Apple iPad and multi-touch compact tablet alternatives for the travel photographer

Written by Gary on September 11th, 2010

The revolutionary but crippled Apple iPad:

The Apple iPad needs little introduction and is a wonderful device for the traveling photographer wanting to browse through their photos and access the internet, all with a very nice multi-touch user interface and most importantly, in a compact, light weight device.

The iPad measures almost 8″x10″ and is only 0.5″ thick and weighs a mere 730g with the 3G module, although the optional carry case ($A48) does add a bit of weight, and you will need the optional camera connection kit ($A39) to allow connection with certain cameras via USB cable (but NOT compatible with Apple iPhone 3G) or SD memory cards (may NOT be compatible with some cards such as SDHC cards).

The multi-touch display is said to be quite good for photos and has 1024×768 pixels with fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating and the battery is said to give about 10 hours use.

As revolutionary as the iPad is though, it has a number of problems:

  • internal flash drive memory is limited depending on the model – 16Gb ($A629, 32Gb ($A759), and 64Gb ($A879) – add $A170 for 3G data model.
  • no USB port – even the optional camera connection kit USB port is very limited – you cannot connect a flash drive or a USB hard disk drive (unless it is self powered such as most 3.5″ kits – precisely the ones you WILL NOT be taking on your travels!)
  • no printer port – you are restricted to wireless printing and then, waiting for the iOS 4.2 software update in November 2011 for printer support
  • no VGA port – this is another optional adapter ($A39)
  • no keyboard for serious typing work – you can buy an optional iPad keyboard dock ($A89)
  • does not run your usual software such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, MS Office /OpenOffice (you can buy Apple iWork software to give you word document and spreadsheet functionality)
  • does not allow Adobe Flashplayer powered web pages to be displayed
  • no camera or webcam – thus some of the interesting iPhone apps will not work as there is no camera
  • you cannot replace the battery yourself – Apple will sell you a refurbished iPad with new battery to replace your dead iPad
  • video playback only supports only motion jpeg or H.264 at 720p 30fps while MPEG4 video at up to 640×480 30fps
  • cannot calibrate display for accurate image rendition or assessment – the default colour balance is too blue, and it is too contrasty resulting in loss of detail in shadow areas.
  • you can only import photos via iTunes on a connected computer, or via the iPad image application (or 3rd party iPad app) via the camera connection kit, or from a WiFi camera or Eye-Fi memory card in a camera via an iPad app such as ShutterSnitch and a wireless router, but at least it does support RAW files and jpegs.
  • MUST use a camera or a computer to import images from memory cards other than SD/SDHC/miniSD/microSD (the SD card reader does not support SDXC cards)
  • you can ONLY STORE 16Gb of photos even if you have the 64Gb model – this is a photo indexing limitation apparently related to photo app creating thumbnails and storing them in memory and this memory is limited to 256Mb – you can store more videos or music files though – see here
  • you may be able to get around the above limitations by purchasing ZoomIt SD card reader for iPad which will allow using your SD card as a file storage device (you will need to download the app via iTunes store as well).
  • no ethernet cable port – this may be an issue in work environments and some hotels
  • you cannot output your photos to a projector via the optional VGA port adapter unless it is in a slideshow mode (ie. create a Keynote presentation or perhaps buy the Portfolio app) – what were they thinking?
  • no multi-user log on – you have to share EVERYTHING including email, calendars, website favourites, photos, playlists – and of course, can only sync with one version of iTunes – ie. this is a PERSONAL device not a family device!
  • backup requires a computer with iTunes and is NOT very transparent, and you can only sync an iPad or iPhone with one computer – bad luck if this is not the one you have with you
  • an iPad is a desirable target for thieves
  • a 64Gb, 3G model with case and camera connection kit sells for $A1136 – not exactly cheap!

