Sunday, April 17, 2011

iPad 2 (black 64GB WIFI only)

So this is the first tablet I've owned (I don't even own a netbook). My kids have been begging for one since last Christmas after playing with one their cousin brought over while visiting. I told them I would consider getting one when the iPad 2 came out and besides they had quite a bit of Christmas and birthday money saved up. I figure I would buy one for the family to see how they (ok mostly me) would use it.

On release day I swung by the apple store after work around 5:45 and they had already cut the line off saying they were sold out. It was the same story at best buy. I'm not much of a line waiter so I just ordered one online. Estimated ship date was April 1st. I got it on march 31st around a week earlier than the original estimate. I decided to go with the the black 64gb wifi only model. I already have a virgin mobile mifi so I figure I would use that if I need 3G. Sure, I lose gps but I think I can live with that while saving $130.

- iPad is heavier than expected. If you hold it with one hand pinching one edge your hand will get tired. It works better if you wrap your hand around the back or just use two hands. I'm sure it's pretty light compared to other tablets and the iPad 1 but for a first time tablet user it still feels heavier than it should be.
- Coming from the retina display on the iPhone 4 the 1024x768 does feel pretty low res in comparison. This isn't such a big deal for games and movies but it is pretty noticeable while trying to view tiny text without zooming in first. Other than that the IPS screen is still very nice.
- I can typically touch type at around 80 wpm without errors. My first mistake was trying to touch type in landscape mode. It's just not realistically possible. The keys are way too cramped and without any feedback it's just not possible to type without looking at the keys. I've now modified the way I type to using 2-3 fingers on each hand for a speedier hunt and peck method. It seems to work pretty well and is much faster than only using your thumbs on an iPhone. Still, I wouldn't want to use the touch keyboard for writing really long articles. Good thing any standard bluetooth keyboard works just fine like the logitech pro media board I have. My original plan was to write this entire review on the iPad. I ended up only writing about half of it using Pages. It wasn't an overly horrible experience but I much rather use a keyboard for typing articles of this length.
- The battery life seems very good in the few days I've used it. We aren't just talking surfing or video watching here. Even with heavy gaming the battery holds up incredibly well
- Yeah the iPad has two cameras now but man are they BAD and I mean really bad. The front one for facetime is about what you would expect but the back one takes mostly horrible photos. Almost any interior shot (excluding except maybe a professional lit studio) comes out incredibly noisy. The size of the CCD used must be incredibly small. Talk about cutting corners. I've read that the camera was really more designed for shooting video, and the 720p video it produces isn't half bad. Just don't ever take any still shots of anything you remotely care about. The iPhone 4 back camera is about 1000X times better.
- The apple dock connector is a little harder to plug into. The area around it is rather tapered. I guess that's the price you pay for thin.
- Movies encoded using Handbrake and the iPad preset look fantastic. File size for a typical movie is around 1.2GB.
- The mute/orientation lock switch is a bit interesting. If all of a sudden none of your apps have any sound it's probably because at some point you had the switch set to control mute in your settings. You mute the ipad and then later switched it to orientation lock. Now the ipad is muted even though there is no indication it is actually muted (like when you adjust volume). Just change the setting so the switch goes back to controlling mute to unmute the device and everything should be back to normal. Also, I noticed holding the down volume button accelerates really quickly and will quickly go to 0 volume in like .25 seconds. Not sure if I like that (I guess it's another quick way to "mute") but that's just the way it is.
- Facetime: It works quite well on the iPad. In the settings|facetime you can associate one or more emails which you would use to call the iPad. This is very similar to the mac osx app. If you want to call an iPhone just use the phone #. If you want to call an ipad, ipod touch, or mac you use the email associated with that device. If you have more than one device associated to the same email then all devices ring. Example: I have my iPad and macbook pro on the same facetime email. When I call it from my iPhone both the iPad and the mbp (if I have the facetime app running that is) rings. It all just works how you would expect it. Both cameras on the iPad work just fine for facetime and don't look nearly as bad as when taking still photos. The iPad even rings when the smart cover is closed and the iPad is sleeping. It's suggested though that each non iPhone iOS device has at least one unique email associated with it. Otherwise, I wasn't able to call my mbp from the iPad when they both shared the same email address. By adding another unique email to each iOS device gets around that issue.

