Going Even Lighter: Hands-on Review of the iPad 2

by Bill Fox, MacsOnly.com March 23, 2011

My Apple iPad 2 arrived Wednesday, March 16th, exactly 5 days after ordering it from Apple's online store. The remaining accessories (black leather Smart Cover, Digital AV Adapter and VGA Adapter) all showed up by Friday. I had ordered them while in Italy just before Apple's official online purchase start time of 1am PT. If interested, see my ordering experience posted Monday, March 14th.

My iPad 2 is a black WiFi-only model with 32GB of flash memory. I actually wanted a white one but I feared a shipping delay since the white iPhone 4, which I also wanted and waited a long time for, is still not shipping. The WiFi-only model is because I have a Verizon MiFi for times when I would normally use a notebook and I have an iPhone 4 for all other times. I ordered 32GB of flash memory to ensure I don't run out of storage space too soon.

I didn't buy the original iPad for a number of reasons, the main one being that I did not think it could replace a notebook in enough situations. The features of Apple's iPad 2 (Facetime camera and thinner/lighter/faster) and a year of software development have changed the game enough to change my mind, at least enough to give a try at going lighter. But just how good is it in a business environment? Can it replace my 13" MacBook Pro for enough business trips to make it worthwhile? The answers to these question is what I want to find out in my usual trademark hands-on manner.

Going Lighter: What is that?

A number of years ago I was a member of the mobile computing crowd that reveled in the computing power and screen real estate available in a 17" PowerBook G4. I used several models (1GHz to 1.67GHz) over several years as a near full-time desktop replacement. At the same time I had a series of Power Mac desktops but didn't use them much since the 17" PowerBook G4 was so capable with its huge, beautiful screen. Using mostly just one computer solved the problems of keeping everything in sync and accidentally leaving something critical "at home" while traveling. And travel I do, some 50% of the year. But this came at a penalty of having to carry a nearly 7lb machine in a large bag with a bunch of other peripheral gear. Actually, "lug" is a better descriptor than "carry." And lug I did, even through several days on the showroom floor during several MacWorld Expos.

That began to change in mid-2006 with the arrival of my first Intel-based 15" MacBook Pro. After awhile I concluded that a 15" screen was not so bad versus a 17" screen in return for shedding 1.3lbs. In the spirit of lightening up, I triaged the gear in my computer bag as well. I also shed my dual quad Power Mac G5 with water cooling because the MacBook Pro was nearly as powerful for what I do. I could still play my favorite games perfectly well using BootCamp and it also drove my 30" Cinema Display when in the office.

The 15" MacBook Pro lasted though a couple of models until Apple released the 13" MacBook Air in early 2008. Two more inches of screen were lost as well as another 2.6 pounds. I also stopped carrying more gear in my computer bag, down to a few essentials. I loved the MacBook Air and the lightened bag for over two years.

But only 2GB RAM and one USB port along with a long time between updates finally took its toll and in the summer of 2010 I switched to a modestly heavier 13" unibody MacBook Pro. I gained back 1.5lbs of the 3.9lbs I had lost. Five months later Apple finally updated the MacBook Air, proving it wasn't dead, and redesigned it to eliminate all my concerns. To partially compensate, I got a new computer bag, a very trim and light WaterField Laptop SleeveCase and carry only AC adapter (just occasionally), VGA adapter and the Verizon MiFi.

Many of my trips and most meetings don't require the power (and weight) of the MacBook Pro. The current MacBook Air is the perfect compromise. But I wondered if it is possible to go even lighter a significant amount of time rather than going back to the Air, i.e. using an iPad?

Going even lighter: The iPad 2--Set up

First, I've got to set up my new iPad 2, provision it with the right apps and check it out.

Out of the box, the iPad 2 has to be validated and registered on a computer using iTunes 10.2.1 just like the iPhone. It pops a dialog box asking you if you want to automatically sync your music, photos and apps. It's not clear if it means just now or just in the future or both. A 50:50 chance and I guessed wrong, of course, and checked photos and apps since I'm going to carry my music just on my iPhone 4. It actually means just now, so not only did the many thousands of my photos in iPhoto get re sized and loaded but so did all 80-some apps on my iPhone, the iPhone versions of course. (TIP: Skip this. After validation and registration the details of what you really want to sync on the iPad can be set in iTunes and a sync performed.)

