Apple Everywhere

On the Road with a Pismo and an iPad

- 2010.07.08 - Tip Jar

We're on our way to Texas!

Armed with a laptop case and a diaper bag filled with tech (the laptop case containing my iPad, Pismo PowerBook, and all their related accessories, and the diaper bag containing various paraphernalia, including enough USB cables to restrain a convict, a USB headset, a load of AA batteries and their charger, my Mac OS X 10.4 and MS Office 2008 DVDs, a 16 GB flash drive, etc.), I now possess our primary means of communication with the outside world. Well, except for talking.

Many of you are probably wondering how the iPad works in a situation like this, providing services such as navigational advice (locating restaurants and hotels/motels), uploading videos from my brother's Flip Video Ultra 2nd Generation, supplying entertainment on rainy days and game nights (anyone for Scrabble?), and helping administer the newest member of my tech fleet, a Virgin Mobile prepaid Novatel MiFi 2200.

I'll be keeping you up to date with how my iPad, Pismo, and MiFi perform in real-world conditions, so check Low End Mac regularly for my latest article. I'll try to write one every two days - perhaps more frequently if I feel I need to report some situation where my tech either helped or hindered our progress.

As this will be the first real-world test of my new MiFi, I'll also include a review of it for those of you still on the fence. So far, it has worked well during some limited tests, but we may very well be depending on it as our first source of information while mobile, so we'll see how it stands up to the challenge.

Day One

Wednesday, July 7, 3:52 p.m. Having spent most of the ride from Stratford to Boone writing my introduction, I am surprisingly feeling pretty good (normally I get carsick). The Pismo has a slightly loose screen, so it tends to bounce a little when we go over bumps. I haven't turned on the MiFi yet, because Boone doesn't seem to be in range of a 3G data tower. It'll get voice access, but no data. Originally (3 p.m.-ish) at 91%, my Pismo's batteries are now (4:03 p.m.) at 84%.

4:20 p.m. After stopping for a few items in Boone (including a pair of Hi8 tapes for our old Handycam), we headed toward Ames. We're now about 8 miles out, and the MiFi is now turned on and connected. After one failed attempt, I've managed to send an email (4:24 p.m.). Low End Mac loads just fine. Central Iowa seems to have spotty 3G; hopefully Texas is better.

5:13 p.m. Spent a little time with my iPad, using the MiFi for a few minutes. Driving through Des Moines on I35 gave the MiFi much better reception, allowing me to use the Maps app for a little traffic monitoring. While the MiFi couldn't keep up with "Hybrid" mode in Maps, "Classic" mode (using only street maps, with no satellite imagery) works just fine. After almost one hour of moderate usage, the MiFi is displaying 3/4 battery life remaining, just short of Novatel's estimate. Turning off the MiFi (5:19 p.m.).

6:27 p.m. Stopped at a Missouri welcome center. No WiFi (not surprised, but after noting that the Iowa I35 rest stops have WiFi, I have to wonder why; the center boasted two protected Sony HD TVs, displaying notable travel destinations and statewide Doppler radar, respectively). Now (6:34 p.m.) entering Bethany, MO, preparing to eat.

7:31 p.m. Back on the road. Pismo batteries at 72%. Both batteries powering my Pismo are aftermarket 6600 mAh 9-cells, with the original Apple battery (which runs almost two hours before depletion) serving as an emergency backup. My iPad has been having an issue for the past three days - the home button seems to be malfunctioning. It's not very serious, and it comes out of it very quickly after just a single, five-second press of the button, but it could render my iPad functionally inoperable if it progresses any further. It seems to be triggered by excessive shaking (which is basically the norm in our Econoline), and it's popped up again just now. Fortunately, my iPad is under a 1-year limited warranty, which includes replacement of defective units, so I should be able to return it if this problem doesn't go away.

For those of you saying, "Aha! I knew the iPad was too good to be true," this problem has existed in the iPhone and iPod touch since their introductions, sometimes due to software bugs, other times due to hardware faults. I've come to accept that everything will have its share of problems, and the iPad is no exception. Interesting thing is, once the problem has come and gone - usually in only a few seconds - it stays away for many hours (yesterday, it didn't pop up at all). Now (7:44 p.m.) it's working perfectly again.

7:53 p.m. Tried out the Pismo's DVD-ROM while on the road, and it works surprisingly well. It's a shame Apple never made another laptop that could live up to the Pismo's legacy - an impossibly adaptable and upgradeable machine.

At one time I had a concept of what the never-to-be-built "Son of Pismo" would look like, but it turns out Microsoft had the same idea - my "Son of Pismo" was much like a large Courier, but with interchangeable batteries and media bays. Also, the "Son of Pismo" would feature a special hinge designed to keep the two displays contiguous, effectively merging the two tablet "pages" into a single, angled tablet. Cool idea, but I don't think anyone would ever build it.

Day Two

Thursday, July 8, 6:43 a.m. I was a little too tired last night to finish writing, so I'll try to do that today while everyone else is still asleep. I had brought along my Pismo's S-video cable, hoping to hook it up to a TV. However, the TV in our motel room features a 7-pin S-video port, and it doesn't work with my 4-pin cable connectors (our TV at home has a 4-pin port, while the Pismo has a 7-pin port, making the 4-pin cable compatible). We didn't watch any DVDs. Well, at least there was free WiFi.

The MiFi has an option to turn off its LEDs while charging, which comes in handy while you're trying to sleep. I stayed up until 10:45 p.m., and my younger brothers kept telling me to go to sleep. I'm the first one up this morning.


Apart from my iPad's little problem, my tech performed well on day, albeit not to their full potential. LEM

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

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