Low End Mac Reviews

The iPad Is Here to Stay

Austin Leeds - 2010.04.27

It's been nearly a month since I got my iPad - and it's been just as long since I last used my beloved Pismo PowerBook. With the old PB in good hands (my sister's), I don't feel so bad about giving it up, and I haven't lost any productivity with the transition.

The iPad is no laptop, but for all practical purposes, I didn't really need a laptop in the first place. When I got my Pismo in 2008, laptops were the only mobile devices that could be used effectively for a wide range of tasks. For me, the iPad takes over most of the tasks that I previously relied on my Pismo to perform.

This review is split into 12 sections, each explaining a function of the iPad and responding to an argument against it.

iPad vs. Laptops

Even before I got my iPad, I knew that it was not a laptop. Heck, I knew that before I even saw the iPad for the first time when Steve Jobs' unveiled it. The iPad was designed to be to the laptop what the laptop is to the desktop - a more mobile equivalent, with some major improvements and some irksome compromises.

Inasmuch as laptops are mobile workstations, the iPad is a field device. It was meant to go with you. The best analogy I can give is this: If computers were writing surfaces, desktops would be writing desks, laptops would be folding tables, the iPad would be a clipboard, and the iPod touch would be a reporter's notebook. Obviously, you can't do as much with a clipboard as you can with a folding table, but you also can't take a folding table with you everywhere and expect to be able to use it on demand. A reporter's notebook is also more mobile than a clipboard, but it is more difficult to use for a long period of time and can't be used for more than small notes and drawings.

By the same token, a netbook would be a small folding table - easier to lug around, but still difficult to use on the go.

In short, the iMac/Mac Pro/Mac mini, the MacBook/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air, the iPad, and the iPod touch/iPhone each have their places. The iPad has just filled a trickier place than the rest - that's what makes it revolutionary.

'It's Just for Consumers of Information, Not Producers'

Not true. Not true at all.

I am a reporter, columnist, and photographer for my college newspaper. While I might not stand up to the professionals in any of these areas, the job requirements vary only in degree, not specification. That said, I use my iPad extensively in the first two areas (once I get the USB and SD memory card adapters, I'll be able to use it for the third). I've used it to take notes at events, record interviews (one area in which it simply excels), write my articles and columns, and break the ice with nervous interviewees. On that last use, the iPad is surprisingly effective. From the provost of my college down to first-semester freshmen, everyone becomes a little more open in the presence of my tablet.

Pages for iPad is an excellent word processor, though not the powerhouse that Microsoft Word 2008 is. I can use Pages for any stage of the writing process, from first draft to final revision, but its effectiveness in each stage varies. It's very, very efficient for first drafts, especially when combined with my Apple Wireless Keyboard. Final revisions are a bit harder, but for newspaper work, it's no sweat (English Comp students, and probably others, will need a laptop or a desktop to finish things off, since Pages for iPad doesn't seem to support footnotes).

In the field of music, the iPad seems to find its niche as a wireless MIDI controller or sound board. I don't see how anyone could use piano apps. The accordion, maybe....

Artistically, the iPad is unexplored territory. Unlike Brushes on the iPhone, which required quite a bit of concentration to produce anything, Brushes can be used on the go as a sketchpad on the iPad - or at rest as an easel of sorts. I found that with a little practice, I was able to produce a sketch as good as, if not better than, those I had been using my Wacom Graphire 4 to make.

"So what's the verdict on this myth, Adam?"

"The iPad as a consumer-only device - totally busted!"

'I Can't Hear You!'å

While this might not be a major concern to people, the iPad is Apple's most rocking mobile device yet! The iPod touch's tiny little mono speaker is like a keychain flashlight compared to the spotlight of the iPad's double speaker.

While not capable of stereo audio because of its single speaker, the iPad's speaker is nonetheless the most impressive speaker of its size I've ever heard. Like the small but mighty Apple Pro speakers, the iPad's speaker sports a surprisingly rich bass response while maintaining crisp high pitches. I've been able to compare the iPad against the MacBook White in this area, and while the MacBook sports a slightly higher maximum volume, the iPad is the clear winner against the MacBook's bass. I got the same results with the iPad against a year-old Intel iMac.

Bottom line: Have the need to share your music? Call iPad.

'iPad Can't Print'

Seriously, everyone who says the iPad can't print is dead wrong. The iPad, assisted by one of several different apps, can indeed print - just not by itself.

