I recently purchased the base model of Apple’s iPad (16 GB, wifi only version: $499) and I’ve been traveling with it ever since. It’s become my day-to-day computing device and even though it’s intended purely as a multimedia device, I’ve found that it can handle a number of things my laptop used to do. First, if you’re not familiar with the device, let’s do a quick overview:
- Absolutely brilliant resolution that makes watching video, looking at pictures, or even reading a book a joy.
- While you can surf the web using Safari, many of the websites you love now have iPad apps which can have some nice extras.
- Battery life. It’s amazing. I haven’t pushed it’s limits, but it can easily do eight hours, if not 10 and possibly more depending on what you’re doing.
- For consuming media — of any type, it’s the best thing since… touch screens.
- You can use it while standing up. Waiting in line? Holding a fussy baby? Need to go out for a smoke? Flick though the web with one hand, and hold the tablet in the other. Easy.
- If you’re flexible and willing to buy a few apps, you could potentially use it to replace your laptop.
- You’ll never need a book again (guidebook or otherwise) as you can read both Kindle and Apple’s iBook format.
- It’s not a PC or a Mac, it’s an iPad. It’s limited (as it was intended).
- Typing is okay, but the lack of a tab key or arrow buttons is frustrating when you’re doing any kind of prolonged word processing.
- Selecting details — like editing a URL in a browser window — can be difficult, if not impossible to do with the touch screen.
- NO FLASH. If it uses flash, it won’t work. Period.
- Some of the applications are horrible, limited versions of the real thing.
- If you’re bouncing between multiple, open web pages, then Safari has a habit of refreshing them when you go back. This can be a disaster if you’re working on something, go to another window to get additional information and then lose all your work when you return.
- No multitasking. One application at a time. I personally think this is a good thing, but shouldn’t we be allowed to decide that? Wouldn’t it make sense to let some apps (like Skype) be active in the background?
- The world isn’t ready for the iPad… or at least the developers aren’t. Many, many apps are ony available as iPhone apps at x2 resolution.
- No DVD drive. No USB. You’ll need to buy a $29 camera connection kit to connect anything via USB or SD card. Currently, said kit is on a 4-6 week back order.
Can you use the iPad as your only computer when you travel?
It depends. If you’re using your laptop to check email, facebook and watch funny Youtube vids, you can very easily use the iPad instead. For everything else, it depends on how robust you need the functionality to be:
Writing: Yes. You can create text documents. Copy and paste works.
Checking email: Yes. Web or Server based, both work. I personally don’t like Gmail’s special iPad mode, but you can switch it to Basic HTML in Safari.
Surfing the web: Mostly. If they have a big flash component, they won’t. Sometimes 99% of the site works, but videos or login screens won’t.
Blogging: Yes, technically. If you want to format text for a blog post, then you’ll need to code the HTML by hand, as WordPress is very buggy on the iPad (although it does work, if you paste directly into HTML mode).
Editing MS Word or Excel docs: Yes, but basic. I use QuickOffice, which lets me share Word and Excel 2003 or 2007 documents with Google Docs or DropBox, and allows me to edit it on the iPad. However, it’s purely text editing, there’s not even spell check. The default program Notes is probably just as good.
Photo Editing: Yes. If you need to import photos, you can do it (camera connection kit required for USB access). You can also edit them in PhotoGene, which has gotten rave reviews from professional photographers, but there is a size limit, so if you’re going for 2000+ pixal images, you’ll need to edit them on a laptop.
Filling out online forms: Mostly. Because there is no arrow keys on the keyboard, you can run into issues with long text boxes not allowing you to scroll up or down and sometimes not allowing you to select the box at all. Also if they use any flash it won’t work.
Chat: Maybe. Depends on what you use. I use Skype and it works fine, but since you can’t multitask, I rarely have it open.
Advanced stuff: Not at all. If you’re using any Adobe applications (Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, Acrobat, Premiere etc), are a heavy user of Microsoft Office (anything beyond the most basic .doc or .xls) or would be insanely frustrated by learning a new work flow, then the iPad should definitely not be your primary machine.
Okay, so some travelers could use it alone, but really, at the end of the day, it’s about how deep you need your functionality to go. The upside is that it’s very portable, lightweight, great for multimedia and can be held with one hand. The downside is that it’s not a laptop. If you have the budget to get it PLUS a laptop, then absolutely go for it. I would use it for reading ebooks, checking the internet and watching videos. Beyond that it’s up to you.
Top 10 iPad Applications for Travelers
- Epicurious- keep recipes with you on the road
- NYTimes Editors Pick – beautiful layout and a quick read
- NPR – Listen to your favorite programs
- Game Table – Fun
- Kayak – Easier to use than the website
- HostelWorld – Ditto
- Google Earth – See where you are
- Paypal (or your banks’ app) – Look under iPhone apps if you don’t find your bank.
- Skype – Make calls (built in mic seems to work, but you can also buy the camera connection kit to plug in a USB based headset).
- Facebook – Stay in touch
Top 7 apps if you only travel in the US
- Pandora — Listen to music based on your tastes
- Hulu plus — Watch many of your favorite shows
- ABC — Many ABC shows
- OpenTable — Make reservations at restaurants
- The Weather Channel — Check the weather
- Netflix — Manage your account or watch movies
- Urbanspoon — Discover places to eat by map based interface and drill down categories
Top 10 iPad Apps for getting stuff done while traveling
- QuickOffice — Access MS Word and Excel docs, edit and save to Google Docs or Dropbox
- PhotoGene — The best photo editing software for the iPad
- Dictionary.com — Look up words (and stuff)
- Things — Keep yourself organized with task lists and scheduled reminders
- PageOnce — Personal Finance
- Dragon — Dictation. It will write what you say. Of course it probably thinks you said something you didn’t, but it’s novel anyway (and free)
- Evernote — Tag the world as you go. Keep it for reference later
- Dropbox — Great for sharing docs between Mac computers and the iPad
- TouchCalc — Great free calculator with lots of nifty extras
- Wall Street Journal — There is a pay feature, but some content is free