Everyone is passionate one way or another about Apple products these days. You either love them or hate them and there seems to be no avoiding them. The iPhone continues to grow in popularity, and with over a 3 week wait for the iPad 2, there is no denying the demand for the latest version of Apple’s tablet computer. I recently got my hands on the newest model, and despite being a huge fan of the iPhone, I struggle to justify the purchase of the iPad.

Besides the obvious size difference, everything that I can do with the iPhone, I can do with the iPad. There is no denying the convenience when it comes to reading and surfing the web, but does this really justify throwing down $600 to $900 plus money spent for accessories? Absolutely not, but that didn’t stop me from doing it anyways. Cost and justification aside though, it really is a fun toy. Make no mistake, that if these were available for around $200 each, I would quickly recommend the iPad to all my friends as well as have a few lying around the house.

Nevertheless, it really is amazing how far technology has come, and the number of things that can be done with the latest iDevice out of Silicon Valley. Popularity of the iPad has given life to an otherwise slow tablet market, spurring a lot of competition, and with it, innovation.

The Physicals

Smaller than a standard size notebook, and thinner than the tiniest laptop, the iPad 2 weighs a mere 1.35 pounds and easily slips into just about any carrying case or backpack. The optional Smart Cover that is created by Apple to work with the device adds negligible thickness, but also provides negligible protection that only covers the screen. It didn’t take long for the back of the iPad to see wear. The Smart Cover, however, is engineered to help save battery power by immediately putting the device to sleep when closed. Unfortunately the iPad does not fit in the optional Apple dock created for the iPad with the Smart Cover attached. Purposeful or not, it isn’t convenient to remove the cover every evening when you dock the device for charging.

Pictures of the iPad taken with an iPhone

Additionally, the iPad 2 comes with two very poor cameras, one on the front and one on the back. They work well enough for Apple’s Face-Time and similar video conferencing apps, but photographers will laugh at the piss poor quality of the still recordings. Face-Time is pretty limited as well considering it only works with other iPad 2 and iPhone 4 users. Besides, who really wants use an open air speaker and mic just to see the face of the person with whom you are speaking? Unless you are in the privacy of your own home, odds are you are disturbing everyone around you with Face-Time, and if you were at home, would you be wearing pants?

The iPad 2 is available in 18 different models, with black and white options each with 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB storage choices. Additionally, you can purchase a wi-fi only model, or you have the choice between Verizon or AT&T for the 3G service. Be warned though that after you purchase a 3G-enabled model for one of the two providers, you cannot switch without acquiring a new iPad, however, you do not need to subscribe all of the time. It is actually pretty easy to enable and disable your 3G subscription on a month-to-month basis. A recent survey, while arguably flawed in approach, suggests that Verizon has less dropped calls than AT&T. My own personal experience suggests this to be true and if my day job didn’t pay for my phone, I would switch from AT&T to Verizon in a heartbeat.

Image borrowed from tipb
“AT&T… I’m your daddy”

The Apps

Apple has had a clear lead with their App Store, which offers more than pretty much anyone else’s App Store. Everyone is jumping on the App Store bandwagon, and you can bet the next Microsoft Windows operating system will include some form of an App Store. Digital Distribution is the way of the future and it will be interesting to see how long Apple can maintain their lead.

Same Apps, Larger Sizes

The Apps that come with the iPad are the same ones that come with the iPhone. However, many of them have been reformatted to conform to the larger screen size. For anyone familiar with the layout of the iPhone, it takes a little while to get used to the larger screen, but everything remains highly intuitive. For some reason, Apple did not include a Voice Memo App and the Video portion of the iPod App has been separated into its own App. Both of these choices do not seem to make a lot of sense, and will hopefully be addressed in a future update.

Every iDevice user has their list of “must have” Apps and I am no different. That is the beauty of the entire system. With a store that grows daily, there is always something new to explore. You have to be careful though. It is easy to spend a few dollars here and a few dollars there, unwittingly running up a large credit card bill. It is always best to search for free options first. Many Apps offer Lite versions of their software, which allows you to try before you buy. And of course, Google is your friend. It doesn’t take but a few seconds to search for a quick review on a particular App. If it is worth purchasing, somebody will write something about it.