When it finally finished, I had to go into iTunes and choose which sets of photos I actually wanted on my iPad and re-sync, an unnecessary extra step. I could have done this with the apps as well but I decided to try them out.

I ran the App Store application and happily found it offered to update several of the free iPhone versions with the free iPad versions. Those with a different name, like with the appended "for iPad" had to be re-downloaded after deleting the iPhone version manually. Unfortunately, all of the iPhone applications with iPad versions that I had paid for like Madden NFL 11 had to be re-purchased for the iPad. I deleted a bunch of iPhone apps, mostly free ones, that either were meant more for the iPhone or looked pretty bad at 1x (iPhone size) or using the iPad's 2x button.

Next, I needed several iPad applications specifically for a business environment. In deciding to try the iPad 2 in a business environment, I had noted several apps from stand-alone reviews but I also found a great web site for IOS app advice, Terry White's BestAppSite.com.

Here are the specific business-related apps that I downloaded:

Documents To Go Premium - Office Suite v4.0.3 for iPad ($16.99; DataViz, Inc.) Working with Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

Keynote for iPad v1.3.2 ($9.99; Apple, Inc.) Minor editing and making slide presentations in Keynote.

Save2PDF for iPad v1.1.3 ($9.99; EuroSmartz Ltd.) Making and working with PDF documents, including printing.

Printer Pro Lite v1.1 (Free; Readdle) For printing.

Photoshop Express v2.0 (Free; Adobe) - For basic editing of images. Adobe claims these capabilities:

  • Basic: crop, straighten, rotate and flip
  • Color: exposure, saturation, tint, black & white and contrast
  • Filters: sketch, soft focus and sharpen
  • Effects: vibrant, pop, border, vignette blur, warm vintage, rainbow, white glow and soft black & white
  • Borders: rectangle, rounded, oval, soft edge, vignette, rough edge, halftone and film emulsion

WebEx for iPad v2.5 (Free; Cisco) Remote video teleconferences.

Citrix Receiver for iPad v4.2.3 (Free; Citrix Systems) Remote Windows desktop access.

When I completed deleting unwanted iPhone apps, switching retained iPhone apps for their iPad version, and adding the business-related iPad apps, I ended up with 85 apps. I ended using just 5.1GB of space (2.8GB for photos, 1.8GB for apps 0.5GB for books and other) out of 29GB net space available so I added 9.3GB of older unwatched video. This leaves over 14GB, plenty of space for growth in documents, new apps and new video. I can always delete a lot of the older video if needed. For me, 32GB looks like a good choice but for those who want to carry around a lot of video, the 64GB model may be the wiser choice.

Going even lighter: The iPad 2--Use

The acid test will be in traveling and using the iPad 2 exclusively. That will happen over the next few weeks. But I've run some initial trials and noted the limitations that I may be dealing with. Hopefully, some of the limitations will be overcome with more familiarity.

Microsoft Office Documents. I need to be able to comfortably create, read and edit documents in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. With Documents To Go I created simple Word, Excel and Power point documents with ease. Documents To Go also has a desktop application that can be used to sync with documents on the iPad and vice versa. One can also get documents from an online cloud like iDisk or from Mail. Apple Mail on the iPad, like on the iPhone, does a great job in displaying those documents. Mail lets one easily move those documents into Documents To Go for simple editing--I stress the word "simple."

For Word documents, the main significant limitation is that I can not use Word's terrific review functions of track changes or add comments. However, unlike as an attachment in Mail, I can actually see the edits that others have entered in track changes and the comments of others are visible when tapping the commenter's initials displayed with a yellow highlight.

The are no real limitations to my normal use of Excel documents. I really only need to be able to read them, do simple edits and create simple ones.

The main limitations editing or creating PowerPoint documents are I must use the awkward outline view instead of the slide view and only three style templates are available. The latter is not a problem since I always do my slide presentations in Keynote. The handling of images appears cumbersome, if possible, but I haven't tried since I will be using Keynote.

