Dear 100 Hour Board,
My laptop screen is cracked. It's not a big deal and doesn't bother me, but I do worry that the next two years of commuting to grad school via public transit will lead to the crack becoming an actual problem fairly quickly. However, my laptop is otherwise functional.
I was thinking about getting an iPad and using a bluetooth keyboard I already own to take to campus with me. I'm doing an MA in History, so I don't need any fancy software or heavy-duty specs; I would just download the Google Docs app and do my note-taking and work on my papers in Google. Online research also seems like it would work just fine. When I got home, I could use the laptop for anything that required an actual laptop, and thus extend the life of my computer by keeping it safely on my desk. If I really needed a desktop on campus, I could use the library.
Before I drop $500 on an iPad, however, I just wanted to ask: can you see any potential downsides? Do any of you use an iPad frequently? Thoughts?
I think iPads are great for some things, and an iPad would work fine for taking notes during class. My two biggest problem with iPads traditionally are their lack of shared file system (storing your docs in the cloud solves that, assuming you always have wifi) and difficulty in multi-tasking (I only have a super old iPad, but I believe they have split-screen now). So if you also want a good multi-media device that you also can take notes on it's fine.
If money is a factor, you should consider that small laptops are far cheaper than iPads. Just looking on BestBuy.com, which is not known for their bargain prices, you can get a small Chromebook for $150, and Windows laptops start around $200 (or cheaper if you're ok with refurbished). They have small screens, of course, but so does an iPad. You also get an attached keyboard, and many are 2-in-1s that can fold the keyboard behind for tablet mode.
Honestly, you won't get a quality PC laptop that will last you more than 2 years if you pay anything less than $800. You actually get a better computer when you pay more. My friend has a Macbook Pro that is 10 years old and still works perfectly. Say what you want about operating systems or price but Apple can make some quality hardware.
On the other hand, if you are just using Google docs then a Chromebook should actually be perfect and would be my recommendation. Chromebooks can't download programs, they download apps from the Google Play Store. So if you are only working in Docs, Sheets, etc. and you don't need anything else, get a Chromebook. I've heard those who have them for simple needs love them.
Replace your screen. You can do it yourself.
I used a MacBook Pro laptop as my main device for 8 years — if you count it as the same computer. It was like the Ship of Theseus with how many parts were replaced. As for the display, I replaced it via warranty repair twice and by myself twice more, following internet instructions with used parts from eBay.
Take good care of your machines and they will take care of you.
I also had an iPad (with keyboard) throughout grad school. It worked in a pinch for taking notes, but I don't think it's the right tool for writing history papers, especially using a lot of notes and sources.
Sauron (and Waldorf)
Just popping in to second what Sauron says: replacing your screen is easy and pretty cheap. I dropped a stapler on my HP laptop last month, and for $40 and five minutes spent looking for the appropriate video on Youtube, I saved myself the cost of a new computer. Don't be intimidated by websites that offer expert installation for an extra $75 when you buy the part. You can do it yourself.
Some people in my writing-and-research-heavy graduate program get by with a tablet plus a desktop. I agree with Sauron that an iPad would be the wrong tool for writing history papers, but you could probably make it work if all of your apps are synced up across your devices and you don't mind being stuck at a desk while you're writing. Keep in mind, though, that you'll likely be doing more writing than you expect; I certainly get bored of my desk and appreciate the flexibility to change my environment that a laptop gives me. (Remember that school computer labs aren't open 24-7, and that trying to work from home may occasionally be too distracting.) So, provided there aren't any other problems with the laptop you've got, it might be worth replacing the screen just to have one lying around when you need it.
Huge congrats on grad school!
My wife does a ton of writing (as in literal novels) and found herself in a similar situation a while back - her laptop was old, slow, heavy, and froze or overheated if you looked at it wrong. After spending time with both an iPad and a Chromebook, here's a summary of her feelings:
- iPad: The good thing is that it's got a great spellcheck feature. That's just about the only good thing, though. It's unwieldy and awkward to type on, and just about impossible if you have long fingernails. Getting a detachable keyboard makes it a little better, but it still makes you smush your fingers awkwardly close together.
- Chromebook: It's cheaper and it's set up just like a small laptop. As far as the physical element of writing goes, it's pretty much identical to what you'd get on a full laptop. The biggest disadvantage compared to a full laptop is that, like an iPad, it uses apps and stores nothing on the device itself. You'll have to do all of your work through Google Docs or Word Online, both of which have more limited functionality than the full version of Word. Her Chromebook also doesn't have several keys that you'd normally find on a Windows computer, like page-up or page-down. This is an issue for her when writing stuff with tens of thousands of words, but for class notes it might not be a big deal. And, critically, all of the drawbacks that I've mentioned for Chromebooks are also drawbacks of iPads.
Overall, she wholeheartedly recommends getting a Chromebook. A new low-end Chromebook costs less than a used low-end iPad, and it's a better word processor in nearly every imaginable way.