Scott's Column
Apple iPad & Microsoft Surface

July 3, 2012
By Scott Lewis

Introductory paragraph goes here.

Current Topics:


I have an iPad now. So... the big question is... do I need or want a laptop to go with it? Also, I will cover a couple of items with using the iPad.

First... I have not spent enough time with the iPad to determine if it can do everything I need without getting a laptop. As it turns out I cannot afford a laptop at this time. So I have time to think about it.

As for using the iPad... one thing I would do with a laptop would be to work on this web site. I cannot run Microsoft's Expression Web (my web site editing tool) on an iPad. However, the majority of what I do - write articles and such - can be done in text. So... the hunt is on to find a text editor that will allow me to take notes... and sometimes long notes... on the iPad while relaxing on the couch.

So far I have tried PlainText. The free version displays ads at the bottom of the screen, and there is a $1.99 paid version to remove the ads. PlainText integrates with DropBox... which I already use. I keep text files (among other files) in a folder on my computer and have DropBox monitor that folder. This allows me to log into my DropBox account from any browser, download a text file, edit it, and upload it.

PlainText does something of its own. Once you open a document in PlainText, it saves your edits into a PlianText folder within the folder I have designated for DropBox. This ads a small step when not using my iPad. When using my PC I must navigate to a sub folder, and make a point to keep all text files in this sub-folder, or I will have multiple copies which could get confusing.

After poking around with PlainText... I found where you can change the default folder setting. I did that and wrote this paragraph from my iPad. It synced in the normal place I keep my notes for my web site. If I am going to do this on a regular basis I am going to have to get used to typing with the on screen keyboard on the iPad. I can put the screen in landscape mode and lay the iPad on my coffee table and type at a decent rate. It does take more concentration than I would prefer, so I may miss something on TV when trying to multi-task.

The next issue I came upon was white space. Actually... returns. PlainText saves the text files in a way that Notepad does not see any returns. It just looks like all the text from the entire file are strung together. I do not like this. It made it impossible for me to read the edits I made in Notepad. To get around this I edited this document on my PC with Notepad++, a robust text editor I use. But I do not normally use Nopepad++, so again this could be adding a step. Also, if I were accessing my text files from a computer without Notepad++ then it would be impossible to make updates.

I did check PlainText's FAQ, and they do acknowledge this. Basically you need to use a text editor that understand UNIX style line breaks. Notepad does not... Notepad++ does.

Update: After using the iPad for a couple of weeks... PlainText on the iPad and Notepad++ on my PC seem to be working well. I did have to make Notepad++ the default application for all TXT files, but this is a small consideration. Overall I am getting along fine with this arrangement.

PlainText is recommended for text editing on the iPad.

Video Watching is the next thing on the iPad's To Do list. It works perfectly... if for the same problem I have with my Zune. Let me explain. I typically go to the gym and walk/jog/run on a treadmill for cardio workouts. I prop up my Zune on the shelf people normally use for books. This works very well except for two issues. 1) The Zune does not accept AVI files... which most of my video files are. I find it ironic that Microsoft started the AVI format and then does not support it in its own hardware. Go figure. 2) The size of the Zune makes it difficult to see detail.

The iPad cures issue number two because of its size. However, Apple does not support the AVI format either. I did a little poking around and found AV Player HD. This is a video player for the iPad. It plays many formats... including AVI, MP4 & MKV... all the formats I use.

It took a little time to get used to how AV Player HD works. You transfer files to it through iTunes. It seems strange at first, but overall I like it. I can create folders to keep videos in. This works very well for episodes of TV shows, or series of movies... like the Bourne series. With iTunes all videos are in a single list on the iPad.

AV Player HD is not your typical Apple like product. It is a bit techie... where Apple commonly hides as much of what it is doing. But then you can't create folders to organize your videos in Apple's Video App. The techie part comes with how you do this. You can only create folders on the device itself. They then show up in iTunes for the app, but you can't copy files to the folders. You must first copy them to the device (in its "root" folder). Then on the device you move the videos into the folders you created.

This is a few simple steps that Apple would hide from you, but then it is also more restrictive. I prefer more control... and the much larger format support of AV Player HD.

AV Player HD is $2.99 and I highly recommend it if you have videos in formats that iTunes and the native movie player on the iPad do not recognize.

I loaded Wordpress on my iPad, as I use Wordpress for my blog. I am not thrilled. It will surely work for adding quick blog posts, but not much more. When looking at existing blog entries it shows you the HTML tags it generates for links and such. This is a huge burden if you are trying to add a link from scratch. And it makes editing an existing post worrisome in case you accidentally break that link syntax.

There are no editing option to add links, so again you better know your HTML by heart. There are also no formatting options. So, like I said, you can add a quick post or do some very light editing to an existing post, but you will not be using the Wordpress app much. I will be looking for a better app for this.

Battery life on the iPad is amazing. I cannot tell you exactly how long it lasts because I have never used it for a long enough stretch to drain the battery. Maybe when I use it for travel I will have a better feeling for how long it can play video on a single charge.

Next month I will run down some other apps I have found useful or not.

Overall... I like it... a lot. So I won't be looking at the Google Nexus which is too little (literally) and too late (literally).


Microsoft Surface

Microsoft showed off its own tablet... called Surface. They are going to sell two main versions. A consumer oriented version that will go head to head with the iPad. It would use an ARM processor and run Windows RT. This is a version of Windows that only has the Metro touch interface.

Microsoft will also have a professional version of the Surface that will be thinker and heavier, but it will use an Intel Core i5 processor (presumably an Ivy Bridge processor) and have a full version of Windows 8 with both the Metro and the desktop version of Windows 8. This would have been perfect for me if I still needed a laptop for development. And I see this being a potential threat to the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga.

Unfortunately, Microsoft waited too long. I have an iPad and I seriously doubt I would change brands. I don't have much apps, but I do have some paid apps, and don't want to pay again.

Sorry Microsoft. I waited as long as I could. You just took too long to get into this... and we still don't know if you will succeed. But I wish you well.

The Surface tablets come with (optionally???) a cover with a keyboard built in. This looks really cool, especially for the Pro version which will have a track pad in its cover/keyboard. This could make the Surface Pro a possible replacement for a laptop and table all in one... something I really would like to see.



As I said, next month I will cover some apps for the iPad. I will also take a quick look at the current laptop marketplace. Apple did update the MacBook Air (barely) and I saw a nice looking Vizio UltraBook with a 14 inch screen with 1600 x 900 resolution.