The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

Great notebook on the App Store – free til July 7

Wondershare’s iDraft app for note taking / sketching / doodling is free for a limited time (July 1 to July 7). I downloaded it and after a few minutes of playing around I’m pleasantly surprised. The “feel” of the electronic ink, especially when using a stylus, rivals that of any other notebook app on the store. You write quickly for thin lines and slowly for thick. In fact it could even be a touch more convincing than Penultimate, my current benchmark for “ink flow”.

This picture is worth a thousand captions.

Just like Penultimate, it offers different ink colors and an adjustable nib width, but I think iDraft has a better system for organizing notes and notebooks. Too bad iDraft doesn’t have Penultimate’s “wrist detection” feature – you have to elevate your wrist off the screen as you write to avoid confusing the iPad. Also, iDraft doesn’t have the stylish Moleskinesque appearance of Penultimate.

Grab it now while it’s still free. (EDIT: For serious note taking – the kind that fills up an entire legal pad – I still recommend Note Taker HD)

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July 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Case to Case (Part 2) – Cyn and her Piel Frama

Today we bring you the second half of our case roundup, written by guest reviewers. My wife Cyn tells us about her brand new leather Piel Frama iPad case. Does she like it? I’ll spoil the ending now: Yes, she does.

I love surprises. And the best kind are the ones you get which you didn’t even know you absolutely wanted.

When I first got my iPad, I immediately bought a CaseLogic neoprene sleeve. Annoyingly, the only choices were black, pink, and depressing moss green. I settled for pink, but was bothered that I now had two separate pieces that I had to take care of. ¬†It was aggravating because Vic would be right beside me casually flipping open his official Apple iPad case, while I was wrestling with two pieces, the iPad and the sleeve. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the boring black apple iPad case… I’m sure you understand why. (Vic: BORING!? Hey!)

So I was happily surprised when Vic one day came home with a beautiful orange box for me to open, elegantly labelled Piel Frama – which I had never heard of before but whose gorgeous label had me intrigued.

Waiting for the unboxing

Lo and behold, a handmade, leather, notebook-type iPad case, which came in my most favorite color, with pretty stitched edges. (It also comes in happy orange, serious black, and upscale black, among other colors. Adjectives are mine, of course.). Functionally, it looks like the official case but in a much more personalized color, and is sexier to the touch.

Inside the box

It perfectly fits the bare iPad in a frame-like compartment, though with my full-body Wrapsol protective film, it was a bit too snug. Freed from just the front wrap, the iPad now fits just right. I would never have thought of taking off the screen protection before, but with the the book cover, I’m confident that my iPad is safe.

All ready to go

The case has raised sides around the iPad screen edges, which can very occasionally get in the way of your writing. Other times, though, it serves as a palm-rest to avoid accidental “pinches” of the screen.

Not a stitch out of place

On some surfaces, I can use the front cover as an iPad stand, to make a nice photo frame. However, on slippery surfaces (oh, like an office desk perhaps), it’s constantly falling over. For me, that means that my iPad can never be a photo frame at work. Yeah, big boohoo. ūüôā

Pretty as a picture frame

The docking port, buttons and speakers are all comfortably accessible, so the case doesn’t interfere with use or sound. But no port covers means that, if you’re ever unlucky enough to get your iPad splashed, there’s absolutely no protection there even with the case closed. Of course, you’ll also be crying over the fact that your handmade leather case just got splashed, and at an undisclosed price Vic won’t reveal (Vic: It retails for $140 but I was able to find it for $99) that’s a lot to lament.

The inner covers are devoid of any pockets and stuff. Quite prettily embossed with the Piel Frama logo, but it lacks anywhere for me to put a calling card or any identifying mark.

The biggest downside with having a lovely case like this is that, now, I’m mortally afraid of putting my iPad down on any surface – ANY surface. Oddly I was more comfortable putting down the bare iPad.

But that’s just because I love my case so much!

Case closed!

