Norma and I recently took a two-week vacation to Oregon. We took her iPad 2 and my inherited iPad “classic.” In preparation for the trip I upgraded my iPad 3G data plan to the 2 gb version. Highly recommended.
We used both iPads extensively for everything from GPS and mapping to streaming video onto a flatscreen television. (Streaming only works with the iPad 2 according to Apple. We had several shows downloaded onto the iPad 2 and had no problems streaming them.) But, naturally, there were some quirks and gotchas during the two weeks. One item I will not discuss is connectivity in general. During the two days we spent in Agness, OR, we did not have connectivity, as expected. Here, in no particular order, are the six problems we found most annoying.
1. Connectivity. OK, I lied just a little bit. AT&T sells two 3G connectivity plans. For $14.99 per month you get 250 mb of 3G connectivity. For $24.99 you get 2 gb per month. The gotcha here is the “3G” part. Many features of the iPad won’t work with AT&T’s old, slower EDGE network. Google Maps seems especially sensitive to this problem. Silly me — I had assumed 3G coverage would also include EDGE. Live and learn.
2. Data download limits. It turns out that you cannot download a file larger than 20 mb over the 3G network. This is undoubtedly spelled out in the EULA. Like everyone else, I didn’t read it. We discovered this trying to download a podcast of “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” an NPR humor show. We were trying to download the podcast because the poor connectivity kept us from listening to the show streaming. When we finally got WiFi access, we discovered the file in question was about 21 mb. AT&T needs to either give us full EDGE connectivity or remove the file download limit.
3. No cacheing, even of single pages. Safari for the iPad can display up to nine web pages in the equivalent of tabbed browsing. But when you tap any of those pages, the iPad reloads it. Come on, Apple — sometimes we just want to read the single page that’s there. The problem is made worse by the previously-mentioned connectivity problems.
4. iPod controls think you’re dead. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the iPod app’s refusal to respond to taps on the screen. It usually took several taps, sometimes more, to make the iPod controls visible. Unacceptable, especially when we needed to turn off the music in a hurry.
5. Bluetooth promiscuity. The iPad will connect to just about any Apple-approved Bluetooth devices in range. Including devices already paired and connected to another iPad in the same room. On a number of occasions I found myself wondering why I couldn’t bring up the on-screen keyboard. The answer: Norma’s wireless keyboard was turned on and talking to her iPad. Unfortunately, my iPad thought the keyboard was talking to it. There are two solutions to this problem. First, better device management. Use the Bluetooth menu to “forget” devices you don’t want to connect. Second, turn off Bluetooth on the iPad you don’t want to connect. Unfortunately, neither of these solutions takes into account a single Bluetooth device that you want paired with both iPads. In our case, that device was ouriHome iDM12 Bluetooth speaker with rechargeable batteries. This little device is wonderful for car trips. The sound is pretty good considering the size. The price is $70 direct from iHome. The speakers support both Bluetooth and direct connection through the iPad’s audio port. However, there is one annoyance: charging can only be done via USB cable. We had a cigarette lighter to USB power conversion device with us but didn’t get around to testing it.
6. “Unable to move [e-mail] messages to trash.” I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen this message. There are dozens of pages about the issue on the Apple support forums. No one seems to know the cause or the cure. Come on, Apple — this issue can’t be that difficult to fix.
After all that, you may think we don’t like our iPads. You would be wrong. There are many, many features to love. The calendar sync, mobile e-mail, maps, and web browsing are enough by themselves. With a little exploration you’ll discover the notes app. More exploration in the app store and you’ll discover AudioNote, a $4.99 note-taking app (Luminant Software, Inc.) that syncs with audio recording (a solid, if less portable, substitute for my Livescribe pen). We did a bit of hiking on the trip and were overjoyed to discoverEveryTrail, an app that uses gps to keep track of your hike. The free version requires you to save hikes on the EveryTrail web site, but the paid version ($3.99) lets you store hikes on your mobile device. Technically this is an iPhone app but it worked pretty well on my iPad classic. And, of course, for strictly business users there’s Bill French’s iPadCTO site.
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