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Magazines > Searcher > July/August 2011
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Vol. 19 No. 6 — Jul/Aug 2011
FEATURE
‘Going Mobile’
An iPad2 Review


by Sheri R. Lanza
Editor, The CyberSkeptic’s Guide to Internet Research

“Going mobile” …. so sang Pete Townshend in 1970. Little did he know how appropriate that phrase would be 40 years later. While it’s a bit disconcerting — to me, at least — to realize that song is more than 40 years old, let’s face it: In today’s world, we spend a good chunk of time trying to find more ways to “go mobile.”
Several years ago, I wrote Searcher’s Tools of the Trade column. My June 2003 column (Vol. 23, No. 6) was titled “The Laptop Alternative” and discussed Dana, produced by AlphaSmart, Inc. While Dana was primarily used in classrooms, its features showed great promise for it to become a laptop alternative for the general consumer market.

Dana [http://www.renlearn.com/neo/dana] is still with us, offered today by Renaissance Learning [http://www.renlearn.com]. It is described as “The Affordable, One-to-One Computing Solution. … students become engaged and motivated like never before. Dana offers the cost-effective, ultra-light portability and simplicity that students need for writing, keyboarding, science, or math.” A similar product, the NEO 2 [http://www.renlearn.com/neo/NEO2], is also available from Renaissance Learning. It appears that both products have remained in the education niche, although it is unclear whether that was by design or default.

In 2003, Dana’s potential as a laptop alternative was seductive, then it seemed to fade from the forefront. I grieved and waited and watched for the next entrant into this high-tech market segment. Various tablets were introduced, most without much of a splash, and few with any staying power. Netbooks briefly flooded the market and, while very inexpensive and even more portable than a laptop, were of limited use. Most were loaded with little more than a (very slow) browser and an email client. Between the lack of a CD-ROM drive and limited memory, adding other software was tricky, if not impossible. Apps, as we know them today, were few and far between.

Smartphones didn’t — and still don’t—interest me as much as laptop alternatives. I’m afraid the screens are far too small for my aged eyes. (Small personal disclaimer: I do own an Apple iPod touch, but don’t consider it a laptop alternative. I use it primarily for listening to music and, on occasion, tuck it into my purse for use of the calendar and address book functions.)

While touching on the topic of smartphones, even if I had 20/20 vision, I fail to understand the hows and whys anyone finds them a replacement or alternative for a laptop. Searching the web with a 3"–4" screen is not easy, and I find it time-consuming. (I’ve tried it on my iPod touch and found it a less-than-rewarding experience.) Reading a document, while a nice feature, is close to impossible. Checking the weather on a smartphone — sure, go for it. Checking and composing email? Okay in a pinch. Sharing a PowerPoint presentation with a client? Don’t even think about it.

So, I waited and waited. When I switched from a PC to a Mac (see my series “Moving to the Big Apple,” Searcher, January/February 2010 [Vol. 18, No. 1]; May 2010 [Vol. 18, No. 4]; and September 2010 [Vol. 18, No. 7]), I gave up my laptop. I wasn’t interested in dealing with the confusion and machinations required when switching back and forth between a PC laptop and an iMac. I became “laptop-less” and interested more than ever in a laptop alternative.

E-Readers: An Initial — But Not Seriously Considered — Laptop Alternative

My sister Susan and I are not “two peas in a pod.” Whatever is considered the opposite of “two peas in a pod” describes us, except for one similarity: We are both voracious readers. A couple of years ago, Susan bought an Amazon Kindle and gushed about it to me. She thought it was the world’s greatest invention ever, couldn’t believe I wasn’t rushing to order one. She claimed she used it constantly, throwing it into her purse so she’d have something to read when waiting for a doctor’s appointment or for a client who was running late.

My retort was that I did the same thing — with a $9.99 paperback or a library book. Why would I spend close to $200 (the approximate price for a Kindle at the time) when I could go completely nontech with a book printed on paper? She tried the “I can read a book on my Kindle in bright sun without glare.” I didn’t bat an eye, as I avoid bright sunlight, particularly when reading. And, in the end, the Kindle was only an e-reader with a 6" screen, not a semi-laptop.

Other people tried similar arguments to sway me toward the Barnes & Noble NOOK. Some models were priced lower than the Kindle, there was (limited) web browsing and email functionality, a few games (e.g., crossword puzzles and Sudoku) were included, and the NOOK Color had a 7"screen. I’m not an extreme fan of crossword puzzles or Sudoku, so that feature was not enough to sway me. I conceded the NOOK was somewhat more than an e-reader but still not powerful enough for me. What yet-to-be-invented device was I waiting for?

