Your experience with iPad ergonomics?
September 15, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

iPad users - how are the ergonomics? I've found plenty of speculation about iPad ergonomics, but not a lot of discussion from actual users. How do you make the iPad comfortable for use?

I'm considering buying an iPad, mostly for recreational reading, Tweeting, Mefi-ing, and travel. I'd probably take notes at conferences and lectures with it and occasionally compose blog posts. But I also have RSI issues, so the ergonomics concern me. I live several hours from the nearest Apple store and don't have access to one that I can test out.

(RSI special snowflake details: Handwriting is worse for me than typing, and carrying heavy items in a shoulder bag or backpack throws my shoulders for a loop. So the lightweight and built-in keyboard aspect of the iPad are very appealing. I have tiny hands so the shrunken keyboard doesn't bother me, at least in theory.)

Thanks for your help!
posted by brackish.line to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you want to write on an iPad, get one of the many available bluetooth keyboards. Apple's is very nice, and very portable, though others may be less expensive. I have found typing on-screen to be very uncomfortable. The first few days with my iPad (albeit lazily on the couch) left me in a great deal of pain. I never felt any discomfort using the iPad as a little "monitor" as it were, and typing on the keyboard.

Again, it's very light (much lighter than the iPad, in my recollection), so you may find that taking it with you is workable.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2011

I have one of the cases that folds into a little triangle (similar to that of the case that you can buy w/ the ipad) and I use that when I sit it on the table or on my lap to type. That angle seems to work well for me. I do hunt & peck typing, although I'm a pretty quick typist on a full keyboard. I was surprised how I'm not slowed down to a huge extent with the screen keyboard, but you can always buy the external one.
posted by bizzyb at 1:26 PM on September 15, 2011

Also keep in mind that the iPad 2 is considerably lighter than the original iPad, which is the one referenced in all three of your links.
posted by trevyn at 1:27 PM on September 15, 2011

Consider one of those cases-which-are-keyboards. A friend of mine has one, it works great, and it's lightweight.

She doesn't have to use it when she doesn't want to, but when she wants to type something lengthy, it's right there ready to go. She has had some RSI issues in the past, but I don't know how severe in comparison to yours, so YMMV.

I think hers is this one but I'm not 100% certain.

I suspect, from your usage outline, that you may be fine without a keyboard at all -- and if not, the keyboard can be acquired separately as the need arises.
posted by aramaic at 1:28 PM on September 15, 2011

Do you live near a Best Buy, Walmart, or Target store that might have iPads out on display? The Apple Store is not the only place they are sold!
posted by Nothlit at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2011

iOS 5, which Apple will probably release next month, will have the option of a split keyboard. This will allow you to split the keyboard down the middle into two halves that move closer to the sides of the screen to make it easier to type with just your thumbs. You can also adjust the vertical position of these halves to whatever feels comfortable. See for a screenshot.
posted by jroybal at 1:48 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd like to add that it is a bit heavy to hold up to for a long time to read during a commute.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2011

Ipad 2 owner here. For the best ergonomic experience on an iPad, I recommend never trying to use it for any typing longer than a few sentences. I even tried using a bluetooth keyboard with it, and found that the added bulk and clutter just ruined the whole tablet dynamic for me. They're just not a substitute for a laptop if you're used to actually getting a substantial amount of writing done. Make your peace with that fact and enjoy it as an awesome e-reader/netflix device/web surfing station/tweetbox/game machine/music toy/remote control. In that regard, it's very comfortable to use.

