A Month (So Far) With My iPad 2

(The picture above is a screenshot of my homescreen)

I had wanted an iPad 2 since it had been released for a variety of reasons. One was that I'm an Apple junkie and love all of their computers and devices because they look great, work great, and are easy and fun to use. My wife and I replaced our final PC with an iMac last year and have been nothing but happy with it. We've both had multiple iPods (2 for each of us...I broke my first one by drowning it, and she needed more storage space with her second one) and we both have iPhones (we had 3GS's for 2 years and just switched over to the new 4S...review to follow).  So I knew this was going to be a great device, especially having messed around with an original iPad in various stores over the last year.

But the biggest thing for me was that I needed a mobile computer to replace my ancient and (now) useless Dell laptop from 2002. That laptop has basically been unusable for anything for years...it's super slow, the hard drive is tiny, the CD/DVD drive is broken, and there are various software issues. Thus, I've been limited for the better part of 5 years to working on my desktop either at home or at work (if one is provided).  So when I decided to get an iPad 2, I was looking at it not only as something fun to use, but something I could get a lot of good work done on.

However, I had some slight hesitations initially when I read some articles and forum posts stating that it was not a good laptop replacement. However, I still really wanted one, and the impetus came from my wife, who suggested that I should buy one to reward myself when I passed the 100 lbs lost mark. I passed that in September and, using money I've made (and continued to make!) selling loads of my old junk and memorabilia on eBay (and in the process, freeing up valuable garage and basement real estate) I purchased one at the beginning of October.

I bought a black 16 GB iPad 2 with Wifi and 3G capability, and AT&T compatible. And I have to say, I've been nothing less than thrilled by it.

I won't get too much into specs or specifics since I don't want to bore the less technically interested readers, but I will discuss how and why I feel the way I do. Right off the bat, however, I will mention that it ABSOLUTELY has replaced my laptop, and seamlessly at that.

First off, it's thin and lightweight, and fits in a case that is smaller than my wife's purse!

(My iPad case above)

The battery life is amazing...I rarely charge it daily, regardless of how heavy the usage is. Apple claims up to 11 hours of standby battery life on their website, and I believe them. Between me and my wife, sometimes the iPad gets used nearly all day and it's rarely under 50% battery. I had one meeting at work I used it for that lasted almost 9 hours and I had it on throughout, taking notes and looking up papers, and at the end of the day the battery was down to 57%. Incredible.

As you can imagine, too, it certainly is capable of doing laptop-like things such as surfing the internet, writing emails, looking at pictures, watching videos, etc. And it does these things extremely well. But it also does way more than that.

eBook reader:

Space is at a premium in our house, and my wife and I are voracious readers, so we have LOADS of books on our shelves, in boxes, etc. On the iPad, I can read tons of books (many, including the classics, for FREE) and most at discounted prices. You can find just about everything through iBooks, and if not there, you can read Amazon Kindle books on the iPad through the free Kindle app. You can add and remove books from your "bookshelf" in iBooks, but always have access to them...like everything else purchased/downloaded through iTunes, it's all accessible in the cloud. You can bookmark pages easily, highlight interesting passages,
write sticky-notes for particularly good sections and thoughts, and search these via a self-generating index.  And the dimness of the screen and text size can be customized, which is nice, especially for those nights I'm reading late at night in bed and don't want to wake my wife up!

Notebook and organizer:

One things I've been neurotic about for as long as I can remember is making lists of tasks to be done, appointments, etc. However, because my mind and body are always on the go at a million miles an hour, I always had trouble sticking with the routine when I tried using datebooks, and my desk is CONSTANTLY cluttered with Post-It notes, notepads, torn pieces of paper with scrawled reminders, etc. On the iPad, there are two apps that I've found indispensable for solving these issues. The first is called Penultimate, which is a notebook app that allows you to create and organize as many digital notebooks as possible. You can choose from different text colors, sizes, add photos, figures, cut and paste, etc, all with either you finger or a stylus. I bought a stylus and have been using this like crazy to take notes and organize the different projects I have going on in work and at home and it's been a Godsend. Even better, you can export sections or entire notebooks as PDFs, print them out, and back them up to your computer...the possibilities are endless.

