Fun with my iPad

I’ve had it for a week now. There are many iPad reviews, but this one is mine.

Screen, web browsing, reading

The contrast on the screen is much better than I expected it to be, and if you’re indoors, pictures look better on the iPad than they do on decent 8″x10″ prints. Reading text is also fine, and I have mostly been using it for that. Browsing the web is perfectly fine, and there’s something strangely pleasant about scrolling down a webpage by “grabbing” the page itself. It’s hard to describe it, because the same type of interaction was there with the iPhone, but the iPad makes it feel qualitatively different. I suspect it’s a combination of responsiveness and physical display size. Apple marketing catchphrases are at times fairly idiotic, but interacting with the iPad is really a different experience compared to the iPhone. The one letdown about reading on the iPad is that the PDF rendering does not use LCD-aware hinting a la ClearType (and whatever OS X has). This means your fonts will be slightly blurrier than you might be used to, although the increased pixel density (~150DPI vs ~100DPI for large LCD screens nowadays) means you might not notice it.

Watching movies on iPad works fine (I watched Fargo for the first time on it), and the Netflix app is incredibly cool (all the streaming videos are available). However, if you’re annoyed by letterboxing or cropping, remember that the screen is 4:3. The NPR, BBC and New York Times apps have become my main news source, which is nice, because they actually employ people interested in journalism. We now only tune in for Jeopardy (that’s right, I’m a nerd): together with Netflix, it means I’ll be canceling my cable TV subscription.


The on-screen keyboards for the two orientations feel completely differently from each other, much in the same way that the iPhone keyboards do. The vertical keyboard on the iPad is good enough for thumbing, but the horizontal keyboard is simply too large. However, after having a couple of weeks of practice, I can now mostly touch-type on the horizontal keyboard. I suspect that in a couple of months I will be typing at a serviceable rate. However, typing on a real keyboard is much nicer, and I have bought the keyboard dock. There’s no way I could use the onscreen keyboard to write this blog post, for example.

PDF Annotation: the killer app for nerds

Even before the iPad was announced, I had been looking for a way of keeping track of all the PDFs I print and annotate. A tablet of some sort seemed like a great fit: I could carry many PDFs with me, annotate them directly on the screen, and then save the resulting files in a safe, searchable place, so (say) I never lose a paper I reviewed again (making the inevitable second round of reviews much more convenient).

Originally, I had planned to write my own iPad PDF annotation software, and eventually I might come around to doing that. However, I need to read papers right now, and iAnnotate exists right now (and it only costs $9.99 or so). iAnnotate has a quirky user interface, but when you get past that, it is a serviceable, fast PDF reader in which you can add your own notes, highlight pieces of text (works well on the LaTeX PDF outputs I tried, but some people have had some issues), scribble comments, etc. Right now, the only way to get files out of iAnnotate is via their (free as in beer) Aji Reader Service, available for Macs and Windows. My current setup for automatically saving the annotated files in the right place is a combination of Aji Reader Service, Dropbox, and some homebrew hacks with inotify. Not pretty, but functional (email me if you’re interested)


My only use case for multitask has always been Pandora, and this continues to be the case. However, most people will want to use instant messaging while they browse the web and listen to Pandora, so I can see it annoying them. Does not bug me much.


I am a big fan of the Desktop version of Keynote, Apple’s presentation software. I have not yet played around with the iPad version too much, but I have started to create a talk on it to see how far I can get. It is fairly painful to not have easy access to arbitrary pieces of LaTeX via LaTeXIt, so I’m not sure how much use this will end up getting. Getting files in and out of Keynote for iPad is also ridiculously dumb and complicated – it needs serious fixing. All iPad apps in general have this insular feel (which is part of the reason for the above dropbox/inotify hacks). If this annoys you, stay away from iPad 1.0.


So, is it ultimately worth $630? Probably not for everyone. I would be willing to pay $1000 for a tablet with integrated decent PDF annotation and management, but not everyone would. If you read a couple of papers every day, though, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I have tried reading research papers on the Kindle DX – it’s just not as good. And have I mentioned plants vs zombies?


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