Sunday, April 15, 2012

an iPad review? Really? At a kayaking blog?

Yes. There is a reason that makes sense, just give me a chance.

I made the plunge and purchased an iPad - my first - on release day, just about one month ago. There were a couple of reasons that I decided it was time. When I teach wilderness medicine I work from 5x7 index cards which are about the same size as an iPad screen. I knew I could go digital. Additionally, the book that is almost done is initially only going to be available in the iTunes store for the iPad. It is an enhanced E-book with HD video. At some point it will be available for the Kindle as well. But I needed an iPad to preview the finished layouts, so on release day I found my way to an apple store and managed to get a brand new iPad without waiting in line. I have a couple of connections at a couple of Apple stores. I splurged a bit and bought the 32GB wifi+4g model.

While this was my first iPad I am not new to the Apple ecosystem. I was late to the 'iPhone party' primarily because I am not much of a cell phone user. I used the cheapest cellphone I could for a very long time. I knew I would love an iPhone, but wasn't prepared for how much it would change my day to day life. But I suppose that is another story.

Before that I was late to the 'iPod Party' not getting my first until the iPod 3rd generation. The one with the very non-apple row of four buttons across the front.

And if I was late to the iPod/iPhone I was early to the Macintosh party. Actually I was at the party before the was one. I was at the party before it went sour and came back again. I was at the original - almost - Macintosh party. I have always enjoyed the Apple Aesthetic, and have enjoyed watching it's designs mature, From beige boxes - they were once - to colorful candy, to titanium and then understated aluminum. Almost entirely in laptop form. I knew I would like an iPad.

The unboxing was relatively sedate. I was surprised it didn't come with a screen cloth like my MBP did. I opted against the smart cover as I already had a sleeve from Timbuk 2 that I love. The screen is beautiful, But I wish it was edge to edge - the same goes for my laptop - I feel there is a lot of waisted space around the screen.

It is my preferred method for surfing the web, it is just so intuitive to touch the things that are of interest to me instead of using a trackpad. Though I wish some of the track pad features existed on the multi touch iPad. For instance, I can swipe to the right with two fingers on my track pad, and safari will go back a page. I can't do this on the iPad. Speaking of Safari, why don't I get an opening screen of my favorite web pages like I do on my laptop? I would rather have my iPhone, and iPad and OS X perform as close to each other as possible.

As an experiment I didn't activate my data plan for close to two weeks. I wanted to see if I needed it. It wasn't until I travelled outside of my normal routines that I did. Most of the places that I normally go had free wifi that was of a fairly good speed.

Battery life is good, particularly if you are doing something other that looking at video. Video is a battery killer. And the battery in this iPad is huge, and takes an equally huge amount of time to charge. Remember to plug it in at night so you start the day at 100%. I have discovered that it charges best from its included wall charger - a 10watt charger. I have also learned that the new MacBook Pros have both a 10w and 5w USB port on their side. In that order from front to back. My MBP is too old - only a few years - and only has 5w USB ports. If I plug it in to my MBP and watch a video on it, and it uses power faster than it charges. That is a bit of a bummer.

The virtual keyboard is adequate. I can type with a handful of fingers. Better than my iPhone, but not as good as my MBP - which is where I am typing this.  And that is understandable.

This is where it excels. It is big enough to be useful, and small enough to go with me everywhere. Almost everywhere. I take it places I would never bring my laptop. It is light enough I don't think twice about bringing it, I just do. and I love that.

There have been reports of excessive heat and poor wifi performance and I have experienced neither of those. My iPhone apps automatically loaded on my iPad, which was nice - and expected - but I wish they would automatically upgrade to full iPad versions. I am occasionally left with an iPhone size screen left in the center of my iPad. There is a way to make them larger but with sharpness being sacrificed.

So why is this on a kayaking blog? This is the reason. A friend reported to me that he read in Backpacker magazine something to the effect of 'leave home your map/compass/gps and just bring your tablet in a waterproof case. This is a massive mistake - at this point I haven't been able to find the actual quote, but regularly I hear from students 'why would I buy a GPS when my phone has one?' So this concept has now been upgraded to Why not bring my iPad or other tablet device that can do the same things?

This is why:

Battery life. My Garmin GPS uses AA batteries. They last for around 30 hours. I can carry multiple sets. I can't replace the batteries in phone or tablet and I don't get near that amount of battery life from any of these devices.

Waterproofness. My Garmin GPS is waterproof to one meter under water for thirty minutes. My iDevices or other smartphones are not. Not even close. Don't even bring them to a wet environment. (There is a coating you can have applied called liquipel  which looks amazing but is getting bad 'real world' reviews.) My map and compass work beautifully without any special precautions for waterproofness.

Electronics break. Even GPS. I love my GPS but it is a backup for map and compass. Learn how to use a map and compass. Check your work with a GPS.

There will come a time when paddlers and hikers will be using electronic devices in the backcountry for navigation but they will be purpose built to withstand the environment. Here is what I want. waterproof paper maps with a couple of small sensors or registration marks on them. A clear 'plastic' board - I like the name NAVGLASS with a touch screen. You lay the Navglass on the paper map. Its internal GPS knows where it is. It 'sees' the registration marks on the map when it moves over them, so it knows what part of the map it is laid on top of. It then draws your location on the glass, and you see the map underneath. As you move the navglass - without moving the map - the icon that represents you moves freely around the 'screen'. Add all the navigation tools you want to this interface.

I would also like real time satellite imagery. When I am paddling the coast I want to see the top of my head. I think this technology already exists. But I think Google is going to have to put up its own satellites for us to get it.

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