A few days with the iPad 2

iPad 2 homescreen.

iPad 2 homescreen, with effects applied by Camera+ for iPhone.

I finally broke down and got an iPad. I spent part of my Sunday at South by Southwest Interactive in line at the ad-hoc Apple Store in downtown Austin, TX awaiting an opportunity to get my hands on the iPad 2. They only had 64 GB Wi-Fi models available that day, which was a bit depressing to my budget but I am certain that I will fill the space regardless. I’ve had a few days with this, my first iPad, and while I very well could have continued to live without it, I’m also finding that it is quite fun to use and — yes — I can work very effectively on it. In fact, a lot of this post is written from the WordPress for iOS app.

Why now?

I skipped the first iPad. It was hard to justify (and, you know, it still kind of is) and the second revision of a new Apple product is usually quite a leap forward from the first. The iPad 2’s no exception. Dual cameras, double the memory, and a dual-core A5 chip made it worth the wait. I’m still a little ticked at myself for not holding out for a Retina-resolution screen (the difference in text legibility from the iPad to the iPhone 4 goes in the iPhone’s favor every time despite the iPad’s larger screen) but I have a feeling that it will still be a while before a Retina iPad is introduced.

I’ll primarily be using the iPad for testing and development of ReadWriteWeb projects, note taking and presentations at conferences, and for some occasional entertainment — generally, things that might be overkill for lugging a MacBook Pro around.

My experience so far

Carrying the iPad around a conference as huge and spread out as SXSW is a much more pleasurable experience than carrying my MacBook Pro and its charger (because there’s no way I’m getting a full day’s battery out of the MBP — at the end of my final day at SXSW, the iPad was still at 70%). I was able to take notes, fire off e-mails, work on my conference schedule, and lots more with ease. I really need to stress that you can get work done with one of these devices — it is ridiculous to think otherwise. I’m able to blog, edit photos, work with email, and even work on templates within Movable Type. I can write standalone code, too — for $6 you can have Nimbus, a code editor for the iPhone and iPad written by Myrtle Beach’s Paul Reynolds. It syncs to Dropbox, which has quickly become one of my favorite tools for cloud collaboration and backup.

The Smart Cover

The Smart Cover is a neat idea and works especially well as a stand. Turn the iPad one way and the Smart Cover props up just enough so typing is comfortable; turn it another way and you can stand it up to watch video. As a cover, it’s alright — it only covers the screen, so it won’t do much to protect against a drop. If you plan to travel heavily with the iPad, consider at least getting a sturdier cover. Apple lined the cover with a microfiber surface to protect and clean the screen, but more often than not I’ve still had to manually work out smudges (some of which were left behind by the Smart Cover — ack).

The Keyboard

I can fly on the keyboard in landscape mode with the Smart Cover elevating the iPad slightly. I’m actually fairly surprised at how accurate I am; autocorrect did a decent job of correcting where I went wrong, too, though there were definitely some “damn you, autocorrect” moments.

Portrait mode is an entirely different story. The size of the iPad makes it really tough to use the portrait mode keyboard (it’s a stretch for me, and I have fairly long thumbs); worse yet, the Smart Cover can’t help prop me up in that mode. I’m finding that I keep a portrait orientation when I plan on doing more reading than writing, and vice versa.

Even though the landscape-oriented keyboard provides a pretty good typing experience, it’s not something I like to do for long periods of time. The feedback of a hardware keyboard is something that I’m not ready to give up for long projects.

Performance

The dual-core A5 processor combined with 512 MB RAM in the iPad makes for an awesomely smooth iOS experience. I haven’t seen stuttering; video playback is excellent, and Web pages scroll very smoothly with no interruption. Contrast this to the experience on a Galaxy Tab or even a Motorola Xoom; I’ve tried both recently and the experience just isn’t as fluid or as fast (despite Motorola’s tablet being arguably beefier than the iPad 2). iOS very likely sees its speed gains because Flash doesn’t run on it; a lot of people are on the fence about not having Flash available, but I’m not a huge fan on a desktop, much less on a tablet, so I don’t miss it at all and think the performance tradeoff is completely worth it. Your mileage may vary, though, and I don’t begrudge people who might want to have Flash on their tablet.

