Gosh. Well, I’ve been using both an iPad mini and an iPad Air, side-by-side, for the past three weeks. The goal of my parallel usage is to see if the mini can be used for “real work” (it can), and ultimately to see if I’ll prefer the smaller form factor of the mini or the larger screen of the Air (I don’t know yet).
So far, when around the house, I’ve been grabbing the iPad mini more frequently. Part of this may still be the novelty of the smaller iPad. This is the first iPad mini I’ve used for an extended period of time and even though the iPad Air is crazy light and still nice and easy to use, the iPad mini is more “fun” to use around the house.
These uses mostly include:
- Scrubbing my to-do list in the morning (in OmniFocus)
- Streaming Pandora or Rdio to our living room’s Airplay speaker
- Reading Instapaper and sometimes posting links to shawnblanc.net
- Making edits and reviewing documents in Editorially
- Doing email
On the go, I do writing in Editorial. And, actually, I’ve felt no remorse when I’ve set up the iPad mini with my keyboard to do writing from it or to log into my website via Diet Coda and make edits to code when needed.
So far, the biggest advantage the iPad Air has over the iPad mini is when it comes to reading comics. I’m not an avid comic book reader, but I do subscribe to the Marvel Unlimited app and read a few comics during the week. Unfortunately, the Marvel Unlimited app is not very good. And one of the biggest things that makes it difficult to read on the iPad mini is that you have to view full page spreads (you cannot zoom in and read pane by pane). And so the iPad Air really does make a superior reading experience for that because the text is larger and more comfortable to read.
Typing on the on-screen keyboard of the iPad Air is obviously much more manageable. I don’t do much typing, but when I do it’s usually via the landscape keyboard on the Air or else the portrait keyboard on the mini. Those are the two more comfortable options for each device. Long-form writing with the on-screen keyboard of the mini would stink. But, since I almost always use a bluetooth keyboard when doing long-form typing, it’s virtually a non-issue for me as to which device’s onscreen keyboard is better.
Let’s answer some questions
I asked you guys on Twitter if you had any questions about the two iPads, and I’ve done my best to answer them below. Some questions I can’t give a clear and dry answer to because there are so many variables about how you, dear reader, use your iPad, what your budget is, etc. But I will at least try to put my thoughts down to maybe give you some context that may help you make the best decision.
What are your general thoughts on “content creation versus consumption” between the two iPads? This sort of is the quintessential question, and I think it boils down to this:
The iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices; pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.
Both iPads are sitting there, which one do you grab? The iPad mini. But I’m not yet sure if that’s telling of anything. I’ve had a full-sized iPad since the original in 2010 and this is the first iPad mini I’ve used at length. The smaller size is still a novelty to me, and I’m really enjoying it.
Which gets warmer during use? Both of my iPads get warm during use, but the iPad mini gets more warm than the Air. Neither get uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.
Do you notice the differences in display quality (PPI) in day-to-day use? Surprisingly, no. I was quite excited about the iPad mini’s 326 PPI display — it is the most dense pixel display Apple makes, and up until now it’s a pixel density that has only been in the iPhone. But now it’s in a 7.9-inch iPad. However, even when using both iPads side by side — with the mini showing my Twitter replies and the Air running Editorial as I type in the Questions and my answers — I cannot see a noticeable difference in the clarity and sharpness of the screens.
Have you noticed the difference in color gamut? Yes, but it’s hardly noticeable. and it’s only with some shades of red — the iPad Air displays them a bit more like firetruck and the iPad mini a bit more muted. But really, looking at the two screens side by side and comparing them using the same apps and images and Home screens, everything looks virtually identical.
My pal, Matthew Panzarino, traded his iPad mini in because of the color issues. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe he got unlucky, but I’ve had two Retina iPad minis so far (the wi-fi version at first that I returned to get an LTE version) and the screen colors have been fine on both of them.
