Thursday, June 2, 2011

An iPad 2 comes to my house

I have succumbed. Surrendered. Thrown in the towel. Gone over to the enemy.

Three weeks ago I bought myself an iPad 2.

A year ago I resisted mightily, choosing to buy a new netbook rather than the original iPad. To me the iPad was a toy, not a tool. Also, it's just an iPhone on steroids. And it was not so hot as an e-book reader, because you can't use it in the sun.

But realities and fealties change. In my travels I found myself humping a netbook, a Kindle, an iPod Touch and a cell phone everywhere. Most of those devices did their discrete jobs very well and still do. The netbook is fine for writing and editing, the Kindle for reading, the iPod Touch for playing -- but the cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone's keypad is lousy for old-man texting. (Being deaf, I don't do voice calls.)

Still, four separate tools to do four separate jobs are a lot to keep track of when you're traveling. Each doesn't weigh much, but added up they start to load down the baggage. Keeping track of them while getting the full-monty patdown at airport security is a nightmare unless you're traveling with a companion who can keep an eye out for light fingers.

And so when the iPad 2 came out earlier this year, I started to think that maybe a single device that can do all four tasks reasonably well might be what I needed.

So I took the $629 plunge on a 16-gigabyte Verizon G3 model from B&H Photo in New York. (No sales tax plus free shipping.) I don't listen to music and don't watch a lot of movies, so don't need the extra memory of the 32GB and 64GB versions.

The G3 cellular capability, I reasoned, would allow me to send and receive texts outside free wi-fi range just about anywhere in the country, even on the wild shore of Lake Superior in upper Michigan, and Verizon's minimum $20-per-month, no-contract plan for 1GB of data is affordable. Since I'm almost always around a free wi-fi node, 1GB probably will work just fine for texting (with the free TextNow app) and light Web surfing with Safari.

The iPad 2's touch-screen "keyboard" is just fine for texting succinct messages to family as well as cab dispatchers while I'm on the road. It works well with the IP-Relay deaf telephone relay service, too, and I can jot short Facebook entries or comments without much trouble with the Friendly app.

That keyboard, however, is absolutely useless for writing, even with two excellent apps, iA Writer and Apple's Pages, at least with my arthritic fingers. For that I bought a compact and lightweight $66 Apple wireless keyboard, and that makes text entry quite usable although I wouldn't want to do heavy editing with the iPad. Much too clumsy.

Using the New York Times app (I'm a paying subscriber now) on the iPad is an absolute joy. So is the sophisticated app for New Yorker subscribers, as are the apps for free news from NPR, BBC News, CNN, the AP, Bloomberg and al-Jazeera. The free Intellicast weather app, with its colorful moving radar map, keeps me informed about malevolent thunderboomers. The game apps for solitaire (SolBox Free) and Scrabble keep me from getting bored.

And I've discovered the Netflix streaming video app, which for $8 a month allows me to watch unlimited movies and TV shows with subtitles on the iPad. Only about 30 per cent of Netflix' content is subtitled at present, but the provider promises to raise that figure to 80 per cent by the end of 2011.

I can download captioned movies from Apple's iTunes and watch them with Apple's own movie app, but downloading a single $4.99 film can take a couple of hours on a slow 801g wireless connection. One movie eats up about 3 or 4 gigs of memory on the iPad, and once you've started you have just 24 hours to watch it to the end. Streaming on Netflix is more efficient, and you can pick up where you left off at any time.

Gotta be careful with that, though. Yesterday the receptionist in the doctor's office was giving me dirty looks as I watched a Netflix foreign film -- until I realized the sound was turned up all the way. Quickly I muted the iPad, but not soon enough for her.

I haven't yet explored the iPad 2 for photography use, but can see that it may make a good "photo bank" for storing backup files from my camera during out-of-town trips. There are lots of apps, some of them free, for simple processing of photos.

As for e-books, I wouldn't say the Kindle and Apple iBooks apps make reading on the iPad 2 as restful as it is on the genuine Kindle, but indoors it comes close. So much so that the Lady Friend says she actually prefers the iPad to the Kindle for that task.

In fact, she's threatening to hog the iPad 2. To save our marriage I just might have to get her one for her birthday.


  1. Henry, thanks for the excellent iPad review. I've been considering one too - primarily as a portable reader for old historical books. They are mostly available as pdf files which the Kindle is not great for viewing. Any thoughts on readability of pdfs with the iPad?

  2. Also useful as a photo bank. I have an original Ipad (no 3G) and have put photos on it. Have not had a chance to do much beyond that, but it seems that one could organize etc. very nicely.

  3. Henry, as you will soon see, most of the Netflix streaming movies are NOT captioned, and that's why Netflix is being sued by NAD at this very moment.

  4. As I have learned to my chagrin. I hope NAD sticks it to 'em good.

  5. I thought you'd learned by now to consult with me first. :-)

  6. Are you not playing Solitaire on your mobile? Download The Coolest Version (Available for iOS and Android)