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Buying a computer to use on our narrowboat

When we retire (12/18 months) we hope to spend a few weeks at a time crusing on our narrow boat on the UK waterways. We don't have a computer at home but want to keep in touch with family and friends while away. Can you suggest/recommend a computer (presumably a laptop) which we can use away from our marina and also at home in between cruises. What facilities/equipment would we need in order to run it for say a couple of hours when moored up using the internet? We have an electrical hook up at the marina. Any advice would be appreciated. Many thanks.

Asked by: Maree Jenkins  | 2.28pm, Wednesday 11 August

WW says:

If all you need is a means to stay in touch with family and friends, we'd suggest that you consider a 'netbook' or tablet PC. These are less powerful than full-blown laptops, but are an approprite solution for e-mail, web browsing, and some limited photo downloading from your camera.
They'll take up less room on your boat, and their power consumption is much reduced - so you can go longer between charges, and even power or recharge the netbook directly from a 12v socket on your boat. They're also a good deal cheaper than standard laptops.
A typical netbook will cost from £250 upwards. You could also consider the Apple iPad, a marvellous piece of technology with a single touchscreen that doubles as the keyboard: this starts at £429.
For your Internet connection, the usual solution is a 'dongle', a small USB-powered device that talks to the mobile phone network. These are available from all the mobile phone networks. Typically you will pay a small sum to buy the dongle in the first place, then around £15 per month for the mobile access (though cheaper deals are available if your use is very limited). Some devices, such as the iPad, can be purchased with a built-in mobile receiver so there's no need for a separate dongle - though you'll still have to pay the £15.
If a netbook doesn't do everything you want, you can buy a normal laptop and use that with a dongle. Laptops may not be able to run off the 12v supply, and may need 240v (via an inverter if you're not at your home mooring): check the specs of the model which you intend to buy.

Richard Fairhurst  | 4.39PM, Wednesday 11 August

Readers say:

I would agreed with what Richard has said but would add that my experience using 3 mobile for my internet connection has been more than satisfactory. 3 do an add in to their mobile phone contract which gives you 2GB per month for £10. This can be set up or cancelled at any time and the parts of a month used are charged pro rata. I use my phone as a modenand connect to the laptop using Bluetooth. This means that in areas of weak signal I can put the phone on the top plank under the cloth and have my lap top some distance from it in the cabin. I have found 3G coverage for 3 mobile extremely good.

Nicholas Cooke  | 4.07PM, Sunday 15 August

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