Check out the other styles and colors on the Piel Frama website.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Case to Case (Part 1) – Hoho Does DODO

For the first time here on The Third Device, we’ll be featuring guest reviews! I’ll be bringing you a pair of iPad case reviews from two fellow geeks (one is an old friend from the Bay Area, and the other happens to be my wife, and I think you’ll be able to tell which is which). Today in Part 1, Horace Posadas give us an overview of his new DODOCase.

DODOCase 1

After 6 weeks to the day, my DODOCase has finally arrived! I first came across the DODOCase at The Unofficial Apple Weblog (www.tuaw.com). They had posted a review and it definitely caught my eye but, at that point I was still on the hunt for my iPad, so I didn’t order one. Big mistake, the day the review came out was the day they logged the largest set of orders. The first batch of cases came out with a handwritten and numbered library card, a nice touch. Too bad my order fell way short of getting the first printing.

The case itself feels very sturdy. The cover and back are made of wood covered to make it look like a leather bound book. It looks very deceptive especially when I am walking around the office, people hardly give the iPad a second look.

DODOCase 2

The tray holding the iPad itself is made from bamboo and is the only part that is machined, everything else is hand made, from the covers to the bindings. To keep the iPad from falling out of the tray, there are what looks like neoprene corners to keep the iPad snugly in place. If you turn the case over, the iPad stays firmly in place. One thing that I have noticed is that after a couple of weeks of using the DODOCase, the corners have been compressed so much that the iPad isn’t held as firmly in place as when the case was new.

DODOCase 3

The tray is CNC machined to exact measurements that it fits the iPad exactly, not even a millimeter of space along the sides. There are cutouts along the top, side and bottom, allowing access to the various iPad controls, including syncing and volume controls without having to take the case off.

DODOCase 5

The spine puts the iPad at a nice angle for typing on a desk, or even on your lap. The downside of this, at least for me, is that it puts the home button on the left side of the screen, whereas I like having the home button on the right.

A garter is provided in the style of Moleskines to keep the cover securely in place when the iPad is not in use. When closed the DODOCase looks very much like a Moleskine Folio, one of the larger ones anyway. Add the Penultimate iPad app, then you’ve got a pretty nice digital Moleskine.

DODOCase 4

The iPad weighs about 1.5lbs, the DODOCase adds another 0.5. This makes the iPad noticeably heavier to carry around, but not obnoxiously so. The case also adds another 1/8 of an inch to the iPad’s thickness giving it a nice heft to it. Both the case and the iPad fit inside an Incase netbook neoprene case. I know it sounds weird to put a case inside a case.

The DODOCase is definitely one of the more popular cases for the iPad, so much so that to they are actually raising their prices from $49.95 to $59.95 as of July 1. All in all, the DODOCase is well worth the $49.95 that I paid for it, not sure if I would order one at $59.95 though.

(Horace Posadas is a photographer, gadget geek and longtime Apple fan based in the Bay Area. You can view his personal website at http://www.ph-photo.com)

July 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Americanize your iPad

I envy US Apple fans. Not only do they get first crack at everything, they also have access to apps and services that the rest of us either have to wait for, or never get to use at all. American residents enjoy music streaming services like Pandora, video streams from Hulu, Netflix and the TV networks, and can pick from a couple of thousand extra books on the Amazon Kindle store shelves.

Today I’d like to discuss how you can set your iPad up so that it thinks it’s logged on from the United States rather than from here in good ol’ Pinas. When it comes to sourcing media from abroad, there are lots of little loopholes you can take advantage of, which is why I have a US iTunes Store Account and a US Kindle account without having actually possessing a US credit card – but that’s the subject for another post.

First off, here’s the most important ingredient: you need a VPN service. In corporate usage, a VPN allows you to access your company’s network from wherever you may be in the world, via the public Internet. But for our purposes, a VPN also allows you to connect to a computer (say, in Seattle, USA) then appear to the rest of the Internet as if your own machine is logged on from that same location.

