Wednesday, August 04, 2010

iReview the iPad

Well, another couple weeks of silence on this blog, though this time I am happy to say I have had good reasons - an honest to god vacation, off to Maine and Vermont, seeing sights, visiting family, people I have not seen in 13, 15, 20 years, people I had seen, even then, almost exclusively at funerals. It was a good change to see them for pleasure again. And fun to poke around in the woods again....

I was not entirely off the grid all this time, though. For I have recently acquired a new toy:

And a fine machine it is! This trip was a nice little proof of concept - a chance to rely on the iPad for a week or so, see what it does. And I have to say - I like it. I bought it mostly to replace my laptop, which is growing long in the tooth - it's vintage 2004, badly behind the times in hardware (a pre-Intel mac), and consequently software. It still works, especially for computer type things - nothing wrong with the version of office on it, or anything else I use - but running into trouble browsing, especially. I thought, then, that for half the price of a new mac laptop, I could get an iPad - which would be much lighter, smaller, and could have 3G capabilities if I wanted them.

IN fact, it is fine for most of those functions. It isn't easy to type on it (which, along with the fact that I was on vacation, visiting people, in Vermont, with rather spotty 3G service, kept me from making any posts, here, say...), but it works - it can be made to work for typing. And I found an old,unusable bluetooth keyboard at work, that works perfectly with the iPad - so if I need to type, I can. It is quite good at browsing and email - especially on wifi, but works as well as the iphone on 3G, and you can see it. Some web apps act a bit funky with it - it's hard to scroll, for instance - but it does what I need it to. As it happens, having 3G for a month has sold me on it - it's a nice feature to have around town, and proved very useful in the wilds. The GPS worked like a charm, at least on top of the hills - to the point of helping us find my grandparent's old farm, burned out 50 odd years ago, overgrown into a jungle now.

But the best thing - taking me more than a little by surprise - is how well it works as a reader. It is a bit heavy - maybe a bit bigger than ideal for this sort of thing - but those are quibbles. It is smaller than most books (if heavier), and carries, after all, as many books as you can download onto it. I admit this is something I was thinking about - I take a lot of classes at Harvard extension, and lately, most of the supplemental readings have been distributed as PDFs - it occurred to me that it was a lot easier to load them all onto a machine than print them all out... But now that I have it, and have tried out reading books, I think I am hooked. It is a good size for reading - a good screen, a good interface, and it feels good in the hand. It can hold a hundred pounds of books... and - not to be underestimated - you can read it in the dark. I can sit on my balcony in the middle of the night and read away - an underrated feature.

It helps that I chose good books to try it out on. Prompted by Ta-Nehisi Coates' enthusiasm, I started by downloading a free version of U.S. Grant's Memoirs. That is definitely an inspired choice. He is a remarkably modern seeming writer - never flowery, but sharp, funny, in a dry way. A kind of brisk, unsentimental recitation of his experience, mostly of the war - with many fine asides and details. And a steady attention to logistics - the roads, supply lines, how many wagons and mules and teamsters he needed - the mark of a former quartermaster. A truly outstanding book.

I'm following it up with James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom - another fine book, this time bought from Amazon, for Kindle. That gave me a chance to compare the iBooks app to the Kindle app - not much to choose between them, though I think I would give the edge to iBooks. Little bit better interface, little bit easier to read and use. But basically, both work, and it makes it easy enough to use both to find material. The book - I'm enjoying completely, though I'm still only halfway through.

All this Civil War reading does take me back - rather notably. Back when I was a kid, when my grandfather was alive and living in the Vermont hills, I spent most of my time with my nose in books - Hardy Boys, and then Bruce Catton - so no one up there was too surprised, when they caught me with my nose in the iPad that I was reading more Civil War history. They didn't bat an eye...

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