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Ask Slashdot: Instead of a Laptop, a Tiny Computer and Projector? 339

rover42 writes "I travel a lot, usually on a tight budget and often on airlines with tight luggage weight restrictions and high fees for going over, so traveling light is very important to me. So is connecting to the net when traveling, which creates a conflict. I do not trust machines in Internet cafes and my laptop adds significant weight & bulk to my luggage. I could buy a small netbook or a MacBook Air, but is there another choice? There are quite a few tiny computers available, Raspberry Pi and the like. Alone, they don't solve my problem because you need a screen and that is at least as heavy as a laptop. However, there are also quite a few tiny projectors. Would a tiny computer plus a tiny projector do the trick? Which ones? All I need for software is some open source Unix (any *BSD or Linux distro should be fine, or even Minix), a browser and an editor. I don't need large storage or a fast CPU. Has anyone done something like this? Does anyone have a recommendation for either the computer or the projector?"
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Ask Slashdot: Instead of a Laptop, a Tiny Computer and Projector?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:40PM (#40353095)

    A computer is more than a cpu and a screen. It's also a keyboard, and mouse. Do you plan to cart those around? If you want a projector, just buy the Air or other ultrabook, and buy a projector.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      There's always the idea of having a projected touch screen interface. That's a little bit in the future but not that far really.

      Before too long, your phone will be able to do that.

    • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:59PM (#40353263)

      Not to mention that, when traveling, you'd most often be in places where this is totally and completely impractical. You can't break this crap out at the airport (well, you technically could, but most airports I go through are pretty bright places and besides, what a pain in the ass compared to opening a freaking laptop), so you're effectively cutting yourself off from the net anytime you're not parked in a hotel room. Seems like more than I'd be willing to sacrifice even if it did free up some space.

      My little ASUS netbook weighs like 3 pounds or something and is the size of a thin hardcover book. If that's considered a lot of space then I'd hate to see what you're wearing when you travel.

      • by Zadaz ( 950521 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @04:34PM (#40353887)

        What about power? I have spent the last 15 years traveling with my work, working out of cafes, coffee shops, bars, planes, trains, and automobiles, beaches, and basements. I am incredibly conscious of size and weight because I cary my laptop everywhere, every day. If I'm outside my laptop is on my shoulder or back. 3 punds is the breakpoint. Less than 3 pounds and you can carry it everywhere all day and not notice you've got it. Above that it becomes a problem.

        But really, by far the most valuable thing to have in a portable computer is a long-lasting built-in power supply.

        There will never be an outlet when you need one. I guarantee it. And with a portable computer you must have an outlet to do anything at all. Even if you did cobble together a battery for a portable computer it wouldn't be nearly as efficient as a laptop because laptops are made to run efficiently. And you'll need to carry the cord. More mass. Before "ultraportables" and the Air I would carry Sony X-series and spring for the extra-life battery. It increased the weight 50% and volume by 25%, but gave me 8-9 hours of tether-free power (vs 2) which saved my job on more than one occasion. I don't get quite that with the Air at this point, but 5+ hours is easy. I usually leave the charger at home/office/hotel room, which saves more space in my bag.

        Projectors also require a flat, light colored, vertical surface to project on. This is much less available than you might think.

    • by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:07PM (#40353329)

      This. I can hardly imagine how terrible it would be.

      1) Projectors don't work in daylight so you won't be able to see your screen.
      2) Projectors need a nice flat white surface... good luck finding one.
      3) Keyboards and Mice are huge and unwieldy.
      4) What do you use to power it? I've made home-made auxiliary batteries and they're messy ugly and a PITA.

      Just buy a cheap ultrabook or netbook.

      • I agree with 1,2,and 4. 3, on the other hand....

        We have a setup here at the house, with a small eMachines ER1401, with a DLP projector, USB 2TB hard drive, wireless keyboard and mouse.

        For screens, I've used everything from a plain white-ish wall, to white sheets, and real screen material in a custom frame. Needless to say, the real screen is much better than the other options. Being in a lit room works ok. If it's pitch black, it's so much better.

    • by jpate ( 1356395 )
      I recently got an asus transformer tf101 with keyboard dock for exactly this purpose, and it works wonderfully. After rooting it to change the "back" key to an "escape" key (I use vim) and install cyanogenmod, it's ideal for getting writing done on my thrice weekly train commute and on the airplane. Now if only I could get latex installed...
    • by Intrepid imaginaut ( 1970940 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:35PM (#40353497)

      Yep, touchscreen phones and tablets are largely commuter toys, I needs me a keyboard to get any work done.

