Gadling Gear Review: iPad Mini

Over the past couple of years the demand for tablet computers has gone from nonexistent to one of the hottest segments of the entire consumer electronics market. At the forefront of that demand is the iPad, which not only launched the tablet revolution but has continued to push it forward since its introduction in 2010. The iPad’s dominance has been so complete that competitors have been forced to attempt to carve out a niche with smaller and cheaper tablets, sometimes with solid success. Not one to let a market slip away, Apple released a smaller tablet of their own a few months back, bringing an excellent entry to the growing 7-inch tablet segment.

The iPad Mini was released this past fall and garners its name from the fact that it features a 7.9-inch display as opposed to the 9.7-inch screen found on the full size version. But the size of the screen isn’t the only part of Apple’s tablet that has gotten smaller. The Mini is also considerably thinner and lighter than its larger counterpart, which is probably the thing that is most striking when you first hold one in your hands. The fact that it slims down so nicely and still manages to maintain Apple’s legendary build quality is just icing on the cake. Put simply, the iPad Mini feels great in your hands and makes you think that this is what the iPad should have been the whole time.

Despite its smaller screen, the iPad Mini still runs all of the iPad Apps without a problem. That means that buyers get access to the best tablet apps on the market, while Android owners continue to wait for many of their apps to be optimized for larger screens. Apps look fantastic on the Mini’s bright and vibrant screen as well, although it doesn’t feature the amazing Retina display that is found on the larger, more expensive iPad. It seems logical that the first update to the Mini will be adding some form of the Retina display in a future update, but hopefully not at the expense of added weight or thickness.The Mini provides fast and smooth performance, running Apple’s iOS mobile operating system very well. In fact, I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in how the tablet responded or ran apps when compared to my third generation iPad, which features a much more powerful processor. The device also features two built-in cameras, one on the front and one on the back, which take passable photos and are great for video conferencing.

Travelers will absolutely fall in love with the Mini. Its smaller size and weight makes it a great travel companion, easily slipping inside a carry-on bag or purse without adding any kind of noticeable bulk. Its ten-hour battery life keeps it running for a long time and its vast library of apps provides games, movies, television shows, magazines, music and plenty more diversions for long flights or layovers in the airport. The fact that it is also considerably cheaper (the Mini starts at $329 for a 16GB model) than the regular iPad will make it attractive to new buyers as well.

In a lot of ways the Mini is the best iPad yet and as an owner of the full-size model, I am looking forward to Apple bringing some of the design elements over to the larger tablet. But as someone who actually does work on his iPad, the smaller screen is a compromise that I’m not ready to make just yet. I once wrote a 1000-word story on my iPad while on a flight home from Jordan with no real issues, but I can’t imagine doing the same thing on the smaller screen of the Mini. The smaller tablet is a fantastic option for those who consume media on their mobile devices, but it isn’t the best option for those that want to create content as well.

But the Mini’s competition isn’t just the full-size iPad, as both Google and Amazon have competing products that stack-up well with Apple’s device. Those tablets are smaller and lighter, yet feature higher definition screens and come in at a lower price tag. They also feel less solid in your hands and have a build quality that can best be described as “cheap” when compared to the Mini. Couple that outstanding construction with a larger display and an app store that is unmatched in the number of options designed for tablets and I believe the Mini provides an outstanding bang for the buck.

Just like the larger iPad, Apple offers the Mini with 16, 32 and 64 GB of storage and with options to connect to 4G data networks for Internet access on the go. No other small tablet offers such a wide variety of options in storage and connectivity, albeit at an increased cost as well. And that versatility is appreciated by consumers, particularly in an increasingly connected world. My third generation iPad is a 64GB model with LTE access and I find that to be incredibly useful for staying connected while on the road.

As far as I’m concerned, the iPad Mini is the best tablet on the market for travelers. Its small size and compact shape make it easy to carry with you whether you’re heading across town or across the globe. It is impressively built, powerful and versatile, and it comes with the best app store available for any tablet on the market. If you’ve been reluctant to invest in one of these devices in the past, then you really should take a look at the Mini. It is a fantastic product that will convince many first-time buyers to finally bite the bullet and add a tablet to their travel gear. And if you’re an owner of an older iPad who has been considering an upgrade, you’ll want to take a look too. You may find the Mini’s more svelte design too enticing to pass up, even though you’ll be reducing the size of your screen.

