ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Musings and Photos and Travel12 Jun 2010

I have an iPad.  I got it last week at the Apple Store in Montreal, where we spent the weekend being tourists.  I would have picked one up sooner, but they sold out pretty quickly in Ottawa.  I’ve had it for a week now, and figured I’d post a little review here on the old blog.

In short, I like it.  It’s definitely a luxury item, and doesn’t replace an actual computer, but I’m finding it useful and fun, and will probably continue to do so after the initial novelty wears off.  I have one of the 3G models, which carries the added cost of a monthly data plan, but the iPad really shines as an “always connected” device.  I understand that most folks use their smart phones for their Internet-on-the-go, but I’m a telephony Luddite and my phone is categorically “dumb”, so the iPad fills that role for me.  I like that you can adjust your data plan month by month, and so can save some money when you don’t actually need cellular internet access.  While we were visiting Montreal, the 3G came in handy for checking email and finding our way around the city.  Since the trip I’ve pretty much just used wifi at home and at the office, except for browsing the web on the bus a little bit (more on that later).  I think during normal operation I won’t bother to buy the 3G data, but it’s great when traveling, and is much preferable to paying for hotel wifi, not least because you can take your connectivity with you when you leave the hotel.

It’s while traveling that the iPad really shines.  At a pound and a half it’s much easier to lug around than a laptop, it can always get online (unless you’re beyond the range of the cell towers), and it fits comfortably in a backpack or shoulder bag.  It’ll even download and beautifully display photos directly from your digital camera, which we would have made great use of on the Montreal trip, if only the Apple Store hadn’t run out of camera adapters.  Oh well, I’m looking forward to using the  iPad for in-the-field photo viewing in future.  In the mean time, I’ve contented myself with loading the photos of our trip via iPhoto on my Mac after we got home.  There are also some great on-the-road apps, such as the excellent Urban Spoon, which shows you nearby restaurants along with reviews and ratings, and the built-in maps app, which told us which subway line to take and how much it would cost to get to the Montreal Biodome, where I took this and many other pictures of penguins.

I’ve taken the iPad on the bus everyday this week, where I’ve mostly used it as an ebook reader.  Canadian publishers haven’t got their act together and so new books aren’t available on the iBooks store yet, but I don’t mind, because there is a ton of public domain material on Project Gutenberg to be downloaded and read.  I’m half way through The Three Musketeers and am enjoying it immensely.  I wasn’t sure how I’d like reading on a lit screen, but I’ve found it to be just fine, especially with a bit of daylight to counteract the screen glow.  It looks not unlike an actual book, and flipping pages with a finger feels natural.  And the iPad is more portable than the copy of Anna Karenina I lugged around for a month a while back.  I’m also quite curious to see what iPad magazine issues turn out to be like.  I’d ditch my paper New Yorker subscription for an electronic one if the experience is right.

And what of the other iPad capabilities?  As mentioned, viewing photos is great.  I watched an episode of Doctor Who on it the other night, and found that to be quite acceptable.  I’ve used it as the world’s largest iPod, and while the iTunes-like-but-not-quite-iTunes interface is a bit confusing, music via headphones is just fine.  The built-in speakers are understandably not super.  Except for some online chess, I haven’t done much gaming on it yet, but it seems like it could be a good gaming device.  I am looking forward to exploring that aspect.  

Typing with the on-screen keyboard is pretty good.  My one quibble there is that it takes two taps to get an apostrophe.  I typed the bulk of this blog post on the iPad, and while it took a bit longer than it would have on a real keyboard, it wasn’t unpleasant.  Unfortunately the included notes app with its cartoon felt marker font and lack of wireless syncing is a bit of a letdown.  I wrote this using the free version of Evernote, which syncs to my Mac via the cloud.  I’m not sure if Evernote is the answer to all my iPad writing needs, as the free version won’t save notes on the iPad so you can access them when you’re offline (so forget looking up the grocery list from the grocery store, for example). Also, it crashed on me at one point while writing this and cost me a paragraph. When my current month of 3G runs out I’ll either shell out for the paid version (5 bucks a month or 45 for the year) or ditch it for some other app. Maybe I can write my own notes app, I am keen to do some programming for this gizmo at some point…

Surprisingly, given Steve Job’s assertion that the iPad is the best browsing experience ever, I’m only feeling luke-warm about the web in the iPad.  I find browsing a little constrained.  Perhaps that’s because I normally open a million browser tabs at once, and the iPad’s browser doesn’t really allow that.  This is also the one area where the lack of multitasking hurts the iPad: it’d be nice to be able to go do something else while waiting for webpages to load in the background.  On the whole, one doesn’t really notice the lack of multitasking most of the time, as apps load quickly and remember state very well.

I don’t know if the iPad is quite the “magical and revolutionary” gizmo that Apple’s marketing department would have us believe, but it is pretty slick, and using it makes me feel a little like a character in science fiction.  I think I’ll probably discover more uses for it the longer I have it, too.  I’m not running around recommending it to everyone, but I like it a lot.  

Be warned: an iPad is surprisingly hard to put down once you pick it up.

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