Saturday, June 16, 2012

Using iPad As Your Laptop

Yesterday, I wrote:
"iPad serves well on the road (if you bring a wireless keyboard). I'm a longtime Mac laptop user, but only very rarely lug around my laptop anymore."
Reader "Dave" commented:
"What wireless keyboard do you recommend for the iPad (and for this guy with fat fingers)? Have you tried any of the covers with a built-in keybaord? I tend to take my MacBook on any trips of more than a day or two, and have to admit that the keyboard is the reason
Sigh. A few months ago I went all Aspergers assembling the perfect iPad-as-laptop outfit. And I planned to share my findings here, spending an afternoon trying to produce a nice, crisp narrated video. Having discovered I'm horrible at that sort of thing, I gave up. But after yesterday's posting, I feel compelled to at least cough up the info, even without the nice snazzy video.

First, do NOT buy a built-in keyboard/case. Several reasons:

1. It will look like a Hello Kitty Laptop for 7 year-olds. Embarrassing for grown-ups. And why buy a beautifully designed tablet only to make it into a crappy kiddie-sized laptop?

2. The keyboards mostly suck. These are not serious, full-fledged keyboards made for doing real work. Also, the keys are smaller than standard.

3. You usually can't separate out the keyboard, and rest it on your lap, or adjust the distance between you and the display.

The one to get is the Apple Wireless Keyboard.

This is the serious choice. It links up via BlueTooth, and the reviewers complaining about connection problems on Amazon are tech bumblers (or else they need to update their iOS). The keyboard's light, quiet, sturdy, narrow, professional, perfect.

I have to admit I'm intrigued by the novel approach of the iKeyboard, which came out recently. But while I've never tried it in person, it doesn't seem designed for serious typing work; more of an intermediate solution for quick typing more easily than via iPad alone. Also, using a separate wireless keyboard lets you move the thing around, prop it on your lap, or at any angle independent of the screen.

Unless you already own an Apple smart case, you'll need a stand to prop up your iPad. I tried just about everything out there, and found the best solution to be a little-known Griffin product, the XPO Universal Tablet Stand.

It's overpriced at $30, but folds down to nothing, weighs nothing (it's aluminum), slides into an attractive case fitting easily in your pocket and (and this is a big "and") very securely holds your iPad up at a good angle. Alas, they're currently out of stock, but check eBay (where four are now on sale for $25 with free shipping, and, no I'm not the seller!).

I carry all this in a Waterfield iPad wallet, which has a protective pocket for the Apple Wireless Keyboard, another for iPad, and yet another narrow pocket to fit a charging cable and ('cuz it's real narrow) a Griffin XPO Universal Tablet Stand. The $79 case is small, light, attractive, fits everything snugly and has high quality zippers and padding. You certainly won't need a shoulder strap; don't fall for that option.

The package is way lighter and smaller than a Macbook Air, and you won't have to take it out at most airports.

The cost of these accessories is quite high, at $180. But cheaper solutions are dodgey and full of compromises. If you're dying to be set free from lugging your laptop, but need a solid-feeling setup you feel you can trust, this is the grown-up solution. And fine points matter; I tried stands that fall over, bags with poorly-conceived pockets, and keyboards that "take getting used to". This set-up just works.

Plus, the cool aesthetics, and meticulous "fit and finish" of these products make them feel briskly efficient to carry around and set up. If I were toting around cheapo alternatives in a zip lock freezer bag...not so much. I'd quickly come to miss my laptop.

In the end, this is the bargain route. Even adding in the iPad's expense, this is all still way cheaper than a new MacBook Air. Having used it for half a year, I wouldn't trade it for an Air.


ABEL Central said...

I agree with Jim about the apple wireless keyboard. I bought one a few years back to use on my desk (MacBook pro with Apple display), but sadly it just stopped working. I just bought my wife an iPad and another Apple wireless keyboard. It works great, looks great, and is very light and portable. For wow factor, check out this laser thingy

Jim Leff said...

John (btw, he's a great tuba player, everybody),

FWIW, at home, I use an Apple Wired Keyboard.

Same great look and feel of the wireless one, and it adds a handy numberpad....and it's cheaper. And no bluetooth to break.

I'm sure you can get the old keyboard going, though. For starters, have you tested whether the problem is actually with the keyboard and not the bluetooth function of the macbook pro? I'd test the macbook with another bluetooth appliance of some sort just to make sure. Also, try rebooting the computer; I find that sometimes fixes bluetooth demons.

As for the lasery thing, "wow" is right! On the other hand, reviews on Amazon aren't great.

Dave said...

Thanks, Jim.

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