iPad Review
by Lucy A. Snyder


For my birthday earlier this month, my husband bought me an iPad.  I'd intended to wait a few more months to get one – first-generation electronics are often plagued with bugs that get smoothed out of later releases – but I wasn't about to turn the gift down when Gary unveiled it at the house.

Overall, I've been extremely happy with the iPad, and it's been serving admirably as a replacement for my laptop.

That's one of the first things people ask: "Will the iPad replace my laptop?" For me, the answer is "yes."  I've only used my laptop on trips, and despite my best intentions, I don't tend to do a lot of heavy writing on the road. The things I've used my laptop for – web surfing, watching movies on the plane or in the car, answering email, taking notes, light manuscript editing – the iPad's been great for.  Even better, since it weighs far less than a standard laptop, I'm inclined to actually carry it around with me instead of leaving it behind in my hotel room.

Clearly, I'm not a power user when it comes to laptops. But editor Michael Knost is, and he told me that he uses his iPad for most everything with the aid of the LogMeIn Ignition app, which lets you access and use any of the programs on your Mac or PC from your iPad.  So that app might be a solution for those of you who want to use programs like Photoshop or Adobe InDesign on the road.

The second question I get is, "Can you really type on that thing?" Yes, I can! I haven't had any significant problems typing on my iPad, and so I haven't yet explored peripherals like the keyboard dock or the Apple camera kit (which will enable you to connect a low-power USB keyboard).  It's easiest to type in landscape mode, but even then the onscreen keyboard isn't close to full sized, so letters are on one screen and you toggle a second screen to get to letters and punctuation.  There's certainly a learning curve, but I haven't found it onerous.  The lack of tactile key response is a bit strange, so I find the keyboard clicky noises (which some other people find annoying and turn off) helpful in knowing if I've made contact or not.  In portrait mode, the keyboard is so small that thumb typing works best.

The programs I used for writing are the built-in Notes app and Pages, Pages is Apple's Word .doc editing program.  Pages takes a little getting used to, and it lacks a full suite of fonts and the more advanced features of Word, but for light editing and document reading it's been very handy.  So far it's been well worth the $10 the app costs.

I've loaded my iPad with electronic copies of my novels and collections, and the last three author readings I've done from the iPad. It's been great not having to haul around paper copies.  And, at the Ohioana Book Festival, when the audience said "Tell us a scary story!" I was able to kill the lights and read to them in the dark, my face spookily lit.

The laptops I've owned have always seemed too heavy and awkward to use in readings, so reading from electronic copy is a new thing for me. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad has the same heft as a Dan Simmons hardback but without the bulk. It's not too heavy, and it feels fine in my hands; some people have complained about the edges feeling "sharp" but I haven't experienced that. Others have also complained about it feeling slippery, and again, I haven't had any problems holding onto mine. But of course there are a variety of glovelike silicone sleeves on the market to reduce sharpness/slipperiness etc.

You will have to spend some time wiping off your iPad screen every so often; oil-resistant is not the same as oil-proof. The iPad should have come bundled with a microfiber cleaning cloth, but it didn't; I've been using the one that came bundled with my old flatscreen iMac.  I did stress-test mine by eating French fries and then typing up some notes; salty fry grease wasn't any harder to get off than regular fingerprints.

Another thing that doesn't come with the iPad is a carrying case. I got a Targus crave bag at our local Microcenter; the bag is fairly well-padded and it's a good size for the iPad plus a few extras like my change purse, cell phone, and other odds and ends. I've been carrying the bag as a purse replacement during the week, but over the weekend at a local convention I found it just a little too small to carry everything I needed to have on hand (most notably, my hairbrush). Also, while the sides of the bag are well-padded, the bottom edge is not, so you'll want to be careful setting the bag down. Because of the size issue and the protection flaw, I'll probably keep an eye out for another bag, although this one is fine for the time being.

Apple's free ebook reader, iBooks, is a really nice piece of software, but at present it will not let you import your own PDFs.  And the iPad version of Safari, which reads PDFs just fine, won't let you save them off the web.  I solved this annoying problem fairly quickly by downloading the free CloudReaders app, which is a very decent PDF reader which makes it easy to upload ebooks to your iPad using iTunes.  A competing PDF reader, Goodreader, got better ratings and might handle very large PDFs better but Goodreader irritatingly requires a wireless connection for upload and download, and both my work and home computers lack wireless access.

The needs-wireless-for-file-transfer issue plagues many otherwise good apps.  For instance, I used iTalk to record some of Gary's readings, and the application was easy to use and the quality of the recording is great.  The problem is, the app doesn't give me a way to download the resulting audio files using the iPad's USB connector. I have to use a second desktop application to transfer the files over WiFi, and I can't get it to work.  Trying to get access to the iTalk audio files has been the single most frustrating thing about the whole iPad experience. I'm hoping the developer will wise up and enable USB file transfer in iTunes.

The iTunes file transfer works really well in the apps that have enabled it. Pages and CloudReaders both transfer files quickly and easily.  Sometimes if you download an app while you have the iPad plugged in, you have to disconnect and then re-mount the iPad to get the app to transfer, but that's a fairly minor issue.

So, that's my preliminary iPad review. I've had the device for less than a month, but it's already becoming part of my everyday routine in ways that neither my laptop or my iPods ever did. There's certainly room for improvement, but since the vast majority of the problems are software issues rather than hardware issues, I'm hopeful that Apple and the various software developers will address them in coming months.

 

Order a copy of Lucy's debut novel - Spellbent
Order a copy of her second novel - Shotgun Sorceress
Order a copy of her fiction collection - Sparks and Shadows
Order a copy of her humor collection - Installing Linux on a Dead Badger
Order a copy of her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection Chimeric Machines


Lucy A. Snyder has a degree in biology, which she mainly uses to help people cut down on their snack consumption at parties. In addition to the books listed above, her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Hellbound Hearts, Masques V, Chiaroscuro, GUD, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. You can learn more about her at her website.


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