KELLNER: The bearable lightness of computing on working vacation

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PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — While many wander around the Barcelo Bavaro Beach resort in search of the perfect tan - or a cool beverage - your columnist is here attending a conference and working as part of the sponsoring organization.

Instead of lounging by the pool, I’m experimenting, trying to do my work without a regular computer.

I tried this a bit last year traveling in the U.S., but to venture overseas - even to as tech-friendly a place as the Dominican Republic, with Wi-Fi throughout the resort complex and rentable computers in the “guest services” area - without my MacBook Pro was more than a bit anxiety-inducing. Yet, here I am, with “just” an Apple iPad (the newest model), a ZAGG Folio keyboard/case (discussed here last week) and a lot of hope.

I’m fairly confident in the hardware, but computing is more than wires, chips and a display screen. There are the applications involved and whether they can stand up to the demands of full-fledged “desktop” applications. On top of that, would the battery hold out long enough for me to work a full day?

I’ll answer the last question first. In a roughly eight-hour day of working remotely, the battery more than held up, even as I heavily used Wi-Fi, updated and even downloaded applications for the iPad, and plugged in an adapter to take photos off of a memory card. By the time I connected a recharging cable in the evening, I still had 41 percent of the battery life remaining.

Not that many years ago, reviewers such as your columnist were raving, rightly, about a five-hour battery life for a notebook computer. “You can work from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles,” we’d exclaim. Well, the newest iPad, at least, eclipses that and then some.

Now, about those photos. I started off with the pre-installed Photo.app common to iPad and iPhone devices. But I quickly switched to Apple’s iPhoto app for the iPad, a $4.99 purchase that offers all sorts of editing, retouching, sizing and other tools, as well as a bunch of artistic effects unneeded with the news photos I take, but nice to have when assembling a vacation scrapbook.

While Apple will happily sell you more expensive (and more capable) photo-editing software for your desktop computer (if it’s a Mac, that is), I have a feeling that for many people in most situations, the iPhoto app will be more than sufficient. I especially like its ability to post quickly to Facebook, Flickr and other online places, including iTunes, in order to synchronize a photo library with another iTunes-friendly device.

Last week’s column offered lavish praise of iA Writer, the 99-cent word-processing app that’s my new favorite for clean, simple writing. But I have to add that juggling multiple files (one for notes, one for the final report) in this app was very easy; a couple of finger taps and I was switching easily.

That’s important, the finger-tapping thing: With the iPhoto app and with many other iPad applications, your fingers replace a computer mouse. I thought I’d miss the latter in both photo-manipulation and word processing, but I truly don’t. That’s another plus on the road, I think.

About the only thing I truly “missed” on the road was the one time Adobe Corp.’s Flash program wasn’t available - when I wanted to read the electronic edition of The Washington Times while traveling. It’s a no-go, sad to say, but the regular website worked just fine.

And while I remain thrilled with the iPad’s battery life, there’s nothing wrong with having a backup. On this trip, I’ve given the myCharge Portable Power Bank 6000, $99 from www.mychargepower.com, a workout. It performs as advertised: The 6000mAh battery pack can charge an average smartphone four times, and it’ll bring an iPad back to nearly 100 percent power.

My favorite feature isn’t so much the power this tiny pack provides as the built-in Apple-standard connector, along with both Micro USB and Mini USB connectors. Together, these hard-wired connections will handle almost anything you might carry, but just in case, there’s a full USB port as well.

Flying down here (and back) will involve nearly eight hours of air travel and layovers. I’m glad to have this extra power source if needed. I highly recommend it.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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