Many of you plan on bringing your computer and most often
it will be a laptop. One of the advantages of bringing your
own computer is using the English version of your OS. While
it's probably a good idea to learn the Spanish equivalent
for XP, 2000 or Mac OS, it will take some time to figure
out the new vocabulary. The options are generally in the
same place but you'll still be guessing from time to time.
A few other advantages of laptops:
- Portability: you can take them to a lot of cyber cafes and connect
to the internet, either with Wi-Fi or using a network
- Automatic switching power
all laptops can handle both the U.S. and Spanish voltage.
You simply buy a new power cord when you arrive in Spain
and plug it in. No need for converters, etc.
can stick with your English keyboard and avoid learning
a different keyboard layout here in Spain.
Some, like myself, can't stand the though of a laptop as
their primary computer. While it's a little more of a challenge
you can put together a desktop computer in the U.S. that
will work in Spain. A few notes on what you need to consider:
- Make sure the model you
have has a switching power supply. These are not common and you may have to special order
one for your existing desktop. There are a few out there
which offer this standard.
- Consider what is called
a small form factor (sff) computer. These
are much smaller than the normal desktop towers. Mine is the size of a toaster and
I even got a cool little bag to bring it back and forth
to the states.
- Buy a monitor in Spain. You don't want to even try to bring your monitor over
unless you're considering a larger scale move. And again
you'll be caught dealing with the voltage change. While
monitors are a little more expensive here it is worth
selling the one you have and buying a new one here.
- Bring your keyboard with
you want to change to a new layout they use in Spain.
There are of course some advantages to a new layout, especially
if you plan to write in Spanish a lot. Having the ñ as an option is quite handy. Then there are some confusing
parts to switching to the layout here - like finding the @ key. Either way you want to go.
Many, as I did, may plan to use a TV tuner card on their
computer to watch television in Spain. The problem is many
cards in the U.S., like televisions, come only with NTSC
compatibility. The ATI All-in-Wonder is a good example.
The card sold in Europe is only PAL compatible while the
card in the U.S. only NTSC capable. There are a rare few
models out there which include both PAL and NTSC capabilities.
I think back to my first ATI card that offered it some 5
years ago (those days are long gone), or a few other models
which are still out there. However, this only applies to
the actual antenna which plugs directly into the card. If
you choose to use composite video cables you can switch
the tuner to PAL video and receive a perfectly good signal.
The downside to this is that you'll need a separate tuner,
like a VCR or cable (satellite) box. With one of the two
you can hook up to your computer but you'll need to the
remote to the VCR or cable box to change channels. Using
this set-up you'll also lose Teletexto. If you do buy the
tuner card in Spain and install it, an easy option, you'll
be able to plug it in and go, and get the use of
Wi-Fi has certainly begun to hit the home market in Spain,
although wireless routers and other equipment is still more
expensive than in the U.S. and some other countries. And
unlike in the U.S. you will likely have to purchase the
equipment from your ISP (service provider) instead of going
out on your own and buying the equipment. My first experience
with Telefonica wireless was interesting in this respect
- they sent me a modem-router which could be set-up to use
WiFi with an additional PCMCIA card which fit into a slot
in the back of the modem-router. Seeing the price on the
Telefonica web site for one of these PCMCIA cards I decided
I could do better on my own and find one cheaper. I did
manage to save 20 Euros, but it wasn't until a few days
later and a couple of calls to Telefonica that I was informed
only Telefonica brand PCMCIA cards would work with the modem-router.
Seems Telefonica used a little code which blocked other
cards from working with their equipment for no other reason
but to have a monopoly on the sales of these cads to their
clients. Since then the modem-router turned out to be a
bust: there were so many problems with them that they stopped
providing the units to their customers. Thankfully now they
provide decent equipment.
Wi-Fi has yet to hit most of the internet cafes so bringing
a laptop or PDA with a wireless card won't be of great help.
This is slowly changing since the beginning of 2005 and
their are some open hot spots around the city center. Soon
I will be adding a list of where you can connect, just don't
hold me responsible if you get in trouble for using someone
I chose a Pocket PC (Toshiba e740) to bring with me, and
it is likely not the most practical option. I do miss the
days of my Palm III and the easily replaceable AA batteries
that run it. I just wanted more gadget than practicality
and like the screen and built in Wi-Fi. I purchased a continuous
run converter and that is how I powered it up before I realized
a few simple options. The USB synch and charge
cable they have now for $19.95. Then one day I decided to
read the back of the little two cable plug for the unit
and saw the CE. Seems all I needed was a new cable for 1
Euro and I was able plug it in and power up. Do consider
how your PDA will be charged before bringing it over - AA
batteries are always easiest, but most have dropped that
option and need to be plugged in. If they cannot be powered
by a USB cable and they don't have the CE symbol on the
back you'll need a convert or to keep it charged. You have
a two choices: a continuous run converter which you can
leave plugged in all day, or a travel converter (less expensive)
which can be plugged in for a few hours but which you should
not keep plugged in all day. Finally, a PDA is a nice toy
but you can't go around playing with it in the streets.
