When the iPad came out in 2010, lines went around the block from the 5th Avenue Apple store in New York City. Everybody wanted a taste of Apple’s latest shiny toy, which promised to deliver the “most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device.”
Not me, however. In all fairness, I barely noticed the news, and even if I had, I’d have been less than impressed by the price tag. Back then I was in hardcore savings mode, preparing for a six-month trip later that year.
I had my first encounter with the new tablet during that trip, when a fellow traveler offered me hers in a hostel in Lilongwe, Malawi. She’d seen me freak out over an urgent need to check an online application, when the hostel had Wi-Fi but no in-house computer.
I fumbled with the thing for a few hours, but failed to get it working properly or compose a readable e-mail.
As iPads became more ubiquitous, and I had more opportunities to use them, my bafflement with the device didn’t stop. The screen was large enough to write comfortably, but the keyboard was no better than that on my iPhone, and slowed my typing to a crawl.
My eyes tired after reading on it for too long, and I found the camera pointless, given the size and bulkiness of the device. I kept wondering why my friends and coworkers, who already had a smartphone and (often) a laptop, would even consider performing any task on a device that made the experience significantly more frustrating.
Many years later, I can count on one hand the moments I’ve actually found any use for the iPad.
With every new version that comes out, the same question starts pounding in my head: what is the iPad offering that other devices don’t?
For Digital Nomads
As someone who works from the road, I usually travel with a laptop, smartphone, and camera: the holy trinity of the digital nomad. Many also carry a Kindle or other brand e-reader, maybe a video camera, and some kind of external storage.
Laptops Still Reign as Work Tools
I find the iPad’s shortcoming most noticeable when using it for work, which is the priority for most digital nomads. Many working travelers have tried an iPad as a replacement for a laptop, and most have arrived at the same conclusion:
It just makes simple working tasks more cumbersome.
If you’re a blogger or a freelance writer and editor, typing in any of the word processing apps will be significantly slower than on a traditional keyboard. True, you can use a keyboard case or external Bluetooth keyboard, but that’s extra cost, and the experience is only slightly improved.
Any time I’ve used a Bluetooth keyboard, I’ve always ended up waiting for the tablet to catch up with me. That’s even more frustrating than composing a typo-filled email with the on-screen keyboard.
When editing, it seems surprisingly difficult for the tablet to know precisely where I’m tapping on the screen. The end result? More mistakes, and an even more drawn-out experience.
If you’re a photographer, editing professional-quality images is next-to-impossible on an iPad. Easy tasks like crop or straighten are pretty straightforward, but anything more complicated is bound to at least steal more time than it would have in a laptop
Apps like SnapSeed can help with brightness, saturation, and other basic editing features, as well as offering Instagram-worthy filters. More useful are Adobe’s mobile versions of popular editing services Lightroom and Photoshop that offer a little more power, but, as some reviewers have pointed out, they are more workflow companions than computer replacements.
Lightroom allows photographers to experiment with their images from their tablets wherever there is internet. Since they link to Adobe’s subscription-only Creative Cloud, without access to the cloud service, the app is useless. It also lacks some key desktop options, such as local adjustments and curves, and has limited export functions.
Photoshop, on the other hand, has a couple of different versions: Express and the main Photoshop mobile app.
Express is aimed mostly towards smartphone users, with basic image editing and touch-up options. It’s fine, as far as it goes, but isn’t really any better than other free photo editing tools.
After years of promises, Adobe finally released its “proper” Photoshop app for iPad in 2019. Like Lightroom, it only works with a Creative Cloud subscription, and while it does a lot more than the Express app, it’s still missing many of the features that professional users expect from the desktop version.
Say No to iPad Photography
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: iPad photography needs to stop.
The device is too large and heavy to be held steady. It’s also too fragile, and there’s a terrifyingly-high chance of dropping it. The screen is hard to view in direct sunlight, the camera is mediocre, and you just look plain stupid doing it.
Just don’t. If your rationale is that your photography skills don’t warrant investing in a professional camera, then get a point-and-shoot. Or just pull out your smartphone: it will yield better results.
Apple’s mobile devices all include cameras, but those on recent iPhones are vastly superior to what you’ll get on even the most expensive iPad. Wide-angle lenses, optical zoom, and image stabilization are just three features you won’t find on the latest iPads.