    • by DocJohn ( 81319 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:54PM (#40353637) Homepage

      It's an example of a person over-thinking the problem, considering the multiple solutions already available --

      - Netbook or Air
      - Tablet or iPad
      - Smartphone
      - Small and light laptop

      Seriously, once you add in all the miscellaneous nonsense you'll need to deal with in getting such a homebrew solution to work, it just isn't worth it. Because, after all, isn't your time worth something? Great, take your hourly rate and times it by how much you're spending researching homebrew solutions and then actually getting something to work to your satisfaction.

      Any business traveler who doesn't know how to pack light should instead invest in some time learning how to pack light. I carry a netbook and carry-on internationally and it's never been a problem, weight-wise or otherwise.

      • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @05:46PM (#40354465) Homepage

        take your hourly rate and times it by how much you're spending researching homebrew solutions and then actually getting something to work to your satisfaction.

        Where do you people work where you can decide for yourselves that you'll just spend a couple more hours working and charge for it? Most people have a fixed salary, possible with overtime if it's needed, but that's it. Their hours outside of their fixed working time are probably worth a pittance.

        Now, I fully understand that paying money to save time makes perfect sense, but that's because I value my leisure, not because it makes economical sense.

  • by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:42PM (#40353115)

    For once, a great Ask /. question.

    For extra bonus points: any way we can do this off a currently available phone? For discussion purposes, I'll scale back the reqs to merely a browser and a text editor.

    • by mehrotra.akash ( 1539473 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:45PM (#40353133)
      Does the Galaxy Beam qualify?
      • The Beam launches next month, so technically no. But a useful post - first I'd heard of it.

        • by frisket ( 149522 )
          I've been considering a Galaxy Note, but I also need LaTeX, and I haven't explored the Galaxy ecosystem (or its cyanogenmod equivalent). And I hadn't heard of the Beam either, thank you.
      • by amorsen ( 7485 )

        The resolution is 640x360. Good for playing the original Wolfenstein... That is just about the only use I can think of. I suppose video would work, if you don't make the "screen" larger than 12" or so. Web browsing is not particularly realistic. You are better off just ignoring the projector and sticking with the 4" 800x480 screen on the phone.

    • by trdtaylor ( 2664195 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:56PM (#40353229)
      You seem to be a perfect fit for any android phone that supports a mini-HDMI connection or one of those new-fangled MHL connection. The Samsung Galaxy s3 does this, has a quadcore 1.4Ghz ARM, a gig of ram. You can wireless connect a keyboard and mouse to the bluetooth if you want. Data will go on the 3g/4g connection, which will perfectly accompany you if you have an unlimited verizon plan still.
    • Of course. Most modern Android devices offer MHL (=> HDMI) out in 720p, and Bluetooth mouse and keyboard support.

  • You'll regret it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frostilicus2 ( 889524 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:43PM (#40353121)
    It'll break, you won't be able to fix it, the ergonomics will be terrible, you'll get hassled in airport security. This is a recipe for you getting pissed. Just get a MacBook air: built to last, lightweight and usable.
    • Re:You'll regret it (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:47PM (#40353151)

      And the most expensive option. And if it breaks, you won't be able to fix it. Definitely a good choice.

      • by frostilicus2 ( 889524 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:48PM (#40353163)
        But an Apple genius might.
      • by macs4all ( 973270 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:10PM (#40353361)

        And the most expensive option. And if it breaks, you won't be able to fix it. Definitely a good choice.

        Please tell me WHAT computer you can fix yourself WHILE TRAVELING?


        Just get an Air, and forget about the "fixing it" part; because it is highly unlikely to break anyway; whereas a cobbled-up bit, involving multiple cables and whatnot, assembled out of the cheapest-possible stuff, is just as likely TO break.

        And as I said, both are unlikely to be fixed by YOU on the road; but at least with the Air, there is the possibility of having an Apple Store in the area, where it CAN be fixed.

        Seriously, AC, look at ALL of the requirements; not just the ones that would apply in your Mom's basement.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Please tell me WHAT computer you can fix yourself WHILE TRAVELING?

          I've done HDD replacements and RAM upgrades on the go before. On most laptops you only need a screwdriver, and they are not exactly hard to obtain. I have a bootable USB flash drive with disk imaging and some other vital software on it, about the size of a penny, that lives in my bag for just such emergencies. You can buy a USB->SATA converter and new HDD anywhere civilized.

          For serious travelling get something a bit more robust like a Thinkpad or Toughbook/Let's Note. The latter come in very light models

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:03PM (#40353289)

      you won't be able to fix it

      Just get a MacBook air

      How can you make these two statements in a single post?

