Choosing a laptop for your bike tour is no easy task, especially with the new wave of ultra-portable and lightweight computers that started hitting the market in 2008.
It began with the Asus EEE series and many brands like Dell, Lenovo and HP followed afterwards, all producing their own tiny laptops, with 7-10″ screens and weighing around 1kg.
In addition to this, there are machines like the Panasonic Toughbooks (designed to take a lot of jarring and bumping) that have been around for longer and cost more but do offer a few more features.
This review focuses on the two machines we’ve tried, the Panasonic CF-W4 and the Asus EEE 1000H. If you’re still deciding whether or not to take a laptop on tour, read this first.
The Panasonic CF-W4 was what we started our tour with. We enjoyed it for 2 years but no longer recommend it. The laptop ultimately failed on us (we think the motherboard died) and we are disappointed in Panasonic for refusing to repair it under warranty. And in any case, for the cost you can get most of the features that the Toughbook offers at a fraction of the price these days so you have to wonder if it’s really worth it anymore.
When our Panasonic failed, we turned to the Asus EEE 1000H – the version with the 10″ screen, a keyboard that’s 95% of full size, an SD card reader, 3 USB ports (very handy!) and a 160GB hard drive. This is not a solid-state drive, like some of the ultra-compact laptops have.
It weighs just over 1kg and ours came pre-installed with Windows. Some machines do come with a Linux operating system but we couldn’t find one so instead we installed Linux Ubuntu ourselves and now we can boot our machine up in either operating system, which is handy for some software that’s not fully functional with Linux.
So far, we’re quite impressed with our purchase. The screen and keyboard size isn’t huge but it’s big enough that the laptop is comfortable to use. We wouldn’t want anything less for the amount of photo editing and typing that we do.
The battery life lives up to its 5-6 hours advertised rate and it’s small and light enough that we don’t mind carrying it around town, if there’s no safe place to leave valuables.
The only thing we occasionally miss on our old Panasonic machine is the DVD player and burner. We used it once in a while for watching movies or backing up things. A DVD drive isn’t often found on the newer, smaller machines like the Asus EEE but this is not a big deal.
You can burn CDs and DVDs as you go in internet cafes, hostels and photo shops all over the world for very little money and as for watching movies, it’s not something you get the chance to do very often on tour anyway. Do think about how you will backup your information, whether that’s by burning DVDs as you go, carrying an external hard drive or perhaps buying a few USB sticks or memory cards to put your data on.
One note for the technically minded: most operating systems require booting to a device like a CD drive so at first this seems problematic if you want to install a new OS on your tiny PC, which doesn’t have such a feature. It’s really not a problem at all. Just download the program to the machine and then place it onto a large memory card or external hard drive. This works just as well as having a built-in CD or DVD drive.