With that said, these smart cases from monoprice are great. It does the whole smart cover/folding stand thing that Apple offers in their $30 piece of plastic, but also protects the back and you can get it for half the price, shipped.
posted by mullingitover at 2:37 PM on September 15, 2011

As far as carrying around a keyboard + iPad, my boyfriend was planning on doing that (iPad 1 and Apple BT keyboard) and it definitely ceases to be light once you've got both. That being said, I have no ergonomic issues with the iPad at all. It's not the best for extended typing (I can't imagine taking conference notes on it, but writing a blog post would probably be OK) but it's quite wonderful for surfing on the couch/at the coffee shop/etc.
posted by duien at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2011

If what you really want is a very mobile thing for taking notes and writing as well as surfing, the 11" Air is actually amazingly portable. I have back issues and can't generally carry anything heavy around, but I've actually been carrying the Air in my purse since I got it.
posted by duien at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2011

Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal notes that Sony's new Android-based tablet has an asymmetrical case, rounded at the right/top, which makes it much more comfortable for touch-screen typing.
posted by megatherium at 3:32 PM on September 15, 2011

the ipad should probably be thought of as a media consumption device that can occasionally be used to do something productive on. Great for games and browsing the web and reading e-books and watching movies, but really poor for taking notes and writing.

I bought an ipad for my mom, and she loves it, but the few hours I spent playing around on it convinced me that I'd rather have a macbook air, which is what I ended up buying for myself. It's not a tremendous amount bigger or heavier than an ipad and has a keyboard and you can run real programs on it like photoshop, etc
posted by empath at 4:07 PM on September 15, 2011

I used to get terrible "mousing wrist." It was pretty much like typical carpal tunnel pain, but confined to just my right hand. I even wore a wrist brace at night for a while. I finally figured out that if I switched the mouse to the left hand I didn't need the brace. When I switched to a laptop with a trackpad it totally went away.

I have an iPad 2. I'm a moderate user and I an having issues again, but it is totally related to how I use it. I tend to use it at night only, laying in bed, and I use my thumbs to type. So I more or less have it at a perpendicular to the floor position and I crank my wrists back to be able to "thumb type."

It may not be the iPad, but since it hurts the worst when I am using it I suspect it is. I don't think this is a failure of the iPad though. This is pretty much the same position I read books in, but I'm not trying to type responses on my books.

I wouldn't hesitate to get one based on RSI issues, but I would warn that if you already have problems you might find there are ways that are uncomfortable for you to use it.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:09 PM on September 15, 2011

I'm an iPad 1 owner and unless the iPad 2 is a lot different you'll want a case. The brushed aluminum and weight make it feel like it might slide out of your hand at any time. I'm using the original apple case that gives me enough traction to feel secure without adding to much bulk.

I agree that the onscreen keyboard sucks for anything more than a sentence or two. I have a bluetooth keyboard/case but that added to too much bulk to the unit and didn't get much use so I'm back to the original case.

If you have small hands then the onscreen keyboard will probably be better in portrait mode and then you're supporting a lot of weight in an awkward position while trying to type with your thumbs.

I frequently use it in "football" carry, resting on my left forearm with my hand wrapped around from the back while I hunt-and-peck write handed.
posted by Awfki at 6:17 PM on September 15, 2011

I'm considering buying an iPad, mostly for recreational reading, Tweeting, Mefi-ing, and travel. I'd probably take notes at conferences and lectures with it and occasionally compose blog posts.

I believe the notes would present a problem as using the onscreen keyboard can be slow.

It would work beautifully for the other items you've mentioned though.

We regards to ergonomics, I've never had wrist issues with the iPad but I suspect that's largely because I never type anything long enough to be an issue. I've had other issues with cramping and back pain due to the way I sit or lie, but I'm not sure I'd call those iPad specific.

This is about the longest message I would usually compose on an iPad.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:17 PM on September 15, 2011

mullingitover got it.
If you write at any length, you need a real keyboard. But if you need a second piece of equipment, you've lost one of the iPad's essential benefits -- light & portable -- so what's the point? Make peace, use a laptop for writing, and enjoy the little iPad for what it is.
posted by LonnieK at 7:28 PM on September 15, 2011

Thanks everyone - I'll try to get out to our local Wally World to test one out, as it seems like something that's very individualized (as I expected.)