The iPad requires a print server, which can be anything from a dedicated office server to an ordinary desktop computer (PC or Mac). Using the Print n Share app for the iPad in conjunction with the ridiculously simple (and free) WePrint print server for PC or Mac enables iPad (and iPhone/iPod touch) users to print emails, web pages, and text files from their iPad. I haven't used it enough to confirm or deny that Print n Share (or any other app) works with iWork, but to be honest, I haven't had to. There's very little reason to print with the iPad unless it is for emails or short documents, at least in my experience.

Synching with iTunes is really less of a pain than it might seem (though I'm all for Apple making Bluetooth synching a possibility).

'Reading iBooks Is Hard on Your Eyes'

iBooks is a wonderful thing, probably one of the greatest apps ever made by Apple. It is nearly as simple to use as an actual book, and often as quick to flip through as one. The table of contents allows you to click on a chapter to flip to it instantly, and, combined with the bottom slider (which functions like a high-speed scrubbing slider), you can actually get to a specific page faster than the real thing, especially in larger books like, say, the King James Bible.

The main argument against the iPad's ebook capabilities is the fact that its screen is backlit, supposedly straining one's eyes. Actually, iBooks allows for adjustment of the backlight outside of the normal range, from incredibly dim to blindingly bright, to fit perfectly with ambient light levels. The distance at which one reads an iBook can be increased by enlarging the text (also a handy feature for those with deteriorating eyesight), so the iPad might actually be healthier for your eyes than a real book - and it is definitely healthier than using a desktop, laptop, or cell phone.

I use iBooks on a regular basis, and let me tell you, it exceeds my expectations. Because of Project Gutenberg's 30,000 free, out-of-copyright books, I haven't spent a dime in the iBookstore yet, and I've got over a dozen of my favorite classics in my library. The King James Bible corresponds exactly to the real thing, can be searched quickly and easily, and can be copied and pasted into other applications.

Another fun thing about iBooks is the ability to listen to your iTunes music while reading - listen to the classics while reading the classics!

I think iBooks is one of the major features of the iPad, and I'm always disappointed when people dismiss it without trying it.

The Case for the iPad Case

Thanks to the folks at PC World and Macworld, I'm pretty sure just about everyone knows not to drop the iPad by now. A case is a good investment for your iPad, and while Apple's iPad Case might not be perfect, the protection and versatility it offers is certainly worth the cost.

For what amounts to some strips of foam glued together, the iPad Case surprisingly changes the way I use my iPad. It makes it easier to carry around, to use on flat surfaces and in my laptop, and makes me less paranoid about dropping it. In fact, I did drop it shortly after getting the case - it was about a three-foot drop onto carpeted floor from a table, and the case softened the fall so much that I barely heard it go "thump". Thankfully, there was no damage done, and my investment in the case was justified.

The attitude the case imparts to the iPad is also interesting. Whereas the iPad itself is a sleek, smooth, and sexy device, the iPad case takes away most of its bling factor and puts it to work. Anyone who's had a pre-G4 PowerBook knows what toughness looks and feels like, and the iPad case projects this feeling of toughness (dare I say masculinity?) on the iPad. It's black, it gets dirty quickly, it's heavier, and it's easier to grip.

Before I start rambling on about tractors and shotguns, I'll sum things up by saying that an employee at a local auto repair shop told me his employer was considering adding wireless to the shop and purchasing iPads for part and price lookups. Point proven.

Cleaning the iPad case is easy with a few sprays of Windex or equivalent. Plus, the cleaner smell slightly soaks into the case, getting rid of the sweat smell that will undoubtedly accumulate over time.

All in all, a great case - a little overpriced at $39, but very useful.

Come Young, Come Old

As Steve Jobs explained in a graphic at the iPhone OS 4.0 preview event (perhaps with a little exaggeration), the iPad can be a great children's device. It depends somewhat on the child and the way they are being brought up, but in my family, I know an iPad would be well taken care of. Given the proper precautions and guidance on how to use it (gently is the word to stress here, and you can't stress it enough), children should find the iPad to be both a fun device to use, and, as they grow older, a useful tool for education.

The iPad is also the first device to truly reach out across the generations, giving the elderly a chance to use something with an interface that isn't confusing (those of you with Windows versions earlier than 7, raise your hands). I haven't yet had the chance to show my iPad to my grandmother, who is in her 80s, but the staff and faculty at my college, more than a few of them older than 60, are very interested in it. A few of them actually got to try it out, and it didn't take more than a few seconds for them to get the hang of it.

The accessibility features might be helpful, but the iPad offers lots of helpful aids for the elderly right out of the box. The built-in zoom function in Safari and Photos, among other things, can help ease the strain on aging eyes. The large size and distinctness of app icons are a big plus for those who who'd rather enjoy life than remember meaningless program names (although app names tend to be short in the first place). Dragon Dictation does a bang-up job of speech-to-text dictation, reducing the need to use a keyboard. Plus, the 30-pin iPad connector is large and tolerant of repeated misses, making charging and synching less of a chore.

