Saturday, January 15, 2011

Article: Intel Fanboy's Journey to the beyond, err, Apple® iPad

Well, it should be apparent that I'm no Apple® lover; if not, well I'm saying I am not an Apple® lover. What with Mac being based off a different architecture back then. However, not that I hate Apple, specially when Apple® made one of their greatest decision: go x86 on their "computer" platform (there, I never called Apple's devices "PC"). It's just that, like many others in the computer era, I belong to the "masses" of Windows user. And being this as my first ever "Apple device", I am now a newbie, novice, or back in the the days of CB radio, I am what they call a "green apple" (pun intended of course). Before moving forward with the article, whenever I mention "Apple", it refers to the "x86" platform (i.e. hardware and/or software) or the "company" unless otherwise stated. Also note that the images here aren't mine, I just took em off the interwebz, so if you own the image and offended by me using it without permission, lemme know and I will remove it

I. Why did I even get one?
Certainly, I'm immune to people around me saying how good Apple® product is. I mean, I am an overclocker, a bencher, a tweaker, and Apple® products just doesn't seem to give me that much interest. Not that Apple® isn't overclockable and such, I can think of at least a couple of ideas to put Intel's processor on Apple's Mac platform a few clock boost here and there. However, I just find Apple® products to be good for those who like "boxed in support" or in the PC world, I tend to give advice to non-techie people to get their PC from "MNCs". Apple, for me, seems to be good for their "well proprietary" software and tools and utilities. Windows, on the other hand, gives a lot of flexibility and freedom of choice. So when I started to ponder whether I should get a new tablet device, I never really considered Apple® (not even an iPod or iPad)...

But one fateful day, wifey asked me whether I want to buy an Apple® iPad for my trip going home since it's about 26hrs all the way. And I said, well, I have my laptop with a few movies. However, come to think of it, on the way to meet wifey, I never even bothered to open my laptop as it's too bulky for me. So, I figured I'll get a netbook/ultraportable instead, Costco, BestBuy and WalMart all had pretty good deals.

Going to the store and finding the right netbook/ultraportable (which ranges from $249-$349), I find pretty good deals. However, wifey insisted why would I get a netbook/ultraportable if I already have a laptop, which both runs Windows 7. Chances are that, I won't be using the netbook/ultraportable once I got out of the airplane and head home. But I told her that I can get two netbook/ultraportables for a price of a mid-ranged iPad. Still, wifey insisted that I will get more mileage and usage if I'd just buy an iPad, rather than trying to sell a netbook/ultraportable once I got back home.

So there, I am 90% convinced. But I still never got one. Till the day my kids ask me to buy movies for them for when we start our long drive from Miami to Orlando so they won't get bored. netbook/ultraportable lasts about 6hrs or probably 8hrs, and I read somewhere that iPad lasts for 10hrs, boots up fast, and is easy to use being it "touch" interface rather than mousing around and such. So there, I ran off to the nearest Apple® Store at Boca Raton, and boom, I got myself an iPad. It doesn't help that a co-worker just got one too and said "I even use it in the toilet".

II. UnBoxing and booting up for the first time my Apple® device
When I got it, I don't really feel the excitement to open it. My kids doesn't seem to mind as well, they aren't Apple-inclined as well. All they wanted is anything that can play movies or games, whether it's an Apple® or PC. Anyway, I have to open it because I have to copy my movies to the device and just get on with it and be done with it.

So opened it up, and lo and behold, it's the iPad, yey! Aside from the device itself, there's the charger, and a small envelope with a couple of papers and a metal thingy (which I later found out is the tool for opening the tray for Micro-sim since the one I got is 3G version). For the life of me, I can't figure how to boot the darn thing. I pressed power on (if it was the power on) and there was something in the display (an Apple® logo?), if I recall correctly, it wanted me to connect to something. I thought maybe the battery's drained so I left it plugged in to an outlet for a couple of hours while I take a nap. When I woke up, I tried booting it up again and to no avail. Anyway, I keep looking around the device, and eventually gave up. I was about to go out and return to store, when I got the idea to stick the darn thing to my PC. (I told you I'm a newbie). Hey, don't blame me, there was even no installer CD so I don't even know it needs to be connected to a PC (or probably a Mac too) to boot it up for the first time. I think it's pretty stupid of Apple, I still haven't read the manual so maybe it's in there. But hey, I never knew Apple® can talk to PC, I just have no idea, with iTunes and stupid apps. I thought you just boot it up and off it goes like a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS.

