The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

Product Review: Atomic Web Browser

Web surfing on the iPad is undeniably one of the coolest things you can do with it. The screen size and shape is just right for the task, the processor is speedy enough to keep up with your every gesture *pinch! swipe! zoom, flick!* and for the most part (cough, no Flash, cough) it’s a fulfilling experience.

However the onboard Safari web browser doesn’t quite maximize the iPad’s capabilities, especially if you consider yourself a power surfer. For that, I’d like to direct you to a nifty application called Atomic Web Browser.

Atomic does a whole bunch of amazing stuff that Safari can’t do. To wit:

– fullscreen mode

– tabbed mode (a real tabbed mode, not the pseudo-Expose switching that Safari uses to manage multiple pages) – just hold down a link to open in a new tab

– rotation lock

– private mode

– font increase/decrease

– color themes

Tabbed browsing FTW!

And mind you, all of the features enumerated above are those that appear in the free Lite version! I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading right now and clicked on this link to go download it. Go ahead, I don’t mind.

But if you choose to read on (and perhaps pay a measly $0.99) then the full version gets you even more cool features:

– multi touch gesture support (swipe with two fingers back and forth to switch between tabs, tap with three fingers to jump in and out of fullscreen. I absolutely love this feature)

– save pages with images for offline viewing

– spoof your browser identity as Desktop Safari, IE, Firefox, etc.

– passcode lock to launch Atomic Web Browser

When you do install Atomic Web Browser, you’ll need to spend some tinkering with the extensive Settings page. This is where you can configure almost every aspect of the app to make it suit your needs. One of the first steps will be to import your existing bookmarks. Unfortunately there’s no way to grab them straight from the iPad’s Safari app – you have to export them from your computer’s browser (Safari or otherwise), upload them to Atomic’s website, and then tell Atomic to grab them from the server. A little convoluted, but it’s ideally a one-time process.

Once you get up and running, you’ll find that Atomic is a delight to use. I urge you to try opening multiple tabs and swiping from one to the other (if you’re using the paid version) – it’s very satisfying. So is drumming your fingers to zip in and out of fullscreen as you surf, or you can just set Atomic to automatically go fullscreen once the whole page has finished loading. You can deploy a whole slew of customizable buttons at the bottom of the page to help you issue commands in fullscreen mode, and even scale back their transpararencies so they don’t affect your browsing experience.

Fullscreen, glorious fullscreen

One minor gripe is that when I tap the address bar and start typing a new URL, Atomic is not smart enough to wipe everything and start anew – it appends your typing to the existing URL. Safari gets that right. Another potential pitfall: unless you enable the system clock/battery bar at the top of the screen, there seems to be no way to jump back to the top of a webpage in fullscreen mode.

Other  caveats: Atomic does not replace Safari as the default system browser, so Safari will always launch if you click on a URL in your email. You also can’t save a bookmark to the home screen as an icon the way you can with Safari.

There’s a whole bunch more I can write about Atomic, but considering you can get it for free (or next to free) you might as well go ahead and download it to see if you like it. I’m betting you will.

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Managing media on your iPad

I find that having iTunes configured to “Manually manage music and videos” on my iPad is the most useful way to, well, manage your media. By selecting this option, you can simplify your loading process by just quickly dragging and dropping music and videos straight from the Finder onto the little iPad icon in the iTunes sidebar. This avoids the annoying step of having to first copy the media into iTunes and then loading it via the sync process, which can take a while.

Take control of your media

More importantly, this liberates your iPad from being dependent on just one computer – you can hook it up to other people’s computers and copy stuff off of them using the same method.

Although the checkbox says “Manually manage music and videos”  it works for ebooks too! Any ebook files that you have lying around in the EPUB format will automatically appear on the iBooks bookshelf once you drag and drop them onto your iPad. This is a great way to populate your iBooks library with any ebooks that you might already own. I  highly recommend Calibre to do your EPUB migration . It does a good job converting pretty much any (unencrypted) book format, although I’ve encountered an annoying bug with some PDFs where words like “all” and “shall” appear as “al” and “shal”.

Now here’s the interesting part – if you’ve copied music, videos, or books from another computer, there’s seemingly no way to get those files off  your iPad and onto your own computer. Fear not, those files aren’t stuck on your iPad forever. There’s a workaround using a program called Disk Aid which allows you access to the iPad’s filesystem. Once inside, you can grab those files (or anything else you’d like to backup) and copy them over to your own desktop. Watch this video for a look at the process – it’s demonstrated running on a PC but will work equally well on a Mac.

