Were I looking to replace heavy old guide books, what would I use? For anyone traveling beyond a single region, guide books can be a very real problem. They’re expensive and heavy, plus if you’re any fun at all your plans may change. Who wants to spontaneously end up in Cuba with a kilo of Japan guide books? Not this gaijin. Which leads us to the question — what is the best option for replacing heavy old guide books with nimble digital info? If you have specialized needs, then this question may not be relevant, but for the average sucker out on the road with a backpack that is already too heavy, can you save some weight and drama by instead using a tablet?
Were I making this decision right this minute, I would buy an Android tablet and use Google’s eBookstore. I wouldn’t buy any of the eReader products (Kindle, Nook, etc) as they are too single purpose. A tablet device will let you read ebooks, but also let you use full colour web browsing, photo viewing, use a zillion apps, and all that other crap you expect to be able to do on a great phone or netbook. Plus the all important maps. When a guide book isn’t available you can at least use the browser on a tablet to search for the info and maps you need. Whereas with an e-reader you’re just stuck.
The selection of available guide books on the Google store is about the same as Kindle. The same publishers are too thick to offer all of their titles universally on all platforms — looking at you Lonely Planet. Feature wise, Google’s store is quite cool. Unlimited storage (not like this is realistically a problem for anyone) and you can access your books from anywhere and any device. Launching at 3 million titles, there’s plenty to read. Plus they have the option to search for free books, which is fantastic. There are heaps of classic books that are available for free thanks to expired copyrights. For the budget traveler this is a gold mine of saved cash. The key parts though are the universal accessibility, and the ease of use/access from it being Google.
Why Android and not an iPad? When traveling in unpredictable situations you need as much flexibility in your electronics as possible. Apple products are very restrictive when it comes to their control of content on your product and accessing more content. Android is the most used mobile platform, is universally accessible and grants much more freedom to the user.
Why not a netbook? Really there isn’t anything wrong with just using a good little netbook. I just like the form and function of tablets. They’re comfy to hold for reading, they pack nicely, and you look like an intergalactic scientist while using one.
The downsides to using a tablet instead of an e-reader? Mostly just battery life. There is no way that any tablet can come even close to the battery life of a Kindle. Tablets are also a little heavier, and the screens aren’t as easy on the eye for a prolonged reading time as the Kindle. I used a Kindle for a year and looked at how well they replace guide books here.
When giving up precious space in your backpack it’s important to consider how many purposes an item serves. The more multi-purpose an item is, the more likely it is to be worth the space in your pack. Which is the premise that got me to this whole guide book replacement theme in the first place. Whatever you ultimately choose, just consider if it’s as much like a Swiss army knife as it can be.