A classmate of mine in grad school took notes to every lecture on his iPad, which is what gave me the idea that it's even feasible. The typing notes feature is fairly key for me...I have a ThinkPad running Ubuntu with lovely responsive keys...that are loud as heck. I was hoping that a touchscreen keyboard would be comfortable and responsive but without the intrusive aspect of a full laptop and it's attendant bulk and noise.

This is giving me a lot to think about - thanks for your responses! I'd still love to hear what other people have found.
posted by brackish.line at 7:30 PM on September 15, 2011

I haven't tried it, but you may find the iKeyboard handy.
posted by oceano at 8:00 PM on September 15, 2011

RSI sufferer and ipad user here. I too had a resurgance of problems with the ipad--bht not because of typing. If I sit on the couch with my legs pulled up to the side while surfing the net, it sets everything off.

I have to sit up straight and pay attention to what im doing.

By the way, you may be able to record lectures while taking notes and thereby need to take fewer notes.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:22 AM on September 16, 2011

The only product I've ever seen that addresses ergonomics for the iPad is the Vue Stand.

I also n'th the recommendation for an external keyboard, if you type anything more than two sentences long. I use the Targus model, which works perfectly and comes in black.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:35 AM on September 16, 2011

Oh, and for typing notes from a lecture, the app you want is SoundNote or AudioNote
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:38 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do a lot of typing on a tablet screen, do your fingertips get sore or tender from repeatedly tapping against solid glass, as opposed to energy-absorbing keys?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on September 16, 2011

Thorzdad, that's something I've started wondering about. The on-screen keyboard is something I really like about the iPad but the solid glass v. movable keys concerns me.
posted by brackish.line at 7:37 AM on September 16, 2011

Typing on the screen is /okay/, but the only feedback that you're actually hitting a key is visual. The letter appears, and that the 'key' on the screen flashes dark for a fraction of a second. Using a physical keyboard with keys that collapse under the force of your fingers gives you an added tactile 'feel' that typing on glass can't match.

The other thing that you learn quickly is that you can't actually rest your fingers on the 'home row' when you're typing on the glass. This soon degrades your touch-typing skills back to slightly faster than hunt-n-peck speeds.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:14 AM on September 16, 2011

Thanks Wild_Eep - that's really helpful knowledge. It would be good for me to slow down a bit when typing given the RSI issues, with the obvious caveat that it's hard to keep up with a conference/lecture/discussion at a slower speed. The resting-on-home row point is something I hadn't thought of at all, since my only touch-screen experience is sending an email on a friend's iPhone. (No reliable 3G service out here in the boonies -> haven't bothered with a smartphone.)

The Soundnote and Audionote recommendations have made me rather jealous of folks starting college now (who can afford a $500 computer-oid device in addition to a laptop/desktop)! I never recorded lectures given the need to fiddle with recorders/transferring files or carry my (heavy) laptop around. But being able to record lectures with something lightweight would have been a godsend given my gnat-like attention span.
posted by brackish.line at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2011

Typing on the screen is /okay/, but the only feedback that you're actually hitting a key is visual.

You can also turn on clicks for keystrokes.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:13 AM on September 16, 2011

Lately I've taken to using an app called Note Taker HD and a stylus (griffin makes it) to do hand written notes on the ipad. It isn't as quick as paper and pen, but it does have some nice features being digital. I'm gradually warming up the virtual keyboard, but I'm still easily 3 times faster with a normal keyboard but I'm also a fast typer so it could be an acclimation thing.
posted by dgran at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2011

I have an iPad 2 and a smart cover. When I fold the smart cover up into a triangle and rest it on the tabletop or my propped up knees (using the angle shown here, it's very comfortable for me to type and I can type easily through an hour long lecture on it. I've had some carpal tunnel issues in the past but the on-screen keyboard isn't a problem for me at all. I suspect that this is a YMMV situation- do you have a friend who has an ipad that you could borrow for a few minutes to type something on? If not, I would try getting to a store like Best Buy that will have them on display.
posted by kro at 7:04 PM on September 19, 2011

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