The Netbooks: Acer Aspire – $288.12 | HP Mini – $307.74 | Toshiba Mini – $349.99
By Technology Correspondent Paul Olson
When I travel, I usually bring my laptop. It’s pretty small – like these – and has great battery life (I can watch DVDs on the plane). But I’m thinking about getting a travel-dedicated netbook. Here’s why:
Thanks to their tiny screens, netbooks get pretty good battery life – usually 8 hours or better. If you’re watching movies, expect less (tip: burn DVDs onto your hard drive using DVD Shrink and an external DVD drive). If you want the best battery life, get a solid state drive (SSD). These use flash memory instead of spinning disks. These, however, are expensive, and I don’t think they’re worth it. You want this thing to be basically disposable. Which brings us to …
You can get a decent netbook that’ll get you through your travels for around $300 (check out options from Acer, HP, and Toshiba.) That’s cheaper than an iPad and cheaper than a lot of high-end cell phones. That’s not exactly disposable, but it’s far from the end of the world if it gets stolen. And it’s far easier to stomach than getting your primary computer stolen. You don’t want that to happen. But things could be worse, which leads us to …
If you’re traveling with a computer, encrypt it. Use TrueCrypt and encrypt the entire disk (here’s a tutorial). What’s this mean? Basically, if somebody steals the computer, they don’t get to steal your identity too. They can’t read the hard drive to grab your stored passwords and access your email. Encryption turns the computer into a brick without the proper password. This is not the same as setting up a Windows password. The Windows password simply stops a computer from booting Windows – it doesn’t protect your data. A thief can still read all the data on the disk if they attach it to another computer. Encryption makes this very, very difficult.
Here’s another knock against the iPad – the webcam. Nearly every netbook has one, which means you can Skype with your family and friends on your trips. I was just in Paris and was able to give my sister a tour of our apartment thanks to Skype. International calls are expensive. Skype is free.
Lastly, if you’re bringing a computer on a trip, it’s probably because you want to get some work done while you’re away. And if you want to get work done, you’ll need a keyboard (sorry, iPad). Sure they’re tiny, but they work. Bring a mouse if you really want to synergize.
What do you think? Have you tried this or know somebody who has? Let us know what you think in the comments.