Disk Aid also lets you extract media from iPhones and iPod Touches. It’s $10 but has a 14-day trial, so if you’ve been accumulating stuff on your device and need to do a one time copy, grab the demo and get to it!

Disk Aid to the rescue!

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Product Review: Apple iPad Case

Ever since taking delivery of my shiny new toy, the only concession I’ve made to its safety is the purchase of a simple cloth slipcase. No screen protectors, no rubber moulding, nada.

I did want to buy a case, I just wasn’t sure which one was the right one. Out of all the cases available on the market, the one that intrigued me the most (other than the wincingly expensive Vaja iVolution series)  is the one made by Apple itself. I knew I wanted it the first time I saw photos demoing how you could fold it, flip it over and lay it down at the perfect angle for typing, or prop it up in landscape mode to watch videos or serve as a pricey digital picture frame.

The angled keyboard mode - my favorite

Today, I finally took delivery of one and here are some initial thoughts:

It’s light. Which is good, because when I first picked up an iPad straight out of the box, my first reaction was “OMG this is heavier than I expected”.  So the addition of more weight would not have been a good thing.

It’s reasonably good looking, and sort of masculine. And I hope to God no one ever uses that previous sentence to describe me.

I also like the fact that the embossed Apple logo on the front cover is the same color as the rest of the case; it’s muted, subdued, and stealthy.

The material that the case is made out of is weird. It’s definitely not leather, unless it’s from some strange alien disco cow. I can’t quite tell what it is, but I can tell you what it does well: after only a few hours of use, it’s good at attracting dust, dirt, and various other icky things from the course of your day. I wouldn’t say it feels cheap, but I wouldn’t pay more than the $39 MSRP for this case if I was shopping for it. It does look like it will do a fair enough job of protecting the iPad from scuffs, scrapes, and very very short falls.

It’s EXTREMELY difficult to get the iPad in and out of the case. To wit: I thought I’d spruce up this blog entry by timing how long it would take me to get the iPad out and put it back in. I started the timer and set to work. After a minute and a half of wrestling with the iPad from various angles, I threw my hands up in disgust and said, to hell with it. So basically, once it’s in – leave it in.

The previous paragraph should cause major concern to owners of iPad docks, because there’s no way you’re getting your iPad into that dock once you’ve suited it up in the Apple iPad case. You basically have a choice – case, or dock. Pick one.

Lest I end this review on negative note, let me balance things out by saying that the iPad is a lot nicer to hold now, and less likely to slip through your fingers. I don’t really mind the added step of having to flip a cover around and out of the way. I like the two new “modes” (i.e. landscape picture frame and angled keyboard) a lot.

Little picture frame, meet big picture frame.

And for me, possibly the biggest plus about the Apple case (or any other case of this type) is that in a public area, people won’t immediately recognize the iPad for what it is – you can read books or surf the net without attracting undue attention. All in all, I’m pretty happy with this case.

Until the Vaja arrives. No, I’m kidding. Really.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Product Review: Wrapsol for the iPad

If you’re obsessive compulsive (and most of my gadget-loving friends are) then one of the first things you will buy for your new iPad is a screen protector. There are a surprising number of choices available, and the latest solution to hit the Philippine market is Wrapsol.

Wrapsol claims to be twice as strong as competing brands. In fact they demoed this by filming a Nokia N97 Mini clad in Wrapsol Ultra being dragged behind a car at 35mph. Hmm, forget the phone, maybe I should be wrapping my car in Wrapsol Ultra?

For the iPad, Wrapsol offers a matte-finish film that protects not just the screen but the entire tablet – front, rear, and sides. The product comes boxed with comprehensive instructions, an aerosol mister, a microfiber towelette (similar to the ones made by 3M), and a rubber squeegee. My wife Cyn decided to take the plunge and do the application herself rather than have it done at the store.

Ready to Apply

The squeegee, spray bottle and cloth

The last time Cyn and I applied a protective film was when we coated my old MacBook Pro in ZAGG InvisibleShield.  The Wrapsol was a lot easier to attach, partly because the iPad itself is less complicated and has fewer fiddly little surfaces, but also because the Wrapsol seemed to “hold” its position better while being squeegeed rather than slide around like the ZAGG did. Speaking of fiddly little surfaces: attaching the film to the iPad’s sides and top/bottom is best done with two pairs of hands.

