- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Question: Could I spend five days on the road working with a tablet computer and not a notebook PC as my primary data system?

Answer: “Kinda sorta,” and therein lies a tale.

In late February and early March, your columnist was at a specialized trade show in Nashville, Tenn., interviewing authors and speakers, covering a speech and working remotely. Unlike on most other trips, however, I didn’t carry a notebook computer, but rather the soon-to-be “old,” or first generation, version of Apple Inc.’s iPad portable tablet computer. I added a few accessories and hoped to be able to do most, if not all, of my work toting a system much smaller in size and with far better battery life.

The results were decidedly mixed. Thanks to “cloud computing,” wherein services and data reside on the Internet or “in the cloud” as geeks like to say, I could do several things without too much hassle: Work and personal e-mail headed that list, but some document editing and sharing also were accessible this way.

Add a $29 Apple “camera connection kit” to the iPad and you can either read SD-format memory cards or connect a camera directly via a USB cable. That should let you upload a bunch of photos for editing on the iPad and subsequent transmission.

How did all that work out? Again, it “kinda sorta” did.

E-mail, Internet surfing and other Web-based work went reasonably well: Add either Apple’s Wireless Keyboard ($49 list) or the Kensington KeyFolio ($99 list; $59 at Amazon.com) and you’ve got a Bluetooth-based way of inputting data and navigating the Web. The Apple Wireless Keyboard has a nice feel to it and can be used with the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation. The KeyFolio puts the iPad in landscape orientation so that you can use its keyboard. The KeyFolio keyboard is also quite good and adds some iPad-specific control keys.

If you’re not using the KeyFolio, the $49 iChair iPad stand is superb: It’ll give you support for both modes, portrait and landscape, but in portrait mode, the fold-out easel stand is just excellent. I recommend it highly.

Where did things fail? Principally in terms of communications, at least via Wi-Fi. The photo files my camera generates are large; because of this, transmitting photos via the iPad using Wi-Fi was a long and ultimately unsatisfying process — the photos didn’t go through.

That poses a problem for me workwise: Reporting stories and sending photos is a big part of what I do. Then again, it also would be part of the work of, say, an insurance claims adjuster, an interior designer or a real estate broker, to name a few professions. If such work can’t be done easily via a tablet, then there’s a problem.

The lack of Adobe Flash support on the iPad was much less of an issue than I thought it would be. There were some websites where there was content I could not access, but fewer than I’d imagined. Frankly, not having some of those distractions was a plus. Still, the Flash issue is a limitation, one I might have to take more seriously if my work depended upon it.

Otherwise, the iPad performed quite well. I could do most Web surfing easily. Writing with either Apple’s Pages application or some other iPad-specific word processor was enjoyable. Except for the aforementioned photo issue, data communication was a breeze.

Then again, I was gone for only five days, my deadlines were a tad more flexible, and when I got back last Wednesday, I could quickly upload and transmit my photos as needed. Were this a longer road trip, I might have had more difficulty.

The just-announced Apple iPad 2 may solve some of these problems as it releases Friday, and other tablets coming to market this year promise more capabilities. There’s even talk of an iPad 3 already.

But this much is clear: Answers for mobile computing needs are getting smaller, lighter and faster. As technology in this space improves, my road-warrior “fantasy” (and perhaps yours) may soon become a rock-solid reality.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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