Choosing an ultra-portable companion: Looking at the iPad

No, those are not my hands and that is not my iPad...

I was about to move away from looking at tablets, but before I did, I decided to have a look at one more option – the Apple iPad. Like many of Apple’s products, the iPad has received and continues to receive plenty of hype – from its ‘awesome’ feature set and versatility to its slim profile and form factor suited to content consumption. And the fact that it even sold out faster (with some help from Apple taking pre-orders of course) than iPhones (well at least before the iPhone 4 came out) will make one wonder what the people who called it a ‘big iPod Touch’ have to say.

Many people say the main appeal of the iPad is the ability to use it as a big time content consumption device. Various apps available from the iPhone side such as Reeder (an RSS app), Docs To Go (office/document suite) and TweetDeck (a Twitter client) have retooled iPad versions to take advantage of its larger display. So on something like TweetDeck, you can see much more on the iPad as opposed to being limited to viewing one column at a time on the iPhone (I know because I currently use an iPhone alongside another Windows Mobile device). And like on the iPhone, the iPad has its fair share of games, now in 1024 x 768 resolution.

There are also apps that are far more useful on the iPad (versus on the iPhone) such as news reader and e-book apps. Combined with the long battery life and instant startup time, the iPad sounds like a good candidate for lazing around with in the morning, checking the day’s top headlines and agenda while waiting for the coffee to brew… But not quite up to task for long hours of typing and working with all day. One could argue that there’s always the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard to the rescue, but doesn’t come in the box (ie. It costs extra) and it’s yet another item to carry around (mind as well get a netbook or ultra-thin notebook, in my opinion). The storage expansion accessory (an SD card reader attachment) has to be purchased separately and, from what I’ve read, only works with photos.

The iPad, like other tablet devices, excels at content consumption (the exact purpose it was made for) but looks like a less suitable candidate for content creation. It’s also poor at handling files; if I threw an MKV or M2TS format video (commonly called ‘the Blu-Ray format’) at it, the iPad won’t play it. Same with other not-so-common file types (PSD and Illustrator files, anyone?). Oh, there also isn’t any sort of file manager for the iPad, probably one of those restrictions by Apple… which brings me to my next point.

The iPad depends a whole lot on the iTunes software on your computer – I see this as a big turn-off, a really big one. Having been (and still being) an iPhone user, I can’t say that I’ll appreciate using another device which behaves in the same way; using a locked-down platform. Everything, from transferring music, movies, contacts and applications, requires iTunes. Considering just about every mobile device I’ve used before never NEEDED any special software for basic transferring of files, why should I start now? Recalling the days of my primary phone running Windows Mobile, I could dump anything and everything (not limited to music, movies, photos and apps like on the iPad) on its memory card and treat it like a regular mass storage device.

One super useful app that I see various iPad owners tout is Air Display, an application that allows you to connect the iPad to your computer and hook it up wirelessly as a secondary display. This currently works only for Macs, but the developers for Air Display say Windows compatibility is next on their list and coming soon. The thing here is that I’m shopping for something that I will be using as a primary, not secondary, machine.

Even if I were to get a secondary device, it’ll probably be a “superphone” and very unlikely, an iPad. Not two weeks ago, a friend of mine just got an iPad and let me play with it. My impressions in brief are: it’s slight heavier than I thought it would be, the screen seems to pick up fingerprints more easily than the iPhone and the interface is really speedy (versus an iPhone 3GS).

Fun as it may be during the first few days, I just don’t see where the iPad fits in when it comes to daily life. Why use the iPad at home when I can use a notebook that runs a full-fledged operating system and any applications I want (coupled the vast amount of screen real estate in terms of size and resolution compared to the iPad’s small 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 display)? I’ve had the “instant on” issue solved ages ago by simply leaving the notebook in sleep mode the previous night, for times I had to get on the net or continue working on something in a hurry the next morning. Otherwise, I’ll just wait out the 40 to 60 seconds it takes for a ‘cold’ Windows 7 boot and go brush my teeth in the meantime. On days when I don’t want to get out of bed just yet, I just grab my phone (and run through the daily RSS feeds and tweets) or netbook.

The iPad also has roughly the same footprint/surface area as a netbook, which raises a few issues and questions for me when going out. Since it’s bigger than say a phone (which I can and will carry with me all day without having second thoughts), I have to wonder every time before I step out the door: Should I bring this with me (requires a bag, and I like traveling light)? Will I need it/use it where I’m going today? Then the latter question leads to yet another question: to bring the iPad OR a similarly sized (but not as thin) netbook? If it wasn’t the case of me wanting to try and field-test the iPad before returning it to its owner, I would’ve chosen the netbook anytime, everytime. Why settle for the iPad, when something a little bigger in depth packs a comfortable, almost full-size keyboard, ports galore, full Windows OS functionality and long battery life that comes close.

And nope, I’m not buying the reason “but you can use Air Display!” Of the two and a half years using a netbook, and I’ve owned two (one of them was among the first of netbooks too; the Mini 2133), never once have I had any need for a secondary display while on the go. I’ve been content, tiling two application windows side-by-side, though a primary display larger than the 10 inches of netbooks would have been nice.

Verdict? No iPad for me, thanks. That was it for tablets, maybe I’ll reconsider in the future but for now my next step was to check out netbooks and notebooks… maybe I’d find one small and impressive enough to satisfy all requirements I need in my “ultra-portable companion”.

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