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Alternative Tablet for iPad

We are headed to Italy for 3 weeks in May on a Rick Steves tour so I am starting to think about ways to minimize my baggage. On the electronics front I have a Apple iPhone X and an iPad Pro 12.9" (Wi-Fi only) that I would expect to bring. While I love my iPad the thought of dragging around Italy for three weeks isn't that appealing. On the other hand the iPhone screen is pretty limiting so something with a larger screen would be useful.

So I have been looking at the Amazon Fire tablets as a lighter and cheaper alternative. Primary use would be reading guidebooks, surfing the web, watching downloaded movies during any downtime and backing up my photos. I would continue to use my phone for email, etc.

Would be grateful to hear with anyone with experience with the Fire tablet or other suggestions.

Posted by
313 posts

I used to use my (older) Kindle Fire for the things you suggest, except watching downloaded movies. (Not that I couldn't, it just isn't my interest.) I use it in conjunction with Amazon docs and DropBox to keep backup copies of my flights, hotel reservations, train tickets, downloaded maps, a photocopy of my passport, etc.

I also use it nightly to upload photos via wifi to DrobBox so that in the event that I were to lose my phone or camera, my pictures are safe.

I've since started using my (also older model) 7 or 8" Samsung tablet because it's a bit more capable...though not much. With that I can take the microSD card from my camera and insert it into the tablet for quick photo upload to DropBox.

I intentionally haven't bought a newer tablet because if I'm going to lose or have a tablet stolen, I'd rather it be the older one - though they are so cheap now, it hardly matters. I did buy a lighter, more compact, but still sturdy case.

Posted by
8722 posts

I would stick with the just Iphone; everything you listed can be handled by smartphones. Granted the screen is smaller, but you will adjust very quickly. A tablet would be the first thing I would ditch to "minimize baggage".

Posted by
4076 posts

I love my Fire tablet. It was cheap. But, when I bought it, it was pretty wired into to the "Amazon Universe." So by default, you'll be guided to use Amazon-everything. It is a modified Android tablet, and it is possible to hack it a little (which I did, though that may be daunting to some) to make it more like a "regular" Android tablet. So I installed Android apps like Google Chrome and Skype on it that I think you can't get through the Amazon app store. (Ironically, I use the Overdrive app to read e-books on it, not Amazon's own app! I don't have it connected to Amazon at all.)

Posted by
5891 posts

We have Fire 7, two Fire 8's and a Fire 10. For traveling, we prefer the Fire 8's.
I too lugged around a 17" laptop for years at work, and I now use a 14" Dell laptop at home because of the full size keyboard. But all I'm doing when we're on the road is checking email and looking at magazines and newspapers online and the Fire tablets are so easy to deal with. The batteries also last a long time if you're looking at downloaded movies or listening to music. The Fire 8's are $59 on sale very often, so they're cheap.

Posted by
42 posts

I'm in agreement with Michael on this one. Go light, just take your phone.

Posted by
4150 posts

Easy. Get an iPad Mini.

I've been traveling with an iPad Mini for years, and it is absolutely the perfect size for travel - bigger than a phone (feels like a true tablet because it is) but still very, very light and small enough to slip into a pocket (just barely fits in most pockets eg mens pants back pocket - it fits!). Sooooo much more usable than a phone, and not expensive. As a bonus, it's iOS so all your familiar apps from your phone and big iPad will sync and work on it.

Highly, highly recommend the iPad Mini for travel. My only worry is that Apple doesn't seem to like the size anymore and hasn't updated it in a while - although there are rumors of an iPad Mini refresh coming, maybe in the spring.

Posted by
11401 posts

I would go for an IPad mini, even refurbished. It’s not much bigger than an iPhone plus size.

I even buy a local SIM card for my Mini IPad (10€ for a zillion Gb) so I can use it in the open countryside for everything without having to rely on WiFi hot spots in restaurants or hotels. I even use it as a navigation GPS in the car instead of the iPhone. It’s like having the console of a Tesla onyour dashboard.

Although I also buy a local SIM card for my travel iPhone5 (30€ for 4Gb) I hardly use the smartphone except for photos, and calls or chats or messages to my local Italian contacts (which you probably don’t have). For surfing the net and navigation I rely on my iPad Mini (with SIM Card) almost exclusively.

Posted by
881 posts

Hey Mike,

I bring my two Kindle HD Fire tablets and my smartphone (and chargers for all.) My hotel has great WiFi, so I browse while in my room or at the breakfast buffet room in my hotel if I'm dining solo.

I don't carry them while out and about - just the phone. Although, my hotel does have a room with three nice PCs. It's nice if I wanted to print out something. But, I like the convenience of being able to lounge in my room late at night and browse, read or check emails.

