The Back to School Dilemma

This past week was my first week of real college.  I dual enrolled last year, meaning I had a few college classes and a few high school classes, but this year I’m an honest-to-goodness full-time freshman.  I’m excited.  Having dual enrolled, I already know what to expect, where everything is on campus, and all that stuff that makes freshmen nervous.  This semester’s going great so far.

Last spring, I wrote several different pieces on using my iPad instead of my laptop at school.  Last fall semester, we did lots of in-class writing in English, so I always brought my laptop.  But spring semester wasn’t like that, and so I opted for an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard instead of my heavier, less convenient laptop.  I really liked this setup last year; it worked well for me.  This semester is different, however, and I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma: do I bring my laptop every day, or my iPad?

I had originally planned for sure to bring the iPad.  I don’t have an English class at all this semester, so the only writing I’d be doing is this blog, which I did on the iPad no problem before.  However, the first day of class made it apparent there’d have to be exceptions to this rule.  My communications class tests will take place online, but will be proctored in person.  This means I have to bring my computer and take the test on it in class.  The teacher said you could bring a computer or a tablet, but I’m definitely opting for the computer.  Using the web on a tablet is great, but sometimes it gets a little wonky, and that’s not what I want during a test.

So no big deal, just bring the laptop on the days that I have communications tests.  It seemed like the rest of the semester I could just use the iPad.  Then I got to my Intro to Electrical Engineering class.  This class was going to have pop quizzes.  I don’t know whether they’ll be online, but if they are, I’ll have to bring the laptop to that class for sure.  Also, looking at the syllabus, it looks like we’ll be doing quite a bit of computer aided design and other stuff like that, so I’ll have to have the laptop there too.  (At first I was worried that whatever software we need wouldn’t work on my Mac.  Fortunately, it turns out that the professor used to work at Apple and is an even bigger Machead than I am, so I’m sure we can work something out.)

So it looks like I’ll have to bring my laptop on Mondays and Wednesdays, if only for the EE class and the occasional communications test.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have history class, and Friday I only have calculus class, so I can definitely get away with the iPad those days.  In fact, I may not need to bring anything at all.  I probably will, though, just in case.  I’d hate to be stuck at school and need to do something that really needs a computer, but all I have is my iPhone.  I’ve had to do that before; it’s not a pretty sight.  ••

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On iPads and Bluetooth Keyboards

Last fall, I wrote about the technology I use on campus at SPSU.  At the time, it included my iPod Touch (now replaced with an iPhone) and my MacBook Pro.  Last semester, I did a ton of in-class writing for English.  The class did take place in a computer lab, but I preferred to bring my own laptop so I didn’t have to fiddle with saving my work to a thumb drive.  This semester, I just assumed that my class would work the same way.  Well, it doesn’t.  The professor is running it as a mostly online course, and we barely meet in class at all.  This means that I do all my writing at home, not at school.  For some reason, though, I kept bringing my laptop anyway.  I realized over spring break that about the only thing I use the laptop for at school is writing this little blog I do called Staring at Phones.  Then it hit me: what if I could do that on my iPad Mini, using a Bluetooth keyboard?

First, I knew I’d have to make some sacrifices.  Microsoft Word for iPad is pretty good, but not quite as good as Word for Mac.  If I ever needed to do any writing, it would be a little bit of a pain.  Also, I can’t upload documents to my online assignment submission from the iPad.  However, I figured that I could always submit when I got home, or if I absolutely had to submit right then I could go to the library and use a computer there.  So I decided that the hurdles wouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Then I needed a keyboard.  I wasn’t yet sure if this would really work out, so before buying a keyboard, I borrowed one that my dad had but didn’t really use.  I used this on campus for about two weeks (in fact, last week’s post was written on it), and decided…

…that I was still a little unsure.  However, I was intrigued enough to go ahead and buy a keyboard, since my dad’s is a little cramped.  It’s meant to be a cover for an iPad, so it’s narrower than a laptop keyboard.  Since I have an iPad Mini, a keyboard cover is completely impractical anyway, so I wanted a full-sized keyboard.  I found what looked to be a good one on Amazon* for only $11 (with Prime shipping).  It had good reviews, and I thought that for $11, it was worth the risk.