I highly recommend HideMyNet.com, which not only maintains servers in various US cities but in the UK, Singapore, Germany, and other European cities as well. They charge $5/month for unlimited usage.Their setup page has easy to follow instructions for iPhone, OS X, Windows, and of course the iPad. (And if you do sign up for an account, tell em I sent you!)

HideMyNet.com

Once your VPN is configured, all you have to do is toggle the slider switch. The iPad will negotiate with HideMyNet’s servers, and (if all goes well) in a matter of seconds you’ll see a “VPN” box appear next to your Wifi signal indicator.

Pandora + iOS4 multitasking = Love.

Now for the fun part. If you launch Pandora, or Hulu, or the ABC.com app, you will no longer see a territorial restriction warning. Have at it, and have fun.

Easy as ABC ... dot com.

Incidentally, while Pandora works great, especially on a multitasking iOS4 device like my iPod Touch, the Hulu app for iPad sucks. Better to set your VPN up on a laptop or desktop as well and just access the content off the Hulu website.

Enjoy!

July 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 14 Comments

The iPad and Autism

I was sent a link to a very inspiring story about how the iPad is turning out to be a powerful learning tool for autistic children. I’m also impressed how many apps there are out there specifically for kids with autism.

“My son Leo’s life was transformed when a five-dollar raffle ticket turned into a brand-new iPad. I’m not exaggerating. Before the iPad, Leo’s autism made him dependent on others for entertainment, play, learning, and communication. With the iPad, Leo electrifies the air around him with independence and daily new skills. People who know Leo are amazed when they see this new boy rocking that iPad. I’m impressed, too … I don’t usually dabble in miracle-speak, but I may erect a tiny altar to Steve Jobs in the corner of our living room.”

Read the complete article here:

http://www.blogher.com/ipad-nearmiracle-my-son-autism

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

PDF faceoff: iBooks vs Fast PDF

The big news today is that iOS4 is available to download for iPhone and iPod Touch owners. For iPad users, we still have some waiting to do.

Along with the new OS comes an updated iBooks app which (finally) supports PDFs. I dumped a couple of PDF magazine files to my iPad and tried to gauge if it was any better than Fast PDF, which is my current favorite reader app.

Both Fast PDF and iBooks feature a bookshelf view, and they look strikingly similar to each other in this mode. It’s worth noting that iBooks keeps PDF content on a separate bookshelf from your regular ePUB books.

The iBooks PDF bookshelf

The Fast PDF bookshelf

Fast PDF List View

I opened the same magazine file in both iBooks and Fast PDF. I know it was naive of me to even hope for iBooks to bring its awesome page turn animation to PDFs, so I shouldn’t be disappointed at its absence. But that would have been so cool.

The page turning speed on both readers seemed to be reasonably fast, as long as you wait a few beats after opening the file to let the cache build up. However the big difference came during spread-and-pinch operations. When you zoom into text on iBooks, there’s a definite lag before the jaggy text shifts into full resolution. FastPDF earns its name by being rendering things … well, faster.

Another downside to iBooks: for now, you can’t view facing pages in landscape view. You’re limited to just the single page, whereas Fast PDF will let you view both pages simultaneously.

FastPDF landscape view

iBooks landscape view

A unique feature that Fast PDF offers which I use quite a lot: it has a built in web browser that allows you to surf without leaving the app. Even better you can use it to select and download PDF files off the web straight into the app’s bookshelf. During the download process, you can’t quit FastPDF but you can still open up a file to read while waiting for the transfer to complete in the background. Not quite multitasking, but I’ll take it. And should you still need to transfer via cable, you can drag and drop via iTunes App Sharing.

