It is safe to say that readers of Condé Nast Traveller and the Sunday Times Travel Supplement will never be troubled by a review of the Holiday Inn Reading M4 Junction 10. Its name will never appear beside Le Sirenuse or the Gritti Palace in lists of the world’s most opulent hotels. The aroma of the bougainvillea does not waft across the underground car-park, not can you sit on your balcony sipping a glass of Frangelico as you watch straw-hatted gondolieri ply their centuries-old trade along the Grand Canal. Instead you get a view of a business park outside Reading.
And yet the HIM4J10 (as we aficionados call it) is really a very good hotel. A few of the staff are Indian, which means you can get a really good Chicken Jalfrezi until 11 p.m. — something you won’t find at the Georges V in Paris. And, at the weekend, you can get a pretty nifty room for £55. Adjacent rooms have interconnecting doors, meaning you can protect your children from the predations of public-service broadcasters. There’s also a good indoor swimming pool which guests can use for free (a pleasant change from the Hotel Martinez in Cannes, where the rapacious scoundrels charge guests for using the hotel’s own beach).
One day someone should write a book celebrating the best hotels travel journalists never mention. Travel journalism, in my view (Simon Calder is one exception) is becoming increasingly surreal. I cannot imagine an occasion in any hotel when I want someone to place a row of hot pebbles along my naked back. What I do want is a bed, a coffee-maker, a bit of Wi-Fi, a loo, a few horizontal surfaces and too many power points to count.
Tech journalism is in danger of falling into the same trap: obsessing over the technological equivalent of ayurvedic massage treatments or absurd toiletries rather than the things which really matter. For instance, among all the reviews of the slimmest, most expensive mobile phones, not a single one mentions — or even bothers to assess — ‘how well it actually works as a phone’.
And really practical, useful, but uncomplicated devices often get overlooked. The laptop equivalent of the HIM4J10 is the Chromebook. The latest version, released to perhaps 0.005 per cent of the media fanfare of a new iPad, costs a shade over £200. It is the perfect size for a laptop (at 12.1 inches it even fits the crappy little tables you get on Southeastern Trains) and boots up and shuts down in about six seconds. There is no extraneous software. What you get, in short, is a really good web browser — and nothing else.
If you love nothing more than messing about with computers, do not buy this. But if you have an elderly, faintly Luddite parent who simply needs to do useful things on the internet (banking online, buying the odd book, planning a holiday, looking at photographs, sending emails to the Daily Telegraph, watching the occasional television programme) then this is the perfect device. It has a decent keyboard, and battery life of around six hours. But most impressive is what it doesn’t do. It does not endlessly nag you to update software, download patches or pay for new anti-virus software. It is the least demanding computer I have ever owned.
If you want to know what you can do on a Chromebook, simply download Google’s Chrome browser on your existing computer (www.google.com/chrome) and use it exclusively for the next four weeks. Changing your browser is difficult: like changing your brand of cigarette, it takes about a fortnight to get used to it. But you won’t regret it. Of all the possible free technical advice I can give readers of this column, trying out a different browser probably tops the list.
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.