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Can you travel without a computer, and just take an iPhone?

By July 23, 2008travel, websites

Home pageAs I mentioned in previous posts, I decided not to take my computer with me on my trip to Panama. One reason (although not the only one) was wanting to see how hard it would be to do what I normally do with a laptop. I learned a lot about the possibilities and limitations, and so here is what I found out.

Going through TSA security is slightly less stressful when you don’t have to deal with a laptop. No worries about losing it, or about mis-handling it, and no need to grab a tub for the laptop.

I had no trouble getting my email because there were lots Wi-Fi spots at my brother’s house in the city and at the beach. One email I received required me to review a PDF and approve the contents, which I was able to do because the iPhone can open PDF attachments. It also can open Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files, but I didn’t have to work with any of those formats.

Responding to email was pretty easy too. I have my gMail account enabled for IMAP and I have my iPHone set up to use the IMAP settings, which was nice. If I deleted an email on the iPhone, or marked it as Spam, that flowed up to my online gmail account. So when I returned home and used my computer to check email my inbox was not overflowing with junk, or things that I had already responded to.

I have already mentioned that AT&T screwed up and failed to enable my phone to used Internationally. The funny thing is the representative I initially talked to when I was making sure it was ready to work in Panama was very helpful and seemed sharp. Next time I go to Panama I’m going to get a cheap phone with a local SIM card to make local calls, and to receive calls from anywhere.

TruPhoneSomething is still very wrong with the traditional phone companies like AT&T. I was willing to pay the extra $5.99 per month just to be able to make expensive calls in Panama. They have senseless roadblocks, so I wound up using a service called TruPhone to make cheap phone calls using my iPhone and the free Wi-Fi. On the second to last day I used the TruPhone application to call AT&T and ask them to turn the International service on. I was bounced around and offered all kinds of complicated options, until I pointedly insisted that they ‘just turn on International service before my low cost, and somewhat unreliable VOIP service, phone dropped the call.’

TruPhone’s free iPhone application is still pretty buggy, but when it works the voice quality is pretty clear. And setting it up is a lot easier than trying to get AT&T’s service activated. Can you imagine if you had to pay Mastercard or Visa an extra fee to use your credit card in a foreign country?

It was strange that I could easily use my iPhone to do email, surf the web, post to my blog, take pictures and assorted other conveniences. But I couldn’t use it to make phone calls because activating international service on AT&T is almost as complicated as filing a 1040 Tax return.

TruPhone was a very convenient, although very buggy, app to have on my iPhone. From that experience alone I gained insight into the very promising future of the iPhone. There are several applications that completely replace some other gadget in my life, to the point that I no longer need the other gadget.

Guitar tuner appThe Guitar Toolkit has replaced my Korg tuner, which was a $25 tool. The Guitar application cost $9.99 and comes with a Metronome. I also downloaded an application called QuickVoice, which is a basic voice recorder. It’s not as robust as my Olympus WS-110, but it works fine and it’s always with me. Also, the Jott application (which is free) lets you dictate notes that get uploaded and transcribed for free.

TypePad Blog App: this was the main tool that allowed me to blog from my iPhone. The app is very simple and elegant. It is designed to let you use photos in your iPhone (those you sync from your computer, or those you take with the iPhone camera) in your blog posts. It’s a little tricky to type lengthy passages on the iPhone, but it can be done. Unfortunately, I found out that the TypePad blog app is very buggy and any post of more than a line or two was at serious risk of getting stuck in a state of limbo: you couldn’t upload it and you couldn’t copy it to move it to the web-based Typepad application. So, for now, I’d say that the TypePad blog application is a largely useless tool with a very pleasant interface.

OmniFocusThe OmniFocus application is great! It synchronizes with MobileMe (the Apple web-storage site) so you can keep your data up to date. What does OmniFocus do? It’s a very nice way to manage your To-Do’s, and I can’t say much more except that if you are a fan of David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ and you own a Mac or an iPhone then you should get this application. I experienced a few minor bugs, but nothing earth shaking or data-threatening (which is good since it costs $19.99)

Fun applications to have on hand include: UrbanSpoon (think of a digital roulette wheel that knows where you are and so when you spin it, the result is the suggestion of a nearby restaurant). Box Office will find movies in your vicinity, and Dial Zero will tell you how to find a live representative at any major company with minimal hassle. That’s how I found the number for AT&T. Too bad Dial Zero doesn’t tell you how to find someone skilled at providing excellent customer service. Perhaps in some future upgrade…

Overall Impresssions about the ‘iPhone as surrogate computer’:
I actually accomplished a lot on my iPhone, considering everything. I wouldn’t forego my laptop in the future, except if I was taking a short trip that was purely for pleasure. But, it’s nice to know that much of what I needed to do could be done on the iPhone.

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  • An informative post. Thanks for sharing this info article.

  • Thanks for such a helpful post. I’m currently doing the research to decide exactly what type of cell phone I want to be using (currently have an older blackberry with no data plan, as until recently Canadian data plans were outrageously priced). Your post has helped me see that a smartphone is probably a good bet as I should be able to use it in place of a laptop in a pinch. Thanks!!

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