Help Me Max Out My iPad
October 11, 2011 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I just received an iPad2 as a gift. I'm excited but clueless. Help me make the most of it and figure out basic matters of care and feeding. Some specific questions inside about apps, accessories, virtues, limitations inside.

I know there have been a few posts recommending apps- the most recent one was about 6 months ago, and I'd welcome your ideas for new ones that have come on the market since then. But I'm more interested in getting tips and tricks about how to make the most of it, and how to use it in ways that a neophyte like myself might not think of.

It seems like such a versatile device that there might be a lot of ways I can use it, hack it, and take advantage of it that might not even occur to me (I have an iPhone, so am familiar with touch screens and the app store).

And some specific questions- forgive me if the answers seem obvious!

-Part of why I'm so excited about the device is that my laptop, despite being a laptop, is still too heavy to be portable. Factor in a bad back and you get me only using it at home and regretting when I take it with me to work elsewhere or travel. To what extend can the iPad serve as the equivalent to a computer? I know it doesn't have word, but I can get an app to upload notes to my DropBox folder as documents. But can I print from it? Since it doesn't have a CD ROM drive, is it realistic to store movies on it given what I assume is its limited storage space? How about music and photos?

-Supposedly the battery life is advertised at 10 hours. In your experience, is this accurate? What kind of battery life can I expect? What is the best way to charge the battery to extend its life as long as possible?

-How durable/breakable is it? Is it as vulnerable to water damage as the iPhone? Is it realistic to carry it loose in my purse with just the front magnetic cover that Apple sells, or is it better to buy a more solid case with additional coverage? Do you have any recommendations?

-Are there any accessories or peripherals that would be useful to know about?

-I have a Kindle that I like very much, in part due to the sheer length of the battery life and how small it is. I know I get get all my Kindle stuff on the iPad through the Kindle app, and was considering passing along the Kindle to my parents now that I have the new device. Did you find that your iPad make the Kindle superflous?

-It's one of the white models. How easily do they get dirty, or get the sort of unattractive gray oily look that the old white macbooks used to get over time? Is that another reason to have a wraparound case?

Many thanks for any and all advice.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Technology (16 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Apple's Bluetooth keyboard + the Writer app (with integrated Dropbox sync) = write anywhere, on a comfortable keyboard, and pick up the text file from Dropbox to use from any computer you like. I'm using this combo to bang out a book and it's fantastic.
posted by itstheclamsname at 8:44 AM on October 11, 2011

It's a good idea to have one of those pump-spray things of cheap screen cleaner and a microfibre cloth. iPads get greasy and dusty surprisingly quickly, and a wipe-over of the screen between uses is pretty much essential.

The magnetic cover will protect it from everything but dropping, as I found out recently. A screen protector is also a very good idea indeed. Other than that, they're pretty tough.

If you want to watch video on it at home, your best bet might be Air Video Server running on another computer with a lot more storage.

The battery life isn't far off 10 hours in my experience, unless I'm watching video or playing games, when it runs down a bit more quickly. On the whole, it's very good in that respect.

Whether you can print depends mostly on the app you're running. There's no overall print driver the way there is on a laptop or desktop computer. Having said that, most apps that need to print will print to a wifi printer.

The Kindle app is fine, although I find myself mostly using Stanza, which supports a lot of other formats, as well as having good Dropbox integration.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:52 AM on October 11, 2011

I've had a white iPad since the release earlier this year and have had no discoloration. The materials are different from the white macbooks so I don't think you'll have a problem with it getting dirty.

Flipboard is my favorite app for keeping up with websites that have a constant stream of new content (good for reading Metafilter too).

Have fun with your iPad 2!
posted by litnerd at 8:54 AM on October 11, 2011

Logitech's case/keyboard combo has had some good reviews. AirPrint is still limited to a few printers, but there are apps that offer expanded capabilities for printers with wi-fi.