Cloud Storage

In order to make your iPad a fully functioning device that integrates with your daily routine, you need the ability to seamlessly transfer files to your home or work computer. The simplest way to do this is to use “cloud storage”, which is nothing more than your own personal private storage space out on the internet.

Worth the $99 per year if you have a few iDevices

MobileMe is Apple’s solution. This is actually a number of Apps available for free on the App Store. The catch is that you need to pay a $99 per year fee for this service, but it is well worth it. Apple also runs a 60-day free trial, so if you use more than one Apple device, it is worth checking out. The way MobileMe works is that it allows you to sync everything, Mac or PC, with “the cloud”. This includes email, calendar, bookmarks, contacts, photos, and general settings. You also get a 20GB iDisk that is accessible by any computer. I save all my data on this disk, and use rsync to back it up to my server nightly.

If you do not wish to spring for MobileMe, DropBox is the next best thing. You *need* storage to effectively use your iPad. Here you get 2 GB of free “cloud storage”. Besides being less space, the integration with the iPad is lacking, but it is still better than nothing.

If you prefer not to use online storage, the iPad itself can be used as central storage. Look no further than Air Sharing HD ($9.99). This App allows you to wireless mount your iPad as a drive. This is a great option for anyone who syncs with a single computer and needs a simple way to copy files back and forth.

Books and Comics

Reading material is one area that the iPad shines over the iPhone given its larger size. Amazon’s free Kindle App is a great way to purchase affordable e-books although sometimes the pricing can be a bit unreasonable. The way to works is pretty simple. You purchase books online at Amazon.com, and then you can read them on any of your readers. This can be an iPhone, iPad, a Kindle Device, or even your PC or Mac. It syncs with “the cloud” so that you always continue on the last page that you were reading. Apple offers iBook and allows you to purchase books from the iTunes store, but then you are tethered to iDevices. That means if you one day decide to go to the Android, you are screwed. If you have Kindle books, you just download the Kindle Android App, or the App for whatever device you are using. Overall, I also found books cheaper at Amazon then with Apple, but my search was rather limited.

The iPad’s larger size really shines when reading

Marvel, DC, and Image Comics each have their own free iPhone Apps. Subscribe to comic books and keep them in mint condition forever on your iDevice. Comics on the iPhone actually do work with the Guided View technology, which intelligently zooms into each comic panel. However, comics just make so much more sense on the iPad in their full page glory. Free and subscription offerings are available for many of the major titles. Unfortunately, there is no Spawn to be found. This made me sad.

News and Magazines

Both the New York Times and USA Today have free iPad enabled Apps, which are worth getting to keep up on top stories. PressReader is an amazing free App that allows you to purchase literally any newspaper from any country for 99 cents. Subscription options are available as well. You get full color scans of the purchased paper, viewable from the App or a web browser.

A number of free options exist, minus the cost of the iPad, of course

A few magazines are available on the iPad, but subscription options seem to be lacking. I’m sorry, but no one is going to purchase magazines regularly at newsstand price, especially if they already have an actual subscription. Wired and Time Magazine are both examples of this. TRVL Magazine however has a complete free, full-colored magazine available that is well worth the lengthy download. The National Geographic style makes for excellent toilet reading.

For the most part though, unless you have a lot of money to throw away, you are much better off using Zite or Flipboard, which lets you aggregate a number of news sources into a magazine-like format. If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or Google Reader account, you can also tie these into your magazine, which makes for a pretty cool daily reader. I pretty much start every morning now by reading Flipboard for 30 minutes, enjoying and commenting on the same stuff my friends are enjoying and commenting on.


If you wish to use your iPad as more than a mere toy, you will either need to integrate with your desktop computer or completely replace it. To integrate, the concept behind Logmein is simple. Load a small program on your computer at home and then connect to it with your iPad from anywhere, even over 3G! Things do run admittedly slow over 3G, but they work if you need to do something simple, like start a process or check on the status of something. The App also gives you direct access to the hard drive of your computer, allowing you to view documents and transfer them to your iPad’s cloud storage. Over Wi-Fi, Logmein works amazingly well and is worth the steep $30 for the App.

Logmein phone home…

If you aren’t looking to pay for what I feel is the best remote desktop software available, you can always mess with the free Teamviewer HD App. If you can get it configured correctly, it works just as well as Logmein once setup. Of course they offer premium features that entice you once you get addicted to the concept of the App.

