Monday, 18 April 2011

iPad 2 Smart Cover

I was asked on Twitter to post my thoughts on the iPad 2 smart cover. I've been using it for a few days so think I'm in a position to give my opinion on it now.

It's quite neat that's for sure, but it doesn't really offer much protection. Yes, it does cover the screen when it's not in use, but the back of the device is totally naked. I've already managed to pick up a few scratches on the back of my iPad. The touted screen cleaning abilities of the cover are a joke, just having a soft fabric laying on the screen can't clean it! What I have noticed though are marks on the screen where the hinges are. This means you end up with three distinct vertical lines down the screen, they can be easily wiped away, but it's still annoying when it happens.

The different configurations of the cover are handy in certain circumstances. I've used it in both forms at various times. The upright stand is great for propping it up on the desk while watching a video or other times when you don't need to be "hands-on" with the device. The raised keyboard position is ideal for web browsing and typing blog posts like this one. I can type almost as quickly on this keyboard as I can on a real one. Having the slight angle means you can easily see the screen over your hands, and you aren't typing on a totally flat surface.

The magnets that the cover uses to connect are quite clever, I think it must use a system of opposing magnets that force it to hook up in the correct location. It just seems to know where to go! Simply swing the cover towards the edge and it will snap on. When it's attached the magnets are strong enough that it can support the weight on the iPad dangling beneath, but not if you start jiggling it about too vigorously. It will soon lose its grip then!

When the cover is used in one of its two setups, it's great. The problems only arise when you aren't. Holding it with the cover open can be annoying, it doesn't magnetise itself to the back as it does to the front, so it wants to constantly flap open. If you fold it into a triangle and hold on to that, it gives you something to grip, but it makes typing on the keyboard harder with your thumbs and it still wants to flap about too much.

It's an expensive cover that doesn't really offer any real protection, but the stand system is useful. Is it worth the money? Probably not, it's expensive and I'm sure there will be other 3rd party solutions that will do a better job than this.

EDIT: Updated with a video below to show the marks.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Blogging from the iPad 2

I just downloaded and installed a blogging app for my iPad called BlogPress. Seems quite good so far, this will be my first post using it so this is really just a test. Thought I'd write down a few of my thoughts on the iPad 2 while I am here. They probably won't be much different to any others you've already heard or read elsewhere though.

First of all, the actual device is gorgeous, from the moment you first power it up the display pops out at you. The IPS panel gives stunning quality, even if it doesn't have the much touted "retina display" resolution. Text is clear and easy to read, viewing angles are brilliant. Although the screen goes a bit darker at extreme angles you can still see everything without trouble.

The battery is good, even when the device was new and I played with it for almost a full day, the battery still had life in it by the end. I can imagine under more normal demands I could be going a full week without going near a power socket. Of course, I can only imagine that, because after almost a week, I'm still using it constantly, for almost everything. From email to twitter, web browsing, gaming, iPlayer viewing and now blogging. The iPad can do it all! In fact, maybe my current iPad usage is going to be normal from now on?

Many of the apps designed for the iPad are a joy to use. The slick fluid interface of apps such as Twitter are quick to navigate and intuitive to use. The ones that aren't are fairly easy to avoid thanks to the app store reviews.

The implementation of multi-tasking is very good, I was never sold on the fake pseudo version Apple devised. But having used it, in practise you'd never know any difference. You can switch between apps in an instant and pick up exactly where you left off. Certain processes can even continue running in the background when you switch, such as music and the ability for apps to send notifications when they aren't running helps with things like alarms, email and twitter.

Of course it's not all good! There are a few niggles (some bigger than others) that are frustrating and others that are inexplicable. For example, the iPhone and iPod Touch both run the same iOS, yet the iPad lacks some of the core apps. The Clock, Calculator, Weather and Stocks apps are all missing in action. This seems utterly mad considering they must be there in the source code of iOS, but simply locked out on the iPad. Finding replacements for them on the app store is fairly simple, but the good ones have to be paid for which is annoying when the Apple versions were already excellent.

The keyboard, whilst easy to type on, particularly in landscape mode also gives some minor annoyances. I'm now fairly accustomed to the Android keyboard used on my mobile phone. On that I can long press a key to get alternative characters, such as numbers and other commonly used symbols. On the iPad I have to switch to the numeric keyboard to access those keys. Worse still is that when you do so, the few symbols that are included on the main keyboard actually move to a different location!! Who the hell thought that was a good idea?

Sticking with the keyboard for a moment many of the common symbols have been relegated to a third keyboard layout. The +,=,#,$,% are all three keyboards deep. But why can't they adopt the Android method and have all the numeric and common symbols on long presses, with other symbols just one keyboard change away. Or if not that, then make one of the two buttons that currently change it to the number keyboard change it to the symbol keyboard instead. That way it's not so much effort.

The only other real annoyance I have with the iPad are the notifications. Now notifications are a great idea, they notify you of stuff which is great :-) The problem with notifications on the iPad and iOS in general is they are far too intrusive. When a notification appears on the iPad it opens a dialog box in the middle of the screen to inform you about whatever it may be. A new tweet directed at you, your turn in an on-line game, a calendar appointment and numerous other app specific things. This can be very inconvenient, especially if you are watching a video, or playing a different game. It will simply interrupt whatever you are doing until you dismiss the pop-up dialog. It gets very frustrating when you are as popular as me :-) I was watching something on the iPlayer last night and my video was being interrupted every 4 or 5 minutes with a notification of some sort.

Why can't the OS just put a little icon in the status bar so I know something wants my attention but doesn't demand I deal with it at that very moment? Yes, I could turn off notifications, but that would be just as inconvenient as then I wouldn't be informed of anything.

Hopefully iOS 5 will help address some of these issues, I don't know. But I'll be disappointed if they don't! Especially when far better solutions are already in use by Android.

Well that was a much longer post than I'd intended it to be. Creating it on the iPad has been fairly easy. I haven't even mentioned the Smart Cover which I promised someone I'd write about. That will have to be another post because it's lunchtime now!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 11 April 2011

Getting mobile interwebs

I'm looking at options to get my internet fix on the move. I've got an iPad 32Gb wi-fi on its way to me right now, I also have a laptop which I cart around and have to find wifi hotspots to piggyback on. I want something that will put an end to the hunt and I've found some things I quite like the look of but I need to know if it will work.

I could find a forum somewhere and post my questions there, but I know quite a lot of my tech-savvy friends read these posts, and I trust your advise more!

So, I'm looking at the Three MiFi device and I'm currently confused by the two options. They are the:

The first one appears to me to be £71.99 for the MiFi device. As far as I can see, there is no data included, so I'd have to PAYG and "top up" with a 30-day data bundle before I can use it.

On the other hand the MiFi (5GB) package is a "monthly" contract according to the site. It costs £39.99 for the MiFi device and a monthly fee of £15.99 for the 15GB of data.

Now that second option sounds very expensive over time. However, looking at the site I can't see any minimum contract length detailed. So, my question is:

Is there anything to stop me buying the MiFi (5GB) for £39.99 + £15.99 for the first month and then cancelling the monthly contract?

This would cost me a total of £55.98 and give me 15GB of data to start me off! That's a saving of £16.01 over the PAYG option, plus the cost of whatever data plan I added. Then would I be able to just get top-ups instead once I have the MiFi device rather than paying the monthly contract?

Or, even better, could I purchase a "Tablet SIM Pay As You Go + 12" for £51.49 which would give me 12Gb to use over 12 months for a single fee?

I don't see anything obvious that would prevent this, the MiFi device and SIM cards are both on the Three network. Am I missing something obvious in all this?