Some of these PDAs cost upwards of $350 or more and they
are a target for petty theft. I've learned to keep mine
in a pocket within a notebook/folio I carry around for work.
I don't tend to flash it around when I am in a cafe or bar,
but will break it out in El Corte Inglés when I need
to go over my grocery list.
As with most computers and gadgets I'd recommend purchasing
a PDA in the U.S., especially considering the exchange rate.
A quick comparison of street prices in January of 2004 shows
|Palm Tungsten T
We are no entering late 2005 and I still recommend buying
in the U.S. While other goods have started to come down
in price, PDAs seem to remain much more expensive in Spain
than in other countries.
Digital cameras are becoming the choice of more and more
travelers. Not having to buy film every where you go will
save you money, although the batteries may cost you. Choosing
a model can be difficult when
considering megapixels, resolution, digital and optical
zoom, size and available accessories. When it comes down
to it the model best suited for your trip may be different
from what someone else or I choose. If you want prints from
a digital camera a better resolution (and more megapixels)
is needed. If you only plan to post on the web you may be
able to opt for a less expensive model, although ultimately
the picture quality may suffer. For my set-up here I did
a little research and came away with some conclusions on
what worked best for me:
- Get a AA battery (or AAA)
powered camera. While it will be more
expensive to buy batteries, it's also a big hassle to
have to recharge your camera when you are in the middle
of a the Alcazar or some other place. AA batteries are
everywhere so you can buy them without problem or carry
a spare set with you. This is especially important if
you plan to travel a lot, and less important if you plan
to stay in one place. I also purchased rechargeable AA
batteries which have worked great. Those regular AAs now
serve as my back up.
- Consider the type of media. Smart media, compact flash, mini-disk
are a few. Consider the storage size of each: how many
pictures you can fit on the card and if it is reusable
media how often will you have to download the pictures
so you have space to take more? Many cameras come with
card that hold a very small amount of memory. THankfully
there have been some big price drops in memory cards in
the last year. That is starting to happen in Spain, but
in the U.S. they are much cheaper.
- Consider a 6-in-1 card
reader. There are many models as cheap
as $15 and they can hook up to any computer via a USB
port. They are very light and small and can fit in most
camera bags. You also don't lose battery life downloading
your photos. There are internet cafes in Sevilla which
will let you download pictures and burn them to a CD.
- Digital zoom is crap. If your looking for zoom capabilities focus on the optical
zoom specs for your camera. Digital zoom allows you to
get even closer but the resulting picture will be fuzzy
and/or pixilated. Certainly nothing you'll want to save.
- Resolution is the key. Especially if you want to make prints
from the pictures you've taken. If you plan only to store
them digitally to send to friends or post on your web
site you'll be fine with a cheaper model. For making prints
adjust your camera resolution according to the print size
you desire. Below is a helpful chart for determining resolution
which I found on this
|Print Size (approx)
|1024 x 768
|3.6" x 2.7"
|1152 x 864
|4.1" x 3.1"
|1280 x 960
|4.5" x 3.4"
|1600 x 1200
|5.7" x 4.2"
|2000 x 1500
|7.1" x 5.3"
Thanks to the movie studios you can't bring your DVDs over
and just pop them into a stand alone DVD player here. The
movie industry decided to use region codes for DVD and DVD
players in order to control distribution as well as (in
my opinion) illegally fix prices. Each continent has a region
code of 1-5 and a DVD sold in Spain or Europe will have
a fixed code different from the same DVD sold in the U.S.
or Canada. The same DVD you pay $13-15 for in the U.S. may
cost you 20€ here as well. There are of course differences
- castellano is an option here on all DVDs where
you may not have that option in the U.S.. Extra features
such as behind the scenes may be cut or simply included
without a Spanish audio track. Aside from that the industry
simply doesn't want you to be able to order from Amazon
or another company in the U.S. and cheat the distributor
(and the industry's cut of selling the distribution rights)
of potential revenue. The DVD player you buy here will also
have a fixed code, so the industry is trying to keep it
safe for themselves on both the media and hardware options.