To Quote the Supremes

As Diana Ross and the Supremes sang in 1967: “And then it happened.” In January 2010, Apple announced the iPad, and a couple of months later, the iPad made its debut. I devoured reviews — positive and negative, but it took a while until I saw an iPad “in the flesh.” Despite my interest, I couldn’t force myself to brave the hoards of consumers at the Apple stores. Additionally, I have a personal hard and fast rule: I won’t buy the first generation of any new technology, computer-related or otherwise.

Finally, I went to the Apple Store for an up-close-and-personal meeting with an iPad. And, in a manner of speaking, it had me at “hello.” It was small, but not too small; lightweight; included a browser, an email client, calendar, address book, and the functionality of an iPod; and it was more than suitable as an ebook reader. Alas, it didn’t wash windows or floors, and I didn’t see those capabilities included on the iPad wish list for the near future, but that wasn’t a deal breaker. There was only one reason, along with a corollary, that I didn’t plunk down my $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model immediately: My own “I refuse to buy the first generation of any new technology” rule and its corollary. An abiding fear that if I did buy the first generation of a new technology, a major flaw would surface within the first few months and would result in a release of the second generation within a year.

I made a regretful peace with my decision and vowed to keep an eye out, over the course of the next year, for any hint of the iPad redux. As the months went by, the iPad received astonishingly few negative reviews; those that did appear tended to be from anti-Apple-ites. By the end of 2010, I hadn’t yet heard rumors of a second-generation iPad. My husband, Ken, tried to convince me to make an exception to my rule and splurge on the iPad, but I remained adamant.

A Double Surprise

Our home is eclectic during the winter holidays, as we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Imagine my surprise when my gift from my family was an iPad! I was very excited and definitely thrilled, although I secretly expected Steve Jobs to jump out from behind the sofa at any moment and yell, “Surprise! The iPad2 ships next month.”

I began setting up my iPad, and it became my (almost) constant companion. I downloaded numerous apps to test-drive, mostly in the Productivity, Business, Utilities, and Reference categories; Games, Social Networking, Sports, and the like aren’t high on my to-do list. My iPad was going to be locked and loaded and I was ready to see how much of a workhorse it could become.

Its first major excursion away from home and office was a trip to visit my parents. While I’d planned to use my iPad to check email and work a couple of hours a day, my parents’ apartment wasn’t network-ready and my iPad was Wi-Fi-only. Aside from a few excursions to Wi-Fi hotspots, I was stuck relying on my father’s fairly ancient — and amazingly slow — PC. The iPad did, however, prove to be an invaluable ebook reader. Prior to leaving home, I downloaded five or six books and managed to read most of them during my visit. Traveling with a like number of hardcover or paperback books versus carrying my 8" by 10", 1.5- lb. iPad (all measurements approximate) was a no-brainer. While I didn’t attempt reading in bright sunlight, its all around use as an e-reader was amazing. You aren’t limited to the selection of books offered through the iBookstore; apps are available to download and read ebooks from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Google Books, and more.

My second surprise happened a few days after the Apple press conference on March 2, where the imminent release of the iPad2 was announced. Ken sauntered into my office and casually remarked, “Apple plans to start taking orders for the iPad2 on March 11. Why don’t we stay up after midnight the night of March 10 and order a couple of them online?” I quickly looked around the room to see if there was anyone else in the room to whom the “we” and “couple” could refer. After mentally confirming we were alone, I quickly agreed to his plan. After all, if he was willing to earmark one of the two iPads for me, I’d be foolish to point out that mine was only slightly more than 2.5 months old. We stayed awake until 1 a.m. but faded out as Apple’s website still showed the iPad2 as “coming soon.” I agreed to make certain I was out of bed early the next morning to place the order, sticking with the 16GB Wi-Fi only model, still priced at $499. While I was successful, due to the simultaneous earthquake in Japan, it was 2 weeks until the iPads arrived at our door.

Off and Running

Being an old hand at it by now, I cruised through the whole iPad setup mechanics, reloaded previously downloaded apps and associated data, and set out to discover what my new iPad could do for me (see Figure 1 on page 36). New features and specs included the following:

  • 33% thinner and 15% lighter than the first iPad

  • Faster processing speed

  • Same battery life (approximately 10 hours)

  • The addition of two cameras; the original was camera-less

  • More built-in apps: iBooks, Find My iPad, iTunes, App Store, Maps, YouTube, Game Center, Contacts

  • Video mirroring

  • AirPlay: A tap of an icon is all it takes to display movies and videos from your iPad to your HDTV on the same Wi-Fi network; the same goes for music.

