Out in the boonies, your net-connected phone or computer can be your best work-mate.
But phones are too small, and computers too power-hungry. The new generation of tablets could be the ideal productivity tool for many off-gridders.
With the right tech choices, you’ll be able to do all the usual – send emails, stream video, run multiple programs, but also edit video, run spreadsheets, work from home AND have a family asset that will let kids do homework while granny searches the family tree and Dad watches Netflix.
So here is what we tested:
Apple iPad Mini
Best for content creators
* The 7.9-by-5.3-inch iPad Mini remains a favorite after nearly a year, thanks to the easy-to-use interface, the longest battery life, and the largest selection of quality apps. We loved the preloaded Photo app, which automatically organizes pics in smart groupings and is built for sharing select “streams” with friends and family. Apple’s free iMovie app provides simple tools to edit and build HD movies with cinematic transitions and impressive effects.
* The Mini returned best-in-class battery life, netting 14 hours of nonstop activity from one charge and up to 30 hours of battery life during light use. The Mini’s 5-megapixel iSight camera is superior. Like the Galaxy, it has built-in autofocus and records in 1080p HD video. But it also sports an infrared filter which helps cancel out digital noise and boost image fidelity. The 360 Panorama app,creates an immersive, Google Street View-style image. Then have a custom topo map sent right from the app using MyTopo’s map builder. Cool feature: Apple’s new Maps app for desktop computers syncs with the iPad’s Maps app, which bridges front-and backcountry use. Get directions, 3D views, and satellite imagery.
Ding: The screen resolution lags slightly behind the Samsung. $329/16 GB, $429/32 GB, $529/64 GB (Wi-Fi, non-retina version tested); 10.8 oz.; apple.com
* Lifeproof Fre with portfolio cover
This svelte tablet wrapper is the big cousin to the iPhone case. The snap-together, rubbersealed sleeve is immune to water, the clumsiest thick-thumbed users, and the rowdiest toddlers, but it’s spendy. $100 (case), $40 (cover); 12.1 oz. (case & cover); lifeproof.com
Try 360 Panorama
Use this app to stitch together multiple images into a high-resolution panorama. Just hit record and pan up-down-and-around to capture vistas. $1; occipital.com/3G0/app
If Instagram and Foursquare met at REI and fell in love, this would be their offspring. Yonder uses your location to find nearby adventures and connect like-minded off-gridders, plus lets you upload and geotag images with a range of filters, free; yonder.it
Best for bargain hunters
Why we liked it
* For about the cost of a pair of light trainers, score a solar-panel-friendly Android tablet that packs front- and rear-facing cameras (5- and 1-megapixels, respectively), plus a microSD slot that offers flexibility to expand the memory. For a first-time tablet user, the ease of operation and low price make this an ideal entry-level device.
* Despite its discount price, the MeMo isn’t chintzy. And for bulk-conscious tiny home dwellers, the petite size (7.7-by-4.7 inches) is ideal (think cargo pocket). To switch from photo and email to social apps while on the go, the options ring pops up from the home button. Just hold your finger on top of the home icon for a split second, and a set of app and widget shortcuts opens.
Though it has the smallest screen here, with the lowest pixel count (1,240-by-600), you still get great imagery on interactive apps, and you could scrawl handwritten notes (with finger or a stylus) using the preloaded SuperNote app.” Some of the budget-price sacrifices include the 1-megapixel, rear-facing camera, which captures somewhat grainy images, the shortest battery life in this summary (about eight hours while running GPS), and a sluggish processor that loads apps slowly and bogs down while streaming videos. But in the end, this tablet delivers killer performance for the price. $149 (Wi-Fi only; no 3G option); 12.6 oz.; For an extra $100 – get a bigger screen and better resolution
Slim Folio Book
Get a bargain case to go with your bargain tablet. This simple faux-leather hardback case, while basic and not weather-sealed (for cheap waterproofing, grab a zip-top bag), still kept the MeMO secure from low-impact drops and dings. Bonus: A loop on the side holds a slim stylus (included). $13; 3.2 oz.; i-Blason.com
Give your photos a creative boost with more than 40 filters and six effects that style photos with pro-level treatments without the expense of Photoshop software. We liked the fisheye setting for detail shots, free; fxcamera.com
Google Sky Map
Point your tablet skyward and this app finds your location and display stars, planets, and deep-sky objects from the Hubble Space Telescope. The red display preserves night vision, free; google.com/mobile/ skymap
* KML Keyhole Markup Language: This data format allows you to view GPS tracks, waypoints, and multimedia on a Google Earth map. Perfect for enabling visitors to find you easily, or making notes on how to visit your off-grid friends
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Best for map junkies
Why we love it
* A unique, stylus-based text-entry system mimics real handwriting, letting you draw accurate, preplanned routes, create interactive lists and notes, and zoom around with precision. Nav geeks raved over the Note 8’s paperback size (8.3-by-5.4 inches), which offers the most screen real estate in the test.
In the workroom
“The large screen was key – you may be converted from a die-hard GPS navigator to a tablet fan-thanks to the Note 8. Credit the best, most pixel-rich screen (1,280-by-800), which allows for crisper zooming. If you are a compulsive journaler, use the included stylus and the preloaded S Note app for hand-drawn notations .
