Monday, January 28, 2008

Email for the Leisure Traveler

As a Geekazoid, people often ask me for advice on what types of gadgets to purchase, from computers to cell phones, DVRs, DVD players, TVs, etc. The problem is that there is no quick answer (except for the TV, where I always stay stick with the S-es--Sony, Samsung, Sharp). A 90-year old grandmother has different needs than a kid going off to college, right?

So the latest question is, "what is the best way to be able to check email and do light web surfing while I travel? The question came from a tech-savvy retiree (a.k.a., "Dad") who doesn't have a crackberry or a laptop for work. The question, as always with these things was, it depends....

So before I get to my answer, I separated the target audiences:
  • über-geek: Wants the latest and greatest, and wants to hack the heck out of it to brag to his friends.
  • executive: Someone who needs to stay connected to work, and the employer fits the bill
  • tech-savvy retiree/Dad: Already described.

So here are my recommendations:
The über-geek wants to be able to tinker, and to have something that nobody else has. For them, the Nokia N810 internet tablet is da bomb. Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS enabled, VoIP-enabled, camera, media player, bluetooth, QWERTY keyboard, support for SD memory expansion, all on an open source LINUX platform. This thing rocks, but really requires someone who is, at heart, a tinkerer. It is liable to cause frustration in other categories of users. At~$400, it doesn't infringe too much on the Doritos budget.

The executive wants to be able to connect to work email, do some light web surfing, and carry one device for email and phone. GPS is handy for unfamiliar locations. For that, I recommend the Blackberry Curve. Top notch email that will work with the office, built in GPS, voice-activated dialing, Wi-fi enabled, plus you can use it as a tethered modem for your laptop for those long delays in the airport. It is also quad-band, which means that it will work in North America, Europe and Asia. This device does it all, but it is best at email. Don't plan to do serious web browsing on this baby.

What about Dad? Well, his eyesight isn't what it used to be, so those small screens on the Curve and the N810 aren't the best. At first, I considered a laptop, but who wants to carry around 12 pounds of gear on top of all of those pairs of plaid pants? The solution? The all new wi-fi enabled MacBook Air from Apple (see ad below). .76 inches think, 3 pounds, 13.3 inch screen, all housing a shockingly simple and familiar Mac OS X interface. All that and it is environmentally friendly. The only downside is that it only supports wi-fi. Dad isn't staying at Josie's B&B too often, he's at major hotel chains that offer Wi-Fi. Still, in those exceptional cases, he can get a cellphone that supports being a tethered modem. The only downside that I can see to this solution is that on his fixed income, the $1,800 price tag may be a bit steep. Still, I'm willing to forfeit $1,800 of my inheritance for his technical betterment, as long as he lets me play with it....

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