  • AirPrint: Use your Wi-Fi network to print directly from your iPad using your printer; no wires or cables are required.

  • FaceTime: Video calls—similar to Skype—but even easier, using an email address and Wi-Fi

  • HD Video Recording

  • Photo Booth: Take pictures using your iPad and add all sorts of special effects.

As several of the functions were new on the iPad2, I had no idea how to use them, and they called out for experimentation. My tried-and-true and most beloved built-in apps from the first generation had changed minimally in the upgrade and I confirmed I could still rely heavily on Mail, Safari, iBooks, iTunes, the App Store, Calendar, and Contacts. The next step was to test-drive my additional must-have apps (some free, some paid) to see how they stood up to the new iPad. As mentioned previously, most apps fell into the Productivity, Business, Utilities, and Reference categories.

Couldn’t, Wouldn’t, Shouldn’t Live Without Them

In order to confirm the iPad2’s continued use as my laptop alternative, particularly for work use, I subjected my favorite apps to testing, re-testing, and testing yet again (see Figure 4 at left). Here’s how they stacked up:

Wikipanion for iPad (free; http://www.wikipanion.net) is my constant go-to app. Yes, I could fire up Safari, go to the Wikipedia page, and conduct my search. But Wikipanion cuts out a step or two; I click the icon to open it, and I’m immediately taken to Wikipedia with the search box ready and waiting. Do I consider Wikipedia a credible source for work-related research? Not really. But, it can provide enough background, concepts, or keywords to conduct a “real” search elsewhere. As an added, albeit nonprofessional, bonus, I keep my iPad handy when watching a TV program or a movie. With Wikipanion, I can get immediate answers to all sorts of entertainment trivia. When watching the recent HBO remake of Mildred Pierce (which couldn’t hold a candle to the original film version with Joan Crawford, the role for which she got her Oscar), I quickly discovered why the actor playing Mildred’s playboy lover (Monty Beragon) looked so familiar; I had seen him in The King’s Speech as King Edward VIII just days earlier.

1Password ($9.99; http://agilewebsolutions.com), along with its companion app for a PC or a Mac, is a life-saver (see Figure 5 on page 39). I always have all my passwords and other important data with me no matter where I go. It’s definitely at the top of my list as the app to have in the Productivity category.

There’s one area in which a laptop alternative should shine: an office suite. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Mac or PC user, or if you prefer Microsoft Office, Google Docs, OpenOffice, NeoOffice, iWork, or some other app for your word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs. If you plan to take your show on the road with a mobile device — laptop, smartphone, laptop alternative, whatever — you need a good, sturdy, and, preferably flexible, office suite. In an ideal world, a full-featured office suite would allow you to move back and forth between your desktop computer and your mobile device seamlessly. To my knowledge, such a product doesn’t yet exist. I’ve done a good bit of digging into this short-coming and while I haven’t found the quintessential solution, I have found the one that, for the time being, shows the most promise.

Three words for you: Documents To Go ($9.99; includes desktop app for syncing; http://www.dataviz.com/products/documentstogo/iphone/index.html?device_id=735). The DataViz website’s brief description states: “Documents To Go is an all-in-one application with support for Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint, PDF, Apple iWork and other files and attachments. It includes a desktop application (Win and Mac) to provide 2-way file synchronization.” In other words, work on a document, spreadsheet, or presentation on your desktop computer, save it in your My DocToGo folder, sync with the Documents To Go app on your iPad, and an identical copy will live on your iPad (see Figure 8 above). Work on the file on your iPad, reverse the above directions, and the changes will appear on your desktop computer.

The Documents To Go app formatting options include:

  • Eight font types (Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Courier New, Symbol, Times New Roman, Verdana, and Wingdings) and 16 font sizes, from 8 through 72

  • 16 text and highlight colors

  • Bold, italics, underline, single- and double-strikethrough, superscript, and subscript

  • Five justifications, increase and decrease indent, and line spacing

  • Multilevel customized bulleted and numbered lists and outlining

  • Find and replace, word count, select, cut, copy, paste, save, and save as

It’s not a perfect office suite — occasionally changes made on the iPad render a bit strangely when the file is opened on your computer. But in my testing, I haven’t run into any unsurmountable problems. In fact, I found making changes to a file and saving the file back and forth between my computer and my iPad to cause less problems than when I transferred files between different office suites on my computer (“New Ways to Do Old Things,” Searcher, October 2010 [Vol. 18, No. 8]).