It's a good idea to have one of those pump-spray things of cheap screen cleaner and a microfibre cloth.

The official advice is to use just a damp, lint-free cloth to avoid stripping the screen coating.
posted by holgate at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2011

I've had my iPad 2 for about six months now. It is quite durable. Until last month I used it with just the smart cover, and the back bare, and a neoprene case for carrying it around. I found this to be adequate protection. The smart cover protects the back when it is open, and it was kept in the case when not in use, so it didn't even acquire many scratches. Now I have a gelaskin on the back, and a clear plastic snap-on back cover (because I got it for $2) it adds some extra protection, but isn't really necessary. However, if you just want to use the smart cover I'd definitely recommend some sort of carrying case. Otherwise a hard shell case is probably a good idea. My iPad is black, but a Gelaskin ( is good for protecting against scratches without adding bulk, and would protect the white front as well. (Also, not to shill Gelaskins, but they are one of the first companies to make this kind of stick-on skin and they are much better quality than other similar products.)

I get great battery life on mine, definitely 10 hours of internet surfing, maybe a few videos, and eBook reading. And, yes, I use the Kindle app all the time and love it. I'd imagine it replaces the Kindle. I've never had one because I've never wanted one, the iPad works just fine for me.

There are Pages and Keynote apps available in the app store for $10 each. I haven't bought them yet so can't review, but I intend to and imagine they will sync with the programs on my laptop. I have no problem typing with the on-screen keyboard (for example this post) but there are some decent external keyboards out there.
posted by catatethebird at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2011

If you read only in a controlled environment with dim lighting, the iPad will suffice. Otherwise you'll still want your Kindle.
posted by kidbritish at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2011

To add to what kidbritish said, I have no trouble with reading in the Kindle app in any type of indoor lighting, from no light to bright fluorescent at work, or daylight throu the windows. The screen is much less visible/pleasant to read in bright sunlight outdoors, but still legible to me. I wonder if there are anti-glare screen covers out there that are effective.
posted by catatethebird at 9:18 AM on October 11, 2011

I have an iPad and a kindle - I'd keep them both. The kindle is lighter, so I can hold it for much longer. Sure, the iPad isn't super heavy, but it adds up after a while. The kindle is also easier on my eyes for a long reading session because glare and eyestrain are an issue with the iPad.

Pages and keynote I've found to be good for quick editing, not so much for longer pieces. I take notes in class in pentultimate. I have a targus stylus - I like the silicone tip much more than the weird nubby tip the pogo stylus sold by the apple store has.

I have a motorola S305 headset which is wireless - I use it at the gym to watch videos while I run.
posted by winna at 9:41 AM on October 11, 2011

I bought an ipad 2 myself earlier this year and have a lot of fun with it.

--Battery life and storage have been great so far. On my honeymoon, I could easily watch a full-length movie on Netflix using the 3G (which typically seems to wear the battery down faster), and I had plenty of juice left over. I put my whole music collection on there, which was a problem with my iPhone (such that I rarely sync it, which is bad).

--Portability and protection: I carry it in my purse/bag too. Knowing myself, I didn't trust the magic smart cover, so I bought this wraparound case. It's just about perfect. Very protective, lots of angles for viewing or typing, all that. I prop it up in bed sometimes and it works great, even on a pillow. I can't even remember whether I have a white model or not!

--Kindle: For me personally, there's something a little too big about the iPad itself for me to really get into the Kindle app, but that's a personal preference that probably comes out of me being an avid user of the Kindle app on my iPhone. Which is to say that the functionality itself is fine; I just prefer to hold something smaller. But I've definitely used it on the iPad.

--Accessories: I am a writer who has to do a lot of interviewing, so the Bluetooth keyboard was a great help. However, I don't actually use it as much as I thought I would. Still, it works well with Pages, etc. You might also consider an extra power brick (this is from my experience with my laptop and iPhone), just so you can leave a cable in the car or plugged in by your couch or something without worrying that you'll forget to put one back in your bag.

