Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

A couple of days with the iPad 2

by Eric Stewart on Mar.27, 2011, under Computers, Technology

On March 11, 2011 the iPad 2 was available for purchase.  Waking up around 6am Eastern, I popped onto my laptop while eating my breakfast.  Shipping dates by that point (an estimated two hours after they went on sale) had slipped from the 2-3 day estimate to a 5-7 day estimate.  I found out that shortly after that, they slipped to 2-3 weeks – this, all on opening day.  It took another week or so after it finally shipped (on day 6, if I recall correctly) to make it from China to my door, by which point everything else I had ordered for it (keyboard, VGA adapter, cover) had already arrived.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would find it useful; I had always looked at the iPad with some derision.  When the original was called “Magical”, I called “bullshit.”  But when the second generation of iPad was available, I broke down and bought one, and when it finally came, set out to see how it would be more than just a giant iPod Touch, or a hobbled laptop.

After a couple of days I can tell you this much: it isn’t magical.  It is, however, somewhat useful, slightly moreso than an iPod Touch.  In fact, it is, admittedly, a completely different beast.

For example, it’s not nearly as portable as an iPod/iPhone.  It will not fit in your pocket.  While it will port in your music from iTunes, it isn’t something you’ll take jogging with you.  It’s also over a pound in weight – surely not something that’s impossible to lift, but hold it the wrong way for too long and you will feel the strain on your wrist or hands, particularly because something this thin doesn’t seem that heavy at first, but is; and you are constantly trying to hold it in a way that your hand or fingers won’t touch the actual “screen”, but will instead perform their duty by remaining on the border.

The cameras suck – low resolution, and even within those resolutions, low capability.  If you’re going to use them, make sure you have a set of studio lights handy.

I can’t print from it as I don’t have a Mac in the house and my printer is not AirPrint capable.  There are apps in the App Store that suggest they provide this capability, but at a cost.

Being somewhat of a Swype-snob (a keyboard available on many Android phones, be it by signing up for the beta or by default on many phones), I find the on-screen keyboard of the iPad lacking.  In other words, it totally sucks, especially for entering even just slightly secure passwords.  For this reason alone I am quite happy I spent the money on a wireless keyboard for it.  There’s no way I would use the on-screen keyboard for more than responding to a quick email – anything with significant length and considerable punctuation would require an external keyboard.  The on-screen keyboard becomes slightly more tolerable when using the iPad in landscape; lay it flat, and you can actually type (for the most part) on it.

The “amazing” cover for it – well, my first beef is that, to get a black one, you end up having to spend $30 more for a leather cover (that’s $30 more than the already over-priced $40 plastic ones).  And while the microfiber lining does seem to be dealing with some of the finger prints on it, as the cover has three fold lines in it, the microfiber lining fails to do anything about smudges along those fold lines.  When flat against the back of the iPad, it sticks out a bit on the edge and the magnets are insufficient to keep it stuck against the back, so it flaps a bit once and a while.

Apps: There is no Facebook or Apple developed iPad Facebook app – you end up using the iPod/iPhone one.  I suggest getting a hold of Friendy (and the Pro version is only $0.99).  Other apps can vary widely in price and may leave you feeling that some of them are way over-priced.  Google Earth was very smooth over WiFi – so much so it reminded me of when I first came across it.  The Safari browser is adequate for most web pages and amazingly enough most embedded videos that are flash based appear to run properly on a few sites that I’ve visited.

More on Safari: iGoogle works fine on it (except for my Twitter gadget which, instead of a scroll bar just has all the tweets it loads in a long list).  Google Reader pops you into the mobile version on a big screen, which I must say is actually nicer than the small screen of my phone.  The way it handles “tabs” is well designed for the format of the device.

Some would consider it TMI for me to admit that the place I suggested I would originally find such a device useful would be the bathroom.  Experience so far suggests that I was not in err when I made the comment.  However, it has been useful in the living room for quick checks of Facebook, email, and a few web pages, and as a test I took notes on it at work.  I found it useful in the bedroom for the same reasons as I would find it useful in the living room – quick last minute checks of the news, email, and Facebook.  In most of these places, it is a welcome replacement to my cell phone as a means of performing those same tasks, with the exception that I feel it necessary to use my glasses in cases where I didn’t necessarily use them with my cell phone.

Battery life: It made it through the entire day yesterday with power to spare and I used it quite a bit.  It’s rated at 10 hours of constant use, which is more than you can say for pretty much any smartphone.

So, would I recommend it?

Well, maybe, with some caveats:

  • Do you already have a laptop?
  • Do you already have a desktop computer?
  • Do you have sufficient disposable income?
  • Is your savings account fully funded?

Then, yeah, maybe, knock yourself out.  Otherwise, save your money.


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