Archos Internet Tablets:

Very similar in functionality to the iPad with multi-touch display with accelerometer, 720p HD video playback, and WiFi connectivity, but sporting internal storage up to 250Gb HDD,  webcam, microSD card expansion (on flash drive versions), SD/SDHC card reader, USB (host and slave) and HDMI ports and runs on Google Android operating system and thus has Flash player support.

Can tether to a web-connected phone via Bluetooth or USB to allow the Archos to become web connected (you may need to jail break an iPhone to enable this).

UPnP and Samba support to allow you to play media files located on other computers via your WiFi network.

3D graphics accelerator for 3D games. Sync your pictures with your Facebook©, Picasa© or Flickr© account

Large library of Adroid apps you can download.

Issues with current models:

  • does not support 720p motion jpeg or AVCHD video
  • does not support viewing camera RAW formats

Archos 101 Internet Tablet:

  • 10.1″ 1024×600 pixels display
  • 12mm thin, 480g, up to 10hrs web browsing battery life
  • available October 2010

Archos 70 Internet Tablet:

  • 7″ 800 x 480 pixels display
  • 14mm thin and 400g for 250Gb HDD version, up to 10hrs web browsing battery life
  • 10mm thin and 300g for 8Gb flash drive version

Archos 5 Internet Tablet:

  • 4.8″ 800 x 480 pixels display, FM radio, FM transmitter for car radios, Dual OS with Linux option
  • GPS voice navigation – you can purchase Tele Atlas maps for Western Europe and Northern America but seems not for Australia – also possible is 3D photo-realistic maps for over 2000 cities.
  • 10.4mm thin, 182g for 8-32Gb flash drive version – 8Gb version sells for $A429, 32Gb version $A539
  • 20mm thin, 286g for 160-500Gb HDD version – 500Gb version sells for $A719

Multitouch tablet Windows 7 Home Premium netbooks:

2010 has seen a new paradigm in mobile computing – multitouch tablets – but note that you need the Premium version of MS Windows 7 for multitouch gesture support as the Starter version does not support multitouch, doesn’t include handwriting recognition or an onscreen keyboard.

Unfortunately, the initial offerings don’t quite meet expectations, partly due to use of an under-powered Atom cpu rather tha a dual core CPU which makes Win7 multitouch more responsive, but they may suit some people.

ASUS eee PC T101MT Multi Touch Tablet:

  • Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz Processor, 2Gb RAM, 10.1″ 1024×600 resistive matte display, 0.3mp webcam, VGA out, 802.11n WiFi, 10/100 ethernet
  • 6.5hrs battery life, SD card reader, USB ports, pen supplied
  • 1.3kg
  • switch on-the-fly between Windows mode and Eee PC Touch mode
  • $A799 for 320Gb HDD – add $A238 to upgrade to 750GB 7200rpm Hard Drive + get a 500GB External USB Drive
  • no Bluetooth, like most netbooks, performance tends to be sluggish and HDD is always running creating noise
  • washed out image colours, poor viewing angle and the graphics chip does not playback HD videos well at all
  • doesn’t have an accelerometer, so you have to rotate the screen by holding down the button on the bottom bezel
  • “For a resistive panel, the touchscreen is actually quite responsive, though unsurprisingly requires a firmer press to make selections. But since we have become so accustomed to using capacitive tablets we had to get the hang of having to really give icons a firm press or use a fingernail to maneuver through menus. Multitouch gestures are just not as smooth as they should be – there’s just something unnatural about having to firmly press two fingers down on the screen to scroll.” (see review here)
  • annoying single rocker tab on the trackpad instead of individual left, right mouse buttons
  • ie. $A1037 gets you 750GB internal HD plus 500GB external USB HDD
  • ASUS Webstorage, provides an extra 500GB of online capacity with drag-and-drop interface to backup online

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t:

  • Intel 1.83GHz Atom N470 CPU, 2GB RAM but graphics chip has trouble playing 720p video
  • 10.1″ capacitative 1024×600 glossy screen but issues with limited viewing angle and “flaky” accelerometer
  • tiny trackpad, poor touch screen software, no pen supplied
  • see here for a review

Gigabyte T1000P:

  • Intel Atom N470 1.83GHz 1-2Gb RAM
  • 10.1″  1366×768 with LED backlit, capacitive
  • Embedded HSDPA Support for 3G
  • 250-320Gb HDD, USB, SD card reader, 1.3mp webcam, Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet
  • multitouch touchpad with separate mouse buttons
  • 1.5kg

Fujitsu Lifebook T580:

  • 10.1″ 4-finger multi-touch display
  • 1.4kg
  • optional 3G, optional GPS
  • coming Nov 2010?

Larger, heavier, but better performing Windows 7 tablet devices:

Acer 1825PT Tablet PC:

  • Intel Core2Duo SU7300 1.3 GHz CPU, 4Gb RAM, 320Gb HDD, will play HD videos
  • 11.6″ capacitative 1366 x 768 LCD but too glossy, and no capacitative stylus included and you really need this to write notes
  • accelerometer for automatic display switching
  • SD card reader, WiFi, USB, ethernet, HDMI,
  • keyboard not as good as chiclet models (such as the Asus above)
  • small touchpad and only one button for mouse clicks
  • screen wobbles in tablet mode and there is an annoying protruding hinge
  • 4-7 hour battery life
  • 1.7kg

HP Touchsmart TM2:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor SU7300 1.3GHz, 4GB of RAM (up to a maximum of 8GB), 500GB HDD, switchable 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4550 graphics
  • 12.1-inch, 1280×800-pixel capacitative display
  • USB, WiFi, Ethernet,
  • ~3-4  hour battery life
  • some issues with overheating and poor life
  • 2.1kg – too heavy for most travelers

Multi-touch Slate devices:

2011 will see the introduction of a multitude of multi-touch, light, compact iPad-like devices running Windows 7 (and also devices running Android and other operating systems).

One of the first of these is the soon to be released, ExoPC Slate:

  • 11.6″ 1366×768 capacitative, pressure sensitive dual touch screen (perhaps the perfect dimensions for my portable imaging needs)
  • Intel Atom Pineview-M N450 1.66 GHz CPU with 2GB RAM and 1080p graphics chip
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth + EDR
  • USB 2.0 port, mini-HDMI port, SD/SDHC card reader (up to 32Gb)
  • 1.3mp webcam
  • 4 hour battery life, 950g
  • proprietary ExoPC user interface software layer to optimise multi-touch user experience and allows for 3rd party apps via an app store and uses Javascript and Flash technologies.
  • 32Gb or 64Gb SSD drive
  • see ExoPC – very exciting indeed! Seems it will be released to US in late September 2010.

Tegatech’s Tega v2:

  • Intel Atom N455, up to 2Gb RAM, 16/32/64GB SSD storage, plus up to 32GB SD/SDHC storage
  • 10.1″ screen
  • Win7, dual cameras (0.3/1.3mp), accelerometer, SD/SDHC card reader
  • USB x 2, HDMI, WiFi, Bluetooth, optional 3G, WiMax, Wibro
  • no Ethernet
  • 870g, > 4hrs battery life, 14mm thick, almost as thin as the 12mm thick iPad
  • see preview here

Viewsonic’s dual-boot slate ViewPad:

  • Atom N455 CPU, 1Gb RAM, 10-inch 1024 x 600 LCD
  • dual boot – Win7 or Google Android v1.6 (older version to support x86 processors)
  • coming in 2011? see a preview here

Samsung Galaxy Tab smartphone slate:

  • 380g, 7″ 1024 x 600 Android-based slate, smartphone device, 16/32Gb storage with microSD expansion up to 32Gb extra
  • 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, dual front/rear cameras (1.3/3mp), full HD video playback
  • gyroscope sensor, geo-magnetic sensor, accelerometer, light sensor
  • 30-pin dock connector allows for HDMI, USB, car dock, etc
  • 7 hour battery life on movie playback
  • see preview here

Don’t need a touch screen?

