Two weeks of travel, Ten iPad lessons

A while back, I tried traveling on business with nothing but the help of three smart phones. I quickly ran into the headroom of those devices and, by the time I was home, I had a huge list of tasks I needed to deal with that could only be done on a computer. I wondered how I would have fared had I carried an iPad with me instead. So over the last two weeks, I've done just that, carried an iPad on my travels and left the laptop at home. Here are ten lessons of the iPad I learned from two weeks on the road with it.

1. Traveling with the iPad is liberating. The TSA does not require the iPad be removed from my bag and that makes going through security that much easier. In addition, shedding five pounds of travel weight is wonderful as well. Just those two factors help to make up for some of the shortcomings.

2. The iPad on-screen keyboard still works well for me, better than I might have expected, but it's still not the best for typing anything of length. I solved this problem by adding a small, fold-up Bluetooth keyboard made by Think Outside. It paired perfectly with the iPad and works amazingly well for getting large amounts of texts. Sadly, this keyboard isn't made anymore but I have seen several for sale on eBay. If you use an iPad for travel, it's a must-have for maximum efficiency and portability.

3. iPad battery life is amazing. I have no problem getting across country, listening to music, reading books, watching videos or working and I still have plenty of battery life left. On average, I need to charge the device every other day on the road. That's far better than any laptop. In the hotel, I have access to the ABC TV app as well as Netflix; as a work/play combination, the iPad works very well.

4. Apple's iWork leaves much to be desired. Basic features such as word count don't exist in Pages. Keynote often mangles complex PowerPoint and there's no way to export to native Microsoft Office formats from Numbers or Keynote. I found that keeping presentations simple was key and Pages is suitable for banging out text but I'm waiting for QuickOffice to get their app on the iPad soon. Tomorrow would not be fast enough for me.

5. The iPads method for dealing with document management leaves much to be desired. Attempting to manage files from the increasingly ill named iTunes is a mess. Worse, there's just flat file storage for iWork which makes it frustrating if you have more than a few documents. To get around this, I use SugarSync to access every file stored on any of my computers. If I need to work on a file, SugarSync allows me to mail it to myself, where once viewed I can work in iWork to edit or mail to someone else. It's not perfect and keeping documents in sync takes more work than I'd prefer but it is workable for periods of about a week at a time.

6. The iPad's screen has really nasty glare when viewed from the wrong angle. It's easy enough to adjust but it makes it harder to use in certain places. Of course, the glossy screen on my MacBook has the same issue.

7. A case is a must. Not for durability. The iPad seems pretty solid and most stress tests show the glass is rock solid. Rather, a case is needed to get the iPad into a workable angle when using a desk or tray table. Without it, the curved back tends to wobble and looking down on the screen is good for a cramped neck after just a short time.

8. iPads attract attention. If you travel with one, get used to giving demos to those around you. It's par for the course for early adopters. I expect that the novelty will wear off sometime by the start of fall.

9. I've had no issues with WiFi as others have reported but there's times when WiFi just isn't available. I've been using a MiFi for connectivity and it works well. If you're only looking to connect the iPad, I'd recommend the 3G model given the attractive pricing being offered by Apple and ATT.

10. Downloading movies in hotel rooms can take forever, stock up on your content before you leave home.

Overall, I've been pleased with the experience and find that there's enough functionality to make the iPad useful for not only content consumption but content creation. So why not just use a netbook? Easy, while netbooks offer much of the functionality I lack on the iPad, it comes at too high a price. Lower screen resolutions, slower than my laptop performance and cramped keyboards are too many tradeoffs for me. The instant on capabilities, fast performance combined with a full XGA screen make the iPad experience unique, not quite a laptop but certainly more than just a large iPod touch. For me, it's now a valuable travel companion.