December 16th, 2010


Inferior superior

For the last month, I've been trying to use my iPad as my primary notetaking device. With a capacitive stylus, it seems like it should be the right tool for the job; there's a wide selection of good note-taking software, it's very portable with a solid battery life, and given my usage, I'm very likely to have it with me at any given time. In short, it's pretty much what I've hoped my Tablet PC to be, except practical.

Note the operative phrases "trying to" and "seems like". It's a nifty device, I want it to work, but in the end, if I use it for notetaking, it's because I want to use it, not because it's actually the right tool for the job- or even a particularly good one. So I'm back to using my Livescribe Pulse for handwritten notes, and a netbook for typing, when I bring it with me. In the end, the iPad is an unmatched content viewer, but fairly poor as a general purpose content creation device, with the sole exception of InstaViz. (Which is quite specialized, so there goes the "general purpose" thing.)

The iPad is bad at handwriting because it was never designed for it. Its styluslessness was one of its major design points, and handwriting needs a pen to work well. (I never did get good grades in Finger Painting.) As I mentioned previously, I have capacative stylii; that said, they suck. One is like trying to write with a styrofoam crayon that needs excess pressure to work; the other is like trying to write with an inflatable Sharpie. This isn't really the fault of the stylus-makers, though, because they have to make the device touch the screen like a finger does- by design, the iPad doesn't register touch below a certain radius, so the tip is required to be soft and broad- hardly an ideal pair of traits for a pen. Tech it up all you want, but it will always feel like writing with a fish sausage.

A keyboard is no salvation. For one thing, the iPad requires a table if you want to set it up with a physical keyboard- either a Bluetooth thing, so you need an iPad stand and somewhere to stand it up, or the iPad keyboard dock, which also isn't going to be stable in your lap. Which, of course, is why the iPad has an on-screen keyboard, which takes up about half the screen area, and any typing angle has the screen leaning away from you. I have been able to get decent accuracy with it, but it's still no comparison to hardware.

I keep finding this: the iPad is sexy, but less useful at many specific tasks than dedicated devices, with the exception of viewing Internet content. For composing content on the go, you need a keyboard, so use a traditional netbook. My Kindle is a more comfortable eBook reader. It's got good games, but it's still not as practical as my dedicated gaming handhelds. It's nowhere near small enough to replace my iPod, to say nothing of its lack of capacity. It's excellent as an interactive media viewer- but its resemblance to a portable display screen hints that this is the task it's best at, and such hints tend to pan out.

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