I’ve had the keyboard for about a week now, and so far it’s working well (I’m using it to write these very words).  I definitely like leaving my laptop at home; it’s much easier to just grab my iPad as I go and let the keyboard live in my backpack.  The keyboard is the exact same size as my laptop keyboard, and the layout is a total ripoff of an Apple keyboard.  This all means I get the same typing experience that I do on my laptop, which is really nice.  I’m using the WordPress mobile app to write posts, and so far it’s working pretty well.  It’s surprisingly robust.  It doesn’t quite have all the features that WordPress.com has, but I’ve found I can write a post on the iPad and then tidy up the little details the next day when I’m on the computer.  So it’s been working out OK.

The one thing I don’t like about the keyboard is that it’s really loud.  That’s not that big of a deal, but it is a little annoying.  Also, the Bluetooth connection sometimes drops out; I’m still unsure whether this is going to be a real problem or just a minor annoyance.*

In conclusion, I really like using an iPad as my school “computer.”  It’s so much lighter than my laptop, and the tools for content creation are getting better all the time.  (To be fair, though, the whole reason I’m using the iPad is because I’m not creating as much content.)  The iPad is a fascinating device, and it will be interesting to see where it goes as a productivity machine in the next few years.  I’ve got high hopes for it.  ••

*Update 4/9/15: The keyboard I bought is a little finicky.  The connection drops out from time to time, sometimes constantly so it’s impossible to use.  I’ve removed the link above, and I don’t recommend that you buy it (the link is here in case you still want to look at it).

OS X Yosemite Review

Last Thursday, Apple released the latest update to the Mac operating system, OS X Yosemite.  After using it for the past week and a half, I must say that I really like it.  Most of the changes were aesthetic, giving OS X a new, iOS 7-style look and feel.  In addition to these changes, we also saw some new features, most notably Continuity.


As you can see from the screenshots, much of the UI has gotten a flatter, more transparent look.  This is actually what I expected when I upgraded to OS X Mavericks last spring.  I bought my Mac used, and it was running OS X Mountain Lion when I got it.  Since I didn’t have a Mac when Mavericks came out, I hadn’t paid much attention to what it looked like.  Seeing the similarities to iOS 6 in Mountain Lion, I just assumed that Mavericks would have iOS 7-like graphics.  I was wrong.  This seemed odd and disjointed to me, and I’m glad that OS X and iOS are back on the same page visually.

Aside from the UI, the other really cool feature in OS X Yosemite is Continuity.  Continuity is actually a collection of features that makes the Mac, iPhone, and iPad work closer together.  For example, before Continuity, you could send iMessages (text messages to other Apple products) and do FaceTime calls (which, again, can only happen between Apple devices) on the Mac and iPad.  If you wanted to call or text someone with an Android, you’d have to use your iPhone.  Now, with Continuity, you can use your Mac and iPad to make calls and send texts to any number, as long as you do still have an iPhone.  The feature of Continuity that I’m most excited about though is called Handoff.  I talked about Handoff in iOS when iOS 8 came out last month, but now that the Mac can participate, Handoff is really going to be useful.  Basically, with Handoff, your devices are aware of what you’re doing on your other devices nearby.  This works over Bluetooth.  Say, for example, that you start writing an email on your iPhone, then decide that you’d rather not use that tiny little phone keyboard.  Normally, in order to switch to your Mac, you’d have to email the draft to yourself, then pick it back up on the Mac.  With Handoff, your Mac notices that you’re writing an email on your iPhone, and puts an extra “Mail” icon to one side of your dock.  This icon represents the draft you’re working on.  To move the draft to the Mac, all you have to do is click that icon, and you’re good to go.  This is really cool in principle, but I found that it doesn’t always work correctly in practice.  Still, I hope Apple irons out the kinks in order to make this new feature shine.

The last thing I want to talk about is speed: OS X Yosemite seems slower than OS X Mavericks.  Believe it or not, I’m actually willing to cut Apple some slack here.  As operating systems advance, they are designed to be run on computer hardware that is advancing as well.  This means that new software will always be slower on old hardware.  Another thing to consider is that all new Macs now ship with solid state hard drives, so Apple engineers are creating software that is designed to be run on a computer with a solid state.  My Mac does not have a solid state, so it’s bound to be an extra little bit slower than newer Macs.  Even with this speed decrease, in general, I’m happy with OS X Yosemite.  There weren’t too many huge changes, but on the whole, the operating system seems to be getting slowly better.  Now all we need to do is convince Apple to start naming their operating systems after national parks in Georgia, instead of California.  How does OS X Kennesaw Mountain sound?  ••