How do they perform in note taking? If you’re a student and you plan to take your iPad to the classroom, or if you take your iPad to meetings, the biggest question to ask is if you plan to use an external bluetooth keyboard or not. If you plan to go sans-keyboard, then I would go for the iPad Air without hesitation. Its larger screen set in landscape mode makes for a much better typing surface than the mini’s on-screen keyboard. If, however, you plan to bring a bluetooth keyboard along as well, then it’s a toss-up. So keep reading some of the other questions below.
I have an iPad (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), should I upgrade? If you can afford it, and if you use your iPad a lot, then yes. This year is a big leap for the iPads and even going from an iPad 4 to an iPad Air is a nice upgrade. You’ll notice improvements in both performance and size. I upgraded from an iPad 3 and it was a huge boost.
Which iPad should I upgrade to? I got both iPads in the 32GB with LTE flavor. I highly recommend at least that combo and to get more storage if you think you’ll need it. As for if you should get the Air or the mini, well isn’t that what all these questions are about? In short, though, my advice this year still stands as it has been since the mini first came out: if you’re just not sure which one to get, get the mini.
Are there any specific tasks that one iPad is more suited for? Yes.
A few things the iPad Air’s larger screen is arguably better for: Writing and typing, because of its somewhat larger font size and bigger on-screen keyboard; reading comics, PDFs, and other “font locked” documents/periodicals; watching video; editing photos and videos; and taking hand-written notes, drawing, or painting (with apps like 53′s Paper). Is the iPad Air significantly better for these things? I don’t think so. And really, it just boils down to a matter of opinion and personal preference.
A few things the iPad mini is arguably better for: reading books, RSS feeds, twitter feeds, Instapaper queue, etc. In any app where you can adjust the font size, if the iPad mini’s display is a bit too dense for you, you can adjust the font size to be a bit bigger; and anything that would normally be done while holding the iPad.
Though the Air is great in size and weight, it’s not as light as the mini and the latter truly is easier to hold in one hand while standing, sitting, leaning back, etc.
In what contexts is the iPad mini “less of an iPad” than the Air? So, when does the screen size play the biggest role? Drawing, painting, typing, photo/video editing, watching movies. These are tasks where having a bigger screen really is nicer.
Are there any apps that work better on a mini? Any app that you use while holding the mini (specifically reading / browsing).
Is it difficult to use two iPads at the same time? Actually, no, not at all. Since everything I use on my iPad syncs to the web, the two are literally in perfect sync with one another.
How does each iPad fare as a laptop replacement? They both fare the same.
What use cases make me reach for one iPad over the other? When I’m doing writing, I reach for the iPad Air. For everything else (scrubbing OmniFocus, reading Twitter, RSS, quick email checking, Instapaper, etc.) I grab the mini.
When you’re using the Air, what do you miss about the Mini? If I’m typing with my keyboard, I miss nothing. If I’m reading Instapaper or surfing the Web, I miss the mini’s smaller size.
Which iPad do you tend to use when in the house? The mini. Since, when I’m in the house, and am writing, I am most likely at my desk using my MacBook Air. And thus, any other task
Which iPad do you tend to grab when heading out on the road? The iPad Air. Since, as I’ll mention below, the iPad Air still feels like my “real” iPad.
* * *
So far, the iPad mini seems to be becoming my preferred iPad, but the iPad Air feels like my “real” iPad. Let me try to explain. For my needs, there’s nothing about the iPad mini that makes it less capable in any significant way — I can read and write just fine from the mini. However, the iPad mini has a “feeling” of being less capable simply because of its size.
Is the iPad Air a bit better suited for some tasks such as writing? I think so. For me, the larger screen size allows me to have a bigger font size and see more words on the screen at the same time (something nice for my aging eyes). And for times when I’m doing typing with the on-screen keyboard, the iPad Air’s larger screen is much nicer for hitting the keys. But for almost every other task (except for watching movies and reading comics), I find the mini to be just as good if not even better suited.
After 3 weeks, I’m actually leaning slightly more towards the mini if I had to pick one. Though I do work a lot from my iPad, the iPad is not my main work machine. I still spend most of my time at my desk working from my MacBook Air. And so, for the things I do use an iPad for, the iPad mini is better for about 80-percent of them and “good enough” for the other 20-percent. I plan to keep using both iPads, side by side, for at least another month or two, so I’ll check back in again soon.