There are now several region free players on the market
which allow you to play any DVD. Most will work with NTSC
DVDs as well, and while more expensive, they may prove a
worthwhile investment if you have a large DVD collection
you want to bring over with you.
What you can find for stand alone units are more or less
the same range of DVD players for the same prices in other
countries. There are plenty of sub 100€ models (I
saw a DVD player the other day for 40€) and others
which reach into the 300-500€ range. As in the U.S.
the same characteristics are the reason for the price differences
- the way the DVD is read, formats and media it will read,
number and type of connections in the back, sound capabilities,
etc all will influence the amount of money you spend.
If you have a DVD player on your computer you can watch
your DVDs from the U.S., but depending on your screen size
and sound system that may not be your best option. If you
plan to go with the computer route consider that you're
fine if you stick to using only the DVDs from the U.S. and
not using any you buy or rent here in Spain. Almost all
software programs you run to view a DVD on your machine
will have you set the region code once you first use it.
From there you can change your region code up to 5 times,
with the 5th time locking in the region code for the last
DVD you used. Example: you watch your U.S. DVD and then
watch a few purchased in Spain. Upon using inserting the
DVDs you purchased in Spain you will receive a warning that
these are from different region and the amount of times
you have left to change the region. After a few times of
switching back and forth between the regions the software
locks in the last region (on your 5th time switching) so
you are stuck being able to play either the U.S. region
code DVDs or your Spain (Europe) region code DVDs. You will
not be able to go back to the other after it is locked.
A special thanks to the industry for sticking it to the
All said there are plenty of alternatives and ways to get
around the region codes, some legal and others maybe not.
A quick way around this region junk for a stand alone player
is to search for DVD region hacks in Google. If you want
to know what a crock of *%#%* the region codes are this
method will make you realize it quickly. I was able to strip
the region code from my stand alone Samsung player by doing
a quick search in some forums. After entering a series of
numbers on the remote and pressing 1 or 2 additional keys,
my player restarted and presto - it is now region free and
I can watch any of my DVDs from the U.S. on my DVD player!
If you have both a computer and a stand alone DVD player
purchased here you can choose to use the stand alone for
the European region and the computer for the U.S. region.
Not a bad option (it's the one I chose for a while) if you
have a large monitor and a decent sound system hooked up
to the computer. I have recently moved my desktop computer
into the living room and have connected it to my flat panel
television (which has a VGA, or computer monitor input on
the back). Not only can I now watch all my DVDs from back
home on my television, but I can also watch any TV program
I download from the internet. Another option for stand alone
players was one suggested to me by a couple of jerks in
a high-end video and sound store here. I buy a DVD player
there and they open it up and change it so it is region
free for only 250€. Now these guys aren't jerks because
they offered to do this, even if the price is pretty damn
steep. They're jerks because of a separate incident - they
lie to sell you anything more expensive and when proven
wrong or challenged of course they know best and "get
the hell out of their store". Considering what they're
offering to do - change a region code in a stand alone player
as a vendor of many well-know brands - is illegal, they
should try and treat their customers a little better. One
of us may get tired of their crap and report them someday
My rant being over... you can also buy a region free player
but that will cost you more. Certainly an option if you
have more money to throw around. First try to find a hack
for your DVD player, which will cost you much, much less.
On the computer side things get a little easier. There
are some software players out there you can buy which work
with most brands that will strip the region option. If you
prefer a trickier (and somewhat riskier) solution you can
actually "upgrade" the firmware of your player
which will eliminate the region checking as well. If you
get it wrong be prepared to have your DVD player turned
into a paperweight. Then there are plenty of software options
which for $50 you can strip the region from you player as
well. Although not as good in quality and not a true commercial
option, VCDs are wonderful for skipping all of the region
code "BS". Thanks to a friend and a fellow in
the UK who likes to upload to newsgroups I have 5-6 seasons
of the Simpson's in VCD format. They work in both my standalone
and computer - no PAL or NTSC to worry about either.
goodness times are changing and the VCR is no longer the
best way to watch a rented movie. If you want to record
this is your only option aside from $1000 video hard drives
(PVR) and a very small selection of still expensive recordable
DVD players. Times are now changing and those hard drives
are coming down quick. DVD burners are also down to about
250 - 300€, likely because they are about to be replaced
by better units. PVRs are still very expensive and have
yet to be integrated with cable or satellite terminals.