Another difference we noticed between the laptop ZAGG install and Wrapsol for iPad: with the ZAGG, the squeegee would get rid of most of the obvious bubbles and air pockets right away, while with the Wrapsol, no amount of squeegeeing seemed to work. However, we had been warned beforehand that the best way to guarantee a perfect install was just to let the iPad sit unused for a few hours – 24 hours if possible.

Still some bubbles after application but don't worry ...

To tell the truth, the main reason I took so long to write this review is neither one of us could bear to live without using our iPads for 24 hours! Cyn eventually gave in first, so we applied it on her 64GB.

And to her credit, I think she lasted 16 hours. Then she suddenly declared “Ok, I think it should be fine. I need to check my crops!” Yes, that’s what happens when you’re addicted to We Rule.

... good things come to those who wait

Lo and behold, the advice was true. All of the annoying air pockets and bubbles had disappeared, and the screen was immaculate. As for the rest of the iPad, you literally can’t tell without touching the surface that an iPad has Wrapsol on it.

Cyn also remarked on the much-improved grip with the Wrapsol; the iPad’s formerly slippery aluminum back now had a pleasing texture to it and it felt extremely secure in the hands. In fact it’s the aspect of Wrapsol that she finds most appealing.

It’s been a few days now since the install and Cyn is generally happy with the product.  The Wrapsol screen surface tends to have a little more “grab” when doing quick finger motions like page turns or swipes, versus the slickness of  unprotected glass. But other motions like pinches, spreads, and slow scrolls feel about the same.

Now, just to provide a different perspective: one of Cyn’s officemates chose another brand of screen protector, namely Momax. You can see in the photo below that his Momax screen protector (the bottom iPad) diffuses light much better,  is less reflective and has less glare. It also has less “drag” on the fingers, and feels more similar to the original glass surface. But the Momax product is made to fit just the iPad’s screen, leaving the rest of the iPad uncovered.

There’s still no telling how much protection a Momax film will offer against scratches or scrapes versus the Wrapsol film. I don’t think either Cyn or her officemate would want to wage a head-to-head comparison test.

Wrapsol (top) vs Momax (bottom). Note the reflection of the ceiling light fixture.

If you’re really picky about screen quality, the best, no-compromise solution (and the most expensive one) might be to apply the Momax film to the screen and use Wrapsol all over the rest of the iPad’s body. I know of at least one person who’s done this and he swears by the combination.

Both the Momax (P950) and Wrapsol (P1,950) films are available through Digital Hub and its sister chain of stores, Digital Walker. I’ve been informed that the Wrapsol has been surprisingly popular and is currently out of stock, but they should have a new batch coming in soon.

And if you plan to install, be sure you can live without your iPad for 24 hours.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The best iPad stand = Velcro?

Check out this amazing video from DV Culture. This guy has got creativity – and guts!

May 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

iPad Price Watch – May 21 2010

A bit over a month after launch, the iPad is still selling like gangbusters. Local resellers have of course taken advantage by pricing at a considerable premium.

As of today (May 21) I’ve heard of sealed brand new 16GB WiFi units going for as low as P30k here in Manila, but the majority of prices on ebay.ph and PhilMUG seem to be more in the P32-35k range.  Prices for the higher models scale up by around P5k depending on the size … in other words, the range for 32GB units is P37-42k and 64GB units are generally P40k or higher. And let’s not even talk about the prices from a certain mall-based reseller whose name starts with I and ends in x …. ugggh.

With the release of the 3G edition, there’s a sudden glut of secondhand WiFi iPads on the market from people looking to upgrade. There’s a wider variance of prices depending on the generosity of the seller. However, these used units still don’t sell for very much less than the brand new ones  … the lowest I’ve heard of for a 16GB unit is P28k, which is logical considering that the iPad itself is barely a month old.

Given the steep premiums on Apple’s SRPs, your best option is still finding a relative or friend in the US who is willing to pick one up straight from the store.

It’s also worth noting that the overwhelming majority of units out there are WiFi flavored ones – brand new 3G units are extremely difficult to source. Infomax in Park Square has a 16GB 3G, if you’re willing to pay FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND PESOS for a $650 device. According to their salesguy, they also had a 64GB 3G that they just recently sold. I didn’t even want to ask how much they sold it for – I might have not been able to restrain my howl of laughter.