The Flip Side
Of course, there are two sides to any story, and for every skeptic, we have a fan. We’ve run stories in the past on people who would never dream of leaving their iPad at home, whether on a trip to Africa or even as a work tool. I have met frequent travelers who carry a smartphone, MacBook, and iPad all at once and say the tablet is the device they use most.
I’d argue, though, that these travelers would have had a much better experience with a different device. A phone would have been much easier to conceal in an unsafe area, whether that’s somewhere in Africa or any other part of the world.
In the case of digital nomads who work primarily on iPads, a MacBook Air would solve all of the problems with writing, adding links, editing photographs, and app availability and features, without adding much more bulk than an iPad Pro.
In the case of the travelers who carry an iPad as well as their smartphone and laptop, I am willing to bet that should their iPad be left behind, they wouldn’t actually miss it. Their other devices would cover all the tablet’s functions, with one less gadget to carry, charge, and worry about.
One of the few instances where I can see the point of carrying an iPad while working from the road is if your other devices run on Android or Windows. In this case, the iPad could give you access to iOS-only apps, such as FaceTime. Let’s face it, though, that’s not a common scenario.
For Regular Travelers
For those who are traveling without trying to work, my suggestion would be to pack a smartphone, camera, and Kindle. Most travelers carry a combination of these devices, and they cover almost any electronic needs that arise during a vacation.
Too Expensive and Fragile
iPads don’t make the best travel companions: they’re harder to carry than a phone, and flashy enough to attract unwanted attention. They’re also pretty fragile, and most iPad cases don’t protect the devices as well as their smartphone equivalents.
Travel isn’t easy on your gear, especially technology. While digital nomads may have learned (maybe the hard way) to take extra care of their technology, I’d advise regular travelers to just not bring anything particularly valuable and breakable with them. The iPad sits right near the top of that list.
The e-Reader Wars: Kindle vs. iPad
Many people have fully embraced the ebook trend, foregoing the weight of paper copies. iPads can certainly be used as e-readers (my mom does it all the time.)
However, if you are planning to use an iPad mainly for reading, I’d suggest you look into the Kindle options instead. These are largely dedicated to ebook use, with features focused specifically on enhancing the reading experience.
Amazon’s flagship model, the Kindle Oasis, has a glorious seven-inch screen, adaptive front light, waterproofing, and several weeks of battery life. The Paperwhite offers many of the same features for around half the price, and is our top Kindle pick for travelers as a result.
The iPad Pro range has larger screens and also includes an ambient light sensor, but with a mere 10-hour battery life, extra weight, and high price tag, they’re nowhere near as useful for serious readers. Smaller, less-powerful iPad models are cheaper, but you could still buy three or four Paperwhites for the money.
The Flip Side
In all honesty, if there is a market that could benefit from an iPad, it would be travelers that don’t work from the road and read a lot… but only if they don’t already own a smartphone or e-reader. In that case, an iPad could kill those two birds in one stone, albeit not do either job as well as a dedicated device.
For everyone else, though, the combination of smartphone, e-reader, and (optional) camera offers far better results for any travel-related task.
Avoiding Redundancy: What I Would Invest in Instead
An iPad is, pretty much, a bigger iPhone. If you are already own a laptop and a smartphone (especially if they are Apple-based), an iPad will offer you nothing new except a hole in your bank account, and a big, heavy gadget to find space for in your bag and try not to break.
My advice? Direct your hard-earned money towards another device that offers the same functionality as an iPad, but with added benefits.
If you work from the road, get a MacBook Air: it’s dramatically more useful, doesn’t weigh a whole lot more, and depending on which model of iPad you own, doesn’t even cost that much extra. Your eyes, fingers, and sanity will thank you.
If you are a regular traveler, invest in an iPhone: the 6.1-inch screen is a good size for any needs you might have in your trip — checking e-mail, browsing Google Maps, FaceTime, even reading a guidebook — and is much easier to carry and conceal.
Whichever you decide, you won’t be disappointed. Apple devices make excellent travel companions: the iPad just isn’t really one of them.
Do you own an iPad? Would you travel with one?
