|CREDIT: Magnetic SnapStylus|
An iPad could be a real contender as the computer of choice for kids heading to college this fall. Compared with a laptop, an iPad weighs a lot less and runs twice as long.
But while few people would dispute the iPad’s worth as an entertainment device, can it be used to get real work done?
Jack Malone, a freshman at Iowa University, thinks so. “Yes, you could start college with just an iPad,” Malone said. “Considering the ever-increasing availability of e-books and textbooks for the iPad, backpacks may soon be a thing of the past.”
Eric Schwartz, the residence hall coordinator at Franklin College in Indiana, agreed. “I think that the iPad has potential to be a great basic college computer once we see iOS 5,” he told TechNewsDaily.
The new operating system introduces over-the-air updates to the iPad, eliminating the need for a separate computer, and offers iCloud for file storage on Apple’s servers.
A handful of universities across the country have initiated pilot programs to test the usefulness of the iPad. Students at Stanford’s School of Medicine, Abilene Christian and Seton Hill have been given iPads, with positive responses from both students and teachers.
Still, an iPad may need some accessorizing to be ready for a new semester.
A note-taking app such as the $1.99 Penultimate and a good stylus (such as the Magnetic SnapStylus invented by Malone, available for $10 in August) can be invaluable for taking notes, turning an iPad into a virtual infinite sheet of paper.
Franklin College’s Schwartz also recommended the $4.99 Adobe Ideas for sketching and ia Writer, another $4.99 app that aims to eliminate distractions by only what you’re writing.
Some students have mastered the virtual keyboard — claiming it’s faster than the now old-fashioned physical keyboard — but those kids are still a minority.
For those who prefer a more tactile typing experience, Apple's Bluetooth keyboard can be a handy iPad accessory, Schwartz said.
Apple offers two keyboard options. An all-in-one keyboard dock is available for $69, but if you’d like to have the flexibility to vary the distance between the keyboard and your iPad, you could buy a docking station for $29 and a separate wireless keyboard for $69.
While some students can submit papers as electronic files, others must print them. The iPad comes with Airprint, but a compatible printer from HP must be used.
The availability of textbooks will determine how much studying can be done on an iPad. San Francisco-based Inkling, a digital publisher that turns college textbooks into interactive learning aids, will offer the top 100 freshmen-level textbooks this fall with savings of as much as half off the hardcover price. Better yet, the company sells individual chapters for $2.99 each.
But even students who are taking courses that don’t offer iPad-compatible e-books can benefit from iPad study aids.
For instance, Evernote recently launched its free app, Evernote Peek, that works with the iPad 2 Smart Cover to create sets of automated flashcards. Students type their study questions and answers into an Evernote document. Open one flap segment of the Smart Cover to see a question, open two segments to see an answer.
Students can also do school presentations with their iPads using Apple’s $9.99 Keynote app. The app will also run Microsoft Powerpoint files and can display content on a larger monitor with the help of an adapter.
“The Dock Connector-to-VGA adapter that Apple sells is great for using the iPad in the classroom, since it will mirror the iPad 2's display, but can also be used for presenting with Keynote on both generation iPads,” Schwartz said. An HDMI adapter is also available. Both retail for $29.
“Most residence halls and apartments are wired for Ethernet, but may have poor or nonexistent Wi-Fi access,” Schwartz said.
Furthermore, even Wi-Fi networks can become overloaded. Unfortunately, a school can’t just add more access points above a certain number because they will begin to interfere with one another. You could run into trouble at the library during exams week or in a packed lecture hall.
If this is a concern, consider purchasing a 3G-equipped iPad, which can connect to the Internet using cellphone data networks. Expect to pay $129 additional and at least $20 a month for data.