Do You See What I See?

When attending a meeting or conference, we often have to prepare a presentation for our audience. When working on projects, we often need to create a spreadsheet or other document to share with clients or colleagues. Until now, the following main options have been available:

  • Load your materials onto your laptop and bring it along. If it’s a small group, everyone can huddle around the laptop while you do your presenting or discussing.

  • Load your materials as above and keep your fingers crossed that there will be a compatible projector at your destination. I’m sure many of you will agree that in spite of promises made ahead of time, it’s fairly common to find that upon arrival, snafus occur. Operating systems are different, the right do-hickey can’t be found, the projection equipment is too old to work with your state-of-the-art laptop, etc., etc.

  • Bring your presentation on a Flash drive or send it on ahead as an email attachment. In this case, you run the risk of discrepancies between your version of PowerPoint or Excel and their version. Even worse, what if you used PowerPoint to prepare your presentation and your client uses Google Docs? I know, theoretically compatible. But, referring again to my article “New Ways to Do Old Things,” you run the risk of glitches.

  • Load everything onto your smartphone and everyone can sit around and squint at the 3.5" screen. I think we can agree, that’s not a suitable option.

  • Throw your file up into the cloud and pray there aren’t any internet connection problems.

But, what if you could prepare your presentation on your own office or home computer, sync it to your iPad with Documents To Go, and greatly reduce — practically eliminate — the probability of a complication? With minimal peripherals, cords, etc., this is possible. (Note: This can also be accomplished with apps other than Documents To Go. For example, Apple offers the iWork office suite for the Mac, which includes Pages for documents, Numbers for spreadsheets, and Keynote for presentations. Each component has a corresponding app for the iPad.)

Mirror, Mirror on the Screen

iPad2 includes a video mirroring function. According to Apple, “Video mirroring makes it possible to share what’s on your iPad with an even bigger screen and an even bigger audience. … Video mirroring doesn’t just turn your iPad into a big screen. It actually turns the big screen into your iPad” [http://www.apple.com/ipad/features/mirroring.html]. Using a digital AV adapter (sold separately by Apple for $39, although it might be worth looking to see if a generic adapter is available elsewhere for a lower price) and an HDMI-to-HDMI cable (Apple has one that’s almost 6' long and priced at $19; again, it’s worth checking for a cheaper alternative), you’re ready to go.

If you travel with your iPad, the small adapter, and the cable, all you need at your destination is access to a monitor, TV, or a projector with an HDMI outlet and you’re ready to put on your show! Oh, did I mention that video mirroring is not just video (e.g., images, photos, slides, movies), but sound as well? Your next presentation can easily include a sound track for the audience’s listening pleasure.

‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’

So sang Mick Jagger in 1969. But we’re working on it. In 2003, the Dana had a promising future. It was an early entrant into the laptop alternative category. Its message was, “Come with me, leave yesterday behind; And take a giant step outside your mind.” (Yes, that’s lifted from The Monkees; my taste in music is nothing, if not eclectic.)

The Dana offered a lot in a small package: an address book, calendar, word processing, a primitive — by today’s standards — ebook reader, spreadsheet; and its Palm OS offered access to more than 10,000 applications. Here’s the real stunner: Eight years ago, the Dana was priced at $399. Using the CPI (Consumer Price Index) Inflation Calculator (U.S. Department of Labor — Bureau of Labor Statistics; http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm), the 2011 equivalent price is $479.90 (see Figure 9 at right). Today, the entry-level iPad is priced at $499, in effect, that’s less than a $20 price increase! I find the technology strides in laptop alternatives during the last 8 years astounding — and for a mere additional $20.

I’m not saying the iPad2 is perfect. As with most new technologies, it still has a lot of room for improvement. To my way of thinking, Apple’s top priority in iPad upgrades should be the development of a state-of-the-art office suite. Once that’s accomplished, the iPad will (arguably) approach perfection. Apple won’t be able to rest on its laurels though. The wants and needs of consumers change constantly. We don’t know today what we will want tomorrow.

To finish Mick Jagger’s thought, with a short caveat at the end: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need. …” For today, at least.

