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The Test of Time

Entry 1281, on 2011-03-27 at 13:49:57 (Rating 1, Computers)

I have had an iPad for about a year now so I thought it was about time I went over the good and bad points of the device and which apps, games, and functions have stood the test of time. I've spent a lot at the Apple app store since I got the device (in fact it started before that with my iPhones) but not every purchase has got much use!

So first the general successes. The iPad is a very usable device for inputting text. The virtual keyboard isn't quite as good as a real keyboard but after you get used to the lack of movement in the "keys" it is almost as good. I have entered a lot of text and never felt too frustrated by the experience.

It's also a very nice casual gaming platform. The graphics are remarkably good for a battery powered compact device and the best games have very nice user controls using the touch and tilt functions. Some games where the user interaction hasn't been so carefully designed can be very frustrating though. I think that is the critical factor which separates the good from the bad.

I only use the iPad as a casual book reader. It's great for spending 10 or 15 minutes scanning through a magazine or for looking up some technical information in a manual, but it's not so good for reading for extended periods of time. It's just a bit too heavy and the glossy screen can also be a problem for this function. So if you just want a book reader don't get an iPad. If you want a general purpose handheld device which can also read books occasionally then it is still the best.

It's brilliant as a photo and movie viewer except for the potential problems with the glossy screen again. Do you get the impression I don't like glossy screen? I spent $150 extra getting the anti-glare hi-res screen on my MacBook Pro and it's the best investment I ever made. I realise that making a matte screen for a touch device which resists smudges and is easy to clean is a lot harder though.

Apps in general have improved greatly over the year I've had the iPad. Developers have really found ways to make apps which suit the overall iPad experience and the enhancements in iOS, such as multitasking, have also improved the overall usability.

I really appreciate another couple of general things about the iPad too. First, it has excellent battery life. I rarely find myself running out of power although I do recharge it every night whether it needs it or not. And second, it is very reliable. Crashes and other weird behaviour are extremely rare - in fact the device and OS is almost unbelievably reliable. There are also few, if any, real threats in terms of malware. The whole experience of using an iPad is almost totally free of that sort of technical issue.

So what isn't so good - apart from the glossy screen? I think the necessity to connect to a computer for setup, some updates, and some data transfer needs to go. I can imagine many people wanting an iPad instead of a computer. Does that make sense when they are told they need a computer even to get the iPad initially set up?

The other thing that constantly annoys me is the data transfer between devices. Moving files, photos, messages, etc between my iPad, iPhone, and Mac is not as easy as it should be. There are numerous apps which help and Apple provide some mechanisms as well but it often gets back to email. That isn't ideal. I would like to see automatic syncing of all documents between devices through the cloud. Hey, maybe that's what Apple is going to use their new data center for.

And now some apps which I use regularly. First, the games. Angry Birds remains a classic, of course. Plants versus Zombies provides hours of fun because of the many games within the game. I quite enjoy Age of Wind (a sailing ship combat and trading game) too. I played Medieval HD consistently for several weeks although I haven't played it so much recently. 10 Pin Shuffle is an excellent bowling game with lots of variations which I still play occasionally many months after buying it. MX Mayhem (motorcycle riding) is another game which is still fun because of the free updates which keep arriving.

And on to the "productivity" programs. Pages is still my favourite for word processing and text editing, and Keynote is also nice although I don't have need for it that often. Simplenote is handy for writing short notes which instantly synchronise with my computer. Star Walk is probably the astronomy app I use most for casual observing (I use SkySafari for more serious astronomical activities). Evernote remains a useful tool for recording material for later use on multiple devices. iSSH is my favourite utility for controlling computers through the terminal or screen sharing. The iPad IMDb program is so convenient to use for looking up information about movies and I use that quite often. And I subscribe to many magazines through Zinio although I think the reading experience in that could be improved.

That's about it for the apps that I use almost every day. There are many other fine iPad programs which I use less often but those are the big ones. I will probably skip the iPad 2 and wait for the next version, because although the cameras, extra speed, and lower weight of the new device are nice I don't think I can justify the "investment". So until the next revision does arrive I will look forward to collecting more useful apps on the current iPad.

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