Apple Everywhere

2 Months with the iPad: Mature, Powerful, and Very Useful

- 2010.06.11 - Tip Jar

You've probably read my initial analysis of the iPad by now - or at least you should have. Don't take my word for it - there are plenty of other reviews to read, and they mostly say the same thing (provided they weren't written by the tech-obsessed elite).

Two months after the arrival of my iPad on that memorable Saturday, I'm still using it as my primary mobile workhorse, even more so, in fact. I augmented it with my Pismo PowerBook for a few days, but I gradually let go of the Pismo within the first week. It just didn't offer that much more than my iPad did.

So where did the Pismo go? Right now it's being prepped to replace our soon-to-be overhauled Compaq Presario 5340, pending the decision to buy a USB-to-PS/2 adapter or just buy a new USB keyboard. The old PowerBook and our Compaq MV520 CRT monitor go hand-in-hand . . . or connector-in-port, I guess.

Mobility

As phenomenal as the iPad's battery life is while web surfing, shutting down the WiFi and Bluetooth can pull another hour or two of use out of the tablet. If you're listening to music and have a nice long playlist made, locking the iPad can stop most of its power consumption. This comes in handy for long drives, and it will probably be most noticeable during our vacation to Texas this July.

I was concerned about finding a bag for my iPad after hearing news reports of them getting stolen - one man lost part of a finger when thieves made off with his brand new iPad - so I stopped by the local consignment stores to see what I could turn into an inconspicuous iPad travel bag. I eventually left Salvation Army with a black diaper bag that fit my iPad, my Apple Wireless Keyboard, and just about anything else I could think of to go with it (headphones, charger, etc.). Sure, it might not be the most stylish thing in the world, but it makes me less of a target for thieves and makes toting my iPad that much easier.

The iPad's WiFi is somewhat less powerful than that of my Pismo, but not by much. The Pismo's range is a 15' more than the iPad's range, and I suppose those who depend on public WiFi for work might want to consider the 3G iPad (for those of you who already bought a 3G iPad and had your email addresses stolen, my condolences), at least until the promised firmware update arrives.

Having the Bluetooth on at the same time as the WiFi can severely limit WiFi range, so use the virtual keyboard and built-in microphone unless you've got a really strong wireless signal.

Productivity

The Pages for iPad update issued last month removed most of my few complaints about Pages. Among other minor things, the ruler and toolbar are now usable in landscape mode, making formatting changes much, much easier. It's not as easy as keyboard shortcuts, but for most people it should suffice (cut, copy, paste, and undo shortcuts do work, however).

An update to my favorite file-synching service, Dropbox, gave me the ability to sync my Pages documents, albeit as .doc files, with my other computers and back to my iPad for editing. I can now open and edit documents in Pages on my iPad and then upload them to Dropbox, which makes my life a whole lot easier.

One app I am really looking forward to using this fall is Blackboard Mobile Learn, which could complete my avoidance of my school's antiquated and buggy WebCT system (I've contacted my school's tech department, and they plan to have Mobile Learn online by the fall semester). I had a bad experience last semester with one instructor using a less than organized layout for her WebCT page. This app should put an end to that - the Mobile Learn layout is standardized, so I know where everything is, every time.

I haven't had a chance to try any e-textbooks yet, but I'm planning on using them as exclusively as possible this fall, saving myself a lot of money (including chiropractor's bills).

Print n Share for the iPad does allow for limited printing capabilities from the iPad, but I've never had to use it. Most of my work stays digital - my novel, when finished, will hopefully hit the iBookstore shelves without ever becoming a printed book.

Odds and Ends

In addition to being my go-to mobile device, my iPad is also my alarm clock. After some problems with the iPhone version of Alarm Clock Pro on my iPad, I switched to Night Clock for iPad and have been awakened on time, every time, ever since.

I read a report somewhere that the iPad's screen could cause sleep loss because of its brightness - this was seen more in people who stayed inside all day and less in people who get plenty of sunlight. Fortunately, here in Iowa, the temperatures are perfect for getting outside, and I have a paper route every morning, so I get my quota of sunlight. I've never had any problems with sleeplessness because of my iPad. If anything, it's less noticeable than my old Sony Dream Machine.

The Weather Channel app is disappointing. If you're thinking about getting it, don't - it's slow, buggy, and generally not much fun. WeatherBug works much faster and better. For once, I actually have a weather app that beats out going over to the iMac and opening the Dashboard to check the radar.