- Here is a small sampling of apps that I found interesting. I'm mostly omitting any apps I've previously mentioned in my iPhone reviews since you can read about them there.
- What's great about app purchases is you can install and reinstall them on as many iOS devices as you want after only buying the app a single time. As long as you use the same apple id/itunes account you should be fine. Granted, only up to 5 pc's can be authorized for content but as far as iOS apps is concerned it's pretty much unlimited. I can buy an app once and run it on my two iphone 4's and my iPad 2.
- The kids love this thing. Besides the games there are some nice children books like Alice and How to train your dragon.
- iSub and Air Video have very nice iPad interfaces. Air Video over local wifi looks fantastic.
- Tried the Daily (first 2 weeks are free). It's pretty much fluff. I will NOT be subscribing.
- I love all the news/social network aggregators that format it into a nice magazine layout like Zite, hitpad, taptu, and flipboard. Zite has to be hands down my favorite though flipboard is nice too. It's pretty amazing how well it can create a customized magazine based on your twitter, google reader, and delicious accounts. On top of that it has thumbs up/down to continue to train it.
- I love reading magazines on this thing. Zinio is pretty good though I wish it had more magazines (and better prices on some of them). I couldn't quite pin down why I hated reading a magazine on a pc but I finally figured it out. It's a combination of the form factor, how you hold it similar to a real magazine, portrait vs landscape, touch interface, and flipping pages instead of just scrolling down with your mouse. It's a combination of all these things that makes magazine reading amazing on the iPad. No more dead tree magazine subscriptions for me. Get it on the iPad or I'm not renewing (I'm looking at you MaximumPC!). What kind of sucks is the nook color has all the magazines I like and at very reasonable prices. The problem is those only work on the actual nook color hardware and not on the iPad nook app. What is up with that?
- For reading novels I still prefer my iPhone (stanza ftw). I usually read right before going to sleep so e-ink is right out. I just find the iPhone much more comfortable to read on especially when lying in bed. I don't mind flipping pages more often. It really doesn't bother me.
- Goodreader does an amazing jobs with PDF's plus dropbox integration.
- Vevo is a nice app for watching music videos.
- I've only briefly messed with Garage Band but it seems pretty darn impressive for $5.
- Pages is a nice word processor. It needs native dropbox support but I guess dropdav works. isn't bad though for sharing your documents.
- There are a ton of remote desktop apps. Logmein is still my default for general use but there are some interesting new high performance ones that are actually fast enough for gaming. Everyair seems to show the most potential so far.
- I love games that are universal apps like Rage HD and Infinity Blade. For 3D games it makes perfect since. For the most part it's just rendering out at a higher resolution and moving some controls around. For 2D games I can kind of understand why there are usually 2 separate versions since it usually requires a different set of art assets (where is tiny wings HD!!??!!). It's games like modern combat 2 HD from gameloft that cheese me off. It's like paying extra just for unlocking a higher resolution setting in a PC game. It's just WRONG!
- UPDATE (4/21/2011): Comics - Stanza (my favorite ebook reader) now supports CBR files. It's fast and works pretty well but no double tap to zoom. Comicflow isn't bad but I prefer Bookman. Both are free. I find bookman's thumbnail view, bookshelf, and organization better. The overall UI is just a lot more polished. Comixology engine powers their own Comics app, DC comics, and Marvel. They each have slightly different comics available and marvel requires a separate account from the others but the app works pretty much exactly the same on all 3. It has a neat panel flow mode that works well for the iPhone. I didn't bother trying comic zeal since it was $8.
- Atomix Magazine - $.99 in app purchase per issue. Produced by Area 5 (co-op guys). It has a pretty slick interface and well written content.

