Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Ultimate Netbook?

Despite seemingly living in the day of tablets (and not the kind you pop into your mouth to make you feel better - or transport you into brave new worlds) I think we can all agree that said gadgets do not make a perfect travel companion for the wo/men who wants to have all their data close at hand at all times.

And no, the cloud doesn't really cut it either - as everyone who found themselves on the wrong side of the base station antenna, a roaming agreement, or a ridiculously expensive hotel WiFi can attest to.

Think of carrying a portable hard disk with all your stuff on it? Think again. It's cumbersome to keep up to date. It's cumbersome to haul in your baggage. It's even more cumbersome to keep tethered to your main device - especially if that device is a tablet which usually means jumping through hoops to treat external storage as naturally as if it were internal.

Oh, and did I mention you may also need to bring an external keyboard should you wish to type any significant amount of text?

Add all this together and you actually have all the workings of a humble little netbook, a format that flourished some years ago and now almost extinct. And wouldn't it be nice to have a, say, 10 inch little laptop with decent CPU, a moderate amount of RAM, and a hard disk (or, even better, an SSD) that can hold all the data you may ever need on your travels (or, for that matter, in your own bed or a sofa). If it could also become a tablet on demand - so much the better, eh?

Hey! Lo and behold: you actually can!

Enter Asus T100A-DX066H - a 10 inch tablet with detachable keyboard, sporting an Intel Atom Z3775 CPU running at respectable 1.46 GHz, with 2GB ofRAM, and - wait for it - a 500GB hard disk, a real proper spinning kind, 9.5mm thin SATA job. It runs Windows 8.1 and has a touch screen, too. Pretty much exactly what I described above, right? But it gets better: the hard disk is not only easy to replace (think a few screws and opening and closing the keyboard part - which has pretty much no other key components to break, either), but replacing it won't void your warranty.

So, if your storage requirements are like mine, and especially if you have similar hard drives knocking about your drawers already (like I do) you can easily beef this little fellow up to, say, 1TB SSD or even go wild and have it with 2TB spinning rust disk instead. Now, the only other thing you need to sort out is making sure your main machine is nicely cloud connected and/or backed up on-line and then install the required clients on the T100 to have mirror your stuff whenever it is connected to a sufficiently fast (and cheap!) Internet pipe.

For the latter part I heartily recommend any or all of the following: Dropbox, Google Drive, Insync, and Crash Plan. Of course, if you are that way inclined (and do not run Linux as your main OS) there's always OneDrive from the Beast (these days, by the way, very seriously on the way to Beauty side of the spectrum). Have these all properly wired up and connected, and live through the pain of initial sync (it will take days, trust me) and you will end up with an almost perfect mirror of your digital world that you can take with you literally everywhere. A win, if ever I saw one.

A word of caution, though: you will have to make sure you power up and connect your T100 to a decent data pipe often enough for its storage to be a reasonably up to date copy of your main data repositories. You will also have to make sure you carefully partition your data on the T100 if you want to use it as a tablet as well, since the hard disk stays with the keyboard and the tablet part has a meagre 32GB (~10GB usable when everything is installed) of SSD storage. This can be bolstered with a MicroSD card of up to 256GB, but again, anything above this will have to remain with the keyboard half. Personally, I don't find this limiting, but caveat emptor.

One last word before I leave you to ponder the possibilities which, albeit not endless, must be quite tempting - even if you decide not to bother upping the hard drive capacity and/or speed. Yes, I mean the pesky Windows 8.1 that comes pre-installed and hard to get rid of. Yes, I would very much like to be able to easily boot it off and have a nice, lean, Linux distro instead (Xubuntu Core, I'm looking at you). But, on the flip side, one does, on occasion, have a need for a Windows machine and since this T100 should have by now become a Mini-Me of your main PC - whatever OS that runs - having it run an alternative, even if inferior, OS can almost be seen as a plus.

So, there you have it: if you were looking for your ideal digital travel companion I don't think you can go wrong with the T100, especially modded and kitted out as outlined above. Add to it a decent smarthphone (how about this One), a smartwatch (this one's nice), and why not a decent compact digital camera (fine example here) and your travels will become that much better and more pleasurable - and all for a modest price (unless you opt for a 1TB SSD, of course) and all fitting in a surprisingly small volume.

Happy travels!