Travellers fiddle a lot these days. Mainly they fiddle with electronic devices: tablets, laptops, and smartphones, flashing screens that demand attention even when the view beyond them might be of Sydney Harbour, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the temples at Angkor.
For those of us who can just about recall the old days, when spending two hours in an airport departure lounge was an excuse to do nothing more than search for unusual aircraft tailfins, this can still come as a surprise. For the rest of the travelling world, entire journeys are indelibly linked by another quest: the search for wi-fi.
This search – often followed by more prolonged fiddling to get your devices to work – has come to be a big deal in hotels and hostels around the world. The smarter ones know that many travellers will prioritise a fast connection over many other amenities, especially if it's free. Wi-fi or hot tub? Most, I am sure, would take the invisible string to the internet over the bubble bath. You can almost smell the relief in hostel common rooms where, hooked up again to a connected world, backpackers can tweet, like, and share images and observations to green-eyed onlookers.
On the other hand, a poor or expensive internet connection at your lodging can induce such frustration and loathing that at times it can feel like the hotel has set out to wound you personally and never again will you stay there. Should you arrive in a free wi-fi zone it is tempting to feel you have arrived in Avalon – and that you must immediately tell the world.
The 10 best tablets
The 10 best tablets
1/10 Hudl 2
The best in the budget range, the Hudl comes in at only £129. But it’s not all cheap here, the tablet has an 8.3” screen, eight different choices of colours and a full HD screen. Ideal for catching up on TV and films, as well as doing all your everyday online admin. £129, tesco.com
2/10 iPad Mini 3
For those with small hands, or anyone who doesn’t like wielding a full-sized tablet, the Mini could be for you. The 7.9’’ ‘Retina’ screen is a major upgrade for the little Mini, so your kids can watch Dora the Explorer in a whole new way. Comes with Touch ID, too. £319, store.apple.com
3/10 iPad Air 2
Apple’s latest tablet might not be a huge upgrade compared to what we’re used to, but it’s still the fastest they’ve produced with their A8X chip. And it’s the thinnest, too, at a mere 6.1mm. They’ve also added Touch ID - their fingerprint recognition hardware - for added security. £399, store.apple.com
4/10 Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet
Eight inches wide, 270g and waterproof to up to 1.5m? Yes, this is a particularly brilliant piece of kit. The new device from Sony is also the only tablet that can remote-play PS4 games over Wi-Fi. Plus, the battery can last for more than 12 hours. £329, sony.co.uk
5/10 Panasonic FZ-M1
This is the world’s first fanless, 7”, Windows 8.1 Pro fully-rugged tablet. It’s drop-, water- and dust-resistant and can operate in temperatures ranging from -10 to +50°C. It weighs 540g, and is 18mm thin. It also comes with a business-class price tag, however, so definitely only one for the mobile adventurer. £1946, uk.insight.com
6/10 Nexus 9
Google’s latest is brand new and available now. It has an 8.9” screen, the new Lollipop operating system – Google’s fastest yet ¬– as well as two front-facing speakers for great sound. The whopping battery means you can continuously play video for 9.5 hours. £319, play.google.com
7/10 Cintiq Companion
At £1500, this definitely isn’t a tablet for everyone but if you are feeling flush, it features a full Windows 8 system as well as a HD 13.3” screen, customizable controls that makes it ideal for professional illustrators. £1499.99 uk.shop.wacom.eu
8/10 Archos Helium 4G
At 430g the Helium, ironically, isn’t the lightest of the bunch. But it comes with 4G connectivity (though you will have to buy your own SIM) for under £200. This isn’t for everyone, but if you just want a barebones tablet for a family member then you won’t do badly with this. £199, archos.com/gb/
9/10 Samsung S Tab 10.5
Samsung’s latest borrows its design from the S5 phone, with a perforated back and a fingerprint sensor. The key boon here is performance, with 3GB of built-in RAM, a massive battery and only 6.6mm thin. Apple, watch out. £399, samsung.com
10/10 Amazon Fire HDX 7
Amazon’s tablet is still one of the best to watch TV on, especially if you have an Amazon Prime membership, which gets you access to hundreds of thousands of films and TV shows for free. £199, amazon.co.uk
Looking beyond getting online, for a moment, the condition we'll call "wi-fimania" may seem a questionable development. By buying into the cult of wi-fi you're also buying into, in many cases, carrying expensive and sometimes heavy devices around with you. They'll also require power. And your attention.
The charm of that street-side café in Paris is not best appreciated by giving your attention to something on the table rather than the to-and-fro of everyday life going on around it. Then again, once connected there are reasons to celebrate beyond being able to communicate constantly. Online maps, and a wealth of planning resources are at your disposal, and the use of cloud storage can remove the risk of losing photos or scribbles from on the road.
So, should we be prizing other services over wi-fi while on the road? I nominate punctual transport, exemplary tourist information, and early- and late-opening attractions as being of more use to travellers, and contributing more to the joy of visiting somewhere. But I expect I am in the minority. The buzz and beep of mobiles and tablets is everywhere, and the search for the thumbs-up on photos posted to the web moments after being taken seems to thrill more than anything else. Were I trying to woo more visitors to my hometown, I'd propose investing in a fast, free, public wi-fi network above pretty much anything else. Just imagine the retweets.