Lest you accuse me of being a FastPDF shill, I urge you to also consider another app, namely GoodReader. The latest build offers much improved pre-caching that puts it right up there with FastPDF, plus support for VGA out, the ability to crop margins to maximize your screen space (good for scanned files) and FINALLY, horizontal swipe page turning. GoodReader also offers the ability to connect to popular servers such as MobileME, DropBox, GoogleDocs, or any other WebDAV or FTP server. However, the current look and user interface makes it feel more like a file utility than a reader app, so I prefer to use FastPDF for now.

PDF support is a welcome and much anticipated addition to iBooks. But it still has some way to go before it will compete with third party offerings. If PDF reading is important to you, the $2.99 for Fast PDF or an even cheaper $0.99 for GoodReader should be worth it.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

External keyboards and the iPad

Okay, touchscreen keyboards are getting pretty good. And Apple’s implementation is particularly solid. But I’ve always been a tactile, physical keyboard kinda guy . On my Blackberry and on my Macbook Pro, I can type just about as fast as I can talk (which believe me, is pretty fast). On the iPad, not so much.

Now not everyone knows this, but the iPad does support the use of an external Bluetooth keyboard. The folks at Cupertino would of course prefer you use the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock, or even the  Apple Wireless Keyboard, but in reality almost any Bluetooth keyboard will work. Which is a good thing because neither Apple keyboard is quite portable enough to slip into a gadget bag.

Back in the heyday of PDAs (Palm, iPAQ, Pocket PCs, etc), portable folding keyboards were readily available and somewhat popular. Initially these were infrared and needed to be pointed at the host device to work, but later on they became Bluetooth enabled and more versatile. But as PDAs fell out of favor, these accessories eventually disappeared from the market.

I was able to track one down on eBay for a reasonable amount (well, $50 seemed reasonable to me) and just took delivery of it today. It’s called the Stowaway Sierra and is (or at least, was) made by a company called Think Outside.

Stowaway

The Stowaway Sierra

The Sierra is pretty unique in that it folds out in several sections to form a full sized keyboard complete with dedicated number row (which most portable keyboards sacrifice). When unfolded and laid flat on a table, it feels sturdy enough and you can type with confidence – but obviously, because of its construction, it’s not as stable or as rigid as an Apple Wireless Keyboard would be. You can’t lay the Sierra in your lap and type on it; it will buckle and collapse unless you tuck a magazine or hardbound book underneath.

Cue transformers theme! "More than meets the eye..."

The keyboard came with an installer CD in case you plan to use it with a desktop computer or PDA – not going to be much use with an iPad, though. However, the pairing process was extremely straightforward – just hit a tiny recessed button on the Stowaway and then open up the Bluetooth preference pane in the iPad settings. The iPad gives you a number to type in on the keyboard, you type it in and then hit Enter, and bada bing, you’re all set to go. It will hold the pairing even when you fold the keyboard back up, so the next time you need to use it you can just start typing straightaway.

And now to type this blog post.

Of course, you’re still dealing with a touchscreen OS, so the cursor keys have no effect, and don’t think that you can take the next step and pair up a Bluetooth mouse either. But for the meat and potatoes typing – you’re good to go.

So, you might ask – why go to all the trouble of buying a touchscreen device and then buying an external keyboard? Why not just buy a laptop?

The answer, in a nutshell: flexibility! It all depends on what you need to do. For about 75 to 80 percent of what I use my iPad for (surfing, Twitter, games, ¬†reading) I don’t need a keyboard. But for long emails, chat sessions, and in fact even for typing this blog post: it’s unbelievably liberating to be able to type on a real keyboard that I can just tuck back into my bag when I’m done. ¬†The Stowaway/iPad combo is still a heckuva lot lighter than carrying a laptop. The Apple iPad Case also sets up at a great angle for BT keyboard typing, and color coordinates with the Sierra pretty well too.

Next project: an external DVD burner! Just kidding.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Taking notes on the iPad

Both my wife and I are inveterate note scribblers, our preferred method usually being a Moleskine or equivalent. As I mentioned in a previous post, we also have a modest collection of fountain pens.