There, so I got the thing running. Apple® wasn't as user-friendly as it claimed to be. I'm a techie guy, and I'm newbie to Apple, but I wasted about 3hrs just trying to boot it up. Sure, most of the 3hrs was spent waiting for the thing to charge, but still, it should be easy to just turn it on. Weren't many handheld devices operate the same way? I mean, you don't need a PC to turn on a cellphone. I also don't think you'd need a PC to boot your PSP. Heck, my printer can turn on by itself without a PC. Why would iPad requires it?

III. A culture shock, iTunes and being a "closed" system
So, the darn thing booted up, thank goodness. It asks for alot of things, it even asks for my credit card, would you believe that? It asks for my "critical" personal info the first time I booted it. And I can't even get past or skip that information screen if I recall, I just need to enter a valid credit card, valid billing info, and what nots. I hope other handheld devices don't follow suit, it's just annoying and downright suspicious for me.

After all is said and done on the set up, I finally am greeted with the familiar iPad screen, at least that's what I always see on the images on the net and that's what is on the iPad box. I quickly tried to find a way if the device is mapped as a storage device on my laptop to which it is currently connected, walahhh, I can't find it. However, iTunes sure says my iPad is "docked" to the PC. After a few research on the net, I gave up. I realize that I can't do much transferring easily between my PC and iPad. I am not sure if the experience is the same when using Mac, but with my laptop and iPad, I can only do things via iTunes.

And oh, so where do I copy all my .MKVs blu-ray ripped movies and how do I copy them? I think it's probably via the "library" thingy, but unfortunately, in my hurry to boot iPad up, I connected the iPad to my work laptop and I don't have movies in there. But I do have movies on my "western digital passport" however, I never tried copying as soon as I realize that when I copy at least 4 movies of around 4GB each file, I'd be filling up the 32GB capacity. Hey no worries I told myself, it's all cool since the iPad's screen isn't big enough to optimize for full HD anyway.

So I downloaded a few movies thru my "favorite" locations, put it up on my portable drive, and went back to iPad. But I decided I don't really want iPad/iTunes to use my work laptop's folders and such so I tried to find a way to copy my files to iPad without iTunes. Boy, am I such a hard headed guy. Good thing, I find VLC for iPad. I was annoyed since its got a price ($2.99?) since VideoLAN for PC is free, and this app is charging me, a simple App want to get me money!!! Oh well, anything for the kids. So I gulp and install the app (later on, I found out, VideoLAN didn't develop VLC for iPad, it's Applidium, and later on, Apple® has to remove VLC from AppStore).

Anyway, the first 720p movie (~1.2GB) I tried to play encountered some nasty comment from VLC. VLC reported that my device may be too slow to play the movie smoothly. But I moved on and just play it, and it was horrible! I almost curse Apple® and Steve Jobs. How come they said it's the best device for web and movie when it can't even play a movie nicely. A few more research here and there and I found out I have to reencode some of my movies to conform to the iPad format and whatnots. Bleh. So I tried it, downloaded those apps for PC and installed them and tried to do the re-encoding. Five minutes into re-encoding, I gave up. The other laptop I'm using is just not powerful enough to re-encode a 1GB movie into an iPad format, at least, not quick enough. It would take me 4hrs to 5hrs for 1 movie, no way I'm going to re encode everytime, for that matter, so I can watch my movies, on a device that is supposed to be user friendly and the best device for watching movies....

It was faster to just download a few movies in standard definition format (~600MB) than to re-encode (not to mention, less stress on the system too). I am getting really riled up with the device, so I just put my attention to adding games. If I can't add movies easily, maybe games is a lot easier, at least my kids can still play games. So I search on the net, where I can download games, simple ones, that my kids can play. Lo and behold, almost everything has a price and I can only install games via iTunes again (what????). Sure, there are games that are "free", but they offer very limited features (i.e. a few levels) or with "ads". I mean, my kids plays full-featured free MMOs on their laptop, and I never even pay a cent to install a game. Simple games are free too, like Poptropica and many other flash-based games. I feel I am being ripped off with this iPad thingie.

But still, since I got this device already, I might as well just install some apps just for the heck of it. So I plunk down some $$$ and installed a few games such as Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, World of Goo, Fruit Ninja, Monopoly, Sim City, Pinball, and Zombie Smash.