Fun and Games

X-Plane for iPad remains my favorite game for the iPad. The update added a bunch of new planes and locales, deepening my love for Laminar Research's impressive flight sim. The Apollo add-on is very cool - after the cancellation of Project Constellation, it seems we're not going back to the moon anytime soon, but you can get at least a small part of the Apollo experience by landing the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module - not Low End Mac). I barely managed it on the first try.

The ever-popular Scrabble app has lived up to its best-selling reputation in use. Playing the "real" version of Scrabble® didn't happen much around here - things tend to get lost, especially small letter blocks. That, and we don't have much room to just set a game somewhere and come back to it later. The Scrabble app is perfect - small, portable, and mess-free. Best of all, it saves where you're at, so you can come back to it later (even months later, if need be).

I would still like to see the Monopoly® iPhone app become a native iPad app (since this article was posted, it has, but for now, Scrabble is a big hit in my house. (Editor's note: Wikipedia has a fascinating history of Monopoly and its predecessors.)

The Apple iPad Case

Funny how the littlest thing can make some people so irritated. The fact that the iPad case gets dirty, only folds into landscape mode, and <gasp> doesn't come in different colors drew the ire of many and the admiration of few. Well, I'm among the few.

I spent a little money on this case, and it has proved to make all the difference when using my iPad. It keeps it in place on my lap when I am typing (like right now), makes a perfect stand when I use my iPad as my alarm clock, and makes my iPad that much less conspicuous when I carry it around.

And, as I said before, Windex® works wonders when the iPad case gets dirty - spray on the front, spray on the back, spray on the inside, and wipe it off. Presto - good as new (and it gets the sweat smell out, too). I wouldn't overspray it, though, just to be safe.

Docking and Synching

Unlike some of you, I don't have an Intel Mac at home. ASUS, Sony, and Gigabyte each released firmware updates for their motherboards to bring their USB ports up to the required level for iPad charging, so I decided to try it with our HP Pavilion a6400f (which uses an ASUS board). After installing it, I closed my eyes and restarted the computer.

No sparks, no explosions, no meltdown - just a working, booting computer.

It turns out the stupid integrated graphics chip doesn't like the firmware update - the graphics don't turn back on after waking from sleep, so I uninstalled the update. I'm planning to buy a graphics card for the Pavilion someday, but until then, I can live without charging my iPad from it.

It did charge, though. And leaving it locked while plugged into the Pavilion will allow it to slowly charge. But the sleep issue was just too frustrating.

Synching is probably what draws the most ire from iPad critics - it can't officially sync through WiFi or Bluetooth. I say, "Wah. Get over it." Seriously, if we've become so mobile that we can't stop to plug in our iPads to sync them, we are headed the way of the Roman Empire - ease leads to disuse of critical parts of our body (think "muscles" and "tendons" and "heart" and "brain"). Like remote controls for TVs - great invention, but when you start expecting it to change DVDs for you, that's when the line should be drawn.

Overall, iTunes provides a pretty decent synching service. I wish it would allow me to sync automatically with any and all of the five allotted computers under my account, but given that I'm using the computer at home 99.9% of the time, I can live without that feature for the time being.

Duplicates can be a problem on Windows PCs (if you use Windows Media Player alongside iTunes), but those with Macs shouldn't have a problem.

I did like not having to use the computer to get the latest Engadget Show podcasts. Though those podcasts are huge downloads for those of us on 1 Mbps connections, it's still cool to be able to access that kind of content without a computer.

The Virtual Keyboard

"Netbook without a keyboard" - my favorite criticism of the iPad. Actually, I'm getting really comfortable with the virtual keyboard, and I've abandoned using my Apple Wireless Keyboard for emails. It takes some getting used to, but typing on virtual keys is less of a challenge than it might seem initially. I can "touch-type" on it now, which really increases my speed. It's all about training your fingers the distance between the keys instead of the feel of the keys - once you've gotten that down, the virtual keyboard is a breeze.

I still don't know why Apple put the little bumps on F and J on the virtual keyboard - if you can't feel them, they don't really do any good.

A Really Big iPod

Once again, I must say that for its day, our Compaq Presario was quite a PC. Everything but the dissected innards is still functional and works fine. The CRT monitor hasn't suffered any field lines or distortion, the tower is still in excellent shape and is ready to be totally overhauled, and the speakers don't have that crackle to to them that old speakers can get. The Internet keyboard, mouse, and IJ900 printer have since gone on to meet their maker (figuratively speaking), but they've all been replaced.