Images via DM (broken screen), Gary Denham (Photography), Yagan Kieli (Apple devices), Robert Scobler (iPad vs iPad 2)
I travel with an ipad, iphone and a micro 4/3s camera. As a solo traveller who moves every few days reviewing hotels, I’m very conscious of how much weight I’m carrying. My style of travelling is to go on trips about 5-6 weeks in length, though I’ve gone for 6 months with just that gear.
I agree that doing tons of detail work is easier on a laptop than an ipad. But having just the ipad on the road helps me focus on responding to email, taking notes and writing articles, rather than posting on my website etc (which is still possible, though slower).
I initially bought a portable keyboard, but quickly adapted to typing directly on the ipad, which I can do with speed and with no more errors than on a laptop.
I have an old MacBook Pro at home and I’m not keen to switch to an Air because of the hard drive space. As a photographer, I like to have access to all my photos without hooking up an external drive. I don’t do a lot of editing of photos anyway, I find it too time consuming regardless of the platform!
Hope this perspective is helpful to anyone contemplating laptop-less travel!
So happy to have more Apple-related articles on Too Many Adapters — thanks and looking foreward to more! 🙂
What a terrible article from start to finish.
Just reads like an unbalanced rant against iPads. I expect better from this site.
“Regular travellers” as opposed to digital nomads?!? Please. Give me a break. How very condescending.
“An iPad is, pretty much, a bigger iPhone. ” – no it’s not. Tried blogging on an iPhone?
I could go on, like the author, but I won’t.
Hi, i own an iPhone 6 Plus, an iPad and a MacBook. And i travel with my phone and the MacBook, that’s right. But your article sounds somekind of frustrated (sorry), it does sound like a very personal aversion against Tablets. Matter of fact is, that the iPad has won a lot of productivity power within the last 1-2 years (e.g. Microsoft Office) and the reserved space in my luggage for my MacBook isn’t as secure as it was the last years. I think, the article is not very balanced, it has a very negative touch, sorry to say that. Cheers
I find that the display of a guidebook is slightly better on my iPad Mini, due to the larger screen. On my upcoming trip, I am debating whether or not to bring the iPad for that reason.
I’d think that a lot of travelers have the same quandary, as even an iPad is lighter than carrying, say, two guidebooks. And much as I love the Kindle for reading fiction, it is a little frustrating for something that I want to flip back and forth through.
I have to agree with you. I own a Nexus 7, but I consider it such a waste of money as I never use it. Occasionally I might use it to read an e-magazine or textbook, but it’s not long before I get frustrated with the small screen and end up using my laptop anyway, and I would never again take it travelling. I travel with a Macbook Air, smartphone, hard drive, camera and kindle. I wish it didn’t weigh so much (about 2.7kg including cables), but it encompasses everything I need without causing frustration.
I work from the road and find my iPad mini to be a nice break from my 11″ laptop. For me, laptop = work, iPad = leisure. If I feel like reading in bed, for example, the iPad mini is much more accommodating to any contortion I might be in.
If I want the freedom to do a little bit of work when I’m out and about, but don’t feel like lugging my laptop, my wonderful cover/keyboard combo works most excellently. Lucky for me, the nature of my work allows this option. Not every digital nomad requires the same software referred to in the article.
The day I bought my iPad mini was a small luxury and reward to continue to live comfortably from the road. I’m personally not into big phones. But if that’s what works for you, then it’s great that the convenience is there.
I’ve tried traveling with my iPad, but found that it added nothing to my experience. I still needed my laptop, and since it’s a MacBook Air, it’s just as easy to transport as my iPad. In fact, I find I seldom use my iPad at all, except when I want to do something and my laptop needs recharging or to play certain games that are not available on the laptop.
Why I will always travel with an iPad
I have enjoyed your blogs and was very surprised by this one. I have an iPad Mini and absolutely love it. My husband and I are travelling for a year after retiring early and getting rid of everything. We share a MacBook Pro, each have iPhones, I have the mini and he has a normal size iPad. We aren’t working on the road but love to be connected. I understand that I can do most things on the phone that I do on the iPad but I’m older and the phone is too small, therefore I use the iPad to read,watch Netflix, email, Facebook, call family, search for airfares and accommodation etc. I really like the size because I can lay in bed, be really lazy and do all of these things. So iPad Mini is a must for me and my husband plans to get one too, as I rave about it so much. Maybe I could do all of that on a cheaper tablet but the connectivity of Macs to all devices makes it so much easier.
