Tuesday, August 24, 2010

iPad as Netbook

I promised on Twitter I'd post about this—my verdict after attempting to use my iPad as a travel writing computer. Well, I auditioned the set-up while I was in Maine last week, and I have results to share!

Let me say first, I used to have a netbook, purchased for this very use. I hated it for a few reasons: it didn't do much aside from word processing and internet browsing; it was Windows (I know, I'm a snob, but I'm a graphic designer and the vast majority of us are unapologetic Apple whores); it was slow when running off its battery; the keyboard was horrid. The keyboard was small even for my dinky fingers, and the keys themselves weren't where I ergonomically expect them to be. Suffice it to say, I couldn't get into a writing groove on that thing.

So earlier this year I told myself wistfully (wistful over the idea of both the iPad and the contract) "If I ever sell to Harlequin, I'm buying an iPad to celebrate." I hadn't expected to sell until the twelfth generation iPad was out, but trust me, that's not a complaint. So I got my Pad about a month ago, and it's soooo handsome. Best app so far—Boggle. But could I justify the purchase as more than a travel Boggle set and a very pretty celebration gift to myself? My hope had been that it could replace my netbook as my on-the-go writing device. Well, long fed up with the netbook, I'd already replaced it with a steno pad and a Bic, and figured the new shiny couldn't do much worse.

The iPad has a built-in digital keyboard, as you probably know. It pops up when you're doing something that requires you to type, and it's pretty nifty and an okay size for my girly hands…but it's just not natural to type on. You're typing, and because no keys actually depress when you hit them, it feels sort of odd and rough on the wrists. The keys are pretty much where I want them, unless I need special punctuation or numerals, which you access by tapping a button that brings up a second (and third if you need something really exotic) keyboard screen. But overall, it's okay—good for banging out an e-mail on the train. But luckily my husband had talked me into investing in a bluetooth keyboard before we left the Apple Store.

There are a number of different portable keyboards and I bought one of the Apple ones. The picture above shows the dock version, which you can mount your iPad right onto. I didn't want that—I like to work sitting on a couch with a big pillow on my lap, and that set-up would have tipped right over. Plus, you're stuck using the iPad in portrait mode only, and I like tilting it on its side in landscape mode, using its case as an easel to tilt the screen in my direction. So instead I got the bluetooth Apple keyboard that just sits on its own, and it is faaaantastic. The best thing about it, which won't be amazing news to everyone, is that it's nearly identical to the keyboard I type on in my office, minus the right-hand third—calculator-style numerals and some extra function keys. Thus, I don't need to retrain my fingers every time I sit down to write. That was the worst thing with the netbook—every time I hit a colon instead of a comma on its wonky little keyboard, it pulled me out of the story flow.

For a word processor, I bought the Pages app for ten bucks through iTunes. It plays nice with Word docs and has most of the features I want in a WP…the only things really missing for me are a comments tool and a wordcount tool, and fingers crossed those'll get added in a future update. With the external keyboard, typing and cutting and pasting is really quite breezy. It's not as quick as a desktop computer with a mouse, but it's highly tolerable. And after I got home and rerieved my edited document and opened it up in Word, the styling didn't look too much worse for wear after the Pages conversion.

Other random pluses for the iPad: doesn't get hot like a laptop, it's very transportable, it's a faboo e-reader, and the interface is all familiar to me from using my iPod Touch. Also, the battery lasts quite a while and charges reasonably quick. Oh also, because it doesn't get warm and hum soothingly like a laptop or netbook, your parents' sociopathic pet cockatiel won't try to sleep on it, then bite you when you attempt to remove him.

Okay, downsides to Padsy… Well, it's an Apple toy, so that means no Flash. Yet. That's annoying for small things, such as checking my Google Analytics each morning (Analytics's graphs and maps and some other interfaces are Flash-driven). And although the Pad is super pretty and shiny, that shininess can be annoying if you're trying to work in a sunny room. Plus you get finger smudges all over the glass screen…still, I maintain that buffing it and tilting it strategically to avoid glare is a small price to pay for how pretty it is. Another so-called downside people complain about with the Pad and the iPhone is their inability to run multiple apps at once. To me, this is a plus. Checking Twitter and e-mail demands that you close your document and make a concerted effort, and that keeps me from multitasking as much as I normally might, meaning I ultimately get more work done.

So that's my wrap-up. I'm leaving for a three-week vacation soon and I'll be doing plenty of writing and revising while I'm away, so if I have any new revelations or insights or tips, I'll come back and reprise my findings next month.


  1. Great post, Meg. Very thorough.

    I'm not an apple/graphic designer, but my dd is. I know what to get her for Christmas now. (wink.)

    I just got a Lenovo netbook, it's a hybrid with a full size keyboard and a swiveling monitor that becomes an ereader with a handle. I'm just learning to use it, but so far, I'm very happy. It's better than my old laptop in many ways. So don't be a netbook hater. Maybe you just didn't have the right one.

    I don't blame you if you used the mouse on the pad itself. That thing's frustrating. But I got a remote control mouse that's pretty cool. It even works on the couch. Talk about lazy! LOL. This thing will enable my couch potato tendencies big-time. I like Internet shopping while watching TV. LOL. Now as long as I can stay away from HSN and QVC and don't keep a phone handy, I'm okay.


  2. Hi Ash! Good point, good point—I shouldn't hate on all netbooks. And mine wasn't a bad device, per se, more like a bra that didn't fit me. I could never relax, feeling all cramped and itchy and poked by its unfamiliarity. Bad analogy alert. I'm sure other people adore their netbooks, and more power to them. And good luck getting their parents' sociopathic, napping cockatiels off the keyboard when they need to get some work done.

  3. Oh and another superior thing about netbooks over iPads—free Hulu streaming.