table that shows the cross-over between the devices.




You can see that in reality,  I’m carrying 4 cameras, 4 Wifi enabled devices, 4 MP3 players and so on, and yet no one device will completely replace another device. In short I suspect I’ll still be carrying multiple devices with me for quite a while to come.

So am I too OCD ?  How do you travel ? Do you have a device that does it all?? I’d love to know 🙂


Oh, and what do I carry all this gear in?? A Timbuk2 2010 Limited Edition Canvas/Tarp/Canvas Medium Messenger.  More pockets and compartments than you can poke a stick at.  Handles the airline carry on luggage function really well and then makes the perfect gadget bag for carrying around while sight seeing ( just don’t end up being a pack donkey for the wifey’s shopping )  🙂

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17 thoughts on “Travelling with single convergence (divergence) devices – Still poles apart”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Honestly, I think you bring way too many electronic gadgets. Not only are electronic stuff very heavy, and a real hassle to recharge every night, they are also very expensive and you risk losing a small fortune should things go wrong.

    I would venture to say that you don’t really NEED all that stuff. You just WANT it. Was it so hard to live without all these just a few years ago ? In the past, we just went to a cybercafe to get our Internet fix.

    Do you really need to browse your photos during the trip ? Just do it after. That’s what we did with film. I’ll admit I felt the urge to do so, but it was more of a “want” rather than a real need.

    I am also guilty of bringing electronic gadgets on trips, but my list is more manageable. Here’s what I brought on recent 2 week trip in Burma :

    1. Samsung Galaxy S. This 4″ Android phone is great. I use it for the GPS, offline maps, entertainment ( games and music ), digital compass, offline guidebooks, and logging my travel tracks. Android fans will know that its GPS has issues on the stock rom, but mine is flashed with a custom rom and the GPS works just fine. I’ll probably replace with a Galaxy SII(bigger screen, faster) or similar on my next trip.

    2. A 7″ Archos Android tablet. I didn’t really use this much at all, which surprised me. I pictured myself using it every night while lazing on the hotel bed, but instead I usually just grab my phone before plonking down on my bed. Sometimes, a person cannot even guess how he himself will actually behave. I would probably not bring it the next time.

    3. A compact digital camera. Sure, it’s not as flexible as a DSLR, but it suffices for taking photos for the memories.

    4. A GPS datalogger. The size of a matchbox, this little device tracks every single place I’ve been to, recording my position every 1 second. This not only allows me to view on a map every place I’ve been to, but also allows me to geotag my photos.

    That’s it. On my next trip, I’ll trim it down further. I’ll drop the tablet ( and just rely on my phone ), and probably buy a camera like the new Canon S100 which has a built in GPS logging function and a bigger/better image sensor. This removes item 2, and combines items 3 and 4 into a single device. Imagine the freedom of consolidating all your gadgets into a smartphone in one pocket, and a compact camera in the other pocket. And all the weight and worry you’ll be saving.

  3. Chris, I just came back from a trip where I packed pretty much what you did, my iphone, an excellent Olympus compact camera (which I used a lot, even to photograph documents which my wife needed for her research) and an ipad. I love my Kindle but I can use my ipad to read (and do, in any case, for magazines and newpapers). I do not intend to blow up my photos beyond the 5×7″ range, so a large camera is unnecessary. And all fit easily into a very nice and small shoulder bag which I carried everywhere (I would say the total weight was under 3 pounds).

  4. Ian, Nice article! I too carry a scary amount of electronics when I travel.

    1. Lenovo ThinkPad x220 Notebook
    2. Asus Transformer Tablet with keyboard
    3. TMobile G2 Phone
    4. Jambox Speaker
    5. Panasonic FZ40 Camera
    6. Amazon Kindle (2G) – I read a lot and there’s nothing better.
    7. Tumi Toiletries bag that has been renamed as “Magic Bag” full of chargers, cables, adapters, memory cards, readers, etc.

    If the kids are traveling with me add in:
    1. Sony PSP w/AV cable for watching movies through twin headrest monitors.
    2. Apple iPod Touch 2G (may be replaced by recently acquired Samsung Galaxy S WiFi 5.0) for music and video.

    I carry it all in a Tumi Vertical Briefcase which I don’t believe they make anymore. I do get a look or two when I run it through the scanner at airport security.

  5. Two suggestions. First, I’d try and find a phone that works as a replacement for your Panasonic FT1 and iRiver T6. It wouldn’t have the battery life of either but with limited browsing and (especially) navigation, it should last you a day.

    Second, I’d get a Windows slate to replace the Toshiba R700 and Samsung Galaxy Tab (I’d say the Kindle as well except for outdoor viewability). I have an HP Slate 500 which, with an added keyboard, could meet most of your requirements except for battery life – I can only get about 4-5 hours with radios turned off and other power saving option. For battery life I would look into a slate with a swappable battery like the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550. It has a bigger screen but it is heavier than the HP and much heavier than the Samsung. While wireless keyboards sound sexy, there’s the battery issue. I’d recommend a very light weight wired keyboard which does away with the need for a mouse (assuming you can adapt to the trackstick) – Lenovo’s ThinkPad USB Keyboard with TrackPoint.

  6. I believe that Windows 8 and the associated technology may help in relieve us of the notebook and tablet bundle, but that’s still a year away.
    I do carry some music on my phone, but don’t really use it for video because of the adverse affect on battery life. The TMo G2 is more than an adequate replacement for a Point and Shoot (the basic functions) and a Flip Videocam as well.

  7. @ Ken Schoenberg

    i’m also found that toiletrie bags are the greatest gadget bags ever made =) i’m using such kind of bag from dakine.

    on vacations i only take my phone and camera. no tablets. no notebooks! too many thoughts with them about charging, configuring, connecting and so on.

  8. Point of order: you can’t risk your “DSLR” in the water because the G2 isn’t a DSLR.

    I also have a G2 as a compact alternative to my Nikon DSLR system. It’s a good travel camera but you shortchange it using “intelligent auto” and (I presume) shooting jpeg and not raw. A waterproof P&S is a good idea if you get in and around the water when you travel, as long as great image quality isn’t at the top of your list of needs.

    I can’t see traveling without a smartphone, but I’d never take along a laptop and a tablet and a reader. Well, I might cheat and carry the laptop with the reader in my wife’s bag…

  9. Change a couple of things, and I have a similar travel kit. My last trip to Korea I had my Galaxy Tab, Ipad, netbook, Canon rebel Ti, and Sony touch ereader, HTC my touch 4g, AT&T LG Optimus, and wi-fi device. I am thinking about dropping the e-reader, because the tablets work for that, but don’t have the total battery life. I don’t bring my Zune mp3 player, because my Winphone works as an MP3 media device. So I understand your point of view.

    The net book and the IPAD are for work. I hardly use them on personal time, other than as a video playback device. The galaxy tab handles the majority of my net activities, including email, reading and entertainment. The camera get’s offloaded on the netbook and sent to the cloud.

  10. One thing I forgot to mention is I have two bags a carry, one is my Briggs and Riley at work brief case that fits under just about any airplane seat, and it holds my “nerd” bag that has every possible power cable spare battery, and other cordage that I have to carry.

  11. David Baker, I simply do not understand why you and others on this thread carry both a Galaxy Tab and an ipad. I do plenty of reading and I use my ipad (which is far better for magazines and newpapers than a 7″ screen Galaxy Tab in any case). My principle is to carry as few devices as possible – I am not a repairman who must have all his tools with him. And what a pain to carry all those different chargers!

  12. @Chriszzz – Don’t think I said anywhere in the article that I NEEDED all the equipment. 🙂 The article was just a quick synopsis of what ( subconsciously ) ended up coming with me and it wasn’t a regret post either. Do I NEED to take all that stuff ???….Nope. I’m old enough to remember when you went on holidays and really got away from work and family, no phone ( landline ) calls, no yellow interoffice envelopes 🙂 Given my lack of work involvement this trip I think that the thing to go would be the notebook , but then this doesn’t go mobile with me, it gets to the hotel and stays there. Mmmm, a data logger…another gadget to consider taking away with me 🙂

    @Ken – Thanks. Rest of my family also had smartphones and iPods with them, so more “unnecessary” electronics ??

    @Hildy – Working for an IT reseller, I’ve had the chance to play with most of the Windows tablets to evaluate for client use, the HP Slate, Fujitsu, Panasonic Toughbook , Asus, Motion . My synopsis based on all this testing, unless you really need integration into a current Windows environment for application compatibility, familiar interface or AD security, then a Windows 7 tablet is NOT the solution. The interface is clunky for touch ( though worth noting that some of the vendors put a more touch friendly overlay on top ), it’s too bloated to perform well on tablet hardware and battery life is nowhere near where it should be. In fact I know Toshiba didn’t release a Windows tablet because they weren’t happy with the ( lack of ) battery life they could achieve.

    @ Ken – Yep see above, watching Windows 8 with great interest

    @BJN – Sorry for the wrong terminology. After a multitude ( starting in the mid 90s if I remember correctly with a Kodak DC50…woooo optical zoom 🙂 ) of point and shoots, anything outside that to me is a DSLR 🙂 Auto mode has done me well over with all my cameras , but funnily enough just yesterday I bought a couple of books ( ebooks of course ) on mastering exposure ( manual settings ) . I just don’t want to get into the trap of worrying too much about exposure and missing “the shot” . The kids and wifey already get shirty with me, when I’m lagging behind taking photos and they’re way ahead of me. I’m what I’d term an “enthusiastic amateur” at the moment and the G2 is letting me go beyond what I could do with a P&S. IF you’re interested, here’s some of my shots from the holiday

    Keep the comments coming, it’s great to see how other people do it 🙂

  13. Actually, we haven’t talked about chargers. One of the really nice things that has occurred recently is the number of devices that charge with a micro USB cable.
    It’s really time for Apple to convert over as well. Asus hit my wall of shame when they decided to go with a proprietary cable…and then didn’t release any extras for sale.
    Mobile electronics would be a lot more pleasant if they could all agree on a standard cable end and the power needs for devices like the iPad, TouchPad, etc. could be built into the USB standard.

  14. @Ken yep I didn’t include chargers. What I normally take is a universal adapter, my Tab 2A charger , a double adapter, assorted micro,mini USB , proprietary Samsung and Apple USB cables. Of course I still need my notebook charger and individual external chargers for my camera batteries as well. Luckily the USB cables cover most of the devices and there is some cross compatibility and at least AC adapters these day cover both 110 and 240 volt.

  15. Ok, recent trip to Cambodia and Vietnam:-
    nikon slr (2 lens and small manfrotto tripod
    Eye-fi sd card with geotagging
    iPad2 with kindle app, zinio app, Skype,
    Spare battery for camera
    Charger for iPad/iPhone

    Bottomline, not lot of stuff, but everything covered and a great holiday. love the iPad and eye-fi combination

  16. Whatever float your boats, guys. I love gadgets as much as the next guy ( that’s why I’m here ), but carrying a pile of gadgets in a big gadget bag in some countries is just asking for trouble. So be careful and take care dudes. There are crooks even in the safest places.

  17. Oh yeah, I charge my few gadgets mostly with USB cables, a couple of USB chargers and a tiny USB hub. For the camera batts, I use a universal battery charger that charges any 3.7V battery ( available on ebay for under $5). My entire charging kit probably weighs only a few ozs.

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