If you plan on using your iPad as a laptop replacement, then you need the Word Processor program named Pages ($10) and Spreadsheet program named Numbers ($10), which are both a part of the iWork Suite (Apple’s attempt at Office). Keynote ($10) is also available for Powerpoint-style presentations. These programs integrate very well with the MobileMe iDisk allowing you to seamlessly work on documents where ever you are. DropBox support exists but is cumbersome. If you use Logmein’s Remote Desktop App. You can access files on your home computer and edit them across the wireless using iWork.

You’re still better off using Office on your desktop

Music and Videos

The built in iPod App is decent. The Genius music selection features are pretty good at picking music you might like, although still laughable at times. It also makes purchase recommendations and allows you to listen to small clips of music that you might be interested in based on your existing music library.

Pandora’s Free iPhone App magically works for the iPad. Unfortunately, Slacker Radio doesn’t have an iPad version available yet, but their free iPhone App works just fine to stream custom music. The iTunes Home Sharing feature allows you to share your music library on the local network while protecting you from the evil urges of music piracy.

Slacker is Slacking on their iPad App

It’s hard at times to justify watching videos on your iPad when there are so many larger screens available around the house. With an optional $39 dongle, you can connect to any HDMI device to share your media library on the go. This works with the various streaming services as well.

If you have a NetFlix subscription ($7.99 per month), Netflix has an App that allows you to stream their entire selection to your iPad for no additional cost. Likewise, Hulu Plus subscribers ($7.99 per month) can view a majority of Hulu’s selection on the iPad. As I learned when I tried to watch the first season of The Dresden Files, a small portion of their library is not available on mobile devices due to licensing agreements (or the lack there of). If you have a DVR from one of the major cable or DSL providers, Apps exist to schedule and even sometimes stream content to your iPad. ABC has an iPad exclusive App that streams some of their programming. The Discovery Channel has an HD App with a bunch of interesting video clips, and there is always the YouTube App, which provides endless hours of mindless entertainment.

Not really sure why you’d watch videos on a tablet, though

If you have an existing video library, iTunes can be picky on the various file formats. Up until January, the famous cross-platform VLC player was available for free on the App store. However, due to what appears to be petty licensing disputes, the App was removed. Hopefully we will see VLC’s return, but until then, you will need to download a copy of HandBrake to convert your videos into an Apple approved format.

For the tech savvy types that want to stream their existing video library from their computer or server to their iPad, Air Video is an inexpensive solution for $2.99 that does conversion on the fly. There is a lite version of the App available, which allows you to get everything setup before you are forced to pay any money to make sure it works. Air Video is pretty amazing. Videos are encoded and streamed across the Internet on demand. The buffering can take a little time, but things work well even over 3G at 80 miles per hour while driving down the highway. Forget texting while driving. Now we can watch television!!


The graphic power of the iPad is pretty amazing for what it is. Of course, Angry Birds is available in HD, which includes a ton of “high resolution” levels for a few bucks a pop. Download the lite version, play a few levels, and then delete them once that is out of your system. Onward to real games!

Sword fights in Infinity Blade are quite entertaining on the touch screen

EA’s Dead Space ($9.99) and Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade ($5.99) both really show off the impressive power of the iPad. Even if you aren’t into gaming, it is hard not to want to grab one of these games just to show off to your friends. If you aren’t looking to spend money on a game, Epic Games released a high quality demo called Epic Citadel that allows you to freely roam around a similar castle to the one used in Infinity Blade. Be sure to check out the review I did on Epic Citadel late last year for some background on this impressive demo.


At the end of the day, we still can’t justify the iPad’s hefty price tag. It isn’t a smart phone, which you pretty much need these days, and it isn’t a laptop. While you can purchase a keyboard to use with the iPad, it clearly isn’t made to be used this way. The controls are wonky at best, and basic functions, like pressing tab to navigate between fields, aren’t present. Printing is also a nightmare unless you happen to use all of Apple’s products around the office.

If for some reason you do not have a iPhone, the iPad’s value is easier to justify if you are interested in iOS. The size of the iPad makes it a good choice when reading books, magazines, comics, or watching videos, but you still need a cellphone in today’s everyday society. Until the iPad comes down in price, good luck convincing the wife it is a needed expense. Just be happy with your phone and laptop while we wait for technology to make another leap forward.