That means if you buy a PVR you will have to set it to record
like a VCR. Sorry TiVo lovers, the service nor anything
like it has made an appearance in Spain yet. Two companies
are developing a similar system, one which has an integrated
recordable DVD player and some other crap you don't need
to bundle in. Prices are in the thousands of Euros, not
quite like TiVo. VCRs were similar to televisions in that
they are PAL or NTSC specific. (For more information on
PAL and NTSC see the Television page).
Things have changed for the better and at least half of
the new VCRs on the market have what is called NTSC playback.
That means you can play NTSC or U.S. tapes on your VCR using
your PAL television. The picture is often a little smaller
than the actual screen size, but this is a very workable
solution. Without problems I watched an entire season of
the Amazing Race on tapes a friend sent to me. That was
before I learned about BitTorrents.
What you can't do is record TV on an NTSC tape. You'll have
to buy a tape in Spain if you wish to record.
In the new digital age it is getting easier and easier
to transport your music with you and leave your Cds behind.
It's also easier to find the latest tracks from an artist,
download and burn them. That or simply get the CD from a
friend and make a quick copy. So I won't spend too much
time going over the purchasing of a CD in this section.
Do know there are two places which are your best bets to
buy a new CD: Sevilla Rock and El Corte Inglés. CDs
are expensive in Spain, which unfortunately helps the sale
of pirated versions in the street. Often you're looking
at 12-16€ or higher when purchasing them new. If you
can piece together a large enough order you may be better
off ordering from Amazon and having it shipped abroad.
had a collection of some 700 CDs, most of which I don't
listen to anymore. Still, I didn't want to leave any of
them behind and knew I wasn't going to ship boxes of CDs
over. That left me with one solution: burning and storing.
So I researched a few storage options. I didn't want to
lose 30 gigs or so of space on my computer as I've got enough
games and applications to fill a few hard drives. So it
needed to be an external solution. My first thought was
an MP3 player like the iPod and I admit it was attractive,
not just the look but the easy user interface. There were
plenty of other options such as the Nomad and other hand
held devices. I could also bring it with me on the road
and have my entire collection wherever I traveled! But I'd
run the risk of losing it or having it stolen and then my
whole collection would be gone. Then there was the price
of the iPod - about $400 for the model which had enough
storage for my entire collection. Prices have since come
down, and integration with your stereo (car of home) has
become much easier. Other non-Mac options were cheaper but
I was still looking at over $250. And at least for me bringing
music on the road wasn't such a big deal anymore.
all led me to the idea of an external hard drive, which
had several advantages. First, I could get 60 Gigs of storage
for around $120 (now it is likely double the space for the
same price!) . Second, my collection would be hooked up
to my PC and ready for play whenever I needed it: no transferring
of tunes from the iPod or other device to the hard drive
if I wanted to listen to them. Keep in mind it is now much
easier to play directly from a hand-held device such as
an iPod, but you still don't get the sound quality you would
get from a good sound card. Not to mention I'd prefer to
navigate on my computer rather than through a 2" LCD
screen to find what I want. This is getting easier every
year, so my thinking on this may be a bit outdated. Considering
I had already bought a continuous run transformer and had
an extra outlet I wouldn't have any additional costs due
to the voltage change. This was also before I realized that
with a 2€ investment I could simply change the plug
and the hard drive would work! I'm just looking back on
some of my oversights now. Another solution is a hard drive
without an external power source. Instead the hard drive
gets it's power from the computer's USB or Firewire port.
These drives are more expensive when you consider the $
or € per gigabyte ratio. They also have slower read
and write speeds (generally 5400 instead of 7200 for a drive
with an external power source. For music there are no playback
issues, while for video it may take longer to load up, but
in general there is no loss in quality.
I also had to decide what software I would use to burn
and play my music. I chose MusicMatch because it made my
life much easier when cataloging my tunes. MusicMatch, like
a lot of the software for digitally storing music, automatically
downloads the title and track information as well as the
cover art for each CD. It even assigns a category so you
can browse by genre, although I've found that less useful
than other functions. If I wanted a CD to bring along somewhere
I could always burn one - plus it's easier to bring a CD
to play when you're at someone's house than trying to hook
up an MP3 player to their stereo. AGain, that has changed
over the last year or so, but you can't get any easier than
inserting a CD into a player.
off, don't worry as it's all here, though it may be harder
to locate. There is a price difference when buying in Spain
and the exchange rate doesn't help. However, every day the
prices seem to be coming down and it's getting closer to
some of the deals you can find in Best Buy and CompUSA.
I notice a large difference when it's a matter of the popularity
of a certain technology. For instance as I write this DVD+R
are double the cost in Spain compared to the U.S. A lot
of prices below come from El Corte Inglés which I
am recommending less and less every day for these purchases.
