Have travelers to Paris and the rest of France found it useful or essential to travel with a device to access the internet? What was most useful: small laptop, iPad, smartphone? Or are these just magnets for thieves?
The most useful device is one that you already own, don't need to buy just for a trip, and meets all of your needs. Do you just need internet? Do you want to Skype? Do you need to make or receive calls? If all you require is occasional internet access, perhaps all you need is your hotel's PC for guest use or the public library's bank of PCs for guests. So depending on how you're going to use your device, any of the options you listed will work. An iPod Touch is another option, as is an iPhone. I won't go into all of the pluses and minuses of different options. Figure out how you'll use it, and go from there. As for thievery, there's nothing different about Europe...treat it like you would here. Don't go to the toilet at Starbuck's and leave your MacBook Air sitting on a table, don't ask a stranger in a subway station to watch your bag for a minute, don't leave your tablet on the desk in the hotel room, don't flash your iPad around in a busy train station, etc. Yes, it's possible to have a great vacation without being connected at all, but why do that in 2012, especially if you already own the right hardware? Having instant access to information can really help you with your trip? I've always been connected 24x7 when on business, but I've grown accustomed to being connected on leisure travel, too. So for me, it's sort of become necessary.
We use an iPod Touch. WiFi is just about any where in the world, and is mostly free. My wife will take her iPad on the next trip. The eletronics are no more a thief magnat than anything else. Just don't get careless.
Essential? No, no way. Useful, yes. I always travel with a netbook so that I can continue to contribute here when I am on holiday. I'm just as careful as I would be at home in the UK. No problems yet, now that you have asked you buy the replacement....
I take my IPhone and a netbook. Are they necessary? No. Can they be wonderful tools. Yes! I load Skype on both. I have folders with all of my contacts and itinerary, copies of my reservations, etc., on both. I have a copy of my rental car contract, travel insurance contract, copies of my passport, etc. on both. I can acess all of this info any time I want, and I don't need a data feed. I have free language aps on the IPhone. I have screen shots with local maps on the IPhone. These do not require me to use data either. I can download and manipulate my photos on my netbook. Using wi-fi (or if I turn on data) I can acess web sites and find great restaurants, or reccomendations for places to visit. I don't consider these devices magnets for thieves in the EU, any more than I consider them magnets for thieves when I travel in North America. Are they essential? No. But they can be a great tool in my travel bag.
I've traveled with both a netbook (small laptop) and a smartphone. The netbook is great for long hauls, particularly by train. I can upload and edit my photos, watch movies, etc. But for shorter trips, I just take my smartphone and use it to map out restaurants I want to eat at, check for discounts on foursquare, that sort of thing. I don't think it's essential to travel with a device but it has certainly greatly enhanced my travel. Now if only my phone battery lasted an entire day...
I think Sarah mentioned one of the main benefits of a netbook: uploading photos. Think about your photo habits and if you need that. On our next trip, we're going to take the lightest laptop we can so we can upload our photos every few days. For me, it will be worth the extra weight (over a smartphone, for instance) to be able to ensure my photos are in more than one place.
Just a quick note that wi-fi is not universally available in French hotels. Cheap places may also charge for it. Some very expensive places also charge ludicrously high per-hour rates for wi-fi on the assumption that their guests won't notice. Mid-range places, ironically enough, tend to be free.
If you are staying some place that charges for WiFi go to a McDonalds, they don't.
Last time, I traveled with just my iphone and it was perfect. I could take and upload pictures, check email and legitimately refuse to do anything about work ("could you just fix this schedule, please") since it was too small to work on documents! Free wi-fi pretty available (most B and Bs and hotels had it). First trip, I tried to use hotel computers a couple of times and found the French keyboards (different arrangement of letters) drove me absolutely crazy.
> I traveled with just my iphone and it was perfect. Did you switch the phone to Airplane Mode? That's what I'm planning to do. AT&T said it would be expensive to make calls and unpredictably expensive to consume data.