Slide Presentations in Keynote. Keynote for iPad looks like a very close implementation of the Mac OS version. There are two significant limitations I've discovered so far. It appears to be that I cannot export the presentation to PowerPoint or PDF and importing a PowerPoint can change the slides in ways that are difficult to edit--so much for using an iPad to show everyone's presentation at a conference unless they are all Keynote users, of course. I will have to work with it some to see if there are other limitations.

The iPad 2 with Apple's $29 VGA Adapter works great with my older 1024x768 projector. The desktop is clear, the color is fine and all applications display beautifully. Keynote presentations, video, photos and YouTube all look great. PowerPoint presentations in Documents To Go are okay but very basic and I haven't yet figured out how to advance slides in full screen mode. Apple's new $39 Digital AV Adapter with an HDMI cable works great with my flat panel TV. The iPad 2 is a fabulous presentation device.

Save2PDF for iPad works very well for reading, creating, saving and printing PDFs and other documents so it appears that I may not have any problems with PDF files. For printing, the app located both my HP Color Laserjet 2605dn and Brother Intellifax 2820 but it only worked with the HP after a variety of tests. One can also export Word and Excel files from Mail to Save2PDF and print them, either directly or after having saved them as PDFs--the print quality is not great in either case but it works. The quality of printed text files and regular PDF files is better. While traveling, if I find a postscript printer wirelessly via Bonjour, I may be able to print via Save2PDF.

More on Printing. I've looked at virtually every available app that claims to enable printing on an iPad and, except for Save2PDF as noted above, forget about directly printing from the iPad unless there is a new AirPrint-enabled printer available. The only other ways that seem to work are emailing the document to someone with a Mac or PC who can print for you or printing via a desktop application that requires the computer to be turned on, have the application installed and connected to a printer. Doing the latter makes little sense to me. Printer Pro Lite did locate my two printers via Bonjour but either froze the iPad or kicked out blank page after blank page endlessly (Brother Intellifax 2820) or printed garbage (HP Color Laserjet 2605dn). I've kept it because it does seem to print to PDF just fine. The printing issues are not a deal killer because my minimal printing requirements can be handled probably either by Save2PDF or email.

Working with images. I have a little need for this when I travel, usually preparing an image to insert in a Keynote presentation. I've used Photoshop Express for iPad a little now and it looks like it will be fine. However, I need some real time with it like I do with Keynote to be sure.

Teleconferences. My company uses WebEx for teleconferences with visual material. I've used the iPad for two WebEx conferences now and the iPad version of WebEx works well with one exception. While I can actually see everything that's written on the slides, unlike on an iPhone 4, there is an issue with the video on the far end projecting only the upper left quarter of my image as shown in the thumbnail at the bottom of the iPad's screen. I'm still working on resolving that issue.

Windows Applications. Citrix off Safari on both my Mac Pro and 13" MacBook Pro works to access the proprietary Windows applications that my company uses for accounting and timekeeping. Citrix is clunky so I normally use Parallels with Windows 7. Citrix seems to work off Safari on the iPad as well but it's a little clunkier. Occasionally, it defaults to Citrix Receiver, which is not set up on my company's server but I am lobbying for it.

In summary

The iPad 2 with its Facetime camera is, of course, the perfect device for casual computing, i.e. reading and answering email, web surfing, obtaining specific information, making video calls, watching video, viewing photos, reading eBooks and other documents, keeping track of expenses while traveling and playing "light" games. One can also listen to music and take photos and video but I have a better device for those functions that is nearly always at hand, an iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 can also do all the other things an iPad does but the iPad is much more convenient for extensive text and video because of its much larger size screen, 9.7" versus 3.5". The iPad 2 a great computing device for around the house, on vacations, on an airplane and at meetings. At this point it does look like it might be able to serve as my sole computing device when I travel if I am careful about assessing my requirements on a trip by trip basis. However, I need to really do it to see for sure.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in several weeks when I'll report on my use of the iPad 2 after traveling with it as my only computing device.

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Copyright © 1995-2011 by Bill Fox
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