--Printing: I don't know how this will work, but... AirPrint.

Consider using your iPad for recording things. One of my fellow vocal soloist friends asked my husband (in the church sanctuary) to hold her iPad to record her solo (up in the choir loft), and it was near-professional. This is in line with my previous Apple experiences; I got better sound quality out of the internal mic in my MacBook Pro than several other friends have had with higher-end headset mics on other machines.

I am told that Garage Band is fun to do with the iPad, but I haven't yet gotten into it.

If you go Christmas caroling, or to karaoke, pull up PDFs of the music!
posted by Madamina at 9:44 AM on October 11, 2011

A free update to iOS is coming out tomorrow, so be sure to sync your iPad and enjoy a bunch of free new features!

If you'd like to print from your iPad without buying a new AirPrint printer, Printopia is supposed to be good.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2011

First thing I would do is get a better browser. The default one (Safari) is okay, but limited if you use the web a lot. I recommend the free Atomic Web Browser, which is almost like Firefox. It's got tabs, ad-blocking, gesture navigation, and tons of customization options to make it look and act exactly how you want it to.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:03 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple tips that will increase your enjoyment of the iPad (apologies if any of these are obvious, or you already knew them from using your iPhone):

Double-click the home button and recent applications appear at the bottom of the screen, so you don't have to go back to your home screen to switch apps. Once you've double-clicked, swipe the recent apps area to the right to quickly access screen brightness and volume controls.

In General Preferences, you can tell the iPad to use the lock switch (next to the volume button) to mute volume or lock rotation. Locking rotation is especially handy when using the Kindle app while reading in bed or reclining in a comfy position.

The iPad is sturdy, but Gelaskins are pretty awesome, especially in protecting the exposed back. The Gelaskin kit comes with a front bezel skin as well, which really increases grippiness in your hand.

A neoprene or similar sleeve is a good idea for your purse. You can keep the top of the sleeve open and remove the iPad while leaving the sleeve behind. The magnetic case could come loose in your purse (depending on size, configuration, etc.) so having a thin sleeve will keep it from getting scratched by keys, pens, safety pins, knives, daggers, barbed wire, or whatever else you carry in your purse.

When watching a YouTube video embedded in another site, a quick 2-fingered reverse-pinch gesture will make the video full screen. Pinch it to reduce it again.

Double-tap a column of text in a web page to make that column fill the width of the screen.

Keep your Kindle. I have both, and it's nice to have the Kindle app in the iPad, BUT... Kindle magazine subscriptions don't sync to the iPad, and I often take just my Kindle when I know I just want to be able to read. It's much lighter than the iPad, making it less fatiguing to hold. Also, long-term reading is much easier on my eyes on the Kindle than on the iPad.

I estimate that use my iPad for 75% or more of what I used to use my MacBook for. Basically, the only thing I really must do on my MacBook is photo editing. (Of course the iPad can do this as well, but I like my workflow and local storage on the laptop.) Writing a lot of text is easier on a laptop, of course, but it's surprising how fast typing on the iPad has become pretty easy.

As far as storage, I store very little on the iPad. I stream movies from Netflix, and stream music from Spotify or Pandora, keeping very little locally stored music in iTunes. (I take one of my iPods when I want a lot of music without streaming.)

Battery life is great. I have never timed it, but 10 hours does not seem unreasonable at all.
posted by The Deej at 12:07 PM on October 11, 2011

Printing to a wifi printer is a snap, but be aware that only some printers work with the built in printing. I am not sure if there are apps to enable printing to other wifi printers.
posted by caddis at 2:05 PM on October 11, 2011

I have an iPad not-2. I use Quickoffice to create and modify Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents and, when combined with the standard Apple wireless keyboard, there isn't much you can't do that a laptop would. Well, except Quickoffice doesn't work well with tables that span multiple pages and can't create tables in the first place. The iPad and keyboard live perfectly in the notebook section of my backpack and, combined, are much lighter and smaller than my laptop.

