Sure, they're smaller, faster and sexier, but they trail laptops and PCs for multi-tasking, processing power, graphics capabilities and work-friendly applications.
Nonetheless, when my laptop's hard drive came shuddering to a halt recently, I had no other option but to make my iPad my primary PC.
Advantages: Battery life, speed, size & simplicity
Since acquiring my 16GB iPad 2 in late 2011, it's played an accompanying role to my PC. It’s been useful for note-taking (Evernote and OneNote), news gathering (Flipboard, Zite, Pulse), email and calendar reminders (mainly Gmail) and testing apps for reviews.
That said, I’ve rarely relied on it for so-called PC tasks and only occasionally thrown the iPad into action when reporting from trade shows to take advantage of the excellent battery life and greater mobility.
So, when I started using the iPad for work, what were the advantages?
Well, the obvious plus points were size and speed. The dimensions of the iPad (241.2mm height, 185.7mm width, 8.8mm depth, weighs 601g) — coupled with my slim Logitech Zagg iPad 2 keyboard — meant I could work anywhere.
The all-day battery life and Bluetooth connectivity also spared me the bother of sorting out power adapters. The Logitech keyboard uses a 510 mAh rechargeable lithium polymer battery but can last weeks on one charge.
Speed was another bonus. The iPad's instant-on power allowed me to get up and running straight away, rather than having to wait 30 seconds to boot into my PC. It was also far quicker to sleep and wake the iPad from the lock screen menu.
Beyond the advantages of better portability and faster responsiveness, I actually found one more surprising plus point; the home screen layout.
No more was I hopping between the desktop and 'Metro' screens on Windows 8. With the iPad, I simply hit the home screen, found the appropriate app folder and entered the app. Or, if I was still stuck, I searched for the app on the search menu.
This simplicity extended to simple computer maintenance like turning on Bluetooth connectivity — far more accessible from the iPad’s settings rather than from the Windows Control Panel — and even multi-tasking was easier than I thought it'd be.
I’d regularly jump between Safari, iA Writer (for word processing) and Google’s Snapseed (for photo editing) by double-tapping the home button. I could also play songs on iTunes in the background while I worked, although that wasn’t possible with YouTube, which seemingly only plays in the background on desktop devices.
Another perhaps surprising bonus was the apps. Less powerful with fewer features than desktop counterparts, I found that some of the apps were easier to work with and faster too.
For example, Snapseed offers limited photo editing tools but has less 'clutter' than Gimp, which is essentially a free rival to Adobe’s Photoshop. This allowed me to get work done faster and to the same standard.
Even saving documents was a breeze, a criticism which has previously been levelled at the iPad because a lack of hardware connections.
But I saved files locally to iA Writer, to the cloud with Google Drive and perused and uploaded photos with Dropbox and SkyDrive. In fact, I didn’t use my laptop’s USB 2.0 ports at all.
(Image: The iPad 2 and Samsung laptop side-by-side after the latter was fixed)
Disadvantages: Keyboard, browsing, slow multi-tasking
Some of my grievances on using the iPad for work are obvious – it’s difficult typing on a 7.5-inch wide keyboard compared to one on a 15.6 inch laptop, there are much fewer work-quality apps and multi-tasking isn’t as fluid as it should be.
Typing on the Logitech Bluetooth keyboard was actually OK for the most part. I was able to type quickly and accurately with the smaller keys, although the combination of the limited word processor (iA Writer) and some missing desktop keys (like delete and Windows shortcuts for cut and paste) proved tricky. The iPad wasn’t always that secure on the keyboard and occasionally fell off.
Copying and pasting was pretty cumbersome and I quickly got frustrated with the rigmarole of doing this with the touchscreen.
A bigger problem is that while you can multi-task on the iPad, you can rarely see more than one 'window' at the same time, and this is a pain when you are regularly changing applications.
Then there are the apps themselves, which are less intricate than the desktop versions. There is no spell checker and limited formatting options on iAWriter, only a small number of editing options on Snapseed and tweaking Excel documents on Quickoffice is problematic to say the least (in particular, changing tabs and cell sizes is difficult).
Even Gmail and the stock iPad email client are limited in their sharing options, something I rely on heavily for sending photos and files. Sending photos is OK but there is no way of importing spreadsheets from Quickoffice.
As numerous testers have remarked in the past, browsing on Safari on your iPad is a so-so experience, undermined by average design. It's a weaker version than the desktop version and doesn’t have the innovation of Dolphin or the speed of Chrome,
That said, Safari browsing was OK for most of the time and actually improved with some useful browser plug-ins like Read It Later, which enables you to save interesting articles from the browser.
But a universal problem with iPad browsing is that certain websites were not mobile friendly, and this included our content management system. Some were hard to read and didn’t respond to the touchscreen. Others crashed out on me altogether.
Summary: Workable but not ideal
The iPad is a workable solution for when your PC goes down. It’s mobile, has a big enough screen, and the apps and processing power were fine for the requirements of my job.
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That said, I am in no rush to make it my primary computer. My job relies on speed, precision and reliable multi-tasking, and while the iPad excels for speed, it’s not so handy for multi-tasking and misses some key application features that I rely on.