I recently spent two weeks in the United Kingdom, traveling through Scotland from Edinburgh, to Glasgow, to the Scottish Highlands.  I was traveling as light as I could, carrying a week’s worth of cloths and a few odds and ends in a Maxpedition sling bag.  One of the odds and ends was a 32GB iPad with wifi and 3G.

I’ve reviewed the device already, but in essence — the device is small, light, and has incredible battery power.  The 9″ screen has enough visual real estate to make it an excellent platform for watching video while traveling, and movies do not heavily pull battery power.  The readers for the machine also are energy frugal and easy to read on — Kindle for iPad is much better than the native iBooks, with better choice of materials.  To communicate, I loaded Trillian for instant messaging, and Skype for phone calls, in addition to the email program.  With wifi and 3G, the iPad is capable of linking to the web in most places in the States, but it gets a bit trickier in out of the way places like Western Scotland, where 3G networks are spotty outside of the Glasgow area.

So, how was the travel experience with the iPad?  At times good, at times incredibly frustrating.  The device is small and light — that’s a plus.  The addition of Skype and Trillian gives a variety of means to communicate — a plus.  On a wifi hotspot, you can surf the web with little trouble, get email, etc.  On 3G, the experience is just as good…however, when the 3G access is spotty, using the device for communication becomes frustrating.

The 3G setup is easy enough in the United States.  I couldn’t get a good wifi spot in Chicago, so I set up an AT&T 3G account.  The process was swift and painless.  I considered signing up for their international data plan, but the costs are usurious, so I decided to set myself up with an iPad data account in Scotland through one of the regional providers (essentially the same 3GB/mo for $30ish.)

In Scotland, I ran into Problem 1: I found out that the providers don’t like providing service — even month-to-month pay as you go service without a British address and bank account.  I wasn’t even allowed to buy a microSIM card.  (I suspect this is part of a counterterrorism law, but I didn’t research it beyond the “You’re annoying the s#!t out of me” phase.)  I was able to buy a microSIM card from an electronics purveyor, but now had to figure out how to load it up for the month.

Problem 2:  to activate the device on a new network, you need to synch with iTunes — otherwise, you cannot get the network to recognize the card.  Yes, just like activating the iPad in the first place, you have to synch up with one of the worst, kludged bits of software in the computer industry.  I was able to synch up with a borrowed laptop — now O2 knew the iPad existed, but I couldn’t sign up.

Eventually, my cousin provided her credit card and address for me and I was able to use the iPad in most of the Edinburgh and Glasgow areas, including much of Dumbarton and Helensburgh.  Coverage was spotty up to Oban and much of the Grampians.  Most wifi spots in Western Scotland worked fine, but a lot of the hotspots in Edinburgh were unreliable or had incredibly slow throughput — mostly, I suspect, due to the heavy stone of many of the Georgian-era buildings.

Skype worked well, allowing me to call home for $.2/minute to phones, free to Skype-enabled computers.  Trillian allowed me to talk to people on various chat engines.  As a communications platform, it’s best when you have the opportunity to be static; moving around makes the Skype connection twtichy.  The speaker and microphone on the iPad is good enough to pick up conversations in a moderately-sized living room.

Returning to the United States, I had to swap the microSIM back to AT&T and go through the iTunes dance, but got lucky enough to find another traveler who was willing to let me synch up.  No problems that time, but make sure you don’t allow the iPad to transfer files from the computer to the pad or vice-versa (just cancel on all of the pop ups regarding the file transfers.  Once the iPad begins to synch, cancel and check your cellular information — you should be up and running.  I was.

So — the iPad travel experience:  annoying.  The need to synch up with iTunes is a major handicap to the machine and considering the expense of the iPad, Apple would be wise to start moving toward a stand-alone product.  The issues with setting up networking abroad might make it worth your while to sign up for the international data plan AT&T is offering, if you’re well off or feel like selling a kidney.  Outside of the 3G issues, however, the iPad experience on the road is a delight.

Watching movies on the iPad while on the plane made the seven hour transatlantic flight go fast, and the sound and video quality was top-notch.  The e-books readers, the games, the video — they all allow the user to travel with enough distractions to make a 24-hour trip go by fast.  I was able to go from Albuquerque to Edinburgh on a single battery charge; same going back.

It’s worth a lo