I should be taking notes. I should be shooting video or photos or fiddling with gadgets and laptops. Yet the evening’s perfect breeze, the rum and the natural euphoria that goes hand in hand with the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands are doing their work on me.
The last place I should be is standing atop a waterside restaurant table, next to the only other Canadian in the group, howling O Canada to the half-moon directly above me. This is supposed to be a trip about technology and how it meshes with travel, not about me responding to someone questioning the authenticity of my Canadian-ness.
Almost three days ago, I arrived at the Concordia Eco-Resort, nestled on the southeast outcropping of St. John, overlooking Salt Pond Bay. Intimate and environmentally friendly, the resort boasts both tasteful luxury suites and rugged tent-like cabins. It’s a natural fit here on an island where nearly 75 per cent of the land mass is a mountainous and forested paradise of national parkland.
Once home to native Americans, following Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus’s discovery in 1493, St. John slowly transitioned over the next 200 years to an island sordidly tied to piracy and slavery. Many traces of the island’s history are still scattered along hiking trails through the ruins of sugar mills and rum distilleries built with coral bricks.
But it’s not history that brought me here, nor my ambition to sing the Canadian national anthem in all of the 50 U.S. states and its territories (three down!). In many ways, I’m here because of the future. A professional photographer and avid video gamer, I’m here along with eight other journalists at the invitation of Microsoft to field test a variety of Windows laptops and other technologies. The inherent conflict? I’m what you’d get if a Mac and a PC mated. I like and use both: Mac is my work, PC is my play, and I’d never really given much thought as to which I’d bring on my travels.
On holiday, I want to relax. I want to use Skype to call family. I want to shoot pictures and video, edit them and upload them to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. I want to play video games on the plane to and from my destination. And I want it all to be really easy.
On this trip, I’m testing the Asus Zenbook. It’s a lightweight brushed-steel notebook computer about the size of a tablet device when closed, and nearly as thin (measuring nine millimetres at its thickest point). In any light, it looks to be devilishly handsome and a direct competitor to the popular MacBook Air.
Aesthetics aside, it’s a speedy little thing packed with a Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 120-gigabyte solid-state hard drive. In other words, multitaskers, there’s a bit of heft under the hood.
And multitask we did. Whether hiking on the Reef Bay Trail or snorkelling around Booby Rock, all of us journalist types kept busy capturing photos and videos of our excursions and the nutty stuff that people do on them.
On the second day of the trip, I’m underwater and see a man with nothing but swim trunks and a spear pounce on a group of lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean known for their spiny venomous fin rays. I can’t help but think, “This guy is out of his mind.” At the same time, I want to be ready with a waterproof camera to see who will win the war of the poker (the guy with the spear or the fish with the spikes).
At the end of a short war, the lionfish population is decreased by one.
The following day, I’m racing ahead on the thin rocky trail that runs along the edge of Salt Pond Bay. It’s a sunset hike, and to a photographer’s ears, “sunset hike” sounds like Beethoven. This proves to be especially true when 45 minutes of both steep inclines and a few declines end at the top of a small mountain overlooking most of the south side of St. John.
Having taken plenty of photos, I’m excited to get back to the resort to edit my pictures on the Zenbook, which is preloaded with Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft’s free multimedia suite of applications. Using the photo-editing application packaged with the suite was a bit of a revelation to me: While considered consumer-end, Windows Live Photo Gallery has some pretty professional options for fine-tuning colour, tone, shadows and highlights. In fact, there are a variety of adjustment sliders on this free software that work just like ones I use regularly in Adobe Photoshop CS5 (a $700 program).
Lacking a reliable Internet connection at the island resort, I was unable to upload my pictures on Facebook which could integrate, along with other social sites, to Windows Live, or upload photos to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online Cloud storage.
Friends and family were at least spared the intentional insincerity of me posting “Wish you were here, suckers!”
The video editing portion of the suite is Windows Live Movie Maker. I peek over the shoulder of another travel journalist as he easily pieces his photos within a half-hour into a 60-second video slide show with music and text. Not a bad turnaround time, considering this was his first go at the software.
In the past, I’ve used Apple’s iLife suite; I had never tried Window’s Live Essentials, and was surprised to find it fluid and lacking complication. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, considering how successful Apple has been at pushing the simplicity message, if Microsoft is too late to the game, if it missed the flight.
It’s my final day and I’m sailing on a catamaran to the island of St. Thomas, from where I’ll be flying back to the approaching Canadian winter. It’s hot, slightly overcast and serene. The Caribbean breeze begins to do its work on me again. I should be taking pictures, or shooting video or testing some gadget I haven’t had the chance to test yet. I shouldn’t be putting my camera away.
The last place I should be is relaxed and sprawled out on the edge of the deck enjoying a vacation … technology-free.
IF YOU BUY IT
LENOVO THINKPAD X1
Price: $ 2,033.00
Tech Specs: Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB solid-state drive, 34-cm display, 1.6 kg, 20 mm thick
Description: What it lacks in style it makes up for in its military ruggedness, lightweight portability and power under the hood. Not only that, but it’s spill-resistant and thin.
Best Travel Fit: Versatile for nearly any travel situation, business or otherwise.
ASUS ZENBOOK UX21
Tech Specs: Intel Core i7 processor, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB solid-state drive, 29-cm display, 1.09 kg, 9 mm thick
Description: Super-thin, stylish and powerful. The brushed-steel body not only looks good, but is surprisingly light. The lack of a DVD drive may be a bit of a bother, but it’s a laptop meant for cloud-based computing.
Best Travel Fit: For the stylish traveller who likes to pack light and keep their device discreet.
SONY VAIO SA
Tech Specs: Intel Core i5 2410m 2.3 GHz processor, 4GB RAM, 500 GB hard disk drive, AMD HD 6630M dedicated graphics, 34-cm display, 2.17 kg, 23 mm thick
Description: Ultra-powerful with a range of colours to suit your style, this laptop can handle nearly anything you throw at it, including gaming. An optional sheet battery extends battery life up to 15 hours and barely adds to the size of the laptop.
Best Travel Fit: A great laptop for the business traveller or to take on the family vacation. Entertain the kids on a long road trip with its gaming capabilities.
TOSHIBA PORTEGE R830
Tech Specs: Intel Core i5 2.3 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 640 GB hard disk drive, 34-cm display, 1.45 kg, 28 mm thick.
Description: Spill-resistant with a reinforced case. Great home theatre capabilities with a robust LED backlit display.
Best Travel Fit: For those who like to keep themselves entertained on the go.
PANASONIC TOUGHBOOK CF31
Price: $4,327.00 (U.S.)
Tech Specs: Intel Core i5-2520M 2.5 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 320 GB hard disk drive, 34-cm display, 3.72 kg, 67 mm thick
Description: It doesn’t get any more durable than this with a full magnesium alloy case and sealed keyboard and touchpad and ports. Slam it, spill on it, or drop it, this laptop can take the licks.
Best Travel Fit: In only the most extremely rugged travel circumstances is this laptop a must-have
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