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The iPad as a Laptop Replacement – My 1 Week Experiment

Every day I seem to love my iPad more and more. I read a few reviews of people declaring that they could easily go iPad-only during their workday and not a miss a beat. I was a bit skeptical of that claim, so I decided that I would try to go iPad-only during my workday and allow myself to use the Macbook while at home.

If you’re short on time, the summary answer is that I the iPad cannot be a 100% laptop replacement for me during the workday. That being said, I did identify quite a few use cases or types of days where it was perfectly fine to go iPad only and leave the Macbook at home.

To give the iPad vs laptop comparison a fair shake, I thought it was only fair to compare an iPad without an extended / additional keyboard to a laptop. While having an external keyboard would have closed the gap between using an iPad and a laptop, the real goal was to see if I could get by with the iPad as is – if I’m going to carry the iPad plus a dock or keyboard, I might as well just carry a laptop. I should also say that I have been using an iPhone for about two years and am very comfortable with the iPhone operating system and user experience.

Broadly speaking, most of the workdays I have fall into one of three main buckets (or a combination of them):

* Heavy Meeting Days – These are days where I have 6-8 meetings during the day, with maybe 30-60 minutes in between each meeting.

* Heavy Transit Days – These are days where I might not have a lot of meetings, but I do have to make a major transit move or two, going from Mountain View to San Francisco, Berkeley, or somewhere else more than 30 minutes from home. The time spent commuting is a pretty meaty chunk of the day, at least 2 hours or more.

* Desk Days – These are days where I’m mostly sitting at a desk of some sort. It can be a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or some other reasonably comfortable place where I can work for blocks of 1-2 hours at least once per day.

The biggest thing I realized from going iPad only is that it’s a total waste of time to lug around the Macbook on days where I am doing a ton of commuting or have a lot of meetings. By and large, I was able to keep up with email, Facebook, the news, and deal with Google Docs and light spreadsheets / presentations on the iPad alone. When I was going iPad only, I basically just deferred any long emails until I got home (which was generally okay) and deferred playing Flash-based Facebook games until I had a Flash-capable device. Overall, I found that I was happy to use the iPad for about an hour straight to do work before I started wanting to have a full keyboard and larger form factor.

Oddly enough, I did not miss having a full keyboard. Unlike the iPhone or my Droid, where I am pretty fast holding the device with one hand and typing with both hands, the iPad does not allow for easy one-hand typing – it’s too heavy and too awkward. The simple workaround for me was to simply defer typing intensive tasks until I had a full keyboard.

There was one very unexpected surprise. The iPad is a much more capable all-day computer than my Macbook. I generally can’t get more than 2-3 hours of useful stuff done on my Macbook on a single charge. On the flipside, my iPad is able to last an entire day on a single charge with nearly constant use.

So, overall, I was pleasantly surprised with using the iPad as a laptop replacement. At least 2-3 days per week I have a combination of commute and meetings that basically make the laptop useless. When I’m on the go, I rarely get the opportunity to sit down, plug in, and get enough work done to justify lugging around the laptop. I’m happy to have found a new device to lighten the bag for days where I’m on the go.

As always, leave a comment if you like.

Comments (20) on "The iPad as a Laptop Replacement – My 1 Week Experiment"

  1. Good post Charles. I like breaking types of workdays into buckets- and those seems to be the three, or a combination there of, that fit most of us.

    I agree with most of your observations and the battery (life) on the iPad is incredible. The new Macbook Pro has a much better battery as well. Maybe it's time for a refresh. (^_^)

    Kevin Bomberry, Able Pear Software

  2. The only way to learn how tech handles is to test drive it all. I attended a talk on mobile devices and they said that they will only proliferate not consolidate. Hmm: seems like manufacturers and consumers are not aiming for the same end goal.

    Obviously. 🙂

  3. Fwiw, I took it on the road for 6 days with no laptop and was golden except when I had to write a document. I ended up typing it up in the notes app and having someone put it into word for me. That was the only problem. Keyboard is a necessity though. Try it with keyboard next time.

  4. it doesn't fit in my pocket, or a belt holster. so i have to carry it in a backpack– which means i might as well have my macbook air in there. or carry it around like a leather bound notepad, in which case i'm afraid i'll lose it. where has my thinking gone astray here?
    (and aren't you in S.Africa now??)

  5. I definitely think of the iPad as a tweener device – it's between the laptop and the iPhone / Droid Incredible. When I'm on the go, I carry it in my backpack – but I always have other crap to carry so I always have a bag with me at all times during the week. During the weekend, I carry it like a book / notebook in it's case while I'm out and about.

    The big difference for me is weight – the iPad and cube charger is a lot lighter than the laptop + bulky Apple charger. So, on days where I am carrying the laptop just in case I have a large block of time to use it, it's a waste of space and weight in the bag. For days where I know I'll need the full keyboard experience, there's not much reason to carry both.

    If your standard laptop is a Macbook air, the most compelling reason to carry the iPad is that it has 3-4x the battery life for roughly the same weight.

  6. ok. If that's the case, then it sounds a lot more like Steve Jobs years ago (at All Things Digital I “D1”, maybe?) saying that a tablet was only for rich guys who can have a few toys, rather than John Doerr saying it'll achieve world peace. At least the way it stands right now…

  7. The principal use case for the device, IMHO, is content consumption. It will
    not cure world hunger or create world peace. If you already have a super
    light notebook computer or netbook, you probably don't need the device. I
    can't think of anyone who really *needs* an iPad. But now that I have it, I
    continue to find more ways to use it. In the same way that m smartphone cuts
    into the amount of time I spend in front of the PC, the iPad cuts into the
    number of situations where I need a full-fledged laptop with a keyboard to
    have a satisfactory or pleasant computing experience.

    It also rocks on the plane. I don't need a keyboard to watch movies or play
    games. Gets in the way.

  8. now, that arg I buy.
    I didn't need email when it came out.
    I didn't need a smartphone before they came out.
    I don't know how I'd now function without either.
    Will see if it goes the same way here, in time.

  9. thank you for sharing.
    i am amidst research on becoming a personal trainer and looking for the right tools to manage email, social networking and database.


    yul meade butler

  10. We were going to get my 14 y o son a laptop for school and home use, but he has become fixed on getting an Ipad. No matter what argument I present, he just wants the latest and coolest gadget, without regard for th limitations (no usb, no flash, no keyboard,no multi tasking etc). Seems to me to be a great gadget in addition to a home computer and not a replacement of a laptop. My 2 cents worth

  11. Hope that Apple could create such item like iPad Carry Bag. Does the MacBook laptop carry bag is enough to carry an iPad?

  12. I plan to buy an ipad as a my hp mini netbook replacement after read tons article and forum.nby buying the ipad camera connection kit, we can use it as an usb port, or the vga out for my presentation in my class (I am a junior school teacher), of course after jailbreaking the ipad to unleash its maximum function.

  13. I am a PC user. I just sold my laptop for an iPad and I can honestly say that I an extremely happy. For a very portable, instantly on, fun to pass and use device, the iPad definitely takes the cake. And after a little practice, I have become quite proficient with the on-screen iPad keyboard.

  14. I have been doing alot of research about the IPad, this article helped to start pushing me over the edge, thanksn

  15. u00a0In my opinion iPad will never has the same value as a computer.ncollegen paper

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