I use it in meetings to take notes and just use the in-built notes app for this, as I found this is the simplest way to make quick notes.

If you expect it to completely replace a laptop or desktop, you will be disappointed. However, if you treat is an a 90% replacement, you will be very happy with it.

I have an elano brand leather case for mine, which wraps around the whole thing and that allows the iPad to stand at a couple of different angles (essential if you use a separate keyboard, I think). I generally don't like using cases on devices, but the iPad is a bit slippery to handle without one (iPad 2 may be better than mine) and it doesn't sit flat on a desk or table because of the rounded back, so it's hard to use the on-screen keyboard like that.

Battery life is great - 10 hours would not be out of the question if you are sensible about screen brightness etc. I've used it regularly for 6-hour meetings plus e-mail and stuff at airports at either end and haven't made any attempt to reduce battery consumption in any way. It's always had plenty of battery life left at the end of the day (20% or more). I do carry a power adaptor and lead when I travel for more than a single day, but you can also charge from a USB port if you need a bit of a top-up (the display will say 'not charging', but it is actually charging, albeit very slowly).

I've installed the Atomic Browser mentioned by Rhaomi and it is indeed a great improvement over Safari, in my opinion.

I'm completely in love with the iPad, particularly the battery life and the 'instant-on', both of which tend to suck in laptops.
posted by dg at 10:29 PM on October 11, 2011

You can use Pages as a replacement for Word. It can export documents in Word format. You might get some issues with font changes but other than this it works pretty well. Keynote does a similar thing for Powerpoint files. I use them all the time. They don't have all the same functions as the full programs so your satisfaction will depend on what type of work you are doing.

You can print to a wireless printer or transfer your documents back to your computer to print (many of the apps have file sharing for this, or you can do it wirelessly on the same network or use dropbox). I have several movies stored on mine (a 32 gig) as well as 20 or so 1/2 hour tv shows for the kids. I have a relatively small music collection, probably about 100 or so books, a few hundred photos and many, many documents. I still have space left.

Battery life depends on what you are running and how your settings are managed. I find it goes more quickly (not surprisingly) with many of the games. Turn down the brightness, use the airplane function and you can play with this.

I don't have an iPhone, but I've been carrying mine in my bag with just the apple front since, June I guess? The back has some scratches but this doesn't bother me.

The wireless keyboard will be necessary if you plan to do a lot of typing.

I haven't had a Kindle but I love reading on the iPad. I use three different apps for this and they all have a slightly different look. Glare is a problem sometimes in bright sunlight.

I have black, so can't comment on the white model.

I will not be going back to a laptop any time soon, the iPad combined with my desktop is a great combination for me.
posted by Cuke at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2011

I carry my iPad in a neoprene case with the smart cover on the front, and I have a skin for the back on my way now. I love the smart cover- having the iPad automatically on when I open it is great, and I find that reading is a lot more comfortable when I can use the folded up case as a kind of handle. I'm notoriously rough on electronics and have yet to get even the slightest scratch on my iPad.

The battery life was the real draw for me and continues to be the main reason why I love it. I'm usually gone from around 7 in the morning to 6-7 at night and most of that time is either spent in class (where I take notes on my iPad) or studying (which involves playing music and reviewing my notes or reading for other classes) and it has not died on me during the day yet.

As far as accessories, I have a stylus that I use pretty frequently. I have no problem using the on-screen keyboard for extended note-taking sessions, so I would wait and see how you use it before getting a keyboard. I also really enjoy my iHome speakers- and even without them, the iHome alarm clock app is great.

I used a Nook religiously before I got my iPad and expected to continue using it- and have not even touched it. The Nook app, the Kindle app, and the iBooks app have completely replaced my Nook.
posted by kro at 5:32 PM on October 13, 2011

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