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Issue 9.5


iPad 2

Issue: 9.5 (July/August 2011)
Author: Dave Mancuso
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 6,734
Starting Page Number: 14
Article Number: 9503
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Full text of article...

The iPad 2 came out a few months ago but has been in short supply. General consensus is that it offers a few advantages over its predecessor, notably front/rear cameras and slimmer, lighter form factor. However, these changes, along with software updates, allow for the possibility that the iPad 2 could potentially become a replacement for a desktop or laptop computer. This concept was put to the test and the results were interesting to say the least.

The biggest choice when you purchase an iPad 2 is whether or not to get 3G connectivity in addition to wifi. 3G will give you cellular Internet access when you're not near a wifi network, but you'll pay between $14.99 and $29.99 per month for that access. It's actually cheaper (if you have an iPhone) to purchase an iPhone tethering plan for $20and use it basically as a wireless access point for your iPad. However, if you choose 3G, you have the additional choice of using AT&T or Verizon. I skipped 3G.

Your second choice is RAM: 16, 32, or 64GB. Most tech reviewers will tell you that 32 is more than enough for almost any user. With cloud computing options growing, less RAM seems feasible. I went for 64GB anyway, and I've filled most of it because I chose to sync my music into the iPad. Add videos to that, and I was pretty quickly up into 50GB of usage on my iPad. Your decisions and needs may vary, but I was again looking to make this iPad a laptop replacement.

Once I'd synced, configured, and set up basic apps, I looked for ways to use productivity tools on the device. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote were the easiest programs to install. They each seemed to work well, although options for formatting documents are fairly scarce. I could bring in complex word processing documents and view them in Pages, editing them somewhat easily. However, font subsitutions abound, so you'd need to check to make sure that your desktop computer documents are using fonts that are on the iPad.

Documents to Go and QuickOffice promised better integration with Microsoft Office documents, but quickly disappointed me. Neither app can display or edit document elements like pictures. This was unacceptable. My only hope is that a future free update for either of these apps fixes this deal-killer issue.

Getting documents out to hard copy is tricky. Most printers don't support iPad's AirPrint wireless printing. What I had to do was to install an add-on into a Windows 7 machine in the room and then set up a shared printer in the Printers control panel. The iPad then saw the printer and was able to access it. This was by far the easiest way for me to set up printing, but far from ideal.

If I used Pages and my shared Windows printer workaround, I could get work done. I had purchased an Apple wireless keyboard, but once I got used to the onscreen keyboard the Apple one sat in a drawer unused. I was potentially up and running... until I hit my final obstacle.

Getting files on to the device and back off is an atrocious mess. You're supposed to sync with iTunes to do this, but even Apple has conceded with the upcoming IOS 5 that wired syncing is a pain in the neck. So Dropbox comes to the rescue. You're likely familiar with it. It makes working with files on the iPad bearable. However, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote don't want to access Dropbox directly. They want at best a WebDAV server. The product DropDAV provided WebDAV access to your Dropbox files for free, but has now become a paid service. If you need to work with your files, it's well worth the fee. Apple's iOS 5 upgrade, coming in the fall, will work with their new iCloud service, so things may become more workable.

Once you have your files on your iPad, getting them to the apps you want to use is a pain. The iPad seems to want you to open a lot of things in say, iBooks. It's not that bad, but it does get irritating.

Web apps work somewhat well, but jumping back and forth between Safari windows gets tiresome. Other browsers fill the gap, notably Atomic Web or Terra. However, one annoying thing with all of these browsers is trying to scroll through some pop up windows. You can't. If you need a choice not on that window, you must go find a desktop machine to use. [Actually, embedded windows can be scrolled with a two-finger drag as a single finger drag scrolls the main window.—Editor.]

In the end, I wasn't able to make the move completely. I continually needed to jump over to a desktop computer to get some of the above-mentioned tasks done. I tried to convert my desktop documents to ones more compatible with Pages, Documents to Go, or QuickOffice, but the time it took wasn't feasible. In the end, I basically used the iPad whenever I could and jumped to a full-sized computer when I needed to. It was like the iPad almost bridged the gap, but didn't quite make it. Getting 80-90 percent of your needed tasks done didn't help when the other 10-20 percent became critical. The iPad just couldn't quite replace my old laptop.

So now I await iOS 5. I also await word processor, database, spreadsheet, and presentation apps that have stronger features and deal with files more maturely. And I await Apple's iCloud service. It would be vastly preferable if the iPad recognized and used other cloud services fluidly, but if iCloud does the trick, my iPad will finally bridge that gap and become a true desktop/laptop replacement.

End of article.