Posted by
113 posts

I use my new Kindle Fire 7 and it always works great in Europe. Very light
and very inexpensive and easy to pack. Makes checking train schedules,
maps and checking scores & e mail a breeze.

Posted by
887 posts

I got a Fire 8 for xmas '16 and like a commenter above I sideloaded it with a browser and a file manager to get around the Amazon walled garden.
I have taken it on several trips but find it to be a bit finicky, more so than Apple devices. When it works, the movies in its local library look and sound fine, and the email programs also work fine; I don't care for the mapping or many of the guidebook apps compared to the Google or Apple equivalents.
My overall advice would be to spend less of your time and energy on trips with devices and more enjoying the things that you went on the trip to see and do. I got to where I left the tablet in the room and only used it for 15 minutes at night where I was mostly confirming notifications and messages that had shown up on my phone anyway, so more recently I leave it at home.
The exception is when I know I will need to do a lot of typing, in which case I pair it with a wireless keyboard, but that's business travel, not leisure. Sitting in the lodging and peering at a screen of any kind is not my idea of leisure.

Posted by
464 posts

In my recent travels to Italy, Spain, and London with my husband, he did not want to lug around his iPad Mini (don't even ask why) and managed to accomplish what you are asking just fine. Spain and Italy were 16 day trips, London only 8. I, however, wanted my iPad. It was a burden to carry, although if I was honest, I didn't really need it.

Posted by
218 posts

I will be taking my 10” iPad to Scotland soon. I have traveled around the USA with just my iPhone and decided I prefer having the iPad, too. The additional mass is inconsequential, same charger, cable, &c. Just me,of course, but I have zero interest in learning a new system just to save a few ounces. Better to buy a refurbed iPad or mini or even make the leap to the new huge iPhone.

Happy travels.

Posted by
86 posts

I use a Fire HD 8 that I got in summer 2017 at 3/$120. I use it for guidebooks, social media, downloaded movies and the NYT crossword. As another poster mentioned, I don't care for the mapping features, so I use Google Maps on my iPhone for that.

I don't know how to use the Fire to back up the photos from my iPhone, but maybe you are using a different camera? Your iPhone photos should be saved in the cloud, so for a 3-week trip, you should be fine.

Posted by
8722 posts

I'm not sure how the OP is going to be able to back up his photos, one
of his requested capacities, with just taking his iPhone.

It's quite easy using a cloud service like Icloud, Dropbox, Onedrive, or Google Drive.

All you do is install the app and make sure it's setup to automatically backup photos in the Camera Roll folder. It's done in the background when you are not actively using your phone and/or connected to WiFi. Been doing it this way for years.
I prefer to use Microsoft's Onedrive as I have windows PCs at home. Microsoft gives windows owners a generous amount of space with your windows account.

If you want to be able to back up photos I’m afraid you're going to
have to take an iPad and the little dongle thing.

Those dongle things (flash drives) can be used on both Ipads and Iphones.

Posted by
7614 posts

I believe the Amazon tablets don't have Bluetooth if that is important to you.

Posted by
122 posts

My 2 year old Fire 8 definitely has Bluetooth.

However, a quick search found this:

Note: Bluetooth microphones and microphone-enabled headsets devices may be compatible but are not supported. Verify that your Bluetooth accessory is turned on and set to pairing mode. On your Fire tablet, swipe down from the top of the screen and then tap Bluetooth in the Quick Settings menu.

I guess YMMV.

Posted by
4076 posts

Yes, my Fire tablet has bluetooth too, just like any other Android phone or tablet.

Posted by
67 posts

I am the OP. I back up my photos on iCloud so it can be done just as easily on the iPhone.
I don't think that there is anything I can't do on an iPhone versus an iPad. It is purely a screen size issue.
Outside of the plane ride and maybe the occasional late evening I don't expect to have my face stuck in a device, as gosh darn it, we are going to be in Italy :-)

Posted by
598 posts

I have an 8" Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 which I got using Airmiles rewards. It is a great device, but I am reluctant to recommend anybody spending money to buy one. Samsung does not support nor update its products very well. Samsung still sells the S2 as their premium 8" tablet but the OS is at least 2 generations behind.

If you are already using Apple, you should stay in the same ecosystem and buy an iPad Mini.

Posted by
17168 posts

The screen on your iPad Pro should be plenty large enough, and it only weighs a little over a pound. That's not too much to "drag" around. I'm sure you have that much weight in your suitcase with other, less useful stuff.

On the other hand, the Pro lacks a real keyboard, something that someone who knows how to touch-type and likes to see what they are typing, really appreciates. Of course, you can always get an add-on keyboard for the iPad, but then you have two things to drag around. That's why I like my ASUS Transformer. With the keyboard attached it works just like a laptop, but if you can live without a keyboard, you can go out with just the pad part (actually, I find the keyboard to be so useful, I never go without it).

