Roadtrip - Technology questions

I've provisionally decided that next year I'm going to head over to France, and follow the Tour De France for a bit...probably a week or so. I'll pack up the motorbike, chuck a tent on there, and drive down to Folkstone. From there it's the Eurotunnel (which is cheap as chips for a motorbike normally), and then wherever Le Tour takes me (they announce the full route in October, though as the 100th event they have already announced Stages 1-3 are on Corsica, which is probably a bit too awkward to get to, and Stage 4 is in Nice...a long way, but not completely insane). I'll pick a week to follow it based on what stages there are...ideally some mountains, a sprint or two, and there is always the temptation of the circuit race round the Champs Elysee on the past day.

So the transport and living accomodation is simple (a VFR800 motorbike, and a tent!...with perhaps a hotel or two squeezed in somewhere). One thing the motorbike is currently lacking is power outputs though... I'm going to need a GPS if I want any hope of navigating large sections of France, and if I'm camping the only way stuff is going to get re-charged is via the bike... The initial plan is to add a power supply to the handlebars for a GPS, and (probably) a 12V cable to the rear box as well, so I can charge other items on the move.

I currently run my life off a rather meaty laptop, however for a prolonged motorbike tour, that's too big, and too hard to keep charged, so I need to look into a Tablet PC of some sort, and this is where i could do with some advice. I'll have some very specific requirements for this bit of kit;

1) Charge from USB, or other simple 12V
2) Can accept either USB drives, or card-readers for Sony Memory and SDHD
3) Capable of running basic photo/video editing software (trimming, subtitling, joining)
4) Capable of rendering video to a suitable HD codec for HD720+ online format (I normally run by Vimeo's Recommendations for rendering video for online use)
5) Capable of 3G connection, or of tethering to a phone with said capability. I'm assuming wifi as standard!
6) Rugged (it will be charging in a motorbike topbox, and possibly rendering in there as well while I go the very least I'll be getting a case or a sleeve to protect it).
7) Not Apple
8) Nothing too big, but must be a useable size. Personally, I think 7" will be too small.

From what I've been able to work out, most of the Android ones on the market right now have no USB capacity for USB drives and/or card reader capabilities...however this really isn't an area I've looked at much. If anyone has any recommendations for a tablet that can act as a lightweight media-editor, and a touring companion (working alongside a dedicated GPS, so typically web browsing, mapping, more typical tablet duties...) I'd love to hear them. I should have a new phone by then (assume Android right now...contract is up for renewal in February), so ability to work alongside that is a big bonus. Le Tour 2013 is still 11 months away, so tablets with a release date of 6 months time are viable here...

The expected hardware I'll be taking that it will be working with;
1) Sony CX-130 HD camcorder (USB/Sony MediaStick)
2) GoPro HD Hero2 camcorder (micro-USB/SDHD card)
3) Garmin GPS (specific model tbc)
4) Android Phone (specific model tbc)


Theoretically the usb port on the more modern android devices (say nexus 7 or other jelly bean based devices) can be used like a pc usb port you can connect keyboards mice and usb sticks with suitable adapters.

Tablets tend to be pricey for what they are and lacking in ports the cheaper smaller ones are probably too small for what you are after, a 7" screen is fine for the odd movie or a bit of web surfing but it would be a pain to edit stuff on assuming you could find an app to achieve that.

You might be better off with a netbook or ultrabook of some description you could likely get one small enough for the space requirements and it would have the ports and software compatability you need.

Evilmatt's picture

I've not seen any laptop-style machines that seem able to charge from a low voltage USB source. Put simply, motorbike electronics are not that robust... The battery is small, but so the less pull off it the better.

There seems to be a Google Android movie editing app, Movie Maker. Not been able to dig into it yet, but should have basic capabilities...

babychaos's picture

That is tricky typically laptops need 12v at least for a direct dc supply and I would guess an inverter to get AC would probably be too much stain on the motorbike electrics

Something that'll take memory sticks is going to be tough put it this way not even the sony made android tablets have a memory card slot. Maybe you'll be able to connect the camera directly if it can pretend to be a mass storage device (ie a usb stick) then it might work.

A lot of the bigger models have sd card slots so I would think you could find something there

tablets tend not to have a lot of grunt to them they are designed for playback and display plus they tend to have a lot of custom stuff. I'm sure that they can do encoding in some fashion but it might be a touch slow. I would think your best bet is to go for the newest chipset you can get something like the nvidia tegra 3.

Evilmatt's picture

Yeah, an inverter is not really an option, both from a power pull and size perspective (I have one that will run a laptop from a 12V, but it's big, and puts a big drain on a car battery). I have genuinely considered a small generator, but they are too big, too noisy, and almost certainly overkill.

Both the cameras can act as Mass Storage devices, however not all tablets support that (which seems madness...for example the Nexus 7 does not support USB Mass Storage devices...there is an app out there that adds the support...maybe it will be added in via a firmware update). It seems very weird that expandable memory is being excluded from these items... it makes perfect sense to use them as media centers (music, video, photos), yet their internal memory is never going to deal with anything above normal useage (for example...doing a 5 minute timelapse video requires 7,500 photos, which can easily get to 7-8 Gig of data prior to rendering). If I'm away for a week, doing video and photo every day I'm going to need to have to consider taking a lot of storage (probably most cost-effective would be USB sticks, so again I'll need Mass Storage capabilities...)