As I said in response to the first question above, the iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices. Pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.
It’s been a year since the Olympus E-PL5 showed up at my door, and I want to give a report.
The E-PL5 is the first nice camera I’ve ever owned. A year later, as I look back at how often I’ve used the camera, the pictures I’ve taken with it, and what my opinion is of the camera itself, the short answer is that I still use it regularly and often, and I’m still very happy with it.
It was the fall of 2012 that I began researching mirrorless cameras to find a setup I could easily take with me anywhere I went, and which cost under $1,000 (for the body and a nice prime lens). I wanted the camera to have an Auto mode so I could just point and shoot if I needed to (I still am a beginning photographer, and don’t always know which manual adjustments to make to get the exposure right). I also wanted an Auto mode so I could hand the camera over to a family member to let them point and shoot with. But it also needed to have good manual modes so I could learn and grow into the manual controls as I learned more about the technical details of photography.
Here is the article I wrote summarizing the 50+ hours of research I did on Mirrorless cameras and why the E-PL5 was my pick. Though some of the models mentioned in that article have been updated, all my reasoning and logic still stands.
And here is my official review of the camera, which I wrote after using the camera for about 6 months.
As I mentioned in my official review, it was the iPhone that actually led me to getting a better camera. I was taking more and more and more pictures, but wasn’t doing much with them other than keeping them on my iPhone. A year later, I still couldn’t be happier about my decision to get a nice camera and I am still very happy with the camera I chose.
I’ve had and used the E-PL5 through Thanksgiving 2012, Christmas, my son, Noah’s, first birthday, a few trips to Colorado, a trip to San Francisco, a camping trip, a trip to New York, the birth of my second son, Giovanni, and countless other weekend and weekday excursions.
Last year we bought several new photo frames to put around the house. And every couple of months I order a few new 8×10 photos printed from Shutterfly and we swap out all the pictures in the house. It’s inexpensive1 and it’s so wonderful to have high-quality photos of our kids and family.2
Something we did last year, and which we’ll do again this Christmas, was get a few of Apple’s iPhoto photo books. Photo books make great Christmas presents to parents and grandparents. Last year’s book was half photos from my iPhone covering January through October, and then half photos from my E-PL5 covering November and early December. This year the photo book will probably be 90-percent (or more) E-PL5 photos.
I still consider the E-PL5 to be one of the best-kept secrets in the mirrorless camera landscape. For the body only, it’s very reasonably priced. And it’s fast, has great battery life, works with all the micro-four thirds lenses, is well built, has 4-axis in-body image stabilization, and has the same sensor found inside the critically acclaimed Olympus E-M5. It’s a beast and it won’t break the bank.
On Twitter I was asked if a better camera in this space has come along. For the same price as the E-PL5, no, I don’t think so.
Of course, since I got my E-PL5 a year ago, the mirrorless camera landscape has improved quite a bit. There’s now the Fuji x100s and X-E2, the Olympus E-P5, and the new Olympus E-M1 (to name a few). These are all really great, but they’re also all more expensive than the E-PL5.
You can get the E-PL5 body and a very nice prime lens for about $800-$900 (depending on the lens you pick). The E-P5 is $900 for the body alone; the Fuji x100s is $1,300 and comes with a great lens (that cannot be swapped out), but it is not a beginner’s camera.
In my opinion, someone looking to get a great camera and a great lens (where by “great lens” I mean “a prime lens” — not the kit zoom lens), can’t go wrong with the E-PL5. It’s compact, it’s easy enough to use that a beginner could pick it up and take decent shots with it (no comment about technique), and it has most of the same internal components (same sensor, similar IBIS) found in Olympus’ top-of-the line cameras, the E-M1 and the E-P5.
Here are answers to a few other questions I got from folks on Twitter:
What’s the best first lens? The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. It’s one of the less expensive among the good prime lens selection; it’s a pancake lens, so it takes up very little space; it takes wonderful photographs; and the 20mm focal length (which is the 40mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is in the sweet spot range for all manner of photos. So, if you don’t know which lens to get, get the Panasonic 20/1.7.
