Archive for March, 2011

iPad 2: My latest gadget

Preface

The following is going to bore 99% of the population. These are my personal thoughts on a new device, along with the background of how I got to where I am today in regard to my views on the iPad 2. I’ve labeled the various sections with heading titles in case you’re only interested in part, but for the most part, this is an old-school web-log post.

Background

Yesterday marked the official announcement of Apple’s second generation iPad. It was a typical Apple event, on the more subdued side, since the iPad 2 is a relatively minor upgrade to the original. It’s being called “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

When the original came out, I didn’t see the appeal. It looked like a giant iPod. In a way, it is.

At the time that the original iPad came out, I was using a plane-jane old-fashioned cell phone. Remember this kind? It made phone calls, and that was about all. You could peck out text messages if you wanted, but it was clunky and annoying to try, so I rarely ever did. My phone would play MP3 files, but it was too much of a process to load them on the phone, and difficult to get it to turn off when I decided to stop listening, so I didn’t really use that feature either. The only extra feature that really got any use was the crappy camera – in a pinch.

Then I got an Android phone and everything changed. Now making calls is a secondary feature of the phone. I’ve heard people complain about the calling features of smart phones – just about all of them (iPhone, Android, Blackberry), but mine works just fine as far as I’m concerned. I just find that I spend more time reading Twitter on my phone than talking on it.

At the time that I got the phone, my second child was about 8 months old. Our standard procedure for going to bed at night would be for my wife to feed him, and then take our oldest to bed and leave me to put number two to sleep. I’d get him relaxed and then either take out my Kindle and read for a while, or more recently, catch up on Twitter & Facebook, or surf the web. It was nice to have a device that allowed me to read websites or social media in bed. It didn’t take long though, and I started seeing the utility of an iPad. Now I really want one.

When it comes to technology and gadgets, I’m very much a technophile. I love gadgets, computers, and electronic toys. I am not, however, an early adopter – not by a long shot. I would love to be one, but I just can’t afford it. As it is, it drives my wife crazy at times, wanting this gadget and that one. She never forgets the gadget I really wanted and rarely used either, and weighs every new gadget that I want against that one. Really, it was one gadget. I got a PocketPC shortly after we were married. I had had two Palm Pilots before I met her, and didn’t use either one all that much, but thought the PocketPC would be different. It was a huge step up, with a color screen and a processor fast enough to play movies. I just found that I had my wallet in one pocket, and my cell phone in the other, and didn’t have room to carry another device. I also had problems keeping it charged sufficiently, and often found that even when I did make an effort to use it, it didn’t have a charge.

In the early days of smart phones, the PocketPC phone, I saw no desire to have one device to do everything. What if I listened to too much music or watched too many videos and the battery died, and then I needed to make an important call? I wanted my iPod, PocketPC, and phone to be separate devices. Now I have been thoroughly won over to the one-device movement. Yes, I do occasionally use it too much for things other than calls and find that I need to charge it to use the phone, but it isn’t the end of the world. Since it’s a phone, it goes everywhere with me, and it gets used. No more do I find that I need to look something up and my device is at home, or want to take a few notes or add to a shopping list on a device in a drawer in my office.

So why the iPad? Well, mostly I have been so happy with my Android phone, except for the small screen size. It’s the perfect device when I’m sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, need to look up an address or phone number on the go, or kill a little time reading Twitter or playing Angry Birds. It’s an excellent device that I use every day and love. However, the screen size makes it less than ideal for web surfing in bed, reading books in PDF form, or other tasks that demand a larger screen. My Kindle does a bang-up job for reading ebooks, and will continue to be my ebook reader of choice long into the future. With a sleeping baby on me, I often have only one hand to read with, and the Kindle is perfect. It isn’t too heavy or bulky, and I can flip the page with a knuckle, making one-handed reading easy. As much as I’m sold on an iPad, I don’t see it as a better option than the Kindle for books. It may be back lit, eliminating the need to have a light on, but it’s heavier, and really needs two hands, especially during page turns.