- Power: My existing cheap eBay USB chargers seem to work fine. Unfortunately, my computer USB ports don't seem to want to properly charge the iPad. I get the dreaded "not charging." This was with the usb ports on the back coming directly off the motherboard. I did some reading and testing and apparently it is getting power but with the screen on there isn't enough juice to actually get a charge going. Instead, you break even holding battery levels at about even. If you put the iPad to sleep it actually does charge albeit more slowly (I did confirm this is the case). Apparently motherboard manufacturers have released drivers to up the power to the USB ports so it charges iPads properly (I have not tested this). I also have this issue with the cheap no name car charger that I use for my iPhone. Mobile usb battery packs like my Just Mobile Gum Pro work fine though.
UPDATE: Asus AI Charger works great even on my gigabyte motherboard. Now it charges the iPad just fine even while in use.
- Camera Connection Kit:
The camera adapter is interesting. I first tried my 64gb USB key drive. It complained about not having enough power. Next, I tried a 2gb sd card which works fine. I had this idea about how maybe you can use sd cards to store additional movies which you can load onto the iPad while in the field without the need of a computer or iTunes. Putting some m4v files converted with handbrake into the root of the sd card didn't work. Next, I tried to fake it by recreating the same directory structure my canon camera uses (DCIM directory) and renamed the extension to mov and added a thm thumbnail file (apparently you don't need to do this step. The key is the DCIM directory). This actually worked letting me import the entire movie file into the photo app. All of this seems rather convoluted and clunky and probably not worth the trouble. The camera adapter is really rather limited. It only works with the camera app and it only let's you import photos or movies into that app. There was no way to get them into the video app. So theoretically you can swap movies from an sd card as long you have some working space but it seems more trouble than it is worth. It's too bad you can't view media directly off the sd card. Also, the photo app doesn't resume video where you left off. I found out the best use of these adapters isn't so much importing photos from your own camera but others. I was recently at the in laws and my wife wanted a copy of all the photos her dad took. Normally this would require powering up a laptop. Now, I just pop in their sd card into the iPad and import the photos she was interested in.

HDMI Adapter
- Works with iPhone 4 and iPad 2. The low level mirroring only works on the iPad though (not the iPhone).
- It doesn't scale the image. So unless the app natively supports 1080p (like the video app and some games) you are going to get some black borders (this includes most games). There are exceptions like Chopper 2. I was able to use my iPhone 4 as the controls, playing it on my iPad 2 which is hooked up to my HDTV using the HDMI adapter. It's all pretty amazing actually.

- Real Racing 2 HD is suppose to get 1080p output support soon too though that patch hasn't hit yet. For now, mirroring works ok. Update (4/21/2011): The update is out now that supports 1080p output. I'm going to have to try this soon.
- Infinity Blade doesn't look half bad on a 52" HDTV:

Protecting your iPad 2 (making it slightly more child resistant)
- I decided to go without a case this time to keep the iPad as light and thin as possible. Instead I went with a screen protector ($30), carbon fiber back ($20), smart cover ($40 <- obscene apple tax), and a sleeve ($12) for travel. That's over $100 spent on just protecting the iPad! My kids are actually very good with electronics. They were taught to "respect the electronics" before they could walk! But a little protection sure can't hurt when your kids are handling a $700 "toy."
- Smart Cover: For the most part I really like the smart cover. The auto aligning magnets really work well. As a stand it's ok. There is only one angle in landscape, you really can't prop it up in portrait, and the keyboard stand mode flops around a bit too much to use on your lap. The magnetic on/off switch is nice though blackberry has had this for ages. Now, if only apple would add a dedicated indicator led. The switch kind of reminds me of a refrigerator door light.

Notice how difusse the light reflections are:

