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iPad in-depth: portable productivity

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Office Suites

Your iPad can do spreadsheets and presentations as well as word processing. I use Apple's Numbers for my number-crunching needs andKeynote when I want to lull people to sleep with presentation slides. Both programs are, like Pages, $9.99 each and both have the same limitations as Pages -- you can't print and transferring files is convoluted. Those caveats aside, $9.99 for full-powered office software programs is a bargain.

Apple's Numbers offers a number of templates for your spreadsheet needs.

But there are other choices. If you're on a budget, try out Documents 2 ($1.99), which bundles a word processor, spreadsheet and paint program. It can sync with other computers via wifi or with Google Docs. It even has a free version available.

A more powerful choice is Documents to Go (premier edition $14.99, professional edition $9.99), which bundles a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program. It can open, edit and create Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel and Powerpoint), and can download and upload files from the web using popular services such as SugarSync, Mobile Me, Google Docs and DropBox. Free desktop software allows you to sync with your other computers as well. I prefer Documents to Go's file transfer capability to the Apple products, though I find its interface not as intuitive or easy on the eyes.

There are several others available, including QuickOffice and Office2 HD.

The Paperless Office?

Since I've had my iPad, I've used a lot less paper. That's because, as a graduate student, I have to plough through a lot of journal articles. Before the iPad I would download those articles from the web, print them off and then read and mark them up during my SkyTrain commute.

The iPad negates all that. Its size and shape makes it ideal for reading PDFs and iPad app developers have responded with a plethora of choices for downloading, reading, copying, annotating and sharing PDFs. You can read PDFs directly in Documents to Go, and in the iPad apps released by the two file syncing services, SugarSync and Dropbox. Apple's free iReader software also lets you read PDFs and there are a number of other PDF apps available through the iTunes store.

There aren't as many apps that let you annotate (make notes, highlight), but I've found two -- Papers ($14.95) and the aptly named iAnnotate PDF ($9.95). I find Papers more useful -- the interface is cleaner, it's easier to highlight words and phrases and it syncs with its similarly-named desktop cousin. You can also search several academic databases for articles from within the app.

Papers makes it easy to highlight documents.

Remote Control

The iPad has built-in wifi, bluetooth and (on some models) 3G network capability. Not surprisingly, this has led to a lot of apps that allow you to access other computers on your wifi network and beyond. I've tried a few of them, but the one I'm most impressed with is Desktop Connect ($11.95). Not only can you view and control computers on your local network, you can also access them through the web, as long as you have a Google account.

With Desktop to Go you can remotely control other computers on your wifi network -- or even on the web.

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