What is your most-used lens? Just the one I have: the panasonic 20/1.7. It’s a fantastic lens for the price and size. My favorite lens of all the ones I have used is the Pany 25/1.4, but I like the size of the 20/1.7 pancake too much. And, since the 20mm and the 25mm are so close in focal length, it seems silly to keep them both.
Have you been tempted by any other cameras? Yes; the E-P5. It has all that’s awesome about the E-PL5, but in a nicer body with more manual controls (without giving up automatic modes), and with an even better sensor and IBIS. However, the E-P5 is several hundred dollars more expensive, and I honestly don’t know if that increase in price is worth it for me at my current skill and usage levels.
How do you travel with it? For outings, I use my DSPTCH strap. As for a case, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t yet found one I like (well, the Hard Graft camera bag looks gorgeous, but I’d rather buy a lens).
What do you wish was different? What annoys you about the camera? The same thing that I’m tempted by with the E-P5: I wish the E-PL5 had better manual dials. You can set it in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, but you have to use the menu dial to quickly change the aperture / exposure / shutter settings. This can be a bit awkward or inaccurate. But… It doesn’t bother me so much to dislike the camera, and like I mentioned above, I’m not sure it’s worth the cost for me to buy a more expensive camera right now. I’ll probably keep the E-PL5 for a few more years and invest my money in lenses instead of upgrading my camera body.
Has your frequency of use decreased since you first got the camera? Yes and no. I’m not forcing myself to take it out like I did when I first got it. But I still use it often around the house and at family events, trips, and other things. Since the first day of owning it I have always felt silly taking it out and using it. But, looking back, I wish I would get out with the camera more often.
What about ergonomics? The camera feels great. It’s very light, it has incredible build quality, and it’s very easy to hold with one hand. The flip-out view screen makes it easy to take photos at all sorts of angles.
Auto-focus and other settings? The E-PL5 with my Panasonic 20mm lens does hunt a fair bit in super low light, but in my understanding it’s no better or worse than most other cameras like this. When I was renting the Olympus 45/1.8 lens, the auto-focus was a bit quicker, but not significantly so.
I mostly shoot in Aperture Priority mode, but when I’m having trouble I’ll switch to Auto and the camera does a great job at deciding what sorts of settings I want.
To what degree does the camera’s physical size impact when/where you use it. How often have you wished you had it but didn’t? The size of the camera is fantastic. It’s small enough to fit in my winter coat pocket or my small laptop bag without bothering me. It’s also light enough that when I’m wearing it with the shoulder strap I can have it on for hours and never consider its weight.
There are often times I wish I had taken it somewhere but didn’t. This, however, has everything to do with me not being in the discipline of taking the camera and using it. It has almost nothing to do with the size of the camera.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about photography since getting this camera? That I regret 100% of the shots I don’t take. Too cliche? Okay, fine. But it’s true. Like I said above regarding frequency of use, I want to get out with the camera more often.
What is your usage of the E-PL5 compared to your iPhone camera? I certainly use my iPhone more often than the E-PL5 just because of the fact that my iPhone is with me all the time. But I don’t often take “great photos” with my iPhone. Usually they are cool snapshots that I will then share on Instagram, email to friends and family, or put into Day One. And that’s exactly why I got the E-PL5. I didn’t want to all-out replace my iPhone, but I wanted something I could use to take much, much better photos when it mattered most.
What are your favorite pictures taken with the E-PL5? This one is probably my most favorite:
These are also favorites:
You can see more of the photos I’ve taken on my Flickr page.
* * *
So. If you’re in the market for an awesome and pocketable camera, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there are a lot of really great options. The bad news is, there are a lot of really great options. Good luck!
- 8×10 prints are normally 3.99 each, but Shutterfly seems to have sales all the time to get things for 40-percent off or more. I’ve also heard great things about WHCC’s pricing and quality, but haven’t yet used them myself. ↵
- I’ve also been using the camera to take “fancy” hero images for use on this site and on The Sweet Setup. ↵
Leading up to the launch of The Sweet Setup, we were wrangling about 20 active documents. I was working with half-a-dozen different authors on their app reviews along with writing several reviews and blog posts of my own, and Jeff Abbott was editing everything.