Posted by
131 posts

I'm a big fan of the iPad Mini, though as a recent poster said, it hasn't been updated in a while. I found a Bluetooth keyboard/cover on Amazon and it works fine, though the smaller keyboard isn't conducive to typing over a long period of time. (Or maybe my fingers are just too fat. ;)

Unlike my spouse, who has no problem with it, I just can't handle reading books or watching videos on my phone. Just a personal preference, but I need a bigger screen than a phone's for these activities.

The only real knock on the iPads is the price, but having owned a couple of Kindle Fires, I'm sold on Apple's overall quality and ease of operation. I use a Windows 10 laptop as my home computer, but the iPad is my go-to for travel. Having the keyboard cover means no extra space needed and it's easily removed when you don't need it.

Posted by
23 posts

My experience, FWIW-

I bought a Kindle Fire HD in 2013 and hated the "Silk" browser. It seemed buggy, and I never even bothered to use it for email. Does great for reading books, but my Paperwhite is lighter and not as bulky.

Less than a year after buying the Fire HD, I gave up, bought a refurbished iPad mini from Apple in 2014 and never looked back. I took it to Europe this year because it is larger than my iPhone 8 (less eye strain) and syncs bookmarks, contacts, photos, I can text message on it, etc.

My iPad mini has since been upgraded to iOS11 and has been quirky ever since that OS upgrade, so I don't dare put iOS12 on it. Mine has only 32GB of memory, which might be the issue since the last iOS upgrade.. the photos alone are probably killing it. And it is five years old. It still performs, though, and I plan to take it on a two week trip out of the country this year. The newer minis have lots more memory to handle ios12.

Since the OP has an iPhone, an iPad mini would sync so much and make the transition easy. Apple sells refurbs in their website and they come with a one year warranty.

Posted by
104 posts

I think your iPhone will suffice. I wouldn't bring anything else.

Posted by
8412 posts

Having used both a Fire and iPad, I find it worth bringing the iPad. I use it for my travel guides as well as recreational reading and watching movies (mostly in flight). Worth the 16 ounces to have a good screen. I also bring Bose noise canceling headphones. Worth packing if only for the flight, but also when I am having trouble sleeping and hubby is zonked.

Posted by
20 posts

Not an Apple Fanboi but I think the Tablet is something they do better than anybody else. Tried a few alternatives (not sure there are many) hoping they could be good but IME the iPad is the best out there. Happy to be proved wrong.

Posted by
385 posts

Apple updated their Ipad Mini in March 2019. Should be good to go.

Posted by
49 posts

I have a very old and heavy IPad which I have hauled to Europe on several trips. I wanted something smaller and lighter (but bigger than my IPhone). I just bought the iPad mini. 5th generation just came out. While I didn’t like the price tag, I do like the fact that for me there is no learning curve and it interfaces seamlessly with my other devices. I’m very happy with it and will try and forget the price. I know I’ll appreciate it next month when we travel to Europe again.

Posted by
1550 posts

Yes, iPad Mini has just been updated. I have been carrying mine when traveling since they originally came out and love it; the larger-than-iPhone screen plus all the other perks previously mentioned. I haven't checked out the new one yet but plan to soon. It's probably time for me to update.....

Posted by
1990 posts

I had a kindle fire for a while (I since gave it to my mother in law). It's a fine tablet especially for the price. Mine was maybe 3 years ago, so they might be better now. At the time I remember it being surprisingly heavy for its size - look at the weight measurement to see if that's still the case. It's probably not the case for new ones, but something to look at if you are buying an older/used one.
It worked fine for basic uses, and was cheap so I'd say it's a good option. It's nowhere near as easy to use as the ipad, though.

In my case I got a normal size ipad (not pro) and prefer it. It's easier to use and I can back up my DSLR photos to it, edit them, then transfer to icloud. Not a factor for those who use their iphone as their camera, though!

Posted by
67 posts

I am the original poster. I ended up buying an iPad Mini when the new version came out this spring. Wow that thing is light and small when compared to the iPad Pro. While I miss the extra screen real estate it's going to be sweet carry this little thing through Italy.
Thanks for all the helpful comments.

Posted by
218 posts

Mike, thanks for closing the thread! I took my regular-sized iPad to Scotland and would think twice next time. I used it everyday but cold have done it all on my phone with a little squinting. The iPad was, actually, just one more piece of stuff to keep track of (and to keep charged). Since I do not need one of the new plus-sized iPhones (I only use about 10% of my ancient 6’s capabilities) I’d definitely consider getting a new iPad mini before my next long distance excursion next spring.

Posted by
4110 posts

Cool, glad to hear of your decision. Glad to hear your consideration coincided with the release of the new iPad Mini. Perfect!