Can I get by with an iPad?
February 19, 2012 6:28 AM   Subscribe

I need a secondary computer. Can that computer be an ipad?

My laptop is biting the dust, but I'm not sure if I want to go whole-hog on a new one quite yet, so I'm thinking about getting an iPad instead, which seems like it might be a better fit for my needs anyway.

I have a (very nice) laptop provided by my employer that I can use as my "base computer" to store music and other documents, and do things that require a more powerful computer (my employer doesn't have a problem with me bringing the laptop home and/or using it for personal purposes, as long as it's nothing illegal or harmful to the computer, but still I'd like to have my own computer for privacy reasons).

Plus, I just lost my kindle this week, so I need to replace it. This makes the iPad even more appealing. My alternative would be to buy a netbook, something like the eee PC, and a kindle.

What I'm looking for:

- Small and lightweight, but with a good battery life. I travel cross-country an average of once/month, and I'd also like to be able to carry the thing around wherever, so this is key.
- I'm your standard web-browsing/IMing/music-listening/IMing computer user. Not a gamer or a coder or anything like that requiring a lot of power.
- Minimal fuss. I love that, with the iPad, you just press a button to turn it on and the OS seems clean and easy to use. I don't want to deal with all the pop-ups and other bloatware that comes with Windows.


- It seems like the biggest issue is the touch-screen keyboard, although I have my eye on this case/keyboard which may or may not solve that issue.
- I'm wondering how well it works for multitasking while web browsing. For instance, if I want to chat with someone on gchat while I'm also reading AskMe, that's pretty easy on a normal computer. But just from my experience with my iPhone, it seems like that might be more difficult with the iPad.
- Storage of personal documents. I know you can store documents on the iPad, but it seems like you can only back them up via iTunes. This should be fine 99% of the time, but what about those rare sensitive personal documents that I don't want shared, primarily financial records?

(For those of you who think it's foolhardy to use my work laptop for personal reasons, please note that the employee manual explicitly states that personal use is fine, and my employer has a stated policy of not monitoring employee computer usage. Computers are remotely backed up to a server, but the employee manual says these records are only accessed if the computer crashes/needs a backup. I'm represented by a union, so while it's not inconceivable they'd break this policy, it's not a huge concern of mine that I'd get in trouble - I'm more concerned about some rogue IT staffer accessing personal information.)
posted by lunasol to Technology (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a laptop and an iPad. If you don't create content, an iPad is a wonderful tool for consuming content and making fairly basic changes/replies to that content.

Pros: lightweight, nice screen, decent battery life, useful pretty much anywhere (assuming you get the 3G model), you can keep most of your electronic life on the thing, and with iOS 5, it's pretty much standalone in terms of syncing/updating.

Cons: typing is more difficult, web pages don't resolve the same, safari browser doesn't support flash (that's honestly becoming less of an issue as time goes on, though), multitasking is kind of a joke, getting information off the thing can be a bear, depending on the app or the information

I love my iPad, but there are moments where it frustrates me. As times goes on, those moments get fewer and farther between.

Disclosure: my laptop is a MacBook Pro, my phone is an iPhone. I may be somewhat biased.
posted by Mooski at 6:40 AM on February 19, 2012

I love my iPad, but it's not great for multi-tasking, I use it only sparingly for IMing for that reason. You can't keep a chat window open beside a browser window, you constantly have to switch between the two.

Some programs on the iPad will share with dropbox or other cloud solutions instead of via iTunes. I don't know if that's better or worse in your opinion, since it's potentially sharing with the world if one of those services gets hacked versus your IT department.

Another factor to consider in using a work laptop as a personal computer is what you will do if you lose your job suddenly -- will you have time to retrieve those files. Where will you retrieve them to? In a lot of jobs if you get fired for cause, you get walked out the door immediately. Same if you quit to go work for a competitor. Make sure you have your own files (and not your work files!) backed up to an external drive.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:41 AM on February 19, 2012

~I'm your standard web-browsing/IMing/music-listening/IMing computer user. Not a gamer or a coder or anything like that requiring a lot of power.

If that's all you intend to do then, yeah, an iPad should serve you well.

~It seems like the biggest issue is the touch-screen keyboard, although I have my eye on this case/keyboard which may or may not solve that issue.

To my mind, if you plan to tote a keyboard around with the iPad, you might as well just use a laptop. ymmv, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2012

The (arbitrary) IM client I use on my iPad puts new messages up as notifications, so works quite well for multitasking. Especially now that you can just swipe across to change app!
posted by katrielalex at 6:50 AM on February 19, 2012

If you can accept the single-focus approach, it sounds like the iPad would work quite well for your use.

Look into the ClamCase as an alternative to the keyboard you linked.
posted by megatherium at 6:56 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two words: Macbook Air.
posted by karizma at 6:57 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came to say MacBook Air as well. Yep, it costs twice as much as an iPad, but it is WAY more than double the functionality and isn't much heavier (the 11 inch model).

If ANYTHING you do requires a lot of typing, you'll need a keyboard with the iPad, and, with that, you've lost most of the advantage.
posted by HuronBob at 7:00 AM on February 19, 2012

One more thing: Apple is reportedly set to announce the iPad 3 very soon. That could mean bargain prices on the 2nd-generation models.
posted by megatherium at 7:01 AM on February 19, 2012

Did you use your Kindle a lot? I have both an iPad and a Kindle, and I vastly prefer reading books on the Kindle because 1) I can hold it with one hand, and 2) the screen is MUCH easier to read than the iPad's, which is very glare-y.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:02 AM on February 19, 2012

I was just about to suggest the Air as well, if it's in your price range. It fits all your needs, with the added bonus of not having the negatives of the iPad.

In one of my classes, I sit next to someone who uses an iPad to take notes. It works, but he spends much more time figiting with it to get it set up et al. The Air is just so much simpler. It is extremely portable - especially if you get the 11". I was concerned about adjusting to the Mac OS, and I can say I almost laugh at that concern now because I love my Air so much. And I'm NOT a Apple girl; I promise I will never own an iPhone.

I also have a Kindle. Couple things to consider: do you have a lot of books on it? Are you willing to read off a backlit screen? I wouldn't be - it gives me a headache after a while.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:06 AM on February 19, 2012

I read this post on an iPad, and then grabbed the laptop to respond to it. It is possible that with a keyboard you'd find the iPad more usable than I do, but for me it's a slow way to browse the web (the inability to open multiple tabs, and the lack of real caching of pages that I've already been to) means I'm waiting on the loading a bunch.

I'm told that later versions are getting better, but you're going to have to have in your home, or buy in the cloud, some sort of infrastructure for getting documents on and off the thing. That may no longer need to be a computer running iTunes, because you can do it through third party sites, but you'll need something for backups and migrations.

I got an iPad when they first came out because I thought it was going to revolutionize how we used computers. In practice, I either use it as a compromise ebook reader (I'd rather have a Kindle screen), or I start to web surf on it, get fed up, and go grab a laptop.

So, for my use patterns: No, I'd get a netbook.
posted by straw at 7:09 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're going to get an ipad, wait until March, because they're announcing the iPad 3, which from every thing I've read about it, seems like a major improvement -- double the resolution, faster processor, more storage, etc..
posted by empath at 7:19 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have an original iPad and a 2009 MacBook Air. I basically agree with Mooksi. For those who are saying "just get an Air," it's a great machine but the iPad has distinct advantages:

* It is the perfect form factor to sit on the couch and read Web pages. I have never enjoyed reading on a laptop screen and laptops are awkward unless you are sitting at a desk.

* Because of the 3G and long battery life, it is a very good travel machine.

I mostly agree with the disadvantages above (not great for multitasking, transferring files is possible via Dropbox but not convenient). I do disagree strongly with those who say it is not good for Web browsing. I feel that's what it's best at. I am TOUCHING the INTERNET. I still can't get over that.

I seem to be reasonably good with the on screen keyboard so that may have an effect on my perceptions.

Sent from my iPad
posted by sesquipedalian at 7:39 AM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yah I love my iPad but typing anything more than a few sentences is a chore, it's an ideal device for travel and taking video and casual games around with you, but if you want to do anything more complex you might want to look into an Air.
posted by The Whelk at 7:54 AM on February 19, 2012

I have an iPad 2 instead of a laptop and I think it is great. I completely disagree with people who are saying it is slow on the internet. Mine is faster than my work desktop. I move all my files back and forth with Evernote and it is very easy they just automatically sync. Evernote, like dropbox and itunes is storing your files in the cloud so that is up to you if you want to do that.

I would say the keyboard is the only drawback. It is ok for light note taking but I couldn't write a report on it. So how much you are going to type on it might be the deciding factor.

I've also started using it for presentations at work and the screen projects much nicer than with any of the computers we have at work.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2012

Thinking abut it more, I am actually in the same situation as you---my laptop is provided by my job, and my iPad is a personal secondary machine. I can say that I have been completely happy with this arrangement. I have never wished that I had gotten a secondary laptop instead of the iPad. Whether you would feel the same way depends on whether you enjoy web browsing on the iPad.
posted by sesquipedalian at 8:01 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm on my iPad right now and I love it. It's great for travel especially. I have a keyboard for it, but I rarely use it. I don't mind typing on the on screen keybord for things like this answer.

Note that you can't use flash, so occasionally websites won't work at all. There are workarounds, but I find them to be more trouble than waiting to use a computer.

Storage of documents is not an issue - I use a free Dropbox account. It's online of course, but password protected, and it's very useful for me to be able to access my documents on the iPad and my computer.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:37 AM on February 19, 2012

An iPad is primarily for looking at stuff. Making/writing stuff on it is annoying as fuck. You can only have 9 tabs open at once, which is hilarrible to me (I currently have about 75 open on my laptop). You can't block ads or use any kind of awesome browser extensions.

But the stuff you look at on it looks really awesome and shiny.
posted by elizardbits at 8:47 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've got a deskbound Mac, and not long ago also got an iPad. I had thought my next computer would likely be a laptop. With the iPad, maybe not.

It's good enough as a secondary computer, and for some tasks (eg reading), it's flat-out better. I would probably find extended typing to be irritating, and so far haven't used it that way; as you note, you can fix that with a keyboard.

Document management will definitely take some thought. There are a lot of apps that sync to Dropbox, which is a viable option, but it means you need to bear that in mind when setting up your workspace. There are others that have their own cloud service (like Evernote).

In my experience, the iPad just winds up being used differently than a laptop or an iPhone—it is the screen that's lying around in the living room for checking IMDB, adding a few items to the grocery list, reading a few news stories, glancing at e-mail. An iPhone can do all those things, of course, but it's less pleasant than on an iPad. A laptop can do all those things too, but there's something more anti-social about using one, and in some respects, also less pleasant. Only you can answer whether that is to your benefit.

Battery life seems extraordinary. I'm using the iPad pretty lightly, and I think I charge it every 3-4 days.
posted by adamrice at 9:02 AM on February 19, 2012

I have an ipad 1 and keep the brightness settings at 75%, I seem to get 10 hours out of the thing at full charge, or roughly an hour per 10% on the battery bar which is what really selled it for long flights.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on February 19, 2012

* It is the perfect form factor to sit on the couch and read Web pages. I have never enjoyed reading on a laptop screen and laptops are awkward unless you are sitting at a desk.

I beg to differ. I sit on the couch with my Air all the time. Or bed. Or floor. Or standing (yes, I have been known to carry my Air into the kitchen to show my bf something while he's cooking). I find it easier on a couch to have something on my lap than to have to hold it.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2012

My secondary machine is a tablet: the Asus Transformer. It's very lightweight and has great battery life. I can use it during a lecture class three times a week and on Friday the battery still isn't dying. It's great at multitasking; I often run the browser along with powerpoint slides and email or a chat client.
posted by cp311 at 9:37 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try finding a way to use an iPad for a while -- visit an Apple store, handle a friend's, etc. Half an hour trying to accomplish all your daily tasks (including lots of typing onscreen) will tell you more than anyone in this thread can.

If you find the onscreen keyboard is so limiting for you that you'd have to carry around an external keyboard, I'd definitely Nth the recommendation of a MB Air instead.
posted by kalapierson at 9:48 AM on February 19, 2012

I have Zagg keyboard-case. It's pretty solid and the keyboard is comfortable for writing at length.
posted by SPrintF at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful posts so far! To clarify: the Air is not really an option because of the price.
posted by lunasol at 11:07 AM on February 19, 2012

Response by poster: Actually, it looks like my sense of the Air's cost is a few years old. Looking at the Apple site, that actually might not be a bad idea.
posted by lunasol at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2012

MacBook Air, if you can afford it. It will run you about twice as much as an iPad.

I was trying to go laptop-less, by using a desktop (iMac) and my iPad2 (wifi). It was going allright for a few months, but I ended up getting MacBook Air because the iPad wasn't cutting it for work trips. Also gchat and web browsing simultaneously isn't really workable in the sense that it is on a laptop.

To be honest, since I've gotten my air (2 months ago), I've used my iPad maybe 5 times. I used to use it every single day, for hours. I have the 13". The 11" seemed really really small.

If you decided to get an iPad, definitely wait a month or two. The new ones are supposed to come out soon. So either the iPad2 will be cheaper, or the iPad3 will be the same price-ish and way better.
posted by manicure12 at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2012

Nthing that if you do decide to go iPad, wait until March. The iPad 3 is very likely to have a retina display, which will make looking at text incredible.

I'm not really sure what you're saying about the personal storage document storage issue? Are you saying there are documents that you wouldn't want to be backed up to iTunes? Or that you'd want to be able to back them up elsewhere? Can you give an example scenario?

I think that the iPad should be fine for most of what you want to do, but it will fail you in the scenario in which you need to look at a web page and write an email or document about it at the same time. I'd go to an Apple Store and spend some time trying to do some "mock work."
posted by ignignokt at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2012

I went through the same decision process a few months ago, and was pretty sure I was going to get an iPad - but then I went and played with it, and realized that it was just a very large iPhone. And I didn't really need a large iPhone.

I ended up springing for the 11" macbook air, and I am really pleased with that decision. It's super-light, yet has all the functionality I want, and runs incredibly cool. It slips right in my shoulder bag, and weights almost nothing. Keep that possibility in mind! With applecare and a moderately sized HD, it cost me about $1400.

Caveat, of course: no CD/DVD drive, so you will have to download all programs you want on it.
posted by vetala at 4:06 PM on February 19, 2012

I went through the same decision process a few months ago, and was pretty sure I was going to get an iPad - but then I went and played with it, and realized that it was just a very large iPhone. And I didn't really need a large iPhone.

I had the same thought originally, but after getting one for the GF (for its portability) I decided that a large iPhone is pretty great. The bigger screen makes a difference.

That said, I think what the OP needs is an Air, if only for the ability to multitask.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:21 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Well, I'm a bit embarrassed to make this update after all these wonderful and helpful responses, but: it looks like my MacBook Pro is not biting the dust after all! Turns out there was an easy fix for it and so I won't need to replace it after all.

You guys did help me quiet my growing iPad lust, though, which saved me a good amount of money. So thank you for that!
posted by lunasol at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2012

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