Almost Fearless

Review of the iPad for Traveling



ipad, tech, review, top ipad apps, best travel blog

I recently purchased the base model of Apple’s iPad (16 GB, wifi only version: $499) and I’ve been traveling with it ever since. It’s become my day-to-day computing device and even though it’s intended purely as a multimedia device, I’ve found that it can handle a number of things my laptop used to do. First, if you’re not familiar with the device, let’s do a quick overview:

The Good

  • Absolutely brilliant resolution that makes watching video, looking at pictures, or even reading a book a joy.
  • While you can surf the web using Safari, many of the websites you love now have iPad apps which can have some nice extras.
  • Battery life. It’s amazing. I haven’t pushed it’s limits, but it can easily do eight hours, if not 10 and possibly more depending on what you’re doing.
  • For consuming media — of any type, it’s the best thing since… touch screens.
  • You can use it while standing up. Waiting in line? Holding a fussy baby? Need to go out for a smoke? Flick though the web with one hand, and hold the tablet in the other. Easy.
  • If you’re flexible and willing to buy a few apps, you could potentially use it to replace your laptop.
  • You’ll never need a book again (guidebook or otherwise) as you can read both Kindle and Apple’s iBook format.

The Bad

  • It’s not a PC or a Mac, it’s an iPad. It’s limited (as it was intended).
  • Typing is okay, but the lack of a tab key or arrow buttons is frustrating when you’re doing any kind of prolonged word processing.
  • Selecting details — like editing a URL in a browser window — can be difficult, if not impossible to do with the touch screen.
  • NO FLASH. If it uses flash, it won’t work. Period.
  • Some of the applications are horrible, limited versions of the real thing.
  • If you’re bouncing between multiple, open web pages, then Safari has a habit of refreshing them when you go back. This can be a disaster if you’re working on something, go to another window to get additional information and then lose all your work when you return.
  • No multitasking. One application at a time. I personally think this is a good thing, but shouldn’t we be allowed to decide that? Wouldn’t it make sense to let some apps (like Skype) be active in the background?
  • The world isn’t ready for the iPad… or at least the developers aren’t. Many, many apps are ony available as iPhone apps at x2 resolution.
  • No DVD drive. No USB. You’ll need to buy a $29 camera connection kit to connect anything via USB or SD card. Currently, said kit is on a 4-6 week back order.

Can you use the iPad as your only computer when you travel?

It depends. If you’re using your laptop to check email, facebook and watch funny Youtube vids, you can very easily use the iPad instead. For everything else, it depends on how robust you need the functionality to be:

Writing: Yes. You can create text documents. Copy and paste works.

Checking email: Yes. Web or Server based, both work. I personally don’t like Gmail’s special iPad mode, but you can switch it to Basic HTML in Safari.

Surfing the web: Mostly. If they have a big flash component, they won’t. Sometimes 99% of the site works, but videos or login screens won’t.

Blogging: Yes, technically. If you want to format text for a blog post, then you’ll need to code the HTML by hand, as WordPress is very buggy on the iPad (although it does work, if you paste directly into HTML mode).

Editing MS Word or Excel docs: Yes, but basic. I use QuickOffice, which lets me share Word and Excel 2003 or 2007 documents with Google Docs or DropBox, and allows me to edit it on the iPad. However, it’s purely text editing, there’s not even spell check. The default program Notes is probably just as good.

Photo Editing: Yes. If you need to import photos, you can do it (camera connection kit required for USB access). You can also edit them in PhotoGene, which has gotten rave reviews from professional photographers, but there is a size limit, so if you’re going for 2000+ pixal images, you’ll need to edit them on a laptop.

Filling out online forms: Mostly. Because there is no arrow keys on the keyboard, you can run into issues with long text boxes not allowing you to scroll up or down and sometimes not allowing you to select the box at all. Also if they use any flash it won’t work.

Chat: Maybe. Depends on what you use. I use Skype and it works fine, but since you can’t multitask, I rarely have it open.

Advanced stuff: Not at all. If you’re using any Adobe applications (Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, Acrobat, Premiere etc), are a heavy user of Microsoft Office (anything beyond the most basic .doc or .xls) or would be insanely frustrated by learning a new work flow, then the iPad should definitely not be your primary machine.

Okay, so some travelers could use it alone, but really, at the end of the day, it’s about how deep you need your functionality to go. The upside is that it’s very portable, lightweight, great for multimedia and can be held with one hand. The downside is that it’s not a laptop. If you have the budget to get it PLUS a laptop, then absolutely go for it. I would use it for reading ebooks, checking the internet and watching videos. Beyond that it’s up to you.

Top 10 iPad Applications for Travelers

 

 

  • Epicurious- keep recipes with you on the road
  • NYTimes Editors Pick – beautiful layout and a quick read
  • NPR – Listen to your favorite programs
  • Game Table – Fun
  • Kayak – Easier to use than the website
  • HostelWorld – Ditto
  • Google Earth – See where you are
  • Paypal (or your banks’ app) – Look under iPhone apps if you don’t find your bank.
  • Skype – Make calls (built in mic seems to work, but you can also buy the camera connection kit to plug in a USB based headset).
  • Facebook – Stay in touch

 

Top 7 apps if you only travel in the US

 

fft

 

  • Pandora — Listen to music based on your tastes
  • Hulu plus — Watch many of your favorite shows
  • ABC — Many ABC shows
  • OpenTable — Make reservations at restaurants
  • The Weather Channel — Check the weather
  • Netflix — Manage your account or watch movies
  • Urbanspoon — Discover places to eat by map based interface and drill down categories

 

Top 10 iPad Apps for getting stuff done while traveling

 

 

  • QuickOffice — Access MS Word and Excel docs, edit and save to Google Docs or Dropbox
  • PhotoGene — The best photo editing software for the iPad
  • Dictionary.com — Look up words (and stuff)
  • Things — Keep yourself organized with task lists and scheduled reminders
  • PageOnce — Personal Finance
  • Dragon — Dictation. It will write what you say. Of course it probably thinks you said something you didn’t, but it’s novel anyway (and free)
  • Evernote — Tag the world as you go. Keep it for reference later
  • Dropbox — Great for sharing docs between Mac computers and the iPad
  • TouchCalc — Great free calculator with lots of nifty extras
  • Wall Street Journal — There is a pay feature, but some content is free

 

Pic: Future15

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”

THERE ARE RARELY HAMMOCKS.

http://christinegilbert.com

40 comments

  • Great round up of the iPad.

    We are absolutely loving ours – we have a 16GB Wifi and 32GB 3G. They are a perfect technomadic solution for many of our needs. We use the 3G one when we’re actually in motion for navigation, keeping up with Twitter, blogging, e-mail, Facebook. All stuff that I used to keep a laptop in the truck for in case I needed to access something workwise, or try to handle with the iPhone.

    We currently have 15″ Macbook Pros – which are a great compromise in size for portability vs. functionality. However, we’re finding that we take our iPads along for most places we used to carry the laptops to (business meetings, coffee shops, visiting people) – that’s we’re considering getting 17″ Macbook Pros since they are becoming devices we generally use when ‘at home’.

    Some other apps we use quite a bit include:

    NewRack – great RSS reader that downloads photos – great for keeping up with you 🙂

    Star Walk – by far my most favorite iPad app – interactive Star Charts. Everytime I show this app off, I sell an iPad (wish they had an affiliate program!)

    Air Display – when on the same wifi network, it turns your iPad into a second monitor for your main computer. Sweet bonus screen space (it’s kinda slow.. so best for static info you want to see, not necessarily interact with.)

    And soon we’ll have our own State Lines app out for Ipad as well as iPhone – helping US travelers keep on top of the always changing laws and regulations that affect them.

  • I don’t own an IPad but am currently house-sitting a home with one so we’re getting a chance to live with one for a few weeks. I have to say I don’t really like it – at least not well enough to drop $500 on it. I find the on screen keyboard touchy and too easy to make mistakes with. The external keyboard helps a lot but if you’re wanting to be mobile, who wants to carry two pieces around?
    I will say it’s great for listening to music and looking at photos in an easy to navigate way with great resolution.

    However, I think the one thing that irritates me the most about it is that most of the apps included on it are merely introductory versions asking you to spend money to buy more advanced versions. It feels to me like I would have spent $500 on a device whose main purpose is to advertise to me to drop more money on yet more features. I don’t like paying to be advertised to.

  • My wife and I both have iPads – a few comments

    Writing: You can use a bluetooth keyboard as well to help.

    Checking email: You can add gmail as an exchange account and use the mail client on the iPad. Instructions here: http://www.google.com/support/mobile/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=138740

    Blogging: There is a wordpress app which will provide better functionality for you.