(As an aside, as I mentioned above, I used Penultimate and my stylus at an all-day meeting I had and it was great...I took 50 pages of notes and during the meeting was able to pull up papers, references, chemical data, etc instantly on the iPad AS WE WERE DISCUSSING IT. Everyone there was very impressed and I ended up even giving a mini-tutorial over lunch on what it could do and which apps I had and how they worked). 

The other essential app I use is a personal planner and organizer called 2Do. I've tried several organizer apps and this is far and away the best, both from aesthetic and functionality standpoints. The layout is that of a real datebook, but you can add as many tabs as you want to organize tasks by type (ie. "home," "work," "important," etc) and color code them. Each task can range from a simple "to do" to a checklist to a detailed project plan. And you can set up alerts, reminders, embed links, phone numbers, maps, etc within each task and rank and prioritize them to stay on top of everything.  Even better, I have the app on my iPad and iPhone and they automatically sync so I'm always up to date no matter which device I'm using. Finally, I can sync everything with iCal on my iPhone, iPad, and iMac to bring in my appointments and meetings, thus fully organizing my life and keeping me on track.

I highly recommend both of these apps!

Productivity machine:

Finally, the question I'm sure (maybe) you're asking if you've read this far..."so, Drew, does it replace your laptop for actually getting WORK done?" And the answer is YES!

I have installed the Apple office suite iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) on both the iPad and iMac. (You can also get Mac versions of Microsoft Windows for these if you so desire). Through iCloud, I can sync documents across devices (including iPhone) so that when I modify it on one device, I can sit down with another and pick right up from where I left off.  Pages and Numbers (Apple's versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, respectively) are great and easy to use on the iPad using the touchscreen keyboard. The big surprise, however, was Keynote (Apple's version of Powerpoint). It's all touch based...moving, rotating, resizing pictures/figures/text boxes, etc...and it's so easy to use. I've created/worked on several presentations for work using it on the iPad and it's been simple and they end up looking great.

There are also TONS of dedicated, high quality apps for whatever field of work you may be in. People are using iPads in hospitals, doctors offices, schools, universities, worksites, etc. I'm a chemist, and there are a lot of great chemistry apps I use to get more work done and access my data and information from anywhere.

My favorite chemistry apps:

Papers (for having my entire PDF library of journal articles anywhere I go)
ChemDoodle Mobile (companion to my ChemDoodle Mac drawing program...this is more for spectra and property data but still very cool and effective)
Sigma Aldrich catalog (just what it says...great to have on the go!)
Aldrich also has Molarity, Unit Conversion, and Lab Timer apps for iPhone and iPad...very handy!
EleMints...an interactive and information-packed periodic table app
ChirysDraw...a super powerful chem drawing app for iPad (I don't have this one yet but hope to get it soon)

I'm sure there are loads more but these are the ones I have (so far) and they've been a HUGE help in my mobile productivity.

I could go on and on...I also use the iPad for social and professional networking (Facebook and LinkedIn, respectively), running a home business (eBay and PayPal), reading (iBooks and Kindle), music listening (Spotify and LastFM), music creation (GarageBand, AniMoog, etc...that's a topic for a whole 'nother post), news, sports, and weather, and of course the occasional game (Angry Birds and Cut the Rope for the win!).

My two oldest daughters love using it, too...there are a TON of great educational games and apps they love to use...just last week my 6 yr old was watching videos about dolphins and engineering wheelchairs that quadriplegics can steer with their teeth/tongue, among others, and she was captivated. The girls also like doing math problems, and it helps my oldest with her vocabulary and my younger one with her reading.

All in all, I (and my entire family) have been VERY happy with the iPad 2 and all it can do in just the month-and-a-half I've had it. This isn't meant to sound like I'm shilling for Apple, because I'm not, but it's gone beyond my wildest expectations as a laptop replacement, helping and sometimes enhancing my productivity, offering mobile enjoyment for me, my wife, and our kids, and all being cheaper and smaller than a laptop.

I usually don't pay attention to advertising, but maybe Steve Jobs and Apple were on to something when they called it "magical" in all of those TV ads...