I just tried a portable 'mifi hotspot'. This had mixed results but might be a great solution for people whose trips will be based in larger towns and cities. We were going to do a lot of driving and I wanted GPS directions for IPad, and I hated the idea of carrying my IPad and having to also purchase or rent a French GPS device. We also could use for Skype if a phone call was needed in a pinch. I found that a company to rent such personal 'mifi' hotspots. French Connection (google 'french connection data'. The data rates are more favorable than the AT&T international roaming packages. So for example, I rented a device for use only in France (they offer other options) for 12 days of 100mb/day @7 euros/day. This allowed a total of 1200MB pre-paid, and with some shipping costs resulted in my final cost of 90 Euros. They ship within France, so I had them send it to my arrival hotel. The device was shipped timely. It is a small unit, comes with simple instructions in English and the necessary connectors for recharging (to a USB in either a computer or a wall charger of your own). Getting the wifi connection from my device to the hotspot was easy and secure.
The only problem I had was that I spent a lot of my trip on the road and in villages/small towns in the Loire and Dordogne valleys. The device was frequently not able to get data service from their network provider (SFR) in those locations. In the medium sized towns and any city, that was seldom a problem. However, sometimes when on the road- no data, no gps map/directions, so proved to be an unreliable solution for me. The data amount was adequate, though. They have autorecharge, so beware of exceeding.
Having used my IPad and IPhone for GPS (as mentioned above) I did learn a few things that might be helpful to others. The true GPS on IPhone and IPad 3G/LTE Apple devices can do pretty good gps-like location using only wi-fi (most commercial wi-fi hotspots provide location information even if you don't or can't 'join' that hotspot). As for software to use, it depends on whether or not you will have constant data access somehow. If you have constant data access through some means, then you can use Apple's map software (the new one provides active turn by turn directions) or Waze. Both are free. Neither are perfect, and just as with Google Maps, the complexities of how French roads and intersections are signed will still lead to 'wrong directions' from time to time. Both Maps and Waze have a limited capacity to memorize some maps even if offline. However, they cannot directions when they are offline. When I was offline from data connection, I found Motion-X GPS ( not the GPS Drive)app to be very useful. When you have wi-fi access such as at a hotel, you can review in advance the maps of places you expect to be, at different magnifications. The app will remember many of those maps. It can also memorize 'waypoints' of places you know you want to find. Then when you are driving, or walking around, you can see the local streets and those waypoints. It doesn't provide turn by turn directions in France but you not only get a map but you can see where you are and where you are trying to go. Some locations you seek may provide gps coordinates, and those are easily entered.
It's going to depend on where you stay, but free wifi is most certainly not standard in hotels and B&Bs in France. We had an experience earlier this month where we stayed in a location that had mentioned having wifi, and were shocked to find that it was 5€/day. Which was still less expensive than the 5* hotel my husband and I went to for an anniversary celebration the previous month. That place wanted an outrageous fee for wifi. McDonalds does offer free wifi. But be warned that on occassion, they will want to send you the password via text message. I've only had this happen once, but then again, unless I am trying to send a photo, I just use the data plan on my phone so I haven't tried to get wifi at many McDonald's.
In my experience, the smaller, more budget-minded hotels are more likely to offer free WiFi; it's a cheap way to compete. But check ahead if, like me, you want to stay connected in your hotel room. It's become close to a must-have when choosing where to stay.
I have never stayed in a hotel or B&B in France that had Wifi where the Wifi wasn't free. Then again, I've never stayed in a 5-star hotel. And often there's only Wifi in the common areas. But it's always been free.
I second the iPod touch. It's much smaller that an iPad, so it fits in your pocket, and is a lot less fragile than an iPad. I have an iPad and would probably not consider taking it overseas, though I have traveled with it in the U.S. I do not want to add to the complexity of overseas travel with a device that requires extra vigilance against thieves and coddling, lest it be damaged. But like one person said, if you already have soemething that is suitable perhaps you should go with that rather that purchasing something new.
We write a daily blog with photos so our MacBook Pro works best for us. The keyboarding is easier and downloading the photos is relatively easy.