For many of travellers, bunking down at a computer holds little appeal. Manufacturers are getting the drift, designing comfortable, hand-held electronic gadgets emphasising reading and recreation. The Amazon’s Kindle eReader is as easy on the eye as it is to use, while Apple’s iPad with GPS and access to free applications will change how you use the internet.
Best of all you don’t need a computer to make the most out of either of these gadgets, and they offer lots to those of us travelling with an RV. Bob Eustace explains.
The Amazon Kindle is purely an eBook reader, sold via the Amazon website. Its main purpose is for reading and storing books and it does this very well. The monotone screen is absolutely gorgeous. It’s not backlit (it almost looks like paper) so you need a reading light at night although you can get a good LED which slips under the cover. You turn the page using switches and you can make the print bigger by up to eight sizes. The Kindle’s Read-to-Me function reads books out loud and can be used with head phones. We plug ours into the iPod socket in our radio during long trips.
The range of eBooks on the Amazon website exceeds 620,000 and rises daily – heaps are free with bestsellers starting at US$9.99. The inbuilt dictionary is fabulous. You cannot copy files out of the Kindle, though, this is how they get around illegal copying.
The most amazing thing about the Kindle is that it comes with free 3G internet connectivity with zero monthly charges, depending on the model you choose. The base model requires access to a wireless internet service to download books, but we purchased the model with the internet service and suggest you do too. It’s the only device we’ve bought that’s worked straight out of the box. We charged the battery, went to the Kindle Store and downloaded 50 free books. The choice in freebies is huge, virtually anything out of copyright, by unknown authors establishing themselves, some craft, gardening and cooking books and everything in between. Books by known authors range from a few cents to $12 but this is cheaper than buying a paperback – plus you save carrying all those books when travelling.
Delivery of the books happens without you doing anything. You don’t have to mess with emails or that dreadful “save target as” command. Downloads take less than 60 seconds and that’s fast. The books appear on your home page in a list with no messing with folders or files. If your Telstra phone works, it will also work.
It isn’t all bells and whistles, but it’s easy to master and there is nothing to plug in. The inbuilt joystick is easy to use provided you don’t bite your nails. You don’t need another computer with this device as it arrives from the States registered to you. The main drawback is the small screen size on the entry model, however with the large text this isn’t a problem. Battery life is amazing and we are getting well over a week using it every night.
Purchasing the Kindle
The third generation Amazon Kindle is available from www.amazon.com
The 6in screen Kindle 3G Wireless costs US$189 or US$139 for the Wi-Fi only version. Amazon’s larger model, the Kindle DX with 9.7in screen is US$379 and comes with the ongoing 3G service. You can charge your Kindle from your computer or with a dedicated 240V charger from Amazon for US$19.95. It uses a miniature USB plug to connect. Cases cost up to US$30.
You’d have to be camping in the back of beyond for months to not have heard of Apple’s iPad. The iPad requires a little more internet savvy than the Amazon Kindle, but it's easier than a laptop and offers lots to the RVer, as we found after only three weeks use. The main advantage is it only draws 10W of power to charge and goes for eight hours. The other benefit is the price of data is competitive with Wi-Fi subscriber services for laptops, with prepaid data for the iPad costing as little as $30 per 3GB on Telstra Next G. Serv
The iPad weighs well under 1kg and stores hundreds of books, saving weight in your RV. You can buy the latest bestselling books, however over 30,000 books are free. Books range from US$2.99 to US$12.99. You get the books from the internet via a Wi-Fi service (your own or from any public hotspot service) or inbuilt Sim card depending on your model. If your iPad supports a Sim card, it switches seamlessly between the two systems, favouring Wi-Fi.
The reading experience can be tailored to suit you. If you hold it horizontal, you can read two pages at once. Tip it vertically and you get one page. Select sepia tone to reduce flair. To increase the size of the print move your fingers apart until it’s comfortable for you. The most intriguing thing is turning the page. Just move your finger across the screen and over it goes. You can bookmark pages so it remembers where you’re up to and you can have multiple books on the go at once each with its own bookmarks. It needs no light, so there’ll be no more complaints from the other half for reading by torchlight in bed.
How it works
Unlike laptops you rarely have to spend a cent buying programs, as the iPad uses what are called “apps” – applications. These applications are available through the iPad Apps Store. About a third of the 200,000 apps are free, with the others being mostly $1.99 and rarely over $20. Books from the Apple website are read in a free app called iBook and there are many others that do the same or similar job. You can access the thousands of free Google books by using a free conversion program called Stanza.
You can access Amazon’s massive Kindle library, too, with the Kindle for iPad app. If you have an Amazon account I suggest registering with the same email address otherwise it won’t know who you are. Many books are designed to “flow” as you adjust page size, but books made from PDFs don’t act the same way. Many apps for the iPhone work on the iPad.