    Editing MS Word or Excel docs: Yes, but basic. I use QuickOffice, which lets me share Word and Excel 2003 or 2007 documents with Google Docs or DropBox, and allows me to edit it on the iPad. However, it’s purely text editing, there’s not even spell check. The default program Notes is probably just as good.

    Photo Editing: Yes. If you need to import photos, you can do it (camera connection kit required for USB access). You can also edit them in PhotoGene, which has gotten rave reviews from professional photographers, but there is a size limit, so if you’re going for 2000+ pixal images, you’ll need to edit them on a laptop.

    Filling out online forms: Mostly. Because there is no arrow keys on the keyboard, you can run into issues with long text boxes not allowing you to scroll up or down and sometimes not allowing you to select the box at all. Also if they use any flash it won’t work.

    Chat: The multitasking kills it – but you can sign up for Meebo to have all of your IM accounts

    I recommend Reeder for RSS reading – it is the best I’ve found.

    You’ve mentioned some apps that I’ve not used and I’m looking forward to trying them.

    My wife and I are planning our RTW Trip to start in about 23 months so I’m hoping the capabilities will be such that we don’t need laptops at that time. Thought I’m a huge nerd so we may bring a laptop anyway.

  • sorry I did a copy paste to make sure I mentioned the things I wanted to and kept the three middle items (docs, photo, and forms) but I can’t edit the post to remove them :/

  • What a really terrific article. I left the US a few weeks ago and decided to hold off on my iPad purchase b/c I am learning to program so definitely need a mac.

    I think, however, if you’re only doing simple things then it’s a really great, low cost alternative to a mac (maybe not a PC netbook or something).

    They will be releasing multitasking after summer so that’s a great thing for people that want to use Pandora/Skype/etc while doing other things.

  • Excellent rundown and consistent with my experience so far. The Safari refresh while tab switching and now arrow keys are the biggest downers for me. The glossy screen also makes it a no-go for reading ebooks on the beach. Just like the iphone though, still the best device in its class despite the shortcomings.

  • John, the refresh happens due to memory constraints on the device. Try closing pages when you are finished with them and it will help prevent them from reloading. Honestly I agree, this is a really annoying problem that probably won’t be resolved until the next iteration of the hardware.

  • Great post. Thanks for the research. I got an e-reader for Christmas and now I regret that I didn’t just upgrade to the iPad. I’d sacrifice clothes in my backpack for electronics any day 🙂

  • Thanks for review, I think I’ll pass on one though 🙂

    It seems a reasonable device for quick surfing, but if you are a bit more interactive with the web and computer then it falls short on too many things for my liking. I’ll stick with my netbook which cost half as much.

  • Thanks for this review Christine.

    While I haven’t used an iPad yet, I don’t see how it can realistically replace a laptop if your intentions are to use it for anything other than checking Facebook, email, and simple browsing.

    For someone like myself that needs a laptop to write blog posts, send out many emails, and do other writing work, I need a proper laptop with a keyboard. Plain and simple.

  • Thanks for the great review! I’d add Yelp to the apps listed. I’ve traveled a few times with the iPad and Yelp lets you see what other “normal people” (not paid reviewers) have said about restaurants before you try them out on your travels. I agree that the automatic browser window refresh is super annoying, especially if you’re mostly done filling out a long form. I hope they’ll add a don’t refresh until I say so” selectable option on each browser window…

  • I don’t think the iPad came to replace anything.
    It sounds to me that a better option is keeping the laptop (as probably most people already have one) and get an iPad to use it on the go.

    I’d totally get one, specially after reading your review.
    Maybe developers are not ready for the iPad now, but very soon they will be, while some of them already are. It’s just a matter of time, things will just get better and better.

  • I like the idea of having an ipad as I love gadgets and boy does the ipad look good! But does the ipad really add anything new? I don’t think so and no way would I spend $500 on one.

    Nice review.

  • […] Review of the iPad for Traveling | AlmostFearless.com. […]

  • RE: the “what does it add?” question… I thought the same thing… then I got one. The best explanation for it is to say it replaces the kindle and is the multimedia device the kindle should have been.

    I know that doesn’t really explain it — why would anyone NEED something to basically consume web, video and photos? But the you get one and it spoils you. I totally get the complaints about price though… it’s not cheap.

  • And don’t forget that (in my experience) you don’t need to remove the iPad from your bag when going through security. Gotta love that!

  • Thank you for this review! I didnt know much about the ipad and had considered it as lugging my 15″ macbook around is a pain! Your review was thorough and I love the app recoms with their explanations! 🙂

  • I’ve been bouncing around about the iPad, but will just have to bypass the idea.