To manage all of these documents we use Editorially.
It’s awesome. Here’s why.
Markdown support: All the writers we work with prefer to write in Markdown. I prefer markdown. And, well, Editorially supports markdown syntax highlighting in the browser. It also displays images inline. When you’re done writing you can export your writing as an html, markdown, plain text, Latex, rich text, MS Word, or ePub file. Wow.
Collaboration: invite people to join the document as read-only privileges or with editing privileges. You can highlight words and passages to make notes about, and you can comment on the document in general.
Track changes and version control: Editorially auto-saves as your working on a document, so if your browser crashes you don’t lose your work. It also keeps all the versions of a document, and allows you to compare the changes of one version with another.
Document status: Documents start as “Draft”, and as you progressively work on them you can change their status to “Reviewing”, “Revising”, “Copyediting”, and “Final”.
These states worked perfectly with our workflow, and followed perfectly the progression of our articles from the initial submission by a contributor, my reviewing of it, the author’s revising of it, and then Jeff’s editing of it. When visiting my Editorially dashboard I could see instantly what the state of each document was, and knew which ones I needed to attend to myself.
Dropbox support: you can link Editorially to a folder in your Dropbox and then send an article to that folder. This is Editorially’s answer to “archiving” since there is nowhere to move documents that are in their final state and which have been published and that you no longer need to keep on your dashboard. This is how I archive all of our published articles, and it works very well.
Pasting into a document: Copy rich or formatted text from one place and when you paste it into Editorially it will format in Markdown. Even images. Amazing.
iPad and iPhone friendly: Editorially is a web app only with no native apps. However, it has a responsive design that works great in Safari on the iPad and iPhone. It can be a bit clunky if you’re making lots and lots of notes and annotations, and I wouldn’t want to spending hours a day, every day, working in Editorially on my iPad. But I edited several documents from my iPhone and iPad with no trouble.
Our Editorially Workflow
Being editor-in-chief, I was reaching out to potential writers asking them if they’d like to do an article for the site. Once they submitted their draft to me I would paste it into Editorially and read through it.
Because Editorially lets me make highlight words and passages, it was easy to make comments about what I felt were good, what needed improvement, and what was missing altogether. I would also make general comments on the document itself such as, “All done. Your turn.”
If I hadn’t already, I would then invite the author to join the document so they could see all my comments and edits, and then they make any changes and leave comments of their own.
Some articles were done after just one pass. Others took several rounds of back and forth work to get it to a place where we were completely happy with it.
Once the article reached the point where the author and I were happy with it, then I would invite Jeff to join. (Jeff is the editor for The sweet Setup.) He would then read through the article for the first time, making sure it had a good flow, made sense, covered all the bases, and was free from typos and other grammatical errors.
When Jeff was done, he’d set the article’s status to “Final”. I would then export the markdown out of Editorially and paste it into our CMS. Editorially also supports publishing to WordPress, but I don’t use this feature — we have quite a few custom fields and other metadata tables set up in our WordPress install that hinder us from just publishing straight to the site from Editorially.
Technically, Editorially is still in beta. There are a few bugs here and there (for example, the dashboard doesn’t remember my preference for displaying documents in a grid format or a list) and there are some other features I’d love to see added (such as the ability to transfer ownership of a document from one user to another, or an “inbox” that listed all the recent activity on all my documents). But these are small issues, and Editorially has proven to be an invaluable tool for us.
We are using it to get a lot of work done without losing our minds. I can’t imagine what our workflow would look like without Editorially.
Today is the day. It’s here. The Sweet Setup has launched.
There are three groups of people I want to thank:
All the contributing authors who’ve been working with me over the past few months to research, test, compare, and pick a “best” app: Federico Viticci, Ben Brooks, Dr. Drang, Bradley Chambers, Stephen Hackett, and John Moltz. As well as Jeff Abbott who edits every word on the site.