I’ve been sold. I see the utility, and want one. However, I knew the second generation would be coming out soon, and thought it made sense to wait for it. The rumors, which all seemed to be true in the end, were that it was a minor upgrade, but still enough to warrant a short wait.

The iPad 2 itself: my preliminary thoughts

Everyone I’ve ever talked to who has an iPad has said they love it. I haven’t heard a single person regret buying theirs, or even express mixed or neutral feelings. High levels of satisfaction are pretty consistent.

I’m glad I waited though. Even though the second generation is a minor upgrade to the original, the second generation of anything typically is enough of an improvement to the original to be worth the wait. If I had a first-gen iPad, I would be happy with it, and not feel the need to sell it so I could finance the purchase of on upgrade – but that’s something you just can’t know until it’s too late.

Cameras? On what’s new, I’m really happy to see the addition of cameras. I don’t currently have, or use, an iPad, but I can see the need for cameras. The rear facing camera is a bit odd to me. It makes sense on a pocket-sized device like a phone to have a high-rez camera on the back, and a lower-rez camera on the front. Being able to use the phone screen the same way you’d use a point-and-shoot camera screen for photos with the rear camera – and having the front-facing camera for video chats makes a lot of sense. But really, are people going to be shooting photos or videos with their iPad? Maybe in a really big pinch – like “don’t have a primary camera, and my phone battery is dead” situation, but how often does that happen?

Colors? Black is fine with me. Remember when all iPods were white? Then in the 5th generation or so (the original one that did video), they came out with a black one. That was all the rage – a BLACK iPod! Now everything is black and the craze is white. I don’t get it. I always liked the black. I’ll be getting a black iPad 2 for sure.

The cases? Lame if you ask me. It’s held on with magnets and will sleep the iPad automatically when you put it on or wake it when you take it off. Neat, but not worth $40 ($70 for leather). I think I’ll be skipping that. The only feature of the new case that impressed me was the microfiber lining that is supposed to reduce the smudging on the screen, but I think you can buy a microfiber cloth for $1-2. I’m much more interested in a folio-style case. I want something that completely encloses the iPad when it’s not in use, and doesn’t tell the whole world that you’re carrying an iPad. If I go to a meeting with it (like a Signet Ring Ministry meeting or Civil Air Patrol – I’m not a businessman at the moment, so meetings are rare for me), I want it to look just like any old folio that would have a pad of paper in it. It would be nice if it even had a zipper on it to really close it up. When I walk into a restaurant, where most of the meetings I attend are held, I don’t want to broadcast to everyone there “wait until my back is turned so you can rob me.”

Memory? I’ll take the big boy, thank you! If there is one thing I don’t like about Apple products, it’s the lack of an external memory slot. Almost every cell phone on the market has a micro-SD slot. Most computers these days have SD card slots. A lot of portable MP3 players have SD slots. Apple clearly makes a lot of their profit from the upgrades, and don’t want you buying a 16GB iPad and sliding in another 16GB of memory in an SD card slot, which you can buy for about $10 if you look around. They’d rather charge you $100 for that extra memory. $200 if you’re a customer like me that wants to (somewhat) future-proof.

Because I’m not an early adopter, and don’t have a bottomless bucket of money to always have the latest-and-greatest, I buy gadgets and use them as long as I can. If I buy an iPad 2, I probably won’t replace it until the iPad 6 is out. That is, unless there is a really good reason to upgrade, a feature that will be so nice that it really makes sense. I’ll be getting the one with the most memory so I can have room to grow. I’ve got a 5th-gen iPod with 60GB in it, and it works fine for my MP3 needs. In fact, my phone does me just fine with 18GB (2 usable internal and 16 in an micro-SD card) considering most of what I listen to is podcasts, and it can pull them down on-demand.

