Can the iPad replace a notebook?

At the announcement of the second iPad in early 2011, Steve Jobs declared it was more than a toy. But what exactly are its productivity credentials?

Can it fulfil the mobile office duties we’ve come to expect from our portable computers and give us into the bargain more of a reason to extend our credit limit and buy one? Because, like, we could use it for work, and that?

Can the iPad replace a notebook?

Office use

A computer lives and dies by its ability (or inability) to be used in the office, the place where most documents, spreadsheets, and presentations are handled.

Not surprisingly, the iPad has an abundance of apps designed to take on the aspects of office work that most of us are familiar with: writing documents, working with spreadsheets, and creating PowerPoint presentations.

Apple of course has its own solutions for $12 a pop, with each piece of software – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – making up the “iWork” solution.

A few of the apps we use here at GadgetGuy.

Other solutions, such as Documents To Go HD, QuickOffice HD, and Office2 HD, act as a true Microsoft Office replacement tool, and for the most part, prove quite effective. A few formatting changes may exist, but these Office replacement tools help to connect your existing Office requirements with the iPad, something Microsoft hasn’t properly acknowledged yet.

If writing is all you’re after, there are quite a lot of options available at the Apple AppStore, with most at reasonable prices. We’ve been playing with a few of these writing solutions for our own reviews, and find the experience offered by a separate writing app is much, much better than Apple’s own bundled note taking application.

VERDICT: The notebook wins on this one, but followed closely by the iPad.

Do you need a keyboard?

One of the better selling accessories for the iPad is the keyboard. There’s a lot of choice on offer, with the link to the iPad achieved via either a wired connection over USB from the iPad Camera Kit or via Bluetooth. Apple has its own dock-based keyboard, but with Bluetooth capability, you can also use the wireless iMac keyboard.

There are two reasons why the keyboard sells so well, and that’s because the iPad’s virtual touchscreen keyboard scores so low for comfort and speed.

Much like other tablets, the onscreen keyboard limits how much of the screen you can see while typing.

When entering text, the iPad tends to be laid flat on a surface or rested on something so that the screen angles up to the eyeline.  Neither position is comfortable for the wrists or neck for extended periods of use. In addition, the touchscreen’s virtual keyboard doesn’t provide the feedback of a physical keyboard – there is no travel in each keystroke and without the expected ‘response’ it’s easy to make errors.

The iPad can also be ‘outrun’ by the speedy fingers of confident typists. Apple’s inbuilt spellcheck does a pretty good job of weeding out the mistakes caused by the keyboard’s interpretation of your typing, but be sure to give your documents a thorough proof read anyway.

Apple's wireless keyboard is just one of many options available for Bluetooth keyboards.