A main part of this trip has been to write down our experiences.
While a paper journal is effective, it didn’t give us the opportunity to quickly share our adventures with family and friends. Moreover, a journal can be easily lost while a digital document can be easily backed up.
With size, weight, and portability being the main feature set, I set out on a quest to find the perfect portable computer for long-term travels. The introduction of the eePC a year prior had produced a variety of competition which seemed to flood the market about the time I started looking.
The main choices I considered were the Lenovo S10, the Acer AspireOne, and the HP miniNote (after playing around with the eePC I found the keyboard far too small for my big, clumsy fingers).
After much debate, I decided on the Lenovo S10 since both the Acer and the HP decided to put the mouse click buttons to the sides of the trackpad instead of under (this annoyed me to no end).
I found a deal on an S10e that I couldn’t pass up, so I took the plunge. Please note that this model is not to be confused with the S10.
To start, here are the specifications of the machine:
10.1 inch screen
1.6Ghz Atom Processor
80GB Hard Disk
Express Card Slot
1.3 megapixel webcam
2 USB, 1 VGA, 1 SD, 1 10/100 BaseT Ethernet
1024×576 Max Resolution
When I received the S10e, I was a little disappointed to find out that the vertical resolution was smaller than that of a regular S10 (coming in at 576 pixels instead of the normal 600). Now, 24 pixels doesn’t sound like much, but when you are dealing with such a small screen, it is crucial. Those missing pixels are almost the width of the Windows start bar. Apparently, this was the reason for the price difference and the ‘e’ modification to the name.
Aside from the resolution, I found this machine to be quite zippy for the specs. However, 512MB was a bit meager for RAM so I decided to upgrade. Within a week of receiving the Lenovo, I bought a 2GB chip and find out that, due to limitations of the atom processor, the machine can only make use of 2GB. That was fine with me though, as 2GB is more than enough for the typical backpacker’s uses. Since I was going to be on the road quite a bit, I also upgraded the battery from the standard 3-cell to a more accomodating 6-cell.
The S10e comes standard with a WindowsXP Home installation, so I was able to easily install a copy of OpenOffice.org, as well as Skype, and a handful of other useful applications. I have to admit the bundled software was a bit skimpy, but I was very happy with the inclusion of Lenovo’s Internet Connection utility. This utility is, IMO, the best internet manager available on WindowsXP. It allowed me to quickly find and connect to my home network as well as establish profiles for new locations, all with an easy-to-use interface.
As far as performance goes, I have been able to watch standard and high-definition h.264 video (the format used in typical iTunes video purchases) without problems. I have also been able to encode videos for our iPods, albeit at a much slower rate than with our Macbook, but still in an acceptable amount of time.
Battery life is also decent with the upgraded 6-cell battery. I have found that you could easily watch LoTR: The Two Towers, surf the internet for 4 hours on a LAN connection, or surf the internet wirelessly for 3.5 hours before exhausting the battery. During those long train rides and massive journal entries I have found the machine to last almost 5.5 hours on a single charge if I use the power saving mode (screen brightness to 0 and CPU clock speed set to 800Mhz).
While on the road, this machine has done quite a bit of heavy lifting, and far more than the average backpacker’s computer. As a long-term backpacker, I think the Lenovo S10 (or S10e) is a great fit to my lifestyle. It is small, has a decent battery life, and the screen size is big enough for writing emails, checking rss feeds, writing journal entries, tweeting, and of course internet surfing.
I have been able to connect wirelessly (or wired) for video interviews, skype phone calls, and google talk conversations limited only by the bandwith of my connection. When the connection is good, my video is flawless and the sound is pristine. This is a huge selling point for families back home wishing to see their faraway backpacker.
I have written hundreds of pages of articles, watched movies, played games, and have even developed software on the little netbook, all with no problem. If you are looking to become a long-term backpacker, I would suggest the Lenovo S10e, or any netbook as a cheap utility to keep you connected, and I would say it is definitely a must-have for any long-term traveler who wants to maintain a travel blog.
Bring or don’t bring?: BRING