Make no mistake; Apple has more competitors in the tablet market than they have ever had in the past. But they also continue to stay two or three steps ahead of that competition, delivering the best devices in the category at competitive prices. The Mini not only continues that legacy but extends it.

[Photo Credit: Apple]

‘Road Warriors’ Stay Connected While Traveling

Today’s business traveler carries between three and four mobile devices with them while on the road, states data from a new survey from Four Points by Sheraton. This Starwood Hotels and resorts brand surveyed 6,000 global business travelers to find what devices they are most likely to use while traveling – and what hotels can best do to help these tech-savvy travelers.

Business travelers are “connecting” to friends and colleagues while on the road more than ever, with 55% saying that they travel with three to four devices. Brazilian travelers are the heaviest packers, with 27% saying they travel with more than five devices at one time. We’re not even sure how one gets to that many tech items, unless you’re traveling with multiple telephones. Germans were the least device-dependent, with 33% reporting they travel with only one or two items.

Smartphones #1
Not surprisingly, smartphones (74%) are the number-one device used by travelers, although tablets (65%), music players (43%) and laptops (32%) are also popular. Chinese respondents were the only group to bump laptops out of the top four, in favor of cameras (30%).

Business travelers are also glued to those smartphones. After landing, the majority (54%) turn on their smartphone while the plane is still taxiing on the tarmac, while 12% admit to never turning it off in the first place. The remaining respondents wait until they’re in the terminal or settle into their taxi/car (17% each).

Given our tech-obsessed society, some of these stats may seem mainstream, but checking their smartphone is also the first thing respondents do when they wake up in their hotel (36%). Only 19% turn on the TV first and 18% take a shower. Checking Facebook (12%) ranks fourth, while checking Twitter and calling home share a distant fifth (7%).Business Travelers Prefer Tablets
Tablets are quickly gaining market share among business travelers, with 68% of respondents saying they use their tablet more often than their laptop, and accordingly a similar number (69%), if told they could take only one of the two on the road, would choose to travel with their tablet.

This is in line with the business goals of travelers – many use mobile devices to keep up with email (90%), although many use devices for Internet browsing and social media (75%). Keeping up with the office is important too, but less so – only 73% of respondents cited this as important. Either these travelers still prefer books or they aren’t reading for pleasure – only 43% use mobile devices to read.

Business Centers Still Rule
In addition to all their hand-held technology, the majority of respondents report that they have visited a hotel business center (66%). They mostly do so to print business items (93%). They are also inclined to use the business center to print personal items (87%), check social networking (87%) and check email (86%).

What do you think? How many devices do you travel with, and which do you use most frequently?

[Flickr via magerleagues]

Gadling gear review: Lenovo IdeaPad K1 tablet

Over the past two years, the introduction of tablet computers have had an unmistakable impact on how we travel. Smaller and lighter than laptops, yet with plenty of power and versatility, these devices allow us to stay connected, entertained, and productive, while on the go. Obviously, Apple’s iPad is the most well known of these products, but there are a host of other tablets available as well. Take for example the Lenovo IdeaPad K1, which is an affordable option for those looking for an alternative to the Apple hegemony.

Powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and sporting 1GB of onboard RAM, the IdeaPad offers plenty of performance in a relatively small package. The tablet features 32GB of storage and has a built in SD card reader that allows users to expand that capacity even further. As you would expect, it features both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, although there is no option for 3G or 4G service. The IdeaPad’s 10.1 inch widescreen display is adequate, if not exceptional, and like most tablets (iPad included), sound from the built in speakers is underwhelming. The IdeaPad has two webcams, a 2MP camera on the front and a 5MP on the rear, both of which best the iPad’s cameras by a considerable margin. I also liked that Lenovo’s included a built in HDMI port, which makes it easy to display content from the tablet on an HDTV.