I’ve been eying the Penultimate app on the store for quite some time now, since it essentially replicates the Moleskine look and feel. However, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase it because I just don’t see myself writing anything using only my finger, unless it’s “WASH ME” on the back of someone’s car.

That all changed the other day when I found Pogo products for sale at the newly renovated Power Mac store in Greenbelt. I picked up a Pogo Stylus for myself and a Pogo Sketch for Cyn. Both are similarly constructed – a thin barrel with a soft foam tip on the end that brings to mind an eye makeup applicator. This is because a stylus needs to be capacitive to work with the iPhone or iPad; any old plastic spears you have lying around from the Palm Pilot days may actually do your screen more harm than good. (Here’s a link to a method for making your own capacitive stylus – let me know if it works for you!)

In celebration of my newfound writing instrument, I downloaded Note Taker HD and Penultimate from the app store. Cyn and I spent a few days scribbling with both apps and here are some of our thoughts.

With regards to the writing experience – Penultimate is possibly the closest you’ll ever get to putting a real pen on your screen. The accuracy with which the screen tracks your ink flow is remarkable – fast strokes produce thinner lines, slower strokes give thicker lines and even a hint of blot. You can experience this even with your finger, but it’s best felt with the Pogo stylus. Penultimate also lets you create virtual Moleskine-like cahier notebooks, with the option for ruled, graphed, or blank paper. It also boasts a “wrist detect” mode that you can enable to prevent your palm from leaving marks on the page while you write towards the top of your iPad. It works fairly well but isn’t foolproof, and in fact in my experience is better turned off if you’re writing at the bottom of the screen.

Yes, my handwriting is this bad in real life.

Note Taker HD, on the other hand, is not as elegant or visually appealing. If Penultimate feels like a Moleskine and a broad-nibbed Waterman, then Note Taker HD is a standard issue yellow pad with a Bic ballpen. However, I found myself using Note Taker intuitively and invisibly after only a few minutes of familiarization. In fact, I was quite surprised with how quickly I got used to it.

Not as pretty, but I find it more useful

You can edit in two modes: a whole page, like Penultimate, or Edit Mode 2, which really takes this app to another level. Using Edit Mode 2, you scribble in a small box at the bottom of the screen while your handwriting appears in a resizable target window on the paper up top. If you’ve ever done intensive data entry on a Palm using Graffiti, you know the feeling. Changing the size of the target window changes the size of your writing. Note Taker will even help you scroll once it detects that you’ve run out of room and need to start over from the left edge. ¬†And in a nod to usability, Note Taker will automatically switch back to the pen tool after you’ve selected, erased and lifted off the screen using the Erase Tool. This lets you can keep writing without missing a beat. It’s flawless to use in a real world situation.

Edit Mode 2: the killer feature

Other minor points: both Penultimate and Note Taker HD do not let you adjust “nib size” on the virtual pen. With Penultimate, you’re stuck with what fountain pen aficionados call “a very juicy broad” … no, that didn’t sound right …. and with Note Taker, as I mentioned, you’ve got the equivalent of a disposable ballpoint. Both apps let you export the page or the entire set of pages either as image files or via email. ¬†Only Note Taker allows you to write in multiple colors, which may be a deal breaker for some.

So at this point, it may come down to your own personal preference. I don’t want to call it a battle of style over substance because different people take notes different ways. For instance, Cyn was intrigued by Note Taker HD but she absolutely loves Penultimate. ¬†And I can see myself preferring to use Penultimate for quick phone numbers or shopping lists.

Cyn has found her new favorite notebook app

Finally, I exchanged emails with Note Taker HD creator Dan Bricklin. Dan also created VisiCalc! And if you know what Visi Calc is, then I know how old you are.

Dan mentioned that his future update plans include looking into other inking options, though he would need to balance it with app performance once you factor in lots of different inks and zooming (options that Penultimate currently does not offer). He pointed out that, just as I discovered, “real life use” should always be a priority and in fact it remains his main area of concentration.