    Thanks for the review.

    So did you ever go to Bulgaria, I can’t seem to find the current route.

  • Apple never positioned the iPad as a laptop replacement. They sell wonderful MacBooks, thank you very much. If you need FULL computing capabilities while you travel, then take your laptop. But seriously, how mny people, unless you’re a business traveler or journalist or graphic/video pros, how much stuff do you need on the road? I travel extensively with my iPad now and save all my other stuff (such as video editing) for later when I get home. It is awesome to only carry 1.5 pounds instead of 5 — try that for two weeks and see what I mean. It’s great for 85% of what I need to do every day p,us all the apps I need which I can’t find for my laptop. Really, comparing the iPad to a laptop is silly. It is not a replacement but I bet it does more than 80% of what you need to do at a fraction of the cost and weight/size.

  • Ray,

    I said exactly what you’re saying in the first paragraph of my review:

    “I recently purchased the base model of Apple’s iPad (16 GB, wifi only version: $499) and I’ve been traveling with it ever since. It’s become my day-to-day computing device and even though it’s intended purely as a multimedia device, I’ve found that it can handle a number of things my laptop used to do.”

  • In your review you state that the sd reader and USB connector is $69. It is actually only $29. I have it and it works great. Though I move most files through email, dropbox and mobile me.

    As for your review, it is fair, and I think for most people it does replace many day to day tasks and the battery life and light weight more than makes up for any negatives or limitations. I do not travel much, but I would think it would be great for that purpose. My understanding it is easier going through airport security. Maybe someone can expand on that.

    It is not meant as a laptop replacement as you rightly state. I use adobe collection all day long, but this device has dramatically changed my usage of my computer when not doing my web work. It is great and it is the future.

  • Doug,

    Thanks for the correction. I will update. I was looking at the price on Amazon, which apparently is jacked up. I have the camera connection kit too and love it.

    I should say, I absolutely love my iPad. I don’t know why everyone seems to think this is a negative review… I thought it was amazing it could do as much as it can. I don’t think listing out what it can’t do is a bad thing, it actually highlights how flexible it is for something that is basically a really big iPhone.

  • […] en seng og et utrolig kult hus. Sånt kan gi mye inspirasjon. Almost Fearless skrev om iPaden, positive og negative ting. Jeg har funnet en genial t-shirt butikk på internett, og Binka fikk meg til å […]

  • I think the price you were seeing was a third party seller. The connection kit has been hard to get, so these people are out there gouging on places like amazon and ebay. I had to wait 6 weeks for mine from apple.

    For some reason the ipad gets people worked up. People seem to love it or hate it and people on both sides of the debate take things the wrong way. I thought it was pretty clear from the review that you loved it but there were things that people should recognize before buying it.

    If someone gets the 3G iPad and download the Skype app and sign up for a Skype number they will have a 3G skype phone. There is no multitasking at the moment, but apple said that is coming by fall, so you would be able to get inbound calls while doing other things. The iOS update that is coming and new apps adding functionality that may not be there now will be icing on the cake for this device. Can’t wait.

  • Thanks for this helpful review–it made me think I wouldn’t be wanting an iPad anytime soon, since I do so much word processing and blogging and don’t know HTML all that well. I would have never thought of most of these issues, so thanks for going through all the different possibilities.

  • fab and oh so useful post Christine i wondered where youd gone. i wanted to share it coulnt find tweet this button pls add. i use my iphone when travelling even to post its too small. plus my 3G packagewith swisscom makes it impossibly costly to travel on . just had 2 weeks in Chile and it was crazy expensive for roaming when i coulnt get wifi ( which is really good in Chile) your package sounds cheap compared to mine at 250 dollars a month i never watch vid clips on it!!!

  • Thanks for this review! Question: Why would Apple develop a product that can’t use the same apps as you would for the iPhone? This doesn’t make sense. What’s the point of having the iPad, Mac, and iPhone if you can’t sync them?

    Perhaps it’s best to buy a netbook or just bring along your laptop.

  • If I can only pick one: a netbook. I need the functionality. But in reality I will be traveling with a Macbook and an ipad.

  • Please add our VoIP client app to your list of apps for international travelers. Our new service Traveler(TM) provides short term (1 month) phone service for iPad, iPhone, and iTouch users. Plans start with as little as $9 for 100 minutes/1 month.

    BTW … the iPad has speakerphone mode built in. For more privacy, use an iPhone headset.

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