Essential Reading

http://www.apple.com/ipad

http://www.apple.com/ipad/features

The Minor Leagues, but Still Useful

Want to do some drawing or write with a stylus or your finger instead of typing? The Penultimate app ($1.99; http://www.cocoabox.com/penultimate) is for you. Create handwritten documents, sketches, diagrams, notebooks, and more on plain, lined, or graph paper; choose from six ink colors and three line thicknesses. Your creation can be sent via email or saved as a PDF or a photo. As you can see in Figure 2 at left, my handwriting leaves a lot to be desired, so typing is a better option for me. But, if the urge strikes me to play hangman, I’m good to go!

My county, Fairfax, Va., has its own library app for the iPad, as do many public libraries across the U.S. and around the world, including the Library of Congress and NLM’s PubMed. Some apps I find particularly useful when I’m traveling, such as Time Scroller, Alarm Clock, Currencies, Netflix, and various weather apps. Need a flashlight to get from your bed to the bathroom at night in a hotel room? Try Just Light; it’s free and all it does it turn your iPad into a screen of soft white light. (This device is more than a tool; it’s a friend!)

I don’t know anything about the game apps, as they’re outside my bailiwick. But chances are, if you want it, you’ll find it in the App Store.

There are so many apps that sometimes it’s frustrating and overwhelming to find just what you want. The Apps Store is searchable and split up into 20 categories. Some of the particularly useful work-related categories are Business, Finance, Medical, News, Productivity, Reference, and Utilities.

Recently, Apple introduced the App Store Essentials — the Apps Starter Kit (see Figure 3). Browse the kit, which includes more than 35 apps. Each app is available individually and many are free; the kit is more or less a guide to help a new iPad user “get his feet wet.”

Here are some of the apps showcased in the Starter Kit:

  • Social Networking: Twitter

  • News: CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Instapaper

  • Lifestyle: Amazon Mobile, Epicurious Recipes

  • Music: GarageBand, Pandora Radio, Magic Piano, Six Strings

  • Productivity: Dropbox, Evernote, Pages, Penultimate

  • Travel: FlightTrack, OpenTable, Yelp

  • Entertainment: Netflix, Movies by Flixster

And, while you’re spending all of this time using your wonderful iPad2, don’t forget one of its all-time best uses: listening to music!

Forget the Fumbling: Speed Tips and Tricks

It takes some time to get used to using the iPad. There’s a tendency to expect it to work just like your Mac or — heaven forbid! — your PC. While you won’t have all of the same shortcuts available, there are some nifty ones that make your laptop alternative easier to use.

From the nature of the onscreen keyboard, it’s obvious that typing numbers and symbols is going to be a bit trickier than on a physical keyboard and will require additional keystrokes. In many cases, if you’re looking at the alphabetic keys, you need to press the “?123?” key to get to numbers and symbols. Even then, depending upon the app, not all of the symbols appear, so you have to pres the “#+=“ key to get even more symbols. Here are a few ways to simplify some of these actions, as well as alternatives to some of the usual keyboard shortcuts:

  • In most apps, neither the apostrophe nor the question mark are in the alphabetic portion of the keyboard. For an apostrophe, touch and hold the comma key or swipe upward on the comma key. Similarly, for the quotation mark, touch and hold the period key or swipe upward on the period key.

  • For caps lock, double tap the shift key.

  • Need to select a word or a section of text? Double tap adjacent to the text, tap Select from the cloud that will hover above the text, and drag the corners of the box that appears around the text.

  • If you need to select all, choose Select All from the cloud and everything on the page is selected (see Figure 6 on page 39).

  • Once you’ve made your selection, a new cloud hovers above with the choices Cut, Copy, and Paste.

  • Hold down the hyphen, and a bubble appears with three options: hyphen, em dash, and bullet.

  • In some apps, holding the dollar sign shows symbols for other currencies(see Figure 7 on page 39) .

  • Typing in Spanish and need the ¿ (upside down question mark) to begin a question? Hold down the question mark and chose between ? and ¿. A similar action holds true for the exclamation point (! or ¡).

  • The apostrophe key offers three types of apostrophes as well as an accent mark.

  • The period key can type a single period or a triple period (…).

  • Want .net, .org, .us, or .edu? Press and hold the .com key.

When using the browser on your computer, if you want to see the available options for opening a link on a page, most systems permit right-clicking on a link which brings up a list of possible actions, including Open Link in New Window, Open Link in New Tab, and Copy. Not the same on your iPad, but just as easy. In Safari, touch and hold a link to see a drop-down list appear with the choices Open, Open in New Page, and Copy.


Sheri R. Lanza is the editor of Information Today, Inc.'s The CyberSkeptic’s Guide to Internet Research. Her email address is lanza@infotoday.com.

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