- $30 and you only get 1. I decided to go with the anti-glare this time instead of the crystal since the iPad lower resolution screen is minimally impacted by the slight loss in clarity with an anti-glare film (Don't get me wrong. You can barely tell it's there. It's still very clear just not as completely transparent as the crystal). Also, I just love the feel of the anti-glare and it does an amazing job of hiding finger prints.
- $30 for 1 shot is pretty darn pricey. You want to make sure you do a good job installing it. Here is how I got a pretty much perfect install.
1) Start by trying to create your own "clean room." I used the master bathroom and closed all the doors. Run the shower on hot and steam up the room. As the steam cools it pulls all the dust out of the air. Make sure you turn off any central AC/Heating too. Clean the surface you are going to work on and wash your hands.
2) I cleaned the iPad surface with a slightly damp paper towel using highly diluted vinegar and water solution. This helps make sure you remove all finger prints and oils. I next went over it with just a very slightly damp paper towel using only water this time. Wipe it dry with a fresh paper towel. Then, wipe it down with a lint free cloth. You might also want to clean the outside of the film a bit after taking it out of the packaging since the outside of the film might have lint/dust that could drop on top of the ipad during installation.
3) This step is key. Take long strips of scotch tape and stick it over the surface of the iPad and peel it off. Repeat this until you've covered the entire surface of the iPad. This acts like a lint remover and does an excellent job of removing every last spec of dust or lint. Tape is cheap. Your screen protector isn't. Use several strips of tape and be thorough!
4) Now you've got a completely clean iPad in your "clean room." Just follow the instructions from the site on how to apply it (go watch their video). It took me about 3 tries to get the alignment just right. Then it was just a matter of working out the air bubbles. Since none of the air bubbles were the dust/lint kind they were pretty easy to work out. If you did get a piece of dust or lint stuck underneath the screen protector, just use a piece of scotch tape to lift it off either from the iPad or from the film depending on where the dust is stuck.

Botched this corner with a tiny fold:

- $20 for back only. I wanted to keep the size and weight of the iPad 2 but also wanted to protect the back from scratches. Carbon Fiber seemed like the way to go. It's thin and light and gives it a nice texture too. I also like the look.
- The instruction video is excellent. I pretty much nailed the alignment but the corners are a bit tricky. You only need about 2 seconds of low heat from a hair dryer to soften up the film (DO NOT overheat!). I suggest you use your entire palm to press down on the corner and then smooth it out with your finger. If you use only your finger it's harder to get a nice smooth looking corner.
- The adhesive seems very strong. I'm not too worried about it peeling. You can also remove it without leaving a residue. Once removed though it cannot be reapplied.
- It works great with the smart cover. The magnets feel just as strong as it did without the iCarbons.

- $12 on amazon.
- Finally, I wanted a sleeve to use when I travel with the iPad. I love the case logic sleeves that I use with the 13" MBP so I figure I'd just go with a similar one. It's not specifically designed for iPad but it fits pretty well if a tad on the roomy side.
- I like the small zipper pouch which is perfect for holding the hdmi, camera adapters, and the charger.

Just three years ago I was pretty much anti-apple with zero apple products. I was a die hard pc user. Now I have two iPhone 4's, two mac book pro's, and now an iPad 2. There are still a ton of things about Apple that I hate like: app approval process, walled garden - can't side load apps without jail breaking, no storage expansion, apple tax (though a tad less so with the iPad), battery replacement (btw it's $100 for the iPad), stupid flat out greedy subscription policy, etc. But man do they make some nice hardware. The apps are second to none not just in quantity but in quality. I think you would be hard pressed to find as many polished and just plain useful apps on any other platform. Add to that the incredible performance iPad 2 has even compared to the mighty Tegra 2. iOS is going to lead in gaming for the foreseeable future IMO.

I came into this not sure exactly how much use I would find in a tablet. In the end I've been pleasantly surprised. Most of the family is using it quite a bit on a daily basis (the wife still doesn't get it. I'm working on it....). I love using it for web browsing, catching up on news, reading a magazine, or maybe even a comic book (though I really don't read comics but it sure is nice on the iPad). For consuming content it's great and this new form factor really does change things up. Have I drank too much of the kool aid? Am I caught in a reality distortion field? Maybe just a tad. I like to think I still look at tech objectively with an open mind and give credit where credit is due without preconceived biases or prejudice. I think it comes down to do the merits of the products outweigh all the evil (and lets face it all big corporations are evil! :P). The iPad is just one really impressive experience. It's the total package. I haven't been this excited about a new toy in a LONG time (stares over at the Nintendo 3DS which I haven't touched much since the the first night I had it with two new unopened games).

Highly recommended.

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