Archive | April, 2010

Reading On the iPad

I posted on Wednesday with first impressions on my new iPad. I was up past midnight that night playing with my toy and downloading new apps. Which meant that Thursday, I was behind all day and a little bit brain-fogged from lack of sleep. I’m almost caught up today, but still haven’t had much time to play more.

However, I’ve had time to do some reading on it. We have a long-standing family tradition of reading aloud every night. Right now, I’m reading aloud from PRIDE & PREJUDICE to my wife and daughter, so the last couple of nights, I’ve been reading from the iPad version of P&P instead of from the paper book.

More first impressions:

1) I like being able to set the type size and font. My eyes aren’t young anymore, and big type is nice. It’s a bit easier to change the type size than on the Kindle.

2) I haven’t read long enough at one sitting yet to experience eye fatigue from the screen.

3) The experience of turning pages on the iPad is extremely quick and easy–more so than using a physical book.

4) The iPad is heavier than the average paperback, and holding it one-handed will not be for most people. Maybe a big guy like Sam the Plumber might do that, but the iPad weighs a pound and a half, which is comparable to many hardbacks. So reading is a two-handed operation, or else you can rest the base on your lap and hold it with one hand.

5) One issue I’ve always had with paperbacks is that you either have to hold them with two hands or you have to clench it in one hand and try to hold it just wide enough to read, without cracking the spine. There’s no such worry with the iPad, since it’s always flat.

6) The iPad appears to have the usual technology for blind readers, so there’s a way (if I’ve read the web site correctly) to get the iPad to read aloud to you. I haven’t tried this yet. On the Kindle, you just tell it to read aloud–there’s a menu entry available to get the (fairly good) text-to-speech rolling. I don’t see anything that simple on the iPad.

7) The text in an e-book on the iPad looks typeset. This is very nice. It really does give the sensation of reading a real book.

You really have to see the “Will It Blend?” movie on YouTube featuring an iPad getting ripped to shreds in a blender. It doesn’t fit without some serious prework, but once it’s in the blender, it’s all over for that pesky iPad.

My iPad Has Arrived

My iPad arrived via FedEx today. I’ve been impatiently waiting for it since I ordered it a couple of weeks ago.

As with all Apple products, the box itself is beautiful. While I was peeling off the plastic on the wall plugin charging unit, I dropped it. Smack! Right on the screen of the iPad. For a second, I freaked out. Then I looked at the screen and it was fine. No marks. When I turned on the iPad, there were no busted pixels.

Setting up the iPad is pretty easy. You plug it into the USB port on your Mac or Windows machine, launch iTunes, and it walks you through registration. I pretty quickly got registered and figured out the user interface. It took very little time to hook into my Gmail account and sync my iPad to my online calendar and address book.

I like the “Find my iPad” feature, in theory. As with the iPhone, if you lose your iPad, you can log onto Apple’s MobileMe web site and find out where on the planet your iPad is. From the MobileMe site, you can remotely lock your iPad or display a message on it, such as, “I know where you are, you dirty thief, so you better return my iPad or I’m sending the cops to get it for me.”

At least you can do these in theory. I tested them and the message I typed in on the MobileMe site appeared instantly on my iPad. But the system couldn’t locate my iPad, even though it was sitting right beside me.

I’ve never owned an iPhone or an iPod Touch, but the iPad looks similar to them, only . . . bigger. A lot bigger. The iPad makes a terrific iPod (although if that’s all you use it for, it would be overpriced.) I quickly downloaded several gigabytes of audio from my iTunes program to my iPad. The internal speaker is actually pretty good, but of course a good pair of headphones is infinitely better.

One of my first stops was the Apps store, where I grabbed the free iBooks app and the free Netflix app. When I tried to log into my Netflix account, I had a couple of false tries typing in my password using the onscreen keyboard. I think this keyboard is going to take some getting used to. I like it much better than the tiny physical keyboard on my Kindle, but still it’s not something that I can type on quickly, at least not yet. But once I got logged onto Netflix, it felt very much like using an ordinary web browser on Netflix. You can play any of the streaming movies on Netflix on the iPad. The screen is big enough and the screen quality is good enough to make watching a movie a real pleasure.

But the real question I wanted to answer was how good the iBook store is. When you load the iBook app, it shows you a picture of what appears to be a physical bookcase, made of wood. As you add books, they appear in the book case. Click on any book and it opens. The ease of use here is lightyears ahead of the Kindle, where you have to navigate around with a little joystick-like button.

I clicked the Store button and up popped the iBookStore. It’s a lot like Apple’s iTunes store, which is to say, it’s beautiful and easy to get around. You can search for titles (there aren’t nearly enough books in the store yet) or you can just browse. It’s easy to scan the current bestsellers on the store. They’re divided into two columns, the payware books on the left, the free books on the right. I quickly grabbed a few freebies, including a Sherlock Holmes book, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Pride & Prejudice, and a couple of free Bibles.

I opened Pride & Prejudice and began reading and . . . it’s a lot like a book. Much more so than a Kindle book. I have a Kindle, and the page layout is a bit more primitive than on the iPad. The iPad is vastly easier to navigate, thanks to the touch interface. There’s a slider at the bottom of any iBook page that you can drag to quickly scroll through the book. As you scroll, a little balloon pops up to show you what chapter and page you’re on. It’s simple and slick and very, very efficient. To turn pages on an iBook, you put your finger on the right margin and flick. A lot like a book, but much quicker and easier than either a physical book or a Kindle. You also have a choice of both font sizes (like on the Kindle) and the font (unlike the Kindle).

A lot has been said about the easy-on-the-eyes electronic ink of the Kindle. Since it’s not lit up, it takes no energy except when turning pages. The iPad has an adjustable brightness on its LED screen. As with all current Mac products, the screen is glossy and reflects. (Some Macs have a matte display option, but there’s no such option for the iPad.) I’ll have to do some extended reading to see how the bright screen is on my eyes. The pixels are small–132 pixels per inch, but those are still a bit bigger than on the Kindle, which packs over 200 pixels per inch. The advantage here may go to the Kindle, but I’ll have to see. The iPad color screen is beautiful, no question about it.

Many people have been asking what an iPad is good for. That’s a good question and time will answer that soon enough. One thing is clear after a couple of hours of playing. This is a fantastic travel computer. It weighs a pound and half and it can browse the web, handle email, play movies and books, show books. You can do all those on a much lighter iPhone or iPod touch, but the iPad has a much bigger screen and it will also let you connect to a PowerPoint display and give your talk. (You need a $29 VGA connector for this. I bought it.)

Is the iPad going to be a Kindle-killer? Good question. It depends what the market wants. The Kindle is cheaper. The iPad is nicer and does more. They’re in different classes. A motorcycle is not a bicycle-killer.

I’ll have more to say about the iPad next time I blog. For the moment, I’m really loving this little machine.

Sam the Plumber Takes Up “Vampire Remuval”

The second half of March was consumed with traveling. :( I was out of town for a total of about 12 days. I’ve been back home for more than a week now, but am still digging out from all the work that piled up while I was having fun hanging out with writers.

While I was gone, I did just barely get my monthly humor column done.

The latest column is titled “Sue the Nymph.” In it, my plumber Sam goes into the “vampire remuval” business in hopes of doing background research on his new novel. Can I talk him out of this plan before he damages his good name beyond all repair? Find out!