Of course, all of that technology doesn’t mean much if the software that runs on the device isn’t up to par. The IdeaPad uses Google’s Android operating system (version 3.1 Honeycomb) to tie everything together, and that OS is both a strength and a weakness for the device. For instance, Android comes with a full featured app store, complete with every major app – or at the very least a worthy equivalent – to what you would find on the iPad. But the Android experience doesn’t feel quite as cohesive or intuitive to use as Apple’s iOS, and at times I had to search hard to find a particular app or setting.That isn’t to say that Android doesn’t bring plenty to the table to help distinguish itself from its biggest competitor. I love the desktop widgets that display weather, my personal calendar, and unread e-mail messages on screen at all times. The multitasking capabilities of the OS were also impressive, and I found it faster and easier to switch between running apps on the IdeaPad than on my iPad. I also came to appreciate the virtual home button and the ability to access installed apps from any screen, and the overall level of customization to the interface is greater than what you’ll find on iOS too. Android also happens to be compatible with Adobe’s Flash, although performance is a bit of a mixed bag, to say the least.

Despite those features however, I found that there was a general sluggishness to the IdeaPad that wasn’t common on Apple’s device. The K1 was slow to switch screen orientations when you flipped the device from portrait to landscape mode for example, and there were times when I’d end up tapping an icon twice because the OS was so slow to respond that I didn’t think that I got it right the first time. I’m told that the latest version of Android, code named Ice Cream Sandwich, addresses most of these issues however, and that update is expected to come to the IdeaPad in the semi-near future.

Other comparisons to the iPad are inevitable of course, starting with the physical aspects of the two devices. While the K1 doesn’t feel heavy in your hands, it is noticeably bulkier than Apple’s tablet – something that becomes more pronounced with extended use. It is also thicker than the iPad, although some may appreciate the added girth, which makes the device easier to hang on to for those of us with larger hands. The IdeaPad lags behind in battery life as well, clocking in at a bit over 8 hours in my tests. That’s far below Lenovo’s promised 10 hours, which is a mark that the iPad can hit easily.

To their credit, Lenovo ships the IdeaPad with quite a few good apps already installed, including NetFlix, Amazon Kindle, and even Angry Birds. They’ve also incorporated their own personalized launcher widget, that gives users quick access to the Chrome web browser, e-mail, music, movies, and more. It is a different approach than the dock that is found on the iPad, although I didn’t find it as useful since you had to be on a specific screen panel to access it.

So how does the IdeaPad fair as a travel companion? Overall, quite well. Despite a few nitpicks with performance and battery life, this is a solid device that will deliver everything you expect from a tablet. It offers movies, music, and games on the go, and serves as a good way to stay connected to friends and family while you’re away from home. The e-mail client is easy to configure and use, and the built in cameras work well with Skype too. Throw in the ability to read books and magazines on the device, and you’ve got everything you need for your next long international flight.

Better yet, Lenovo is selling the device at a very good price. With an MSRP of $399, the IdeaPad comes in at a hundred bucks less than the cheapest iPad, while still delivering twice the storage capacity. If you’re in the market for a tablet, but don’t want to pay the “Apple tax” or simply want to stay outside of their ecosystem, than the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is a worthy alternative.

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

Nearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

2010 Holiday shopping: start of the new tablet era?

Long before we start with our first batches of 2010 Holiday gift guides, and spend countless hours picking the best gear of the year – a trend is appearing in the mobile device world. Tablets are here, and they are going to be big.

The foundations for this new trend were laid when Apple announced the iPad earlier this year. Ever since that announcement, they have been selling them faster than they could produce them. Like a lot of what Apple does, the competition is paying attention. Before the end of the year, stores will be offering tablets from some of the largest brand names in the world.

Yesterday’s big news came from book Goliath Barnes & Noble who unveiled the Nook Color – a $249 Android powered ebook/tablet hybrid. In October, Samsung will start selling the 7″ Tab with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity.

At Best Buy stores, you’ll soon find a $299 Huawei Android powered tablet and earlier this month, Dell launched their first compact Android tablet – priced at $299 (on a two year AT&T agreement). Even Blackberry joined the fun with the announcement of their PlayBook tablet.

While none of these tablets will probably come close to chipping away at the massive success of the Apple iPad, they do show that tablets are here to stay – and that is one development I’m really excited about.

In recent years, we already saw our luggage load decrease with the arrival of the netbook, and now we can look forward to even more travel friendly innovations with the tablet. But the best part is that we’ll have choice – we’ll be able to pick devices with a 5″ screen, or a larger 10″ device. Apple fans can stick to iOS and Android users will have a whole assortment of choices. Even corporate users who cling to their Blackberry will find something soothing.

While manufacturers battle each other, those of us in need of something portable that travels well,may have already won.

[Image credit: Getty]