iPad2 as Laptop Replacement?
Ever since the iPad and other tablets came on the scene there have been writers contemplating the death of the laptop. As successful as tablets have been, they’re still a niche device. For the most part the technocrati have said “no, not yet” in terms of using the iPad as a laptop replacement.
But when my wife’s ancient iBook started sounding like a ’73 Chevy pickup truck, I decided to think about replacing it with an iPad. I considered replacing it with another laptop, which was the obvious solution. However I had gotten used to my iPhone 3GS and valued it’s simplicity and suprisingly high utility and therefore decided to go with an iPad. We needed something portable and able to handle basic web stuff as well as documentation in Word and Excel.
Why not an Android tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab? Mostly it was for iTunes as well as familiarity. I didn’t feel like having one more OS to learn and tinker with. Plus most Android tablets had smaller screens, and for the ones that were most comparable to the iPad I was considering (your basic 16G with Wi-Fi) the price was about the same. Also the Windows 7 tablets tend to be very poor in terms of using the touch interface, so I didn’t consider those either.
So I purchased an iPad 2 refurbished through the Apple store (they replace the case and battery, so it’s practically as good as new for over $50 less) along with a bluetooth keyboard and a small stand.
There are literally hundreds of solutions out there for the iPad: cases, docks, chargers, stands…all with their pros and cons. The simplest one was Apple’s own keyboard and integrated charging dock, but it would only hold the iPad in portrait mode. Instead I went with a small plasting folding stand (a fairly generic one) and the Perixx Periboard 804i. The cost for the iPad and accessories worked out to be just over $400, which isn’t bad at all.
The Periboard was a good choice. It’s not full-size but not micro either: about the size of a netbook keyboard. It paired with the iPad easily and is perfect for doing long emails and documentation. The Periboard is a Bluetooth keyboard that has iPad-specific hotkeys and is rechargeable via USB, which was something I wanted because I just didn’t need one more thing to feed batteries into. The stand was ok but it doesn’t lift the iPad high enough off the table surface for the charger to be in place in portrait mode. However if it’s not charging it’s not an issue and displays it well in portrait or landscape. Plus it folds up very compact and was only about $10. Other solutions can hold and charge it at the same time, but I’m not too dissatisfied with what I have.
Getting all the applications in place for it to function as a viable laptop replacement took a bit more work. As my Canon MX340 printer isn’t compatible with Apple’s AirPrint standard (many current models aren’t, but companies are rolling it out in new models) and Canon doesn’t offer an appropriate app, the iPad wouldn’t print directly to it. I purchased the $10 Print N Share Pro from the App store and after about 20 minutes of tinkering was able to get it set up to print wirelessly. It’s not nearly as seamless as printing from a regular PC or Mac, but it does the trick for now.
We also installed the free Dropbox app, which has most of her work and personal files on it. We could read Word and Excel files but couldn’t edit them. Microsoft doesn’t have an iOS version of Office, but with the popularity of the platform I bet they will eventually make one. I’ll be trying some solutions for that problem out and will report on them later.
Right now we’re still tethered to the iBook as my wife’s work email has some sort of issue with Safari. The solution will be to either get it to cooperate with iOS’s Mail or else look into a Safari alternative.
In terms of utility, the screen is smaller than the iBook’s but is very clear and easy to read. Using it for hours on end would probably not be much fun, but for right now there’s no complaints. The ability to just pick it up and walk around with it while still using it is wonderful, and the keyboard eliminates any issues you might have with long typing exercises, which is a drawback of the touchscreen keyboard.
Granted, I haven’t had time to judge whether or not the iPad can be a productivity workhorse like a regular laptop. But I think that depending on what you need it to do it could be a definite contender.
So can the iPad work for everyday productivity as a laptop replacement? Yes!…ok, well, kinda. It’s really more of a netbook replacement, and in that case it works very well. Printing and Office compatibility are still hassles, but less so than I expected. The Apple App store is fantastic, but also a bit bloated with junk. I also wish the apps had more trialware features to make sure they work to your satisfaction before you buy them.
Windows 8 tablets will likely (hopefully) eliminate these issues and may finally become a workstation replacement.