And where to find secondhand 3G units locally? You must be joking.

With regards to original Apple accessories:  they’re out there, but they ain’t cheap. The quick and dirty rule of thumb seems to be to take the US SRP and then just double it! So that’d be around P5k for the Apple Case, maybe around P6-8k for the Keyboard Dock, etc. Side note for Keyboard Dock buyers: The Apple Wireless Keyboard for Macs works perfectly well, at half the price. Surely you can figure out some other way to prop up your iPad.

Feel free to leave a comment if you see prices lower than what I’ve mentioned above, and where you saw them.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Anda, Nico, and the iPad

My 2 year old niece Anda and 1 year old nephew Nico can apparently spend hours playing with the iPad.

Anda, being an advanced reader, seems to like Elmo books very much. She’s also quite adept at navigating through the screens, flicking through pages to find a drawing app (and changing colors and pen sizes), jumping back out with the home button – if a 2 year old can do it, anyone can. Meanwhile, as you can see in the video, Nico relies on Anda to be his “mouse finger”.

It seems Nico’s favorite app is definitely  Pocket Pond HD.

Watch the video and see for yourself – my heart jumped into my throat when they found the mosquito  (it’s actually a dragonfly, isn’t it?).

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Productivity Porn!

Believe it or not, there’s such a thing as productivity porn.

There must be some sort of underlying psychological reason for an unnatural attraction to planners, Moleskines, pens, office supplies, and other paraphernalia; I just don’t know what it might be. Whatever it is, I’ve had frequent bouts with this addiction. In my lifetime, I’ve had more than a few Franklin Coveys, Day-Timers, and other organizers (but not Trapper Keepers).

My wife is the same, if not worse. We both get a kick out of wandering around office supplies stores (ooh! colored mini Post-Its!) and own a reasonably modest collection of fountain pens. I have to put a disclaimer on that because we have a bunch of friends who own absolutely fantastic (and EXPENSIVE!) pens.

Now when it comes to digital productivity, I’ve used a variety of products on my Mac ranging from stand alone organizers like Circus Ponies Notebook to cloud-based systems like Remember the Milk, Evernote, Toodledo (my current favorite) and the now defunct I Want Sandy. I also swear by Google Calendar and the rest of the Google Apps bundle.

However, when it comes to the iPad, the built in organization tools just don’t do it for me. The calendar is a little too basic, and ugh, no built-in to-do list?

A few of my Mac favorites like Evernote and Toodledo have already made it over to the iPad platform but I highly recommend you pick up ToDo from Appigo. As of this writing, it’s currently #1 on the Paid Applications list on the US App Store. And I can see why – the attention to detail and aesthetics is remarkable. Since it features synchronization with Toodledo, it’s in fact a much better client than the app released by Toodledo themselves.

Toodledo on the iPad. Boring!

Toodledo on the iPad. Boring!

Todo from Appigo on the iPad. Gorgeous!

Todo from Appigo on the iPad. Gorgeous!

Am waiting for the upcoming iPad-native version of Pocket Informant to round out my arsenal. How about you guys? Any apps you swear by and would like to suggest?

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Apple’s new iPad ad

Check out Jenny O’s blog for her commentary on the new ad.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back from my first trip with the iPad

Am back from Singapore after a short trip and I have to say, the iPad is a fantastic travel companion. It’s light enough to carry around for an entire day while offering virtually all the functionality of a heavier device such as a netbook or laptop.

It’s great for killing time at the airport, on the plane, or looking up maps and references while on the go. My wife and I would also take frequent short breaks to grab drinks, get out of the heat and rest our feet, and it became second nature to take out our iPads and catch up on our reading. By the way, she prefers novels; I like magazines and news clippings. Must be an attention span kind of thing.

One minor frustration was that we had trouble finding an open WiFi hotspot as we roamed the city. Without a data connection you’re really just limited to offline apps like books and (some) games. Even a 3G iPad would be difficult for me to use when abroad because I’d have to source a local SIM card with a data service. Fortunately our hotel had free WiFi throughout the building.

Another frustration was that I was unable to use my iPad to transfer and upload photos from my camera during the trip. Am looking forward to someday getting an iPad Camera Connection Kit to solve that problem, but I’m in no rush because I don’t have any further trips planned for a while.

Here are some photos from the trip. You can check out the full gallery on my Flickr page.

P1040036

P1040079

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments