Monday, April 29, 2019

Adventures In iPadding

Closest I'll get to the beach this week...
I recently replaced my home computer with an iPad. I can assure you that I’m as shocked about it as you are. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a home laptop, and was severely skeptical about this idea when I first started playing with it a couple of months ago.

What could have possessed me with such a lunatic notion?

This all started when I recognized two facts:

  1. The screen on my home machine (a MacBook Pro 13) was slightly icky. There’s a fairly well documented issue with the anti-reflective coating on them, but it didn’t actually affect me until after the warranty period expired. Beyond that, as I mentioned, it’s only slightly icky. The machine is completely usable, and in most cases I don’t notice anything about the screen at all. However, every now and then when I’m watching a YouTube video or sitting at just the right angle with a light behind me, I’d see little splotches of imperfection in the upper left corner or lower right of the display.
  2. The things for which I actually used my home computer could all (theoretically) be done on an iPad. I’ve mentioned YouTube already, and there’s an app for that. Social media? Apps for those too. Internet browsing? Yup, apps exist. Writing and note taking? Again, apps. In fact, Scrivener (my go-to writing software) has a very well put together mobile app.
Even so, I was hesitant. It’s not like I needed a new home machine. I’ve already admitted that the current MBP13 was fine-ish — certainly fully functional. More machine than I needed, actually, as I’d moved to doing personal project programming on my work* machine.

Work* machine: a new machine for which the company paid half and I paid half but I actually own. That deal actually worked out really well for me.

Then, two other things happened.
  1. I watched PubDraw and subsequently decided to pick up drawing as a new hobby. The intent was to draw on paper (and still is, to a large degree). But... if I had an iPad, I could draw using the Apple Pencil and stuff! It was an option, at least, that wasn’t surfaced in any meaningful way on my home computer.
  2. Gabriel’s computer went kaput. Not just a little kaput, either. The SSD can’t be mounted, which most likely means that either there’s a legitimate hard drive failure or a motherboard issue. Either one is going to be pretty pricey to fix, and Gabriel uses his computer quite a bit for school stuff. Having to wait for a repair wouldn’t be the end of the world, but having a replacement computer ready to go would be better, if possible.
The decision was made: I would get an iPad.

So what’s it like?

I wound up getting an iPad Pro 11 with 256GB of storage and WiFi only. When I got it, it was priced at just over $900. I also got the Apple Pencil, but I did NOT get the default iPad keyboard. For one thing, it’s expensive (almost $200). For another, it wasn’t available when I placed my order. Instead, I got an IVSO keyboard, which has been really good so far. It’s backlit (although that drains its battery pretty quickly), and the keyboard itself has well-made keys that provide satisfying but not overly annoying clicks. It has a place to store the pencil and allows for recharging it without having to take the case off. And it provides a little protection as a folio, although I wouldn’t suggest throwing it on the ground to test the durability.

The Goods

Apps for everything!
As previously mentioned, there’s an app for everything I’ve wanted and needed to do. I’m most pleasantly surprised by the Microsoft Office apps. Outlook wasn’t a big surprise, as I’ve used it on my iPhone for several years now. Excel, on the other hand, is just fantastic. It works exactly as you expect it to. Word is also pretty good, although not perfect.

Good experience doing my normal things
In the first week of hard usage, I put the iPad through the paces as well as I could. The biggest test for me was Transformers Night, where I participate in a tabletop role-playing game set in the Transformers universe (from the old cartoon show, not the recent crap). The main apps I use are Evernote, Excel, and Chrome. All of that worked really well, although the Evernote app, just like most iOS apps, takes some getting used to. 

I also used Scrivener pretty extensively in preparation for our D&D game (yes, I’m involved in more than one tabletop role-playing game. You want in on this action?). The app itself is full featured and fantastic, although I missed the ability to get between two docs in different parts of the tree with a single click.

I’ve already mentioned this a little, but drawing on the iPad is actually quite a lot of fun. Adobe has a free version of their Illustrator app (called Adobe Draw) that provides more than I can use right now. And before you ask: yes, I’m still terrible at it. That’s ok though. I’ll improve with research and practice.

The Apple Pencil is pretty fun as well. It works exactly as advertised, pairing seamlessly, responding to double-tapping, etc. The only critique I have of it is that it loses its charge pretty quickly. Luckily, it regains it even more quickly, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far.

There are at least two games that I love that aren’t really playable on the iPhone but are nearly divine on the iPad: Terraria and Final Fantasy VII. Both are complete time-sinks and totally worth it. There are also a collection of OTHER games that I used to play on my old iPad that I’d forgotten about. Dang it, now I need to find more time for games...

Watching videos on the iPad is good in and of itself, but I was surprised at how often Tanya and I watch clips from Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers in bed. Doing so on this as opposed to the iPhone is very satisfying, despite the higher required dexterity. Depending on usage, I only charge the iPad once or twice a week, which is a marked difference from the computer (which I left plugged in almost all the time for some reason).

The Bads

Accessing files on cloud storage
By default, the iPad doesn’t allow you to easily access any cloud storage device except iCloud. This is unfortunate, since most of our shared files are either on a Google drive or Dropbox. Installing both of those apps helps, but still doesn’t make it easy to maintain files stored in those media. Some apps are better than others with integration, which is a life-saver. Scrivener, for example, has a Dropbox-backed location built into the app.

I understand why Apple made this decision, but it’s pretty frustrating nonetheless.

Fonts and printing
You can’t just download and install fonts from the Internet on the iPad. This was a surprise to me, the fact that there’s no default (or at least, accessible) font manager. I found a free app that seems to do the job, but it’s not very straightforward. Even after downloading and installing the font, not every app (I’m looking at you, Google Docs) will let you access them.

Printing is also slightly challenging. The convention on the iPad takes some getting used to. You have to “share” whatever it is you want to print, and then navigate the Sharing dialog until you get to the printer selection. The good news is that lots of printers support AirPrint (including ours), so the main challenge really is finding the printer selection. And, as with so many things on iPad, how you get to that area is completely up to the app.

Most apps don’t support the notion of “Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V” for copying and pasting, which is taking quite a bit of getting used to. Some apps (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Office) have special icons for copying/pasting, which is something you have to be aware of. Most of the time, using the screen’s touch-centric copy/paste features works, but becoming adept at it will continue to be challenging for me, I suspect.

App Store
Let’s face it — the App Store is simply not as nice as being able to install something from a website or from the command line. And there are quite a few things that work perfectly well in the browser on a computer that don’t work very well in the browser on the iPad (I’m looking at you, Blogger). A lot of these things have iOS apps, but they also tend to cost money. Again, annoying, as my general rule has been: if you can’t get it for free on iOS, it might not be worth getting. And yes, I know this is a ridiculous rule, and I don't even follow it, but for some reason still find myself hesitating to shell out $0.99 for an app that I will use daily for the rest of my life... I'm weird.


Despite the Bads list above, as of this writing, I have to rate my experience with the iPad quite highly. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything irreplaceable during the switchover. Gabriel inherited a machine that will hopefully last him a while and that he’ll leverage more heavily than I was. I spent a fair chunk of money, but not as much as I would have for an equivalent MacBook Air. I'm genuinely enjoying messing around on the iPad, and am very glad I got it!