With our aging kitchen stereo losing its speakers left and right (no pun intended), I had a bright idea to pull out the Compaq's JBL Pro speakers and try them with my brother's PSP and my iPad. Sure enough, they are crisper and clearer than the stereo ever was, and the bass response is very nice. With the PSP, they sound okay; with the iPad, they sound great. I think the fact that the base volume of the iPad is higher than that of the PSP has something to do with it.

The iPad is no boombox, but sometimes it's fun to pretend it is and carry it on my shoulder, blasting deep mono sound out of its impressive little speakers (I have yet to do this outside of my own home). Carrying it around with headphones, though, is just dumb (of course, I think walking around listening to an MP3 player in public is dumb, too - I can't tell you how many times I've almost run into someone walking around at college while they're zoned into their music).

HTML5 and Flash

Personally, I'm glad the iPad doesn't use Flash. I didn't like Flash on regular computers (buggy, slow, and fans kicked in more often), so why would I like it on my iPad? And, to those of you who are whining about Farmville, you can finally revel in your childish game on the iPad - a Farmville app is in the works.

Hooray!

HTML5, on the other hand, is really exciting. I had to try an embedded HTML5 OGG video on my Pismo (which runs Flash about as well as a PSOne would run PS2 games), and the video actually ran at full fps (or at least over 15) for about ten seconds until it had to buffer. If my Pismo can at least run it decently, the iPad must rip through it no problem.

Organization

Those of you with messy home screens, fear no more! After checking the iPad's reset menu, I found the wonderfully useful option "Reset Home Screen Layout", which puts the main home screen back to factory default (except wallpaper) and arranges your downloaded apps in alphabetical order on screens 2 through 19 or whatever it was (I'm only up to screen five).

Learning Curve

Something I didn't address in my first review was the iPad's learning curve, which is basically nil. To use the iPad, you really don't need any prior knowledge of computers (provided someone has synched it for you). Don't get me wrong - it'll expand your brain, but in a different way than you might expect.

With a traditional computer, you learn how to perform tasks to make the computer do what you want it to do. The focus is on learning how to make yourself flow with the computer. With an iPad, however, you learn how to integrate the iPad into your life - what tasks it can perform to assist you in real life. The focus here is on having the iPad flow with you, which is exactly what it was designed to do. It's like a funnel - with a desktop or laptop, you funnel your world into it; with an iPad, it funnels into your world.

Try to use it like a desktop or laptop, and you miss the point.

That is, if you understand what it was made for. Try to use it like a desktop or laptop, and you miss the point. Sure, it can do things that were previously only doable on desktops and laptops, but it's much more capable than that. Buy a Mac if you need to, but if you're looking for that go anywhere, do anything execution that the old PowerBooks used to have, look no further than the iPad.

Conclusion

After two months, I've had a chance to observe the iPad's strengths and weaknesses in a different light. I've had to force it to restart once (hold down the power and hold buttons), I've seen apps crash. I've dropped it (in its case) and smeared it up and generally treated it like my rugged old PowerBook. And it's survived.

As the iOS platform matures, I become less and less dependent on full-fledged OSes and more inclined to use my iPad. I cannot wait for this fall, when I can use the iPad version of iOS 4. I've participated in a small way in the refinement of one app (Autoharp) by giving the developer my feedback, and I think the iOS benefits similarly from the feedback Apple receives from average users. This means, hopefully, that by the time iOS 4 for iPad is released, the iPhone users should have weeded out the most irritating bugs.

Unlike many Apple products, the iPad does not feel first generation. I've worked with a first-gen (300 MHz iBook G3, stock with OS 9), and I've used a last-gen (Pismo PowerBook G3, stock CPU, upgraded RAM and hard drive, Mac OS X 10.4.11). The iPad feels more like a last-gen product than a first-gen, so I am excited to see how the iPad line grows and matures over the next few years, months, even weeks.

I advise those who are considering an iPad to think for a moment. If you want a computer to do something specific (i.e. Photoshop, InDesign, Final Cut, etc.), you'll be better off with a Mac. If you want a computer that can perform countless general tasks and will adapt in ways nobody can imagine, buy an iPad. LEM

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Austin Leeds is a Mac and iPad user - and a college student in Iowa.

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