Apps

Tornadic thunderstorm as captured by RadarScope on iPad.

Tornadic thunderstorm as captured by RadarScope on iPad. Photo editing using Diptic, an iPad app.

The first thing I did after the iPad’s initial sync was to identify and remove any apps that were designed for the iPhone only. I appreciate what Apple tried to do when allowing iPhone apps to run on the iPad, but the reality is that experience sucks. So, no more iPhone-only apps for me there.

There were some cases where I had to get an iPad version of an iPhone app (Gowalla, looking at you). Most of the apps I had, though, were designed for both the iPad and iPhone in mind; this included several apps including my favorite, RadarScope (which is brilliant on the iPad; it is only a matter of time before a lot of chasers eschew complex laptop setups in favor of RadarScope on an iPad).

One app you must have on your iPad: Flipboard. It was one of the first I loaded up, and it is pretty much as great as advertised. It really helps me cut through the crap that pops up in my social feeds to get down to things that I really want to read. It’s also made Google Reader a relevant destination for me again. Instagram support is a great touch, too — and you can fully interact with it (short of uploading photos).

My favorite Twitter experience on the iPad is Echofon. The official Twitter app was OK but somewhat crashy; Echofon has been solid and its support for User Streams is something no other iOS client offers. I sometimes plug in the iPad, fire up Echofon, and stand it up next to my main monitor to keep an eye on tweets as they come in. I’ve switched to Echofon across platforms (including on the iPhone) as it seems that Twitter’s “official” experiences have degraded as of late.

Facebook is still a very curious omission on the iPad. Yes, touch.facebook.com is available but it’s pretty watered down. For $0.99, I got Friendly, which offers quite a cohesive and far more functional Facebook experience than what the touch site offers.

At first it was tough to find anything that took advantage of the iPad’s cameras, but apps are starting to come out that support capturing stills and video from the front and back cameras. Most notably, it looks like a new WordPress for iOS update supporting just that is forthcoming. I guess the major shame is that the cameras are actually very poor; for the money I dropped on the iPad, I would have liked to have the iPhone 4’s sensor at least in the back.

Final Thoughts

I’ve really enjoyed my time with the iPad so far. It will be interesting to see how Apple evolves the software over the next year, particularly with iOS 5.0 (which hopefully will improve notifications). I’ve only had the iPad for a couple weeks, so I’m looking forward to discovering even more useful apps to not only help enhance how I consume content but also how I create it. The one major takeaway I’ve had so far: In some ways, my MacBook Pro feels really ancient all of a sudden.

If you’ve got favorite iPad tricks or apps, please share in comments!

  • http://twitter.com/willia4 James Williams

    For typing in portrait mode, I’ve settled on holding the iPad with my left hand while using all five fingers of my right hand to sort of “dance” around the screen. It’s still not terribly fast or convenient; but it gets the job done.

    I find that I’m better at typing on my iPod than I am even in landscape mode on the iPad. I really wish that there was some way to use the iPod as a BT keyboard for the iPad. It would be practically ideal. Alas.

    • http://jaredwsmith.com Jared Smith

      It’d be kind of cool if something like Rowmote existed that connected between iOS devices. Rowmote does a superb job as a virtual keyboard and mouse for a Mac.

  • Yip Christian

    Great post! I, myself, convinced myself to get an iPad. However, instead of iPad2, I got myself a refurbished iPad1 for $349 from Apple. And all of sudden, it’s all magical. The experience is completely different than using iPhone (been using iPhone4).

    So far, I was successfully using iPad for 3 days without my MBP. Some apps are just very helpful, i.e. IMockups, Notify, Dropbox, Evernote, NPR.

    Quoting Steve Jobs, it is ‘magical.’

  • Chris M

    Too bad Apple all but ignored the enterprise-ability of the device. “cool-factor” aside it’s still more of a consumer device than a business/enterprise one.

    • http://jaredwsmith.com Jared Smith

      Where do you feel the iPad is lacking in enterprise support? Apple now supports remote wipe, centralized software installation, IPSec VPN — it’s really improved in recent iOS releases.

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    mine’s in a drawer somewhere .. i do find it useful when i travel to countries with prepaid 3G microsims, like uk or hong kong … other than that, a waste of money in a country with no 3G