Tuesday 6 October 2009

Travelling Technologies - Reviews and Winners

After almost a month of thinking about what technologies a person is likely to need on a learning and sharing journey, I finally boiled it down to the following
  1. Small Lightweight Laptop - for writing stuff up, using the web, and editing multimedia
  2. Back-up Hard-Drive - in case the laptop gets stolen/lost
  3. Long Range Camera - for landscape, nature and non-intrusive observational shots 
  4. Pocket Camera - for social interaction
  5. Tough All-Weather Camera - for beaches and outdoor stuff 
  6. Pocket Video Recorder - to capture clips and interviews
After much researching and messing around with the million options available for every one of the above, I've finally made my choices

1. Small Lightweight Laptop

This was difficult because the standard lightweight portable laptops have 10inch screens, and after playing with them I realised that 10 inches across is way too small. I don't want to spend all my time peering at the tiny screen.

Then you have the problem of battery life. 3 or 4 hours is not enough. I want one I can use all day without having to plug it in. This means you need a 6-cell battery, rather than the standard 3 cell one most come with.

Finally the keyboard and mouse pad have to be a decent size unless you've got tiny fingers, which I don't.

The best option in the 10" netbook category is the Asus Eee PC 1000HE but this is really too small, so I looked at the next size up, which is the 11" category. These are still pretty much the same overall size and weight, but have much more usable screen and keyboard. At 12" there's a jump in size and weight and you're basically into laptop category. In this category there's not many options. The Acer Aspire One 751 seemed to be the only real choice available, and I actually really liked it when I played with it even though it's supposed to be very sluggish. I thought I had a winner, but then I found out that apparently the screens just crack for no good reason and Acer don't cover it in their warranty. That's no good for travelling!

Luckily it seems that Samsung have just released a 11.6" laptop which seems to do everything. Great battery. Fast. Good screen. Full size keyboard. Bit more expensive but looks well worth it. So we have a winner...

Winner: Samsung N510 (£380+ Laptops Direct)

2. Back Up Hard Drive 

Personally I like the small pocket Western Digital drives. They're small and neat. You can get 250GB ones for about £50 on ebuyer.

Winner: Western Digital 250GB (£50+ ebuyer)

3. Long Range Camera

I start off heroically searching out the low end Digital SLRs (£450+) until I realised that the lens they come with basically has about the same zoom you get with little pocket cameras i.e. 3 or 5 times optical zooms. No good if you want to zoom in across landscape or even across the street. If you want wide angle or long range lenses you have to fork out a lot more, and then you have to lug a foot long item around. So DSLR's were out.

I then went back to the point and shoots. I used to have a Fujifilm camera with 18x zoom which did the job except the pictures were just not sharp enough. Hence the need to upgrade. So I need a camera which takes sharp shots on auto, copes well in low light and can get me right close up from a distance. There's a decent selection with a zoom range of 18 all the way up to 26 times optical zoom. The Fujis are cheap and poor quality, Canons were too bulky and heavy, Nikon have skimped so much on their viewing screen that you have no idea whether the picture is any good, the Olympus didn't have a good enough lens, and the Sony took very average pictures - they don't have the Carl Zeiss lenses in this range. After much testing I finally found one that does everything. The Panasonic. It has the lowest zoom at only 18x, but the Leica lens is great and the camera is lightweight and fast with a good menu system.

Winner:Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ38 (£250+ ebay)

4. Pocket Camera

There's really too much choice to even begin to break this down. So I'll just give you the criteria. Decent zoom, good lens, good low light and night time photographs, video capability and small enough to carry around in your pocket. The winner is not very slimline but you get so much versatility that its worth it, including HD video, a superb Leica 12x optical zoom, and a superwide-angle lens.

Winner: Panasonic Lumix TZ7 (£240+ ebay)

5. Tough All-Weather Camera

You can get some pretty serious ones here, but frankly why waste the money unless you're planning some major underwater activity. There's a couple of very tough and pretty expensive Olympus and Panasonics, but I'll just be happy with something waterproof, light and easy to carry around. The winner for me in this category is cheap, looks nice and is waterproof to 3m. The picture quality apparently isn't great, but then the other cameras cover that eventuality, and you can get it for just over £100.

For Basic Waterproof - Fujifilm Z33WP
For Full Hard-Wearing Use - Olympus Mju Tough 8000

6. Pocket Video Recorder

Again there's a number of handhelds on the market, and now three or four that are the size of a mobile phone and fit in your pocket. Reviews tend to focus on picture quality, features etc. but in the end the defining factor is how easily you can transfer and edit the stuff you shoot. The easy winner here comes from Flip. You can spend more for a HD version, but for straight to web content you probably don't need to.

Winner: Flip Mino (£120+)

I'm not actually going to get all these for the first leg. Seems a waste of money to double up on so many things. So I'm just going to go with the laptop plus backup, long range and pocket cameras. The waterproof and video stuff saved for another richer time!
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