Google’s My Tracks app logs tracks and drop waypoints, and the tablet runs 12 hours with the GPS enabled before the battery needs a charge. (General runtime ran about 15 hours of light use.) We appreciated Android built-in “widget” system that places small, working versions of apps like mail, social and news sites for at-a-glance viewing and composing without needing to open the full app. The microSD slot offers expandable memory for saving large photos and video. One drawback: The 5-megapixel camera occasionally produced blown-out photos in low light. $399/16 GB (WiFi), $499/16 GB (3G); 12 oz.; samsung.com
Otterbox Defender Galaxy Note 8
* Get relatively light, affordable protection with this hard plastic shell and integrated screen cover. The Defender encases your j tablet in shock-and water- j resistant armor. $70; 8 oz.; otterbox.com
Find the tablet that’s right for you.
Apple iPad Mini
$329-$529 10.8 oz.
Battery life *: 3 Crux: If you’re already an Apple user, this is the one for you.
ASUS MeMo PadHD
$149 12.6 oz.
Battery life: 1 Crux: Solid performance at a bargain hunter’s price
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
$399-$499 12 oz.
Battery life: 2 Crux: Boasts the biggest screen and best custom Android apps
* Based on a 1 to 3 scale: 1=weakest, 3=best in test
Maximize battery life 1) Dim screen brightness; 2) turn off notifications; and 3) shut down apps running in the background.
Juice your tablet anywhere
Mophie Powerstation Pro
For its pocket-friendly size, this rugged, impact- and splash-resistant battery packs a punch, with 6,000 mAh * of juice that powered up an iPad Mini from 10 to 95 percent in three-and-a-half hours. It slides into the smallest of backpacks thanks to its smartphone-size dimensions. Critique: We wished they had two USB ports to charge multiple devices. Great for shorter trips, as it does not recharge in the field. $100; 12.7 oz.; mophie.com
2 [Weekend warrior] Solio Xcellerator + Hub
Solio’s combo of the Xcellerator, a highly packable solar panel, and Hub, a 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery, can keep any tablet juiced up indefinitely. We plugged the Asus directly into the Xcellerator and went from 30 percent to full in four hours (on a sunny day). The panel collected enough energy to fully recharge the Hub after five hours. $100; 9.5 oz. (both devices); solio.com
3 [Expedition power] Bushnell POWERSYNC SolarBook 850
For the long-workday, this five-solar-panel, 2,200 mAh dual lithium-ion power pack helps reduce clutter by folding up into its own hardshell case, and the four-light display made for easy tracking of power consumption. Two USB ports let you charge two devices during breaks; A four-hour recharge for the power pack in direct sun. Once it was topped off, we were able to juice up our half-full Galaxy Note 8 in three hours, and then we netted two smartphone charges when they were at 25 percent power. Bonus: The case can double as a carrier for your tablet. Ding: price. $357; 24 oz.; bushnell.com
Upgrade any tablet with these smart gadgets
1 [Tablet harness] Otterbox Utility Series Latch II 7-8 inch
Keep your tablet handy for on-the-go and more with this dedicated carrier. Simply lock in your device via four rubberized corner hooks, and then you can choose your carrying method. Affix the strap to sling it over your shoulder for a messenger bag-like carry or clip it to your pack with the included Nite Ize S-Biner. The accessory pouch doubles as a handgrip and stand for viewing when you’re not in motion. One gripe: The corner hook concealed the camera (it has to be removed to take a picture). The Latch II fits around the Otterbox and Lifeproof cases in this test, making it an ideal complement for a rugged case. $40 (with accessory kit); 2.7 oz.; otterbox.com
2 [Cable maintenance] Nite Ize Cable Organizers
Gadgets mean cords, and cords mean tangles. These rubber-coated, bendable wires help corral stray cables and accessories and keep them from knotting while in your pack’s toplid. We found the 3-inch ties best for headphones, the 6-inch ties worked well with tablet chargers and GPS cables, and the 12-inch ties were ideal for laptop cords. 3″ $5 for pack of 4 (.07 oz. each); 6″ $5 for pack of 2 (.11 oz. each); 12″ $5 for pack of 2 (.42 oz. each); niteize.com
3 [Budget sound boost] Amplifiear
This hockey-puck-size plastic dish slides onto the corner of a tablet and directs sound waves forward, boosting sound quality often drowned out by background noise. It’s about as low-f i as it gets for a tech product, but the simplicity is a virtue. Just apply one of the included foam pads to give the concave dish some footing, and your tablet will be amplified up to 10 decibels without any battery drain or Bluetooth connectivity. $25; 3 oz.; theamplifiear.com
4 [Stylus] Cosmonaut
This light-but-sturdy stylus not only helped ease cramped, tap-fatigued hands, but also allowed us to draw freehand in apps like Evernote’s Penultimate and Samsung’s S Note. The soft-tipped pen also aided in swiping through menus and selecting buttons. $25; 2.1 oz; studioneat.com
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