IV. I could go on and on, but I will stop here
Yep, I can go on with my frustration and more. However, it's not Apple's fault, at least, not entirely. Being "Windows"-based all my life, and the flexibility and ease of use it offers me, I hate the idea of having my whole tech eco system revolve around iTunes, a Safari Browser, and an email client. Sure, iPad can also function as iPod, a glorified iPod but its novelty is lost upon me. For even the simplest of tasks, this device requires me to install an App (and pay for it) to do even the most trivial tasks. Want to transfer your Word files from your Mac or PC and work on your iPad? Either use iTune in a cumbersome manner or get an App that does that for you. I mean, this feature is as native as a File Manager back in Windows 1.x days, adding Apps for the simplest of tasks brings back memories of my DOS days, where I needed Norton Commander for such simple tasks.

I do appreciate the smoothness and responsiveness of the device. I like how the graphics looks nice and applications runs fine, and though I read a lot of patch updates about crash fix, I never really encountered crashing on my system.

Battery life is as advertised, it lasted me thru out my 5hr trip from Miami to Orlando. And also my 26hrs trip from US to the other side of the world. The device feels heavy the longer you use it, but is portable and easy to carry than a netbook/ultraportable as a "handheld" device. And oh, charging the device isn't quick, while it'll last you about 10hrs, charging from 0% to 100% can set you back 4hrs waiting time with the default charger. No wonder Apple® is selling "dock" so you get to enjoy the device while charging it at the same time. And no, the device never charge using USB port from my PC.

The AppStore and iTunes is seamlessly integrated, you'll get used to it in time, but still, it's very restrictive for what I would like to do.

As I said, the novelty is quickly lost on me. Sure, it's a nice companion device, and I love it and use it for its simplicity. However, I still think and believe that a netbook/ultraportable (for which Steve Jobs compared it before) is superior than an iPad in price/performance. For user experience, I don't really know, it will probably depend on the user. For me, a netbook/ultraportable will be a lot better than an iPad.

My kids don't use the iPad anymore, only during long trips back in the car. But in day to day thingy, for school and fun, they find the PC more entertaining and fun. They can read books just fine with the PC, and can move to bigger monitor, with better keyboard, without needing to buy additional accessory just to type better during chats, or gaming, or doing research.

iPad is great, I love it. But it can never replace a netbook/ultraportable, more so, a full featured laptop. In hindsight, if I'd like games, I should have sticked with Sony PSP, Nintendo DS. But hey, it never hurts to have another device, and join the "Apple Community" if only to while my idle time....

V. Pros, Cons and the Verdict
Cute, simple interface, responsive, long battery life, nice graphics, sturdy hardware, with many accessories to buy

Expensive, not tweak-friendly (hardware and OS), very closed system (requires iTunes for everything), cumbersome to transfer files (requires apps for the simplest of tasks), long charge time, stupid browser, lack of Flash support (yes, i know it before buying, but it still sucks), hard to read the display at outdoor, accessories are very expensive for what they would worth compared to PC, display gets easily smudged leaving you with smudgy screen at the end of the day that you'll probably need anti-bacteria to even let others use it, stupid keyboard UI, pricey Apps, pricey Music download, pricey Movie download, etc. etc. etc.

* If you're an Apple® FanBoy, you'll probably get it no matter what so GET it. But make sure you have a netbook/ultraportable for all other things
* If you're a PC FanBoy who have lotsa money to spare, GET it, and then get a netbook/ultraportable.
* If you're neither a PC FanBoy nor Apple® FanBoy looking for a good mobile computing device, get a netbook/ultraportable. You get more storage and free FULL-FEATURED utilities abound for almost anything
* If you're a tech geek getting tired of your old PC, get a Sandy Bridge, it's out now. Or look for a used Gulftown, or just get a netbook/ultraportable if you would like to fiddle with mobile device
* If you're new to gadgets and wanting to get into mobile computing, get a netbook/ultraportable
* If you're a gamer looking for cheap games while on the go, get a netbook/ultraportable
* If you just want to browse the web and do web stuff, get a netbook/ultraportable, Safari sucks
* If you're rich, get whatever you want but don't forget to get a netbook/ultraportable


Robin Lim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Lim said...

Never mind the netbook. Get a proper 11.6-inch ultraportable. Some are getting close to netbook prices and have a proper Intel Core i3 inside. Intel HD graphics are pretty decent too. The 11.6-inch form factor gives you a better keyboard and normally a larger touch pad.

I would also consider an 11.6-inch AMD Fusion too. :P

(reposted to correct typo's)

death_metal said...

Thanks for the comment Ral and nice to see you "online".

The ultra portable are nice too, but NetBook will soon* (hopefully) get its fair share of glory once Intel really push their AppUp store (

And you know me, that A* product won't be getting a share of my wallet =)