Navigation and Travel
The iPad’s home page has a Maps icon, which has lots of uses for any RVer. It has GPS without auto routing, called GPS Assist. You can get driving directions and trip times to anywhere in Australia though. When you turn it on, it gets a “triangulation” from the phone towers and in under a minute a pulsing blue circle appears indicating your exact position. It doesn’t give you coordinates and you can’t put in Camps Australia Wide, but it has one feature no current GPS has: streetscape view of thousands of towns, via the Google Earth for iPad. Yes, you can see actual houses and you can get an aerial view of almost any campsite. It’s extremely useful for checking if a caravan park is truly waterfront or how far it is from the shops, etc.
Another new idea is the freebie Wikihood for iPad app. It shows you pictures and some background info based on your location which it works out without your help, fantastic for RVers. Our solar panel installer used the inbuilt compass on his iPad to locate north, very handy for those into satellite TV. This gives latitude and long and is easy to read. You could easily justify the cost of the iPad based on the usefulness of just these four free navigation apps. Well it had to happen. TomTom has an app for USA GPS for US$59.99 that auto routes. Be aware that it will only work in phone areas!
Surfing the Internet
The iPad is fast to load and will have you surfing in seconds. One lovely feature is it opens at the last page you looked at and navigation is a breeze using just your fingers. Some sites such as YouTube, eBay have dedicated buttons on the desktop. Bookmarking favourites is a breeze and the history list is simple to use.
If email is new to you, the iPad is just about the most painless way into this activity and it is far cheaper and much easier than sending a text. There is no keyboard on an iPad, but the touch screen version is a delight to use and very fast.
Hobbies and entertainment
Music is very strong on iPad. You can play MP3s, listen to overseas radio stations and make your own music. Ukuleles are popular with CMCA members and you can learn how to play one. Harp, guitar, keyboard are also covered with heaps of choices. You can even program rhythms or play the “virtual” steel drums. Learning to sight read music is made easy and free, as with coming to grips with chords.
We’ve found one RV magazine from the States app called MotorHome Magazine. One issue costs you US$2.49. You get the complete magazine with editorial, classifieds and all the ads as well. It’s yours forever, and you can share it with one friend. You can’t freely distribute it via email. You can get newspapers electronically, but most leave out the ads and pictures. The current Australian newspaper app is awful!
The iPad has access to many brain teaser applications and most are free. There are dozens of versions of old favourite such as Chess, Solitaire and Mahjong. Scrabble is sadly a buy job but brilliant.
We like the cooking app Epicurious. This freebie gives you full colour pics of the dishes and even a suggested shopping list. The ABC has an excellent news app whereby you can watch the news; 7:30 Report etc. and up with all the breaking news and top stories. The BBC has a wonderful free App.
Craft is another fantastic area. Several quilting “freebie” designs help you work out the materials requirements for each colour fabric, based on the style and size of the block, the number you require to make various sized quilts (from crib to king size) and you can even email this info. You can even work out the binding needed. The screen shots shown here were all done using free apps.
Printing documents is messy and geeky. No USB port means it’s hard to look pictures on the road and there’s no inbuilt camera. Word processing needs a lot of work if you are thinking of using it for business, though some packages are getting close. All apps we tried cut off or didn’t allow footnotes and we couldn’t import our own letterhead. The cover costs an extra $35 but you can improvise by using the Jobi Gorillapod, an awesome stand found in photo shops for $20.
The apps and their low cost are without doubt iPad's number one feature. Nothing I’ve seen comes even remotely close. The picture clarity’s superb, it works great outdoors and you won’t wreck the screen around the campfire! The touch screen manipulation is superb. The glass screen is fantastic – eat fish and chips whilst surfing as you just wipe with a soft cloth. The battery lasts all day and can be charged from the supplied 240V USB adaptor or a laptop as standard – lead supplied.
The iPad doesn't come with a manual as it’s just so intuitive to use. You really can’t break the software no matter what you do. There is no hard drive so you can leave it in the van on corrugated roads.
Purchasing the iPad
You can buy direct from Apple online or try before you buy at any Dick Smith Super Store, Apple Retail Store, Myers or most JB Hi Fi outlets. There are models just with Wi-Fi for $629, but the best bet is the Wi-Fi plus standalone 3G wireless at $1049, for which you need a micro Sim card.
The world is rapidly heading in the direction of the Kindle and iPad, so like digital TV you may as well embrace it now, as it has an awful lot to offer the RVer. Both are likely to change the way you travel and enhance your lifestyle and in the case of the Kindle, for very little outlay. If you can afford either or both, we recommend them 100 per cent.
- words and pics Bob Eustace.