Just a reminder to conclude, both apps have pros and cons – but the bottom line is, to get the most out of either of them, you absolutely need a stylus. In fact, just this morning I found myself trying to push my stylus into a nonexistent hole on the top of my iPad. A muscle memory flashback to my iPAQ and Palm days!

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

The iPhone 4 is out! So, what does that mean for the iPad?

So, the next iPhone has descended from the heavens and is finally official. I must say, it’s an amazing creation. The video showing how the phone was engineered and built is like a scene out of a science fiction movie! And of course, it was announced with a whole new slew of features, some of which will be very significant for the iPad platform.

The most obvious of course will be the new operating system. They’ve stopped referring to it as the iPhone OS and are simply calling it iOS, presumably encompassing the iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. Multitasking and folders are some of the more significant features, and it rolls out for the iPhones towards the end of this month. No real word yet as to when it hits for the iPad.

As an avid reader, one of the most exciting developments  for me was the announcement of an impending upgrade to the iBooks app (now available on iPhone for the first time). This would allow you to read PDF files within iBooks without the need for conversion (yay!!). I wonder if this has any implications for the sale of magazines and periodicals on the App Store. Right now, the current model for purchasing standalone, non-Zinio magazine titles (Wired, Time, Popular Science, GQ) is just too damn expensive and kludgey.

The new iBooks app will also give you the ability to create bookmarks and notes as you read. And in a neat tip of the hat to the Kindle’s Whispernet, the latest version of iBooks promises to sync your page location wirelessly across all your iDevices – so if you start reading a book on your iPad in the morning and then over lunch decide you want to read a few more chapters on your iPhone, you should be able to pick up right where you left off.

The FaceTime video chatting feature of the iPhone Quattro is extremely interesting because it could portend the arrival of a video camera in the next iteration of the iPad. True, an iPad can’t do mobile calls but the fact that FaceTime operates (for now anyway) only over WiFi makes it plausible that video chat will show up on all of Apple’s devices. But I think that releasing an iPad with a camera before the launch of iPhone 4 would have definitely diluted the effect of the new phone’s FaceTime feature.

It’s a safe bet that a variant of the Retina Display technology will eventually show up on the iPad as well, but ¬†they’ll probably need a processor boost on the next gen iPad to power that large a display resolution. ¬†To tell the truth I’m already quite pleased with the resolution of books, photos, and movies on my iPad’s display so any further improvement on pixel density will be nothing short of staggering.

Together with the iPhone’s HD video recording capabilities, Jobs also announced a mobile version of iMovie for more sophisticated editing. It remains to be seen if this app will run on the iPad, but it just seems logical to see a scenario where you shoot video with the phone and then export it to the tablet for easier editing and eventual presentation. You can do that with photos after all, why not movies? That, frankly, would be awesome.

These are my preliminary thoughts as the announcement sinks in. We’ve been given a peek at the future roadmap of Apple’s mobile devices (iPad 2.0 will be fantastic, and we’re still trying to get used to iPad 1.0!), and it’s exciting as hell. I can’t help but marvel at how Apple has somehow gotten to the stage where they’ve got two legitimate, powerful operating systems (Mac OS X and iOS) out there powering their machines. As hardware improves and prices drop, will we see their convergence? Or will one dominate the other? Either way, it’s a great time to be a fanboy.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

iPad App Review Wiki – check out the work in progress

If you want to make the most of your iTunes credits, then you owe it to yourself to check out this collaborative wiki page that a couple of friends and I have started. (Login password hint: it’s the city in California where Apple HQ is located!)

We basically figured it would be useful to pool a list of the apps that we’ve purchased and post thumbnail reviews and comments. It’s a good way to discover new titles or get firsthand feedback on an app that you’ve been eyeing. ¬†I’ll eventually migrate this page to the main blog but for now it’s a simple Writeboard page.

Go ahead and browse and if you’d like to contribute your own reviews, be my guest!

June 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment