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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.

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