This was really interesting article. It was really nice to read something honest about Apple devices and not just that apple fan stuff where you need at least 3 apple product to travel.
I’m a photographer and I could never think iPad as a only device. I really need laptop with me and I used to travel with MacBook Air but not I have changed to Dell XPS 13″ and only thing I regret is that I didn’t move to Dell earlier.
I still have my iPad but I’m not going to take it with me anymore for my travels because it was pretty much useless now a days when I have my LG G4 smartphone.
Interesting view point. I certainly agree on the point regarding iPad photography. Although tablets, particularly the iPad are an ideal companion for the traveller I find. As an ESL teacher in China I can’t get access to English books and now we have the iPad Pro with more computing power it might well be a good choice.
Sure it can’t do everything but it will at least do most tasks from Email to Skype. I don’t have an iPhone as I find the iPad a far more useful tool. Pair it with a wifi mirrorless camera to view all those shots.
I have a Samsung Note 5 and that has eliminated my need for an Ipad. I sold my Ipad 2 and never looked back. with Swiftkey, typing is so fast i can do amazing work right from there. I also have a foldable blue tooth keyboard in case I’m working longer.
Thanks for complementing my own thoughts. I am a regular business traveler, and a leisure traveler as much as I can be. Although I didn’t jump on the iPad due to cost, our field staff were using Samsung tablets and pleased with them. So I bought an older Samsung with a Group on. Glad I got a good deal, as I so rarely use it now. After frustration with even email on it, it pretty much became my Kindle. I used it once for pictures after I dropped my iPhone 5 in a glacial river in Peru….. dead. Pulled out the Samsung, but was just too awkward. NOW with my iPhone 6 Plus, I use the Kindle app on that. I’ve even watched some movies that I didn’t care about the quality/size of the video so much. So pretty much, for business I’m laptop/iPhone. For leisure, iPhone/tablet for long plane ride movies and maybe map research in the hotel.
I too would never travel solely with a tablet if I intended to do any work or video/photo editing. A laptop although heavier is just much more flexible, more powerful, and has less compromises.
When I need to travel light I leave my Macbook Pro at home just take an old 11″ Air. Still more powerful than most tablets with the benefit of running fully fledged applications rather than cut down versions.
Don’t get me wrong, tablets will work fine for many, just not for me. The closest i’d consider would be the MS surface Pro 4, but then I need OSX, for Final Cut.
I’ve never had an ipad or decent tablet but wouldn’t they be good watching watching video on flights or trains? When the phone screen is too small or you don’t want to waste battery but there’s not really enough room to get out a laptop?
Interesting article. However, for leisure I don’t need my MacBook Air in fact I am tired of carrying it. Yet I cannot review/change family flight/accommodation plans on an e-reader and it’s way too small a screen on my iPhone. The iPad Mini is perfect for travel, you can surf the net for the best bistro, you can read magazine and books, you can book/change family flight plans, etc. There is no comparison of any laptop to an iPad mini for size and weight. The only thing it can’t beat is an old book when you want to leave it on a beach chair for a walk – the book likely won’t get stolen.
I’m an expat permanent retired displacee. I don’t work on the road. I’ve picked up a dual SIM ZenPad 8 this trip for $230 in Kuala Lumpur. So far it Rocks. I can hold it for calls, put it in my pocket, stay online all day without resenting the size. Big enough to enjoy videos, speakers loud enough on their own. up to 128 gig micro as card. Phones are too small for me to enjoy the internet. 8″ phablet is a great compromise. Phone, Kindle, Canon S90, Zen all disappear in my Royal Robbins travel vest.
This is such clickbait but I agree with you just for the expense of the device. My phone is my phone and does everything and more that a tablet does…. Except! Display large format PDFs and comic books! (For that I use the incredibly less expensive and arguably more durable kindle fire hd 8 or 10). These fire tablets are better all the way around except the screen is… Maybe less pretty than the equivalent iPad… But for under $150 for the 10 inch fire hd 10… Idk… What’s the point of the iPad? The pen/pencil thing for writing notes perhaps… But my handwriting is awful so I’ve never thought twice about it as that doesn’t apply to me.