      • Apple tech support is genuinely excellent. Raspberry Pi tech support doesn't exist and I doubt that getting a (surprisingly) expensive projector fixed at short notice is much easier. My day-to-day machine is a beat up six year old MacBook. Bits are breaking off the case, it's been dropped, had a bottle of ink spilled on the keyboard, gotten wet and been through all kinds of abuse but it still works as well as the day I got it. A MacBook air with a unibodied aluminum case, LED backlight and all solid state s
        • A MacBook air with a unibodied aluminum case, LED backlight and all solid state storage should last a lifetime.

          That is one of the most bizarre arguments I have ever seen someone promote. I can keep repairing my old Dell laptop for the rest of my life too (and I do not even have to go through Dell to replace things that break!), but I would hardly say that the laptop will "last a lifetime." I doubt that the keyboard, trackpad, or screen will last more than 10 years without problems (bad pixels, bad keys, etc.). LED lights do not last indefinitely either, and mechanical components like hinges are also destined to

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      For traveling overseas, I use a crappy $299 netbook. It's about the size and weight of a hardback book and is not so expensive that I can't leave it in my hotel room when I'm out.

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        It's about the size and weight of a hardback book and is not so expensive that I can't leave it in my hotel room when I'm out.

        I can't remember the last time I was in a hotel room that didn't have an in-room safe large enough to accommodate a laptop.

        • Last time I was in a hotel with an in room safe, I was pretty sure that every employee in the hotel had access to it.

          Not that I would expect them to steal anything, but I'd go for cheap and ugly as opposed to a MacAnything if I were worried about theft.

          • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

            Last time I was in a hotel with an in room safe, I was pretty sure that every employee in the hotel had access to it.

            What made you "pretty sure" of that? On every hotel safe I can remember seeing, you set the password yourself. Plus, if you came back to your locked room and your locked safe was empty, it would be a pretty sure bet who stole from it. I can't imagine a more clear-cut liability case.

            • by Abreu ( 173023 )

              The safes at any hotel have a master password that allow a manager to open it up for you if you forget the code you set yourself. Sadly, in some hotels, this means that any one of the staff may have access to this password.

              • You forgot the most common scenario.. If you lock it when you check out, it has to be unlocked and the code cleared for the next guest. So I'd bet that the cleaning crew has the code. The manager has better things to do than go running up to every room to reset the safe.

                I've been finding it less and less common for hotels to have in-room safes, even the more expensive ones. The last time I saw one was in an Ibis hotel in Europe in 1999. I've stayed in hundreds of hotel

          • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

            Also, you might be surprised to learn the value of the jewelry that many travelers (usually older) like to wear around. If a thief was skilled enough to enter hotel rooms and break into the safes, I highly doubt that he'd be thinking "jackpot!" if all he found was a MacBook Air.

  • Just get a netbook (Score:5, Insightful)

    by redmid17 ( 1217076 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:44PM (#40353129)
    It sounds more like this would be a hobby solution. The amount of effort you'll spend getting it to work as well as a netbook isn't going to be a good payout
    • by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:05PM (#40353313)

      It sounds more like this would be a hobby solution.

      You do realize this was posted to Slashdot on a Sunday afternoon, right?

    • Unless you plan everything perfectly, at some point you're going to need a keyboard; and carrying a keyboard eliminates all the advantages of having a smaller PC. Use an ultraslim laptop or netbook.

      Alternatively, make someone at the presentation site provide a PC or laptop, and carry all the data and an installer for the display prog on a USB key.

  • Does not sound very compact or light. Just get a very light weight laptop like a Let's Note (Toughbook). Leave the battery at home if it makes that much difference.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:47PM (#40353155) Journal [] []

    Note that you may have problems boarding the plane with such gear :).

  • by dryriver ( 1010635 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:48PM (#40353165)
    Get one of these ------ [] ------- its cheap, light (1300 grams), 9 hour battery life. I have one that I use to write a 400 page book when I'm on the go. Its very usable. As for your Raspberry + Project idea... It will give you nothing but problems, problems, problems... ----
    • Pretty much the same one I've got. I have to agree, it's a great netbook, once you rip that Windows 7 Starter Edition bullshit off there...
      • As do I, and I couldn't be happier. Only thing that weirded me out was the fact that they had Win7 32bit running on 64bit hardware. Easily fixed, currently running my copy of Win7 Pro, Xubuntu, and Backtrack5. Looking at maybe giving it an SSD and a RAM upgrade in the near future if it keeps meeting my needs.
  • by duckgod ( 2664193 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:49PM (#40353175)
    You aren't going to come close to the ergomonics of a laptop so lets assume you are thinking hobby solution. I have long wanted to combine a Cube Laser Virtual Keyboard, Pico Projector, Raspberry pi like computer to make some sort of laser cube of awesomeness. So do it and post about that because I would like to see results without spending the $600 myself.
  • by frank249 ( 100528 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:50PM (#40353179)

    I used to lug a laptop on business trips but now I can get by with just my Blackberry and Playbook. The Playbook has HDMI out so I can use a big screen TV at the other end to show my presentations and videos using my blackberry as a remote. The Playbook fits in my inside jacket pocket so it is ideal for these kind of trips.