The video-editing stuff is more a nice-to-have really. YouTube offers basic trimming functionality, and some captioning. I can see if being nice to record a series of clips, and then edit them into a single sequence of relevant bits (this is what I tend to do (and I must get round to doing Wimbledon and last years F1 GP!) ). Worst case I can capture and store it out there, and edit it down at home, but it would be really good to be able to post updates while I'm away. To give an idea of how much crud is trimmed out, I took about an hour and a half's video on Box Hill...the final edit was about 7 minutes (and there is a fair bit of dead time even then...). I have to assume that I'll only have limited opportunity to upload, so it will be important to keep the file volumes down. The speed of rendering is less important (I'm not above letting it sit in the bike backbox and render while I'm riding)

babychaos's picture

Are you camping? Bigger campsites have electric power points now, you might be able to get a clever adapter.

brainwipe's picture

The chances of getting a powered pitch anywhere near TdF is borderline nil. Thousands of people follow it in campervans. I'm better off assuming self-sufficiency... There is a good chance I'll be camping roadside in the mountains, or by carparks...

babychaos's picture

Inverters depending on the power you are after can be quite small for the canada trip me and Byrnie went on last year I got a small inverter that just plugged into the 12v line that was about an extra 5cm in length and plug socket wide (maybe the size of a paperback in all) it was beefy enough to run my fairly demanding alienware laptop without a problem and it was dirt cheap to buy too. I know that isn't a lot of help given the electrics probably won't run it though :D

You could perhaps look for a direct supply that would run off the 12v and power a laptop or some such directly without an inverter juicing things up. Typical laptop powersupplies are not that power hungry.

Typical laptop supplies are 60-90w and if you found something lower power like a cheap netbook you might get even less than that. At 12v that a current requirement of 5-7.5 amps is not horrendous how many amp hours is the battery on the bike what sort of output does it's alternator do.

Another option might be a solar charger it is france they get more sunshine there :S an expensive option tho and potentially it could let you down if there isn't enough sun to recharge it's own battery (typically these things trickle charge some massive battery over time then use that stored charge to power laptop etc at a later point)

If you do have proper power at camp sites maybe a low power laptop and some really beefy auxilury batterys to run it on the road that you charge up when you stop for the night. Me and byrnie used this trick for our timelapse for our california trip little netbook and a large battery to run the capture for the long drives across the desert with everything charged up we got most of a days use out of that though it wasn't stressing he system much. Some of the netbooks have 8 or 10 hour lives in and of themselves so that gives you quite a lot of use during a day.

Your problem is that the tablets are mostly not designed to do the sort of thing you want them to do there are high end tablets that are essentially pc's that will do the range of things you want but those have the same power requirements as laptops.

The focus with the sort of tablet devices currently on the market is for consuming preexisting media most of which is on the internet and can be streamed (or in the cloud as they say these days to make an old idea sound grand and new) they just aren't designed for serious media processing locally on the tablet. I mean most of them don't have port to add any extra memory the nexus 7 has no sd slots or anything its only input is it's microB usb which is mainly for charging or connecting to a pc.

Something like the Asus transformer which has a keyboard like docking station with ports to essentially turn it inot a laptop might do what you want but I'd check first.

Evilmatt's picture

I was having a look at the Asus Transformer today...apparently it is power hungry enough that if you plug it into USB and use it it still loses charge! If you connect it and leave it alone you'll get 2-3% charge an hour.

I can understand the challenge of video editing, but I'm a little surprised that it's rare to find a card-reader...looking at photos taken on a camera is a pretty sensible thing to want to do.

As I said, I'm not going to expect campsite power (or even a campsite)...the expected power source will be the motorbike, so I have to be careful. So far the best option I've come up with is the Nexus 7, root it and use the storage app, along with a microUSB > USB adaptor to move stuff in and out. If that works, then I can have longer term storage on USB sticks (which are cheap). It wil charge via a USB wire linked into the bike electrics without too much hit on the bikes overall power (and I cannot risk a battery drain, not sure what AA response is going to be out there! And not keen on bump-starting a 230kg motorbike!).

There are a couple of apps out there that can do basic video I said speed is less of an issue...there will be plenty of time for it to do that while I travel.

babychaos's picture

I hadn't heard that I guess since it's half way house of a device it sort of makes sense.

yeah I've been a bit surprised that the 7" tablets have no sd ports on them I mean phones do and it seems an obvious and fairly cheap addition with very clear consumer benifits. Maybe there's some compelling hardware reason it is too pricey for the cheap as chips $199 range tablets.

It looks like some of the upcoming windows 8 tabs will be a lot more capable though they are going to be pricey and also still a way off yet.

Evilmatt's picture

Something like this might potentially be useful it basically takes any usb mass storage device and bridges it over wifi allowing you to read or write to it

might be overkill of course :D

Evilmatt's picture

That is a bit excessive... 5 hour battery life may be an issue (and the sweet, sweet irony if you can re-charge it from USB).

babychaos's picture