I'm convinced that many of you would find the iPad a delightful replacement for a typical laptop computer, if you mostly use a laptop for e-mail, social networking (through Facebook, for example) and Web browsing.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Can an iPad replace your laptop?

Dec. 5, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   Note to readers:
   If you're trying to get your iPad to print wirelessly, update the iPad to the latest version of the operating system (using iTunes -- just connect it to your PC or Mac and iTunes will do the rest) and then get the software that handles printing on the computer's end. Windows users should go here: discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=12670154&tstart=0 and Mac users should go here: http://www.ecamm.com/mac/printopia/.
   A recent survey found that 1 out of 5 Americans teenage or older want an iPad. No wonder Apple is selling 3 million iPads a month. It's the fastest-selling single product in the history of consumer electronics.
   Most buyers are choosing an iPad as a supplement to their current computers -- for watching movies in bed, like I do, or reading books in my easy chair when there's nothing good on TV.
   The iPad is more than a multimedia device and book reader, of course. It's great for e-mail and Web browsing -- both functions are well served by smartly designed software that comes with the iPad -- and it can do all the You Tube and Facebook stuff just as readily as a laptop computer.
   The iPad pretty much has the "personal" side of computing covered. But what about the "computer" side? What about the tasks you do on your laptop or on your desktop computer?
   Let's get one thing out of the way first. The iPad isn't a good candidate for replacing your desktop computer. You can't plug a scanner or backup hard drive into it, for example. And you can't store a zillion photos on it. Keep your desktop computer and enjoy it for what it does best.
   But I'm convinced that many of you would find the iPad a delightful replacement for a typical laptop computer, whether a Windows PC or Mac, if you mostly use a laptop for three typical functions -- e-mail, social networking (through Facebook, for example) and Web browsing.
   What about occasional word processing? Apple's word processor, called Pages, is outstanding on the iPad. (A bonus: It also works easily with Microsoft Word documents, both reading them and saving them.) If you need software that can show and create PowerPoint presentations, iPad software called Keynote can do that nicely. There's even an Excel-compatible program called Numbers.
   Pages, Keynote and Numbers are all from Apple. I use Pages every day for my main word-processing software and try to write as much as possible on my iPad instead of on my big laptop. When I do that, I don't miss my laptop at all. My iPad's screen is sharper and brighter, the external keyboard (part of the iPad keyboard dock) has a better touch, and I can work for 10 hours before needing to recharge the battery.
   All three of these productivity programs -- called apps -- sell for only $10 each. Getting something equivalent to Microsoft Office for only $30 is surely a steal.
   What about storing, editing and showing photos? The iPad seems to be made for pictures. If you get the largest-capacity iPad, with 64 GB of storage, you'll be able to store many years' worth of photos. Getting them into an iPad is easy; it works like any regular computer, reading photos from a camera directly or from a memory card. (Buy the accessory Camera Connection Kit to do this.)
   Photo-display software comes with the iPad, but you'd need an editing app as well. There are many, either free or a couple of dollars, at the App Store.
   Printing from an iPad is now much easier thanks to an updated operating system that was automatically transferred to iPads (if users chose to accept it) in November. Printing is done wirelessly. Many printers have wireless capability built in.
   Could an iPad be your only computer? Not for long. It gets updates via free software called iTunes running on a standard computer. When you plug the iPad into the computer using a USB cable, iTunes transfers the updates to your iPad. (iTunes is also used to add music, books, podcasts, university lectures, TV shows and movies to an iPad.)
   But if my experience is a guide, the iPad can function well as a replacement for a laptop. If you buy one, be sure to get the Keyboard Dock and the Camera Connection Kit. Photos look spectacular on the 10-inch screen.