For the past seven months, my iPad (third-gen) has served as my laptop. This is quite a statement since it comes from a guy who carried his Macbook Pro around the world for five years. At first, I thought my trial of the iPad as a road machine would be a short-lived relationship—initially a matter of curiosity to prove that it would not work. Now, I think I’m hitched for the long haul. Honestly though, it’s more like a ménage à trois because on the road and at home, I always have my iPad and I always have my 27″ iMac. In my case, this is not as crazy or as big of a hassle as it sounds.
Rather, it’s a comfortable relationship: I use the 27″ iMac as my desktop at home and on the road when I’m parked for the evening in a hotel or when I teach workshops. I’m totally addicted to the huge screen and ultra-fast SSD. Thanks to my frequent flyer status, I get a generous free baggage allowance. Since I’m checking a gear bag or two anyway, I might as well check my iMac. And, thanks to this Tenba aircase, it’s well protected from the ramp gorillas and inclement weather. [Click here to read more about my travels with my iMac and the Tenba aircase. BTW, I've done another 14 flights since that article was written.] For my many hours in the air (and those many hours sitting in airport terminals), I’m able to keep working via the iPad (a 64gb model with Verizon 4G LTE). About the only thing I don’t do on my iPad is image ingestion and processing—which is my choice, because the Photosmith app could keep me going if I wanted.
The ZAGGfolio Converts My iPad Into a Laptop
To give my iPad the tactile qualities of a laptop, I added the ZAGGfolio keyboard + case combo. It’s an ingenious design that creates a stand for the iPad and then allows it to hinge freely and fold flat in an instant. Consider this to be a big plus when the sumo wrestler in seat 3F suddenly reclines all the way back. Previously, when I travelled with my 17″ Macbook Pro, a reclined seat would typically mean that I’d have to do some yoga in order to see the screen or I’d have to stop working entirely. As you can see in the photo at the top, even on a normal size (aka: near-microscopic) tray-table, there is plenty of room for the iPad, keyboard, and a cold drink.
The ZAGG keyboard communicates with the iPad via Bluetooth so there are no cables to forget at home. Its lithium polymer battery holds a charge for a couple of months at a stretch (truly, a couple of months). The key pitch is a bit narrower (about 90% of my Apple wireless keyboard), but I can jump back and forth between the keyboards on my iMac and iPad without issue. The key response is very nice. I can type on my iPad as fast as I can on my iMac.
If style is important, then you won’t be disappointed with your options for the ZAGGfolio. The keyboard comes with black, silver, or white keys. The cover comes in seven colors. The most popular combos (like the black keys and the carbon fiber cover shown above) are pre-packaged as kits for $75 to $90. An ala carte combo, like my white keys and red cover, costs about $100. I think that this is a huge bargain for the functionality that it adds to the iPad. (Click here to see the complete list of keyboard + case options.)
Four Key iOS Apps for the Road
Quickoffice Pro HD—allows me to open/create files that are compatible with Microsoft Word and Excel. Quickoffice integrates nicely with Dropbox, so my iPad can access files created on my iMac via the web.
Dropbox—I love Dropbox for so many reasons: it’s easy to install on many computers, it automatically updates new/changed files to those computers, it provides cloud-based storage in case my computers are damaged or lost.
Evernote—this is my favorite web-clipper app. I use it on my desktops and my mobile devices to save and access web content for offline viewing.
Dropkick—this task list operates seamlessly on all of my Mac OS and iOS devices. It’s great to brainstorm ideas and tasks at 35,000′ and have them sync up automatically to my other devices when I’m back on the ground.
Comparing the iPad to a Laptop
The Benefits of an iPad
- small footprint = usable on coach class tray table
- runs LA to NYC on a single charge
- connects to the web almost anywhere via the built-in cellular modem — this connectivity alone is worthy of road warrior consideration. No external wireless cards to charge/ carry. Verizon 4G LTE is blazing fast.
- provides 4G LTE internet access to my iMac via personal hotspot (helpful when hotels want to charge $$$ for slow access to the web)
- touchscreen provides intuitive control and eliminates need for a mouse (all computers should be touchscreen, I think)
- goes to sleep when ZAGGfolio closes (thanks to strategically placed magnet) and wakes instantly when opened
- innovative iOS apps and cloud-based storage provide instant backup and data redundancy
- seamless link between my desktop, iPhone, and iPad for address book, email, and calendar
- screen can be used horizontally or vertically (slide the iPad out of the ZAGGfolio, turn it, and then rest it back in the keyboard slot)
- Retina display is beautiful
The Shortcomings of an iPad (as a Laptop)
- no direct means of connecting external harddrive (however the 500gb Seagate GoFlex Satellite can connect wirelessly, operates for 5 hours on batteries with 24 hour stand-by time)
- small screen size (which is exactly why it works in a cramped airplane)
- small pitch of keyboard will be troublesome for guys with huge fingers (not me)
- iOS apps are not exact replacements for favorite photo programs (Lightroom, etc.)
Putting the iPad to Work With Your Camera
I recently read The iPad for Photographers and recommend it if you want to survey options for using the iPad to ingest and process images. No, the iPad won’t completely replace a Macbook Pro in this regard. But, if you’re travelling super-light and willing to limit what you do in the field (perhaps to just image ingestion into the GoFlex and flagging for later export into Lightroom), it will be worthy of your consideration.
Also, to expand its utility, Tether Tools sells the Wallee iPad case and brackets to mount the iPad to your tripod or stand.
There is much to learn about using the iPad in the field. So, if you are a road warrior or a location shooter (still or motion) and you have a favorite bit of gear or an app that makes your iPad indespensible, please share the info as a comment!
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