  • A tablet will probably do most of what you want in a small enough form factor. That said, I've been looking into building a computer such as you describe but more to get great performance, knowing that I will have a screen and keyboard at the other end. I work for an overseas company. When I get there I have an office. When I am at home I have an office. But I don't like the performance on my laptop, so I was looking into building a small box that has SSD drive for boot, lots of RAM, good sized HD..knowin
    • Yeah, but without a bunch of peripherals a tablet has nowhere near the utility of a netbook and an order of magnitude less storage and costs just as much if not more.

  • by vinn ( 4370 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:50PM (#40353185) Homepage Journal

    If this is truly important to you, why don't you see if you can get by using a phone? Get a phone that has HDMI out and then get a cable so you can plug it into the TV at your hotel, or maybe carry on of those small pico projectors (the projector idea sounds annoying.) Maybe get one of these keyboard projectors? []

  • I manage to do fairly well with a mid-level tablet (in my case a Toshiba Thrive) and a logitech bluetooth keyboard. Both fit in a pocket on my carry-on.

    • Something like this is what I was thinking as well. As long as you have a way to stand your tablet, the ergonomics are probably better than a laptop or netbook anyway.

      Let's face it: despite claims here to the contrary, the ergonomics of most laptops leaves much to be desired. Even though my main machine is a laptop with a full-sized keyboard, I use a bluetooth keyboard so that I can put the screen at the proper distance.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:52PM (#40353201)

    I use Galaxy Nexus for such stuff. GN has pretty large screen for on the go, but when i get at home, GN dock + Bluetooth Keyboard + mouse + 24" monitor gives me decent working environment.

    you can carry all (except monitor) anywhere where you go and then use dock with hotel room TV (if it has hdmi port).

    I'm happy with my Galaxy Nexus :)


    • I'm actually reading this on almost that exact setup. For added joy ditch the mouse for a multi touch trackpad. I use the Apple one myself. You get punch zoom etc. Highly recommended.
  • by Paul Slocum ( 598127 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:56PM (#40353225) Homepage Journal
    If you get a tiny computer and a projector, you basically can't do anything without a power outlet. Just get a small laptop. I'm not a huge fan of Apple, but I've found my Macbook Air to be pretty rugged and portable.
  • don't the put the laptop in checkered bags easy way for it to get lost, broken, or stolen

    • don't the put the laptop in checkered bags easy way for it to get lost, broken, or stolen

      Yep, the lst plaid suitcase I had got stomped on by an irate baggage handler. Apparently, they prefer stripes.

  • by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @02:58PM (#40353247) Journal

    at $550 usd it's not 'cheap' if you buy it without a contract... but with a contract but only $99 for new customers. it's got a qwerty physical keyboard 16 gb stock with a sdmicro supporting 32 gb add on (in the battery housing) and debian supports the hardware just fine. the screen is a bit small but it has a micro hdmi output that will mirror the screen for use with projectors. just a small list of feature, wifi connection to avoid wasting plan gbs, ability to connect to 5 wifi devices to act as a mobile hotspot. full support of google play apps as well as carrier apps, dual core 1.2ghz processor, 1 gb of ram, 8 megapixel camera on rear and 1.4 megapixel cam on front (for skype, etc)
    depending on how many apps you have running the battery lasts all day, and will charge from usb ports. if it's supported in debian the micro hdmi out means ethernet over hdmi support..
    netflix works great on it, though i output to a hdtv to netflix since the screen is not the top grade. it will record video clips in 1080p not sure how many minutes, as i haven't needed to test that yet. it plays back mp3s but i had troubles with mp3 identification when i tried to sync (only on the carriers os) it is a 4g lte phone but works fine on 3g and voice protocols.

  • A good picoprojector will cost you as much if not more than a perfect good netbook ($200-250). Its hard to beat a netbook for 1) universality of software (i.e. you can run most anything), 2) all that you need in a ultraportable package (screen, keyboard, mouse, CPU/mem, disk, etc, 3) battery life -- be sure to get a netbook with a 6-cell battery (6-12 hours). ASUS is still tops, last year's model will be cheaper. Acer also decent.