There is much more to say about the site, but right now I’m busy fixing launch-day typos and broken links. I hope you’re able to take some time to check out the site and read some of our fantastic and considered articles. If you’re not sure where to start, take the Dime Tour.
These two new iPads are marvels.
It’s already amazing that there exists gadgets made of aluminum and glass which weigh less than a pound and have screens that rival the resolution of a printed magazine. Now add to that the fact these devices have touch screens so true-to-life and so responsive that it feels as if you’re literally manipulating the pixels with your fingers.
And it doesn’t end there.
Pacing around the coffee table in my office, thinking about the new iPads while contemplating the big picture of things like personal computers that fit in our pockets and purses, it’s easy to get swept away in just what an incredible day and age we live in.
These devices are also connected to the world wide web — allowing me to communicate with friends, family, members, and strangers alike. A photo I took of my son using my phone has magically appeared on my iPad, and I can email it to my parents with ease; I can write words and publish them to a place where anyone in the world can come to read; I can download music and books; and so, so much more.
But then, returning to Earth, what are the brass tacks here? I’ve been sending emails for over half my life; I’ve never owned a cell phone that couldn’t send a text message; I’ve been making my living publishing to the web for nearly three years; and this isn’t my first iPad.
But yet, in a way, this is my first iPad.
The iPad Air is, hands down, the most amazing iPad I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned several.
Keeping with tradition, I bought the iPad Air on launch day, too. Thirteen days later I can say, unequivocally, that it is the greatest iPad ever. The change in size and weight and speed when compared to the iPad 3 is something that must be experienced and not read about. Trying to describe the difference in usability between the iPad Air and its predecessors is an exercise which puts my wordsmithing skills to the test.
My iPads have always received quite a bit of use from me. Even from the very first generation iPad, I have toted these things with me to meetings, coffee shops, vacations to the Rocky Mountains, “business” trips to WWDC, my living room, and everywhere in between.
Moreover, I am quite comfortable using the iPad as my “laptop”. My work is such that I’m fortunate enough to be able to do pretty much everything I need from the iPad. Nearly all of my daily tasks and routines related to work or play are things I can do on iOS.
Every design and engineering progression with the iPad has been a nice, incremental, and welcomed step. Thinner and lighter, then Retina, then faster. But the iPad Air is a leap and not a step. It feels impossibly thin and impossibly light while also being extremely fast and responsive. It is quintessential.
And then, yesterday, the iPad mini with Retina display appeared. And, well, it is also the best iPad I’ve ever owned.
Here is a device that will fit inside my wife’s purse or the pocket of my peacoat. And it’s ideal for all the most common personal computing tasks of doing email, surfing the Internet, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And we all know the iPad can do so much more — there’s no reason why the iPad mini couldn’t be someone’s only computer.
And that fascinates me. Who knew that one day our uncompromising personal computers would cost a few hundred dollars and would comfortably fit inside a woman’s purse?
I’ve been using the Retina mini for just a day now, but I am confident that I could use it for all the tasks which I’ve been using my full-sized iPad for all these years. The question is not about the capabilities of the mini; the question is about my own preferences. And, at the moment, I don’t have an answer.
It’s different than deciding between an 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air, or between a 13- or 15-inch MacBook Pro. For laptops you mostly use them while they are placed on top of a desk or table (or perhaps your lap) while you sit in front of them. You mostly pick which laptop you need based on your computing tasks and needs, size plays a role in terms of portability, but once the laptop is out and on the desk it mostly doesn’t matter what size it is (unless you’re sitting in coach).
But with the iPad Air and iPad mini, computing usage is not the only factor. There’s also a tangible, kinesthetic-centric factor at play here. Because the iPad is something you hold and touch while using.
Which is better: an iPad Air that has a bigger screen and which is thin and light enough? Or an iPad mini that is very thin and light and which has a screen that is big enough? I just don’t think you can pit these two devices against one another. They are not competing — they are two of a kind.
They are both great. Both favorites.
Over the next several weeks and months I plan to use both iPads for the same tasks. It’ll be interesting to see how the dust settles and if I’ll naturally be drawn more to the smaller device or the larger one, and why.