Prior to netbooks, portable hard disk drive media players were the most cost effective and compact method of storing your travel photos on a hard drive and may still be a great option as they certainly are the lightest and smallest option. Popular models include:

  • Vosonic VP8870 – user swappable 2.5″ SATA HDD; CF and SD card reader; Host for USB flash drives via miniUSB port; 800×480 LCD to view images, even RAW files. 328g. $A509 for a 320Gb model.
  • Hyperdrive Album – 400g.  320Gb version is $US499.

Now, you could choose just to bring multiple memory cards – I generally use about 15Gb per week on travels excluding videos – but it still means you have only ONE version of your precious photos and if they are lost, stolen, or corrupted, they are gone forever.

You could upload to the internet in an online storage system, but this is time consuming and requires internet access.

  • Users of the iPad or iPhone can sign up for Apple’s MobileMe online solution for $A119/year. MobileMe allows sync of email, contacts and calendars, and uploading of your images to your public viewable online gallery, and uploading of your files to iDisk – to a maximum storage of 20Gb – adequate perhaps for backing up your jpegs of your trip, but not all your RAW files. MobileMe could be indispensable for the traveler taking photos or videos with their iPhone.
  • Those who buy an Asus netbook get 1 year complimentary online storage of 500Gb.

A cheap netbook can be bought for not much more than a media player and still give you a large hard drive for storage (eg. 250Gb is common), an SD card reader, a USB port to connect your camera, or even a secondary external hard drive storage, and you still get to surf the net and use Windows.

Until the multi-touch PC’s are optimised, perhaps a cheap netbook may solve your travel storage issues – you can get 10″ 250GB netbook for $A599 but they still weigh at least 1.1kg such as:

  • Toshiba NB305 at 1.18kg and seems to be rated highly – see here
  • Asus eee PC 1018P – USB 3.0, 18mm thin and at 1.1kg with 4 cell battery giving up to 9hrs but this one comes in at $699 – cramped keyboard and stiff touchpad buttons
  • Asus eee PC 1005PE – 36mm thick and at 1.3kg with 6 cell battery giving up to 13hrs

Those who want a something a touch bigger and much more powerful (with Core2 Duo ULV chip), but still relatively light and cheap, may look at an ultraportable notebook computer:

  • Acer Aspire 3810TZ is a 13″ ultraportable at 1.6kg and is also highly rated sells for $A790 – see here.
  • Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T is a 11.6″ ultraportable at 1.35kg with 8hr battery life and sells for $A799 but keyboard maybe an issue.
  • Toshiba Satellite T110 is a 11.6″ at 1.6kg but Pentium single core chip with RRP $A899

My current preferences:

If you want lightest, and most compact and you have an iPhone or similar to browse the net, then consider a HDD media player such as the Vosonic or the Hyperdrive.

If you want a multi-touch compact, light internet browsing media player with 250Gb HDD storage, then consider an Archos 7 or 10 internet tablet.

If you want a netbook with reasonable performance and price but under 1.2kg, then consider the Toshiba NB305.

If you really want a Windows 7 multi-touch device now, then consider the Acer 1825PT Tablet PC.

If you want a bigger screen but still relatively light and inexpensive, then consider the  Acer Aspire 3810TZ.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Traciatim says:

    If you are just looking at keeping photos safe then I’d recommend the Vosonix XS drive series or the Hyperdrive Album. You could also get a USB card reader and use a device like the Archos 5 Internet Tablet.

    I live by the ABA philosophy. Anything But Apple.

  2. admin says:

    I don’t think Vosonic make the XS drive series (could not see it on their website), so I added one of their other products to the post as well as the Hyperdrive.