WiFi only or 3G? $130 is a bit much for 3G if you ask me. I see no need for it. I think 3G is a bit slow too, it really was dumb of Apple to not put in 4G antennas in the iPad 2. Then again, they seem to stay behind the curve on wireless data speeds. The original iPhone was 2G, and Steve Jobs brushed off 3G as a needless luxury. The iPhone 4 could have had 4G, especially the new Verizon version, but it doesn’t. This was a dumb move, if you ask me.

It’s moot for me though in the end. I don’t see the point in paying for yet another data plan for yet another device. I already have a cable modem and a 4G cell phone, another plan would be pushing absurd. I don’t see needing internet while out and about, but if I do, I can turn on hotspot on my phone and use that, currently at no extra charge. Worst case scenario, T-Mobile decides to start charging me an extra $15/month for that feature on an as-needed basis (add it for a month, take it off when the month is over). I can probably root my phone for free though.

The biggest reason to get a 3G would be for GPS. The Wifi model has only assisted GPS. It works on Wifi signals. That would be somewhat useless in a car, or an airplane (I am a private pilot). However, that is also not worth $130 extra. I don’t foresee using GPS on my iPad, but if I’m wrong and change my mind, I’ll just buy a dongle for the dock adapter that will add GPS to my device. It costs less too!

Apps? This is where I’m going in relatively blind. There are a bunch of apps that I have on my Android phone that also have iPhone/iPod/iPad versions that I’ll start with. There are a few more that I’ve found on the iTunes App store that I’ll add to my initial load-up, but only usage can dictate what I’ll end up with. Of the two that were being pushed by Apple yesterday: iMovie and Garage Band, I don’t see using either. iMovie might be fun to play with, but I have my doubts that’s is as powerful as the version on the Mac. I don’t see using Garage Band at all. Perhaps, if possible, I can use the iPad as a back-up to my Edirol Digital Audio Recorder for recording podcasts, but the Edirol is a solid device made for that kind of thing , so the iPad won’t be replacing it.

Why iPad?

I have an Android phone, and really love it. It has almost all of the same apps as the iPhone, there were only 3 at the time that I bought it unavailable on Android, and two of them now have Android versions just a few months later. The new Android pads look really cool. The Motorola Xoom is getting a lot of buzz, and looks cool. There is a Toshiba version that was at CES that looked cool too, and should be out around June, if I understand correctly. Since I love Android so much, why did I decide on the iPad? Well, I tend to like to be able to play in all the playgrounds, not just the one in my neighborhood. In the computer world, I have a Windows 7 machine, a Windows 7 laptop, a Mac Mini running Snow Leopard (originally Tiger, but upgraded a few times), and at least three computers running Linux (a MAME arcade machine that’s also a general file server, another file server dedicated to video, and a third that runs Asterisk – my phone system). I like the flexibility of knowing that I can run anything I want.

I also want to take a stab at developing apps. Being able to create apps for both iOS and Android would be really nice. (I just fear I’ll have to get some device that runs the same OS as the new Windows Phone 7, though hopefully NOT a phone). If I get into it, I may need to get an iPod touch just so I can test apps on the smaller screen, but that’s too hypothetical at this time to spend the money.

Third, the apps. One one hand I really hate that Apple has a tight leash on what they permit to go onto people’s devices. I hate to abuse a much over-abused word, but it strikes me as fascist. However, the apps are there. There aren’t many pad-specific Android apps yet, and I don’t want a device that is just scaling up phone apps. If the leash gets to be a problem on the iPad, I’m not afraid to Jail Break the thing.

So, over 2500 words in, I should probably bring this to a close. I’m very excited to get my hands on a cool new device. I got the blessing from the misses, and need to buy quickly before it’s rescinded. She’s calling it a Father’s Day present, which is fine with me. I see it as getting not only the iPad, but an extra three months of use out of it, which is better than waiting until June!

I just wish Apple would allow me to order it now, even if it doesn’t go on sale for another week. They don’t have to send it to me until their release date, but why won’t they take my money yet?