Apple's iPad On The Road: A Light And Long-Lasting Load
Last week while in South Korea visiting Samsung, I dragged two computers along with me; my first-generation MacBook Air and my recently obtained 3G cellular data-supportive iPad. I decided to not activate the iPad’s cellular service until after I returned Stateside on Friday (I just activated it a few minutes ago, actually), a decision that was driven by international roaming fiscal considerations but that I later somewhat regretted. Just as when I was in India in late January, my ‘world edition’ BlackBerry was unable to secure any sort of data service in Seoul last week, neither BlackBerry nor broader Internet. And had I alternatively had Internet access on my iPad, I could have made more profitable use of my time spent on buses commuting between various Samsung locations, versus being restricted to early mornings and late evenings at the hotel for email, RSS and web catch-up purposes.
Nonetheless, I don’t regret sticking two perhaps seemingly redundant pieces of computing hardware in my carry-on bag. For one thing, although Korean Air offers under-seat power (one outlet per row, strictly stated; thank goodness I also had a multi-plug extension cord in my carry-on bag) the outlet which supposedly ’supports various types of plugs’ was in actuality only cognizant of South Korea’s standard. The outlet was under the window seat, two places over from my aisle seat, and it therefore took me a while to figure out and rectify this discrepancy via an adapter I was thankfully carrying with me. Until then, and after I’d drained my laptop’s diminutive embedded battery, I switched my text-input attention over to the iPad in combination with the ThinkOutside foldable Bluetooth keyboard I mentioned a few weeks ago and my copy of the Office2 HD suite (which GigaOM also seems to like).
Once I got to the hotel, I used Office2 HD’s built-in facilities to move the MS Word-compatible files I’d created on the iPad to my MobileMe account (attempting to transfer them to Google Docs didn’t work, but in retrospect I’m not surprised, since Google Docs isn’t a generic file repository) and from there I pulled them down to the laptop. The ThinkOutside keyboard worked pretty well, especially considering its small size both when compacted and when fully extended for use, and was a whole lot more usable than the iPad’s virtual keyboard (gotta love that tactile effect). However, some of the keyboard functions (the arrow cursor navigation, for example) seemingly didn’t work and others were clumsily multiplexed on keys that were hard to read in dim cabin light, so I’ve subsequently dropped $59 on a refurb ‘official’ wireless keyboard from the Apple Store for my next trip.
With that all said, two things that I absolutely loved about the iPad were its battery life and its responsiveness. The flight to Seoul was 13 hours long; the return flight back to LAX was 11 hours. In neither case did I come close to draining the iPad’s battery, even though admittedly the system wasn’t in constant use during either flight and I also had the backlight dimmed to its lowest setting while the iPad was active. I was amazed at how slowly the battery life gauge dropped percentage points towards zero, in contrast to my laptop experience, and in spite of the fact that I had the iPad’s Bluetooth facilities enabled. And I also enjoyed being able to punch the power button and quickly check email when I had a few spare minutes and was in the presence of a free and publicly accessible hotspot; at Inchon International Airport, for example, or at Samsung’s D’light Digital Playground (but definitely not at any of Samsung’s locked-down corporate facilities).
Next, a few thoughts on Flash (ahem). As regular readers know, it’s been a particular bone of contention between Apple and Adobe (and Google) for the past few months. I’ll have more to say in-depth about the topic soon. But for now, I’ll just comment that I really don’t miss it much. Granted, I might be bummed if I wanted to watch a little Hulu, but I can’t do that from overseas anyway due to content licensing restrictions. And the iPad includes a native YouTube app. Frankly, most of what I didn’t see due to omitted Flash support on the iPad were advertisements (which is nice); regular readers also know that I normally keep Flash disabled on my regular computers’ browsers, anyway. Ironically, what I missed more was the lack of Java support in the iPad’s version of the Safari browser; this omission prevented me from monitoring webcams I normally check on when I’m away, for example.
So why did I go ahead and activate cellular data service now, specifically the $14.99/month, 250 Mbytes/month plan option (versus the $29.99/month ‘all you can eat’ alternative)? Fiscal considerations dictated the plan selection, and with judicious use, I trust I’ll be able to keep my data payload below the 250 Mbyte threshold. More generally, I’m headed to SID on Sunday where, from past experience, wireless connectivity is poor. Having one more connection option in my arsenal will increase the potential that I’ll be able to keep on top of incoming cyber-communication during the day. The iPad’s 3G cellular facilities will have a similar connectivity-boosting effect later next week when I’ll be at the hospital keeping a close eye on a friend. And it’ll also enable me to play (while as a passenger, not while driving) with the well-reviewed MotionX-GPS HD app that I just bought. Unlike Navigon’s MobileNavigator, for example, MotionX-GPS HD downloads data on the fly, making AT&T’s UMTS HSPA bandwidth especially attractive.
To wit, and wrapping up this particular post, here’s a bandwidth test screenshot that I just snagged from northern San Diego County:
Pretty snazzy, eh? Granted, I’m not going to ditch my MacBook Air any time soon, but especially for short trips, the iPad will do in a pinch. And the irony that from a portability standpoint, I’m positively comparing Apple’s tablet to the company’s sveltest laptop isn’t lost on me.