The iPad is accessible to a large age group, bringing young and old together.

Typing

The iPad's onscreen keyboard has drawn a lot of fire, but I really don't have a problem with it. For emails under 500 words, you're bound to get used to it pretty quickly. If you need to type longer than that, get the $69 Keyboard Dock - or, better yet, the Apple Wireless Keyboard (if you're using Numbers for iPad, you might want to look for the discontinued full-size Apple Wireless Keyboard on Amazon or eBay).

Maps

Excellent app. This is probably one a two-year old could figure out in a heartbeat - pull together to zoom out, push apart to zoom in, drag to move. The end.

Actually, it's the simplicity of this app that gives it so much potential. Several experts have suggested that the iPad 3G and similar devices might end up replacing traditional GPS navigation consoles in cars. I'm personally all for it - the iPad is a real bang-for-your-buck device, and the more I can use it for, the better. I wouldn't try it just yet, at least when driving solo, as the iPad can't guide you using Maps alone, although (pardon the expression) maybe there's an app for that.

Don't Leave Me Here Alone!

While you probably don't want to let your iPad out of your site in public areas (I keep it on my person at all times), in the safety of your home, the iPad can serve many different static roles (just don't even think about using it as a doorstop, in spite of the nice wedge shape the iPad Case creates).

One obvious static use is as a digital picture frame. If your iPad were sentient, it might object to such a lowly station, but it works quite well. There's a marquee app that's kind of fun, though I know a few people who might take it past fun and start making it rude (fortunately, these people generally don't want to spend $500 on an iPad).

Another really useful static role for the iPad, in conjunction with the iPad Case, is that of alarm clock. Using Alarm Clock Free or Alarm Clock Pro - pixel-doubled iPhone apps - the iPad becomes a reliable and very adjustable alarm clock, provided you keep it plugged in at night.

There are several aquarium apps, fireplace apps, and planetarium apps. Fat apps, skinny apps, apps that climb on rocks....

Well, that's a bit before my time, but you get the picture.

The Right Fit

The unique challenge created by the iPad's multi-orientational display is that regular 1024 x 768 wallpapers don't fit both ways without some pixilation. On top of that, the iPad's 132 pixels-per-inch raise the acceptable size for wallpaper up to somewhere around 1600 x 1200. As a result, good-looking wallpapers aren't exactly bubbling up from the ground.

Some of the best, unsurprisingly, are Apple's built-in wallpapers, but there are some others out there. Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx's default wallpaper fits nicely on the iPad, though it doesn't exactly match the iPad's style. The Leopard and Snow Leopard wallpapers are also no-brainers. Currently, I'm using the Mac OS X Time Machine background as a wallpaper, and it's not too shabby.

Your own pictures might make good wallpapers, depending on how nice your camera is.

Another idea, if you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (or the GIMP), is to simply create your own abstract wallpaper.

Movie Magic

The iPad might not merit James Cameron's approval for a cinematic experience (at least as far as Avatar is concerned), but let's face it, you're never going to be able to compress an IMAX theater into a 9.7" screen. Even so, the iPad's video capabilities are stunning.

My test movie for the iPad, fittingly, was WALL-E. Between the built-in speaker and the crisp, clear video (clearer than I'm used to - we still have CRT TVs at home, though we'll eventually be in the market for a flatscreen), it was truly fun to watch WALL-E on my iPad. I felt like I was watching a completely different movie from the one I'd seen on our CRTs - I caught subtle movements and tiny details - and the sound was unbelievable.

iPad as moviegoing experience? Not exactly.

iPad for casual movie-watching? You'd better believe it.

Conclusion

My month with the iPad seemed to fly, but it wasn't because I was still geeking out about all the cool things my iPad could do. I've gotten used to it by now, just like I quickly got over the Mac OS X aura on my Pismo, but it's definitely not blasé. Every day I find a new use for my iPad, a new appreciation for its adaptability, and make a new memory with my friends and family with this device.

One another note, I had taken a vow even before January 27 that the iPad would be the only thing that would ever replace my Pismo. In terms of toughness, versatility, battery life (I'd really been waiting for this one), and Mac-to-the-rescue-ness, the iPad is most definitely the long-awaited "Son of Pismo", a truly useful and dependable device for the electronic frontier. It might not be a low-end Mac yet, but the iPad looks like it's in it for the long haul.

The iPad is here to stay. LEM

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