    Its silly to mess with anything else -- a tablet will be terrible for softwa

  • The Eee Keyboard comes first to mind for this - it's an all-in-one except for the screen (except it does have a screen, it's just really small). You don't gain anything though by going this route, the keyboard isn't significantly smaller or lighter than a small laptop and it's a little more awkward and, most of all, there are more pieces to juggle.

    Don't underestimate the importance of having everything in a single package for portability - I've been really disappointed with the route that Apple has been g
  • Downsides: - you still need a keyboard, mouse - you'll likely need ac power outlet nearby at all times - the tiny projectors typically have horrible brightness, meaning you'll need a darkened room to use it - you'll need a flat projection surface, which either meqns lugging around a screen, or having a hard time finding a suitable wall. Overall, it would be a MUCH more flexible approach to simply get a netbook, or even a tablet like the iPad or Samsung galaxy Tab...
  • Why not use a smartphone? Get a Mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, as well as a bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Use the built-in wifi connector, and use a 'Remote Desktop' client to connect to a machine with more power.

    Sure, it limits your options to hotels with LCD screens and WiFi Hotspots, but that shouldn't be too much of a burden.

  • Basically that was the idea of that project: cpu, projector and a camera for input. Check here []
  • Glasses? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:16PM (#40353393)

    Forget the projector. Does anyone make glasses with a suitable HUD?

    I Googled and found Vuzix []. These appear to be designed mainly for video use, so the resolution might not be great. But if you are going to be projecting an image on any old surface, how much worse can these be?

  • You sound like you need a tablet.
  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:36PM (#40353501)

    I've been using that combo more often for conferences and business meetings. If you want more screen, an iPad or galaxy tablet would work.

    I like the iPhone approach since it limits me to a single device for everything (except coding). Keynote works great for presenting (I usually author in PowerPoint).


  • by jon3k ( 691256 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @03:49PM (#40353609)
    If you're cheap or on a serious budget, get an atom powered netbook, preferrably used, for about $50-$200 off eBay.

    If you want a device that meets your criteria and is actually really nice to use, get a Macbook Air. Fantastic display, great keyboard, great trackpad, awesome battery life, super light and very durable. Plus OS X is actually really nice if you prefer a unix-ish environment.
  • For as much dislike as I've seen for them here on /., a Chromebook w/ 3G is ideal for your scenario.

    I was on a very tight budget last summer, had been relegated to only using my Android phone for a computer for a few weeks, and finally picked up a first generation Samsung Series 5. (It came with 2 years of minimal 3G connectivity; if you factored that into the price it was cheaper than anything else I could find.) It's tiny, light, the battery lasts longer than anything I've had, and you have a real keybo
  • If you did travel 'a lot', you'd be an elite frequent flyer and get at least one bag checked free. I don't even travel that much compared to someone who claims to 'travel a lot', and I have free baggage privileges with two major airlines on an ongoing basis for the past 5 years.

    Furthermore, I travel for a week or two at a time and I manage to carry not only my full size 15.4" Dell Latitude, but also a external USB screen. And I don't check luggage. Fairly small laptop bag + carry on sized luggage = All my c

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Cripes, my carry on bag holds a 18.5 laptop, ipad and DSLR. and if you fly more than once every 2 months, you get a free checked bag with most of the programs out there, I have not paid for a checked bag on delta for years. and I have never been charged for a carry on bag.

  • If the availability of internet cafes is sufficient to cover your needs, then you could reduce the need for carrying equipment significantly, if you could find a way to make use of a computer without having to trust it.

    If you did all of the computing on a stationary machine that you trust (located in your home or in a data center), then you have reduced the task to solve to handling input and output. Would you trust a machine in an internet cafe to send what is on the screen from your own machine to the
  • For the keyboard aspect, you could use one of those little laser keyboards, a quick Google search turned up this [] . Not sure if they work or had any experience with them

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

    I have yet to find an airline that weighs my carry on and chargers me based on it's weight. In addition to that, I have yet to find any tiny projector that has a resolution over 800X600. Any ultrabook made is lighter than any combo out there that would be useable.

  • by khipu ( 2511498 ) on Sunday June 17, 2012 @07:45PM (#40355183)

    The most compact and versatile travel combo I found is a 7" Android tablet with HDMI output and a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

    I'm not sure a pico projector adds much to that: it's not that useful for presentations, and it doesn't really give you a better picture for working than the tablet.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.