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Life with the iPad, part 2: Is it a keeper?

I know a number of people who practically cannot live without their iPads. Odd, considering that this is, after all, a device that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I got an iPad in order to see for myself just how indispensable this device can be. And in Part 1 I compared its use case versus that of a smartphone and a laptop. Verdict: if you do serious computer work, the iPad won’t replace your laptop. But if you just use your laptop for surfing the net, then the iPad can replace it and you’ll be one really happy clam.

I didn’t go so far as to make a conclusion about whether or not the iPad is a keeper for me though, so that’s what I’ll process here in Part 2.

* * *

Here’s what I thought I needed a tablet-like device for:

  • Quick and instant access to online resources, including mail and messaging
  • All-around conveniently portable entertainment device, streaming videos from my desktop to the kitchen, for instance
  • On-car accessory for playing videos and becoming a large navigation screen

My end objective is to figure out whether or not I will be sticking with the iPad, or eventually migrating to some other tablet-like device. So let’s go through those three one by one.

Instant access to online resources

Hands down, the iPad is a winner here. Grab it, press the button, swipe to unlock, and you’re live. Mainly because the iPad never really actually shuts down (so it kind’a cheats that way). Well, actually you can in fact shut it down (looong press on its Power button)… but nobody really does that. And I mean nobody.

When it comes to checking your emails and surfing the web, as well as fantastical online “magazine” aggregator apps such as Pulse and Zite, the iPad stands out. It’s like having a bunch of references at your beck and call.

Once you’re used to this level of “instantness” on a large screen, it does sort of become addicting.

Is this something that is unique to the iPad? No,it isn’t. The onslaught of iPad-wannabe devices also feature instant access to web resources.

But there is one thing that the iPad is legendary with, and that is battery life. In fact, a deconstruction of the iPad revealed that it was mostly made up of batteries. I can go a couple of days without charging the iPad, even with heavy use. Thus far, I don’t know of any other tablet-like device that can do this. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, for instance, is notorious for being a battery suck.

Until some other tablet can give me two days of comfortable use without a need for charging, then it looks like the iPad wins this round.

Portable entertainment device

The lightness and portability of the iPad makes it a terrific media toy. Prop it up on a table (assuming you have the proper case to prop it up with) and play back your videos or music or whatever.

Well, not so fast.

Here’s what frustrates me about the iPad: it will nickel and dime you to death. The apps you really need to do the things that you really want to do, you’ll have to pay for. That’s how Apple makes its extra money.

I wanted to stream videos from my desktop to the iPad, so that I can watch them anywhere without having to load them up to the pad. To do that, I had to buy an app called StreamToMe. It’s a $2.99 (around P130) app that will do what devices in other operating systems will do for free.

I also wanted the ability to take my videos with me. Out of the box, the iPad won’t do this. It won’t play back anything that isn’t in an Apple-prescribed format — no AVI files, no DivX — so that was initially frustrating. I had to get CineXPlayer for $1.99 (around P86) to do something that other devices such as the Android would do for free.

Again, I’m being nickel and dimed to death.

Take note, however, that it’s actually amazing that apps such as CineXPlayer are actually being sold. Apple’s mother hen tendency is to block out apps that allow you to “hack around” the limitations of the iPad. Apple normally wouldn’t want you to play DivX videos on your iPad (because it will conflict with its own media store), so some people are expecting that CineXPlayer may be pulled out sooner or later. Get it while it’s there.

Bottom line: to get anything extra done with the iPad, you’ll have to pay the so-called Apple tax. Prepare an extra two or three grand to buy your essential apps with.

On-car accessory

I have a Wi-Fi only iPad, not the 3G version. That’s because I find 3G redundant when I already have a personal Wi-Fi hotspot device (thank you, CD-R King).

The catch: being a Wi-Fi only device, I realized too late that I am missing out on more accurate location-tracking services.

I wanted to use the iPad as an onboard GPS. But only the iPad 3G has a GPS chip. The Wi-Fi only iPad relies on Wi-Fi-based location tracking, which we’ve recently explained here.

Lesson learned. Kids, if you want to use your iPad as a GPS device, get the iPad 3G.

But since I’m already stuck with Wi-Fi only, I might as well evaluate its location tracking performance as well.

And my verdict: Considering that it is relying only on triangulation against an online database of Wi-Fi hotspots, the iPad actually performs remarkably well. So long as there are Wi-Fi signals around, that is.

Oh, and you also have to be online. So yeah, a portable Wi-Fi hotspot will also be useful.

Indoors, the iPad can track your position with remarkable precision. I walked around the Mall of Asia and it kept pace with me, showing my location within the outline of the mall in real time.

On the road, however, where Wi-Fi signals are more sparse, it gets really spotty. You can’t use this the way you use a standard GPS. That’s because your location dot will be playing catch up with you all the time, moving one moment and then getting stuck for the next couple of minutes while it struggles to find known Wi-Fi spots along the road. So don’t expect to use the iPad (Wi-Fi only) as a navigation aid on the road. And definitely not on out of town trips.

That takes care of the navigation part. What about playing videos?

If your car has a windshield that isn’t too inclined (like in Suzuki vehicles), then you can prop the iPad on top of your dashboard and it won’t eat up much windshield space. And then you can watch your videos while on the road. Er, let me rephrase that. You can play back videos while you’re on the road, so that you can listen to them and take an occasional peek.

The only downside is that around noontime, the sun will be so strong that the glare will overpower the iPad. You won’t see a thing. I usually played back videos using my netbook, and it worked even during noontime because I could adjust the screen’s angle accordingly. With the iPad, well, you’ll need some pivot-like device if you want to adjust its standing angle.

* * *

So is the iPad a keeper?

What I like most about the iPad is its battery life. It’s great knowing that I don’t have to worry about charging it up every so often, the way I do with the smartphone.

I missed out on the GPS part though, and there are still things that the iPad can’t do that other devices can — mostly pertaining to what Apple will and will not allow to be done on the device.

And much of what I love about the iPad pertains to its form factor. Surely, other tablets with the same form factor will be able to do the same things.

So yeah, in the end, for me it’s all about the battery life.

I’ll be brutally frank. I am still hoping that someday, an Android tablet will come along with legendary battery life. When that happens, I’ll seriously consider shifting from the iPad to the Android tablet. Not because I don’t like the iPad (because I do like it a lot), but more because I have this deep-seated need to not be restricted in what I can do with the device.

But that won’t be for a long while. I have a feeling that it will still take a year before a really good Android tablet with killer battery life comes out. In the meantime, yes I’m happy with the iPad as it stands.

Art

Art

Art is a long-time editor for a number of technology publications. He is a Palanca-winning writer (he got lucky) whose day job is to try to be as serious as possible while being a management consultant and lecturer. His favorite noodles: chapchae.

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    • rom|

      A year may not be enough – Ice Cream Sandwich will be the killer platform. Honeycomb is a rushed release, IMHO. Hardware is one thing, apps is another. The quality of free Android apps pales in comparison to iPad’s. Personally, am waiting for Ice Cream Sandwich, but by that time, iOS5 may have had several point releases already.


    • talkintech|

      @Art: If you use your GPS-capable phone as a wifi hotspot like I do (I use my HTC Desire), the wifi-only iPad magically gains the GPS capability of the phone. I can vouch for this because I tried it several times already and it consistently work :) . Oh, and there are articles online on how this also happens when the iPad is tethered wirelessly to the iPhone.


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