I have wide range of options available to me when it comes to technology (as in: what technology to take with me to Russia), and then a bunch of constraints. (Money, of all things, isn’t really one of them – with one caveat that I note below. But generally, whatever ends up being the best option, I’m happy to spend what it takes to buy it.)
Basically, I’m starting from pretty much zero*, and trying to put together a suite of technology that will best suit me.
Because it’s 2016, this will most likely end up being some combination of:
- a handheld mobile device (phone)
- a larger mobile device (tablet)
- a fully-functional device (laptop)
The constraints and other thoughts, listed (very) roughly from most- to least-important. With the exception of the first couple, none are deal-breakers, but they are things to consider:
- Everything obvs. needs to be small and light enough to carry on the bike for 6 months... and stick inside a ziplock bag or something to make waterproof when necessary. No lugging around massive desktops!
- I want something with decent battery power. Like, potentially a couple days’ worth. Who knows how long/far I will end up having to go between power outlets? Yes yes, I could just do without computers for some of that time, but ehh.
Now having said that, we do have at work a solar panel array that clips onto a backpack which we have used in the field to power our tablets with a good deal of success. They can power a 7" tablet more or less indefinitely (at least, one being used ~8h per day, reasonably intensively). I am very seriously considering buying one of those to take with me.
- I want to be able to use (at least one of) the above (preferably one with a “real” keyboard) to talk to the world. Which is to say: update my blog, etc. When I went across South America in 2011, I was able to use internet cafés, but I don’t know how common those will be in Russia, and I also don’t want to deal with the hassle, to the extent I can avoid it. Basically, the rough plan is to buy SIM cards with data as I go along, and throw them into the phone (or whichever device has telephony — setting up a local wifi LAN if needed to actually do the updating on the device with keyboard and bigger screen). My understanding is that’s very doable and reasonably cheap (data in Russia is “expensive” depending on who you talk to, but by all accounts it is still WAY cheaper than Canada — so only expensive by “developing nation” standards — and I don’t actually intend to use it all that much, if I can avoid... although how to what extent alternatives exist remains to be seen). Either way, will need one device with telephony, that is not locked into a Canadian provider.
- I will have a GoPro camera with me that clips on to the bike (a first for me!) that I expect to be using to take some video to add to the blog. Which means I will need to be able to plug it in and transfer video. Which in turn means that whatever I have will need to have USB ports, and be able to support whatever the hell driver GoPro has (officially: Windows and MacOS; unofficially: I have yet to investigate). [On previous trips I have lugged along a separate dedicated still camera, but I expect the ones built into the phones are now good enough that I won’t need that duplication.]
- There are a couple of apps that I know I will want (things like offline dictionaries, offline maps, etc.). The offline part of that is super-important. I may very well be without the possibility of connectivity for long periods of time. Especially at times when the dictionary is essential (pleading my case with a police officer?). I will have a paper dictionary for backup, but still. Some of those apps really are best implemented in “app” form. They may/may not have desktop equivalents, but the latter are often inferior after-thoughts. At the same time, there are some things for which I probably will want a full-on desktop. Or will be seriously gnashing my teeth on some occasion when I find myself without.
- As much as I hate to admit it, I am somewhat “bought into” the iOS ecosystem. Having had iThings for 5 or 6 years now, there are a lot of the aforementioned apps that I have already paid some good money for, and don’t particularly want to re-buy. (Yes, I said I don’t care about cost. This has more to do with principle / loss-aversion / etc. Psychology, mang.) There’s also something to be said for comfort level. I have a better feel for what’s available for iOS. Also, our aforementioned tablets at work are Android, and as much as I want to like them, I... don’t really. At least not as much as I do iOS. What can I say? What Apple does best (locking you in), they do really really well!
- My friend Leanne brought up an interesting point, which is that I may want to avoid tying myself to an external service (such as Google) that isn’t 100% friendly with the Russian government, and may be susceptible to arbitrary lockouts. In practice I don’t think it’s such a huge concern, but something to keep in mind. iOS seems to be less tightly coupled to Apple services than Android is to Google, and Apple is on less antagonistic terms with the Russians. But eh.
- Cost and ease of replacement
ifwhen stolen. I am basically expecting to get mugged and have everything stolen at some point. (Hopefully not, but plan for the worst, etc.). This may include my bike and my clothes, but will almost definitely include any electronics. This is the only place where “cost” is really factoring in. If I spend $5k or whatever only to have everything stolen within the first week, I will be a tad grumpy. Along similar lines, to what extent would it be easier or cheaper to just buy everything on arrival in Vladivostok, fresh off the boats coming over from Japan???
- Said muggers may or may not come in the form of customs officers. Either coming into the country or leaving at the other end. I don’t think any of this stuff will be particularly problematic getting through customs, but the Russian таможенная has a bit of a reputation for being picky about what they allow you to bring into the country. Old (Soviet, etc.) habits die hard. (At least I’m not going to China, & won’t have to worry quite as much about them installing spyware on my systems, tho’ I may still want to do a bit of a wipe after I leave.) Again a question of: will it be easier and/or cheaper just to buy once I get there? (Granted, a few minutes’ of research can probably answer the “cost” part of that question, to be sure.)
- I... don’t want to (have to) jailbreak my device? I don’t entirely know why, but the idea makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never jailbroken any of my devices in the past, and am rather happy to continue that way. I know, It’s sumb. *shrug*)
- And FINALLY, for the phone at least, I want something small. This is a silly little nitpicky thing (hence coming last) but part of the reason I’m still on an iPhone 4 is that I really don’t like the larger form factors. Every time I pick one up and hold it, I just get an instant “ugh” reaction. The iPhone 5SE is looking somewhat intriguing, for that reason if no other.
SO. I could go for 3 devices: an oldschool dumb phone**, a mini (7") tablet, and a straight up lightweight laptop. That’s one possibility.
But I’m leaning more towards a phone and a “super tablet.”
By “super tablet” I mean a Surface Pro.
Yeah. Microsoft. I know. Blah blah blah. Whatever.
I’ve played around with them a bit in the store and I’m actually pretty impressed. The main downside seems to be the battery life – or lack thereof (compared to some other tablets). But it’s definitely not the end of the world.
And the phone? Sigh. The aforementioned iPhone 5SE, maybe? If I can get one in the short period between when they come out and when I leave? Another possibility (also mentioned by Leanne) is the OnePlus... which seems pretty darn cool. Although I don’t know too much beyond what’s mentioned on their website.
Internet, give me your thoughts!
* So my cats used my laptop as a trampoline back in, like, last May or so, and cracked the screen. So I’ve been without a home computer ever since. I have my old grindy clanky hardware-from-ca.2002 server, and my long-in-the-tooth iPhone 4, and that’s it. Meaning that in practical terms, I really am starting from zero. Whatever I get, is not just for this trip; it would be nice if it were able to serve me for another couple of years, at least - e.g.: through my subsequent return to school. If I can install ArcGIS on the more-powerful of the devices, that would be such a goddamned bonus, you have no idea.
** I do still have my cheap-ass Nokia 105 that I bought in South Africa the Christmas before last for all of $15 after I lost my “primary” flip phone. I’m totally taking that with me – perfect as a backup.