It does seem that some of the name brands we are all familiar
with tend to be in El Corte Inglés and other off
brands often pop up in some other stores. So I still stuff
a 50 pack of CDs or DVDs in my bag when I return from the
U.S.. Now that I own a DVD burner I'd be a fool not to buy
in the U.S.. Memory cards will always be cheaper in the
states as well. The only advantage in Spain which many overlook
are that prices already include IVA, or tax. That still
doesn't make it cheaper, but a little more competitive.
A quick comparison of El Corte Inglés prices shows
you the differences:
|CF Card (512MB)
|USB II Card reader
I should make one note - the absolute worst place to buy
this type of media is El Corte Inglés. Their prices
in some instances are 100% higher than the smaller computer
stores. And buying off-brand media will help keep your cost
down, although in some cases you may experience incompatibility
issues with stand alone DVD/CD players. Note that these
prices will vary in either the U.S. and Spain. I also don't
get into the whole DVD-R, DVD+R and DVD-RAM differences
as I use exclusively DVD+R. . I need to make a quick trip
to El Corte Inglés and a few other stores - soon
I'll post prices for the rest of the media in the table
Its always fun to talk about what the ultimate computer
and audio/video set-up would be as an expat. I am slowly
working on mine (I think by now you may realize that I have
a problem with gadgets, computers and audio/video equipment.
An expensive addiction which often means many lost hours
of frustration in tweaking and troubleshooting). The below
dream scenario would keep me locked away in the house for
- Dual satellite systems:
Digital Plus (Spanish satellite) as well as Sky Satellite
with a PVR. This gets me all of the Spanish and English
programming one could hope for. The PVR on the Sky satellite
system means I can record any programs just by selecting
it from the guide. I would also be a fool not to subscribe
to NASN, so I could catch pro and college sports from
back home. This means erecting two separate satellite
dishes, one much bigger to catch the signal for Sky. If
I was really crazy I would also find a way to subscribe
to the Armed Forces Satellite service (National networks
and sports programming), although this would require some
bribing of military officials somewhere. Something I may
get thrown in jail just for talking about. I would also
add a separate terminal and remote controlled satellite
dish for Free view from Astra and other satellites. I
could pick up all the channels that are out there for
- Windows Media Center PC
with DVD burner and 400 Gig hard drive in my living room:
Promised to be out in the fall of 2005, but more likely
to be Spring of 2006, is Windows XP Media Center edition
in Spanish. With this I could then record programs from
any video source. 400 gigs would give me plenty of space,
and I could download TV shows and movies from the internet
and play them back on my television. I could also strip
the region code for the DVD and watch my movies from the
U.S. as well as Spain. Because the computer would be connected
to my television through a monitor cable I wouldn't have
to worry about any NTSC and PAL playback issues. I could
also subscribe to some of the online sports packages such
as ESPN Full Court Press, CBS NCAA Tournament, and ESPN
College Football. Then on my television I could watch
streaming live video of college sports.
- A laptop...and a Tablet
PC, and a PDA all with WiFi of course.
- LCD large screen television (HD ready): 40" or greater with a resolution
high enough to view my computer and surf the net. Things
like Google Earth are much better on a 40" display,
not to mention the postage stamp size window for watching
streaming video becomes much bigger. This television would
have plenty of connections for digital video and audio,
plus VGA for my computer.
- Home Cinema with Surround
Sound: I have reached the age where I
no longer need the best of every component. A small wireless
5.1 system with good sound would be enough. Stand alone
DVD player/burner which is region free and has NTSC compatible
playback. I don't care if this is redundant with my Media
Center PC DVD player. Sometimes I don't want to boot up
my computer to watch or record a DVD.
- Wireless network:
The highest speed internal network possible to stream
video and audio throughout the house. I want to be able
to to watch video, listen to music or share files on any
device - laptop, PDA, Desktop, home stereo or television.
I don't care if I never use it - I want just want to have
the possibility to!
- A 20Mbit internet connection:
Telefonica keeps upgrading us for free, but I am still
stuck with a 1Mbit connection for about 40€ per
month. I would prefer 20Mbit, thank you.
- TiVo for Spain: someone who can produce a low entry cost product
which does what TiVo does: an easy to use interface, searchable
by actor, title, show, etc. I want to select a program
and record it, not set up a PVR to record at a certain
time on a certain channel. I want one touch record in
Spain! And if it is redundant with my XP Media Center
computer, I just don't care. I want them both.
Now my spoiled brat - want, want, want - exercise is over.
As I mentioned before, I have a problem with technology.