How should I use my iPad at university?
January 20, 2012 6:08 PM   Subscribe

How can I best use my iPad at university (and avoid buying a new laptop)?

I'm changing careers, and returning to university to do a Master of Teaching.

Last time I was a student I lugged a laptop around with me, but lately I haven't needed a portable workstation, and I love my iPad 2. I have an iMac at home. If I need to, I will buy a new laptop—but will the iPad do the job?
  • Is GoodReader still the best for PDFs, or should I look into something like Papers?
  • Should I use Pages for note-taking, or should I learn Markdown and use a lightweight text editor?
  • Is iCal good enough, or do I need to shell out for OmniFocus? ($40 seems steep in the app market...)
  • What about Evernote or other "clippings" apps?
And do you have any other general tips for using an iPad in this way?
posted by robcorr to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Dropbox is a fantastic thing to have on your iPad.
posted by grouse at 6:23 PM on January 20, 2012

Vote for dropbox, and suggestion on evernote or similar as well. For straight out notes, I've always gone notepad + digital camera + archiving to evernote or dropbox. Still find typing or shorthand on a tablet too hard.
posted by chainsawpudding at 6:54 PM on January 20, 2012

Best answer: I would look into apps that also have web versions -- you never know when you might be in a computer lab, or your iPad might die, or you want to type at a keyboard.

For example:

To-Do Lists
Wunderlist: A good To-Do list app with a good web version (and apps for mac, windows and linux). This is extremely helpful, you can set up to-do lists for each class. Very quick and simple....and free.

SimpleNote: A simple place to cut and past things, and make longer lists or notes...there is also a web version, and there are also desktop apps that can be used with this (for example, Notational Velocity on the mac, or ResophNotes in Windows).

Google Calendar: I would do everything calendar wise here, and then you can just have that sync with iCal, without creating a calendar in iCal.

File Storage and Sharing
As grouse noted, DropBox is essential too, as it can act as your thumbdrive for your iPad and allow you to access larger files anywhere. You may also want to set up a Box.Net account with your iPad if they are still allowing 50GB for free to iOS users.

Genius Scan is a good app to have to be able to quickly take pics of things and have a PDF that you can email or add to dropbox. That could save you if there is a quick page or two you need to scan or copy, and the library is about to close or you are out of money for the copiers.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:55 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also workflowy is very godlike for disorganised and evolving knowledge. Oh, so, so simple and enjoyable to use.
posted by chainsawpudding at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think an ipad instead of a laptop is doable, but you'll probably need a bluetooth keyboard too if you plan to take notes on it.

It's really going to vary based on your program though, and the specifics of how your class's webpages, etc, are set up.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:31 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use my iPad (for my very own M.Ed!) along with this keyboard from Logitech. Lifesaver for sure.

iCal plus Google Cals work great for me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:43 PM on January 20, 2012

I'll nth Wunderlist, DropBox and heavy use of (Google-synced) Calendar as essential parts of getting by with an iPad. I do this sometimes, and those three apps/approaches keep things very much at-hand in a much more practical way than Apple's half-baked iCloud approach. Also, check for apps with "DropBox integration" since these are lovely, and will save/load your files from DropBox, making them one-click-convenient from your Mac, too.

(PS to This_Will_Be_Good: I'm only half through my morning coffee, so maybe I'm missing it, This_Will_Be_Good, but I don't believe SimpleNotes has real desktop apps yet, just half-working integration with those third party ones that can be a little hit and miss.)

Since SimpleNotes functionality overlaps so much with Wunderlist, and Wunderlist has great desktop and phone apps, I'd stick to that: 90% of what I use Wunderlist for isn't even vaguely related to tasks. It's "Stuff to Do Today" and "Gift Ideas for 7yo Girls" and so on. Also unlike SimpleNotes: no bloody advertisements.
posted by rokusan at 7:50 PM on January 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the Dropbox suggestion, everyone - I probably should have mentioned I'm already doing that.

The other suggestions are exactly what I'm looking for, too. Keep 'em coming!
posted by robcorr at 7:54 PM on January 20, 2012

rokusan -- yes, SimpleNote does not have their own app, but syncs using other desktop apps that are not perfect (but good). However, it does have a good web version. I find it a much quicker and more reliable method of syncing and writing longer blocks of text than WunderList and having those available offline (Wunderlist crashes quite a bit in iOS). It is also a bit easier to share a set of notes as well, as you can just send someone a link to a page which would be helpful in group settings.

Oh, and one thing that may be helpful if you like lots of backups, but perhaps overly complicated, is that Notational Velocity (a notes client that can be used with SimpleNote) can back up your notes to DropBox as plain text files (though this is tricky to do right so you aren't doubling everything, so play around with any suggestion here before you put it to the test).

I think both apps are worth exploring as they offer different approaches to productivity and note-taking and list-making that are available on iOS and the Web.

And just as an aside -- I have tried a lot of productivity apps before sticking with these due to their simplicity: EverNote, Orchestra, ToodleDo, Producteev, Weave, and probably a lot more. The ones that are best are often the ones that don't require you to learn a new system, but that can match the study habits and methods that work best for you.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 8:08 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just an anecdote: My younger sister is finishing up undergrad (in elementary ed, actually), and at the beginning of the year, her laptop broke. Her husband has a computer, so for on-site kind of stuff, she decided to just go with getting an iPad. She loves it, actually. The only thing she said is that getting a little keyboard for it (not the roll-up kind, but like an actual little blue tooth keyboard) was completely key.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:15 PM on January 20, 2012

I'm only taking part time classes, but I've been using my iPad for that. Useful things I use
1. kindle for textbooks. So much easier to always have all my textbooks with me, although I do sometimes miss the practice of spreading out three books open to different sections. Some textbooks are even available to rent through Amazon instead of buying, allowing some cost savings.
2. I take hand written notes, I used a stylus for a while but find my finger about as good and harder to lose. My favourite apps are PenUltimate (which I use mostly for journal-type notes, and has a beautiful UI) and NoteTaker HD, which is not as nice an experience but allows lots of separate note pages with tags and 'date written' and other metadata. Both these apps export as pdf/image. I tried a couple apps with handwriting recognition but it never seemed good enough to be worth the tradeoff in speed of notetaking. OneNote for iPad came out recently and I want to try it because I use that extensively on the PC, but haven't got around to it yet.
3. I use GoodReader for all my pdfs.
4. My class last quarter had an electronic copy of the required textbook available for free for the duration of the class, using Adobe Reader DRM. I found that I could get this on my iPad using an app called txtr.
posted by jacalata at 10:00 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Only thing I see missing is a Bluetooth keyboard. That will turn your ipad into everything you would get out of a laptop.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 10:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A coworker e-mailed me yeasterday about OnLive Desktop, an app that allows you to run Office programs on your iPad. I'm downloading it now, so I can't vouch for it. But it's free.

After I'm done writing this, I'm going to fire up GoodReader to read an article for my management class. I like GoodReader's tabbed interface. You can jump to different open files by tapping the tabs. It also syncs with Dropbox.

Kno and the new textbook initiative from Apple might be good options for reading textbooks on your iPad, but I haven't used either.
posted by tenaciousd at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2012

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