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iPad Tips for the College Student

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Many students headed to college this fall will be bringing an iPad with them. In the following article I suggest several useful and time-saving iPad apps for students. None of the iPad apps I'm discussing cost more than $10.00; most are under $5.00 and quite a few are free.
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Many students headed to college this fall will be bringing an iPad with them. While I don't recommend using an iPad as a substitute for a computer, an iPad is certainly useful in or out of class. In the following article I suggest several useful and time-saving iPad apps for students with an iPad. Since the requirements for various majors are so very different, I'm going to focus on the basic tasks that all college students share. None of the iPad apps I'm discussing cost more than $10; most are under $5, and quite a few are free.

Several of the apps pre-installed on the iPad are extremely useful. You can use Mail and Calendar to keep track of class schedules and send reminders about appointments or due dates. iBooks is a great way to find lots of free classic novels as well as an increasing number of textbooks for sale in the iBooks store. The iTunes Store not only offers music, TV shows, and movies, but is also the home of iTunes University, which provides free lectures (audio and video) from some of the top schools in the world.

Backup, Datastorage, and Sharing

A basic necessity of an iPad-enabled college life is being able to sync data between the iPad and a computer, as well as being able to share files in order to collaborate on papers and projects. DropBox is a great way to easily share files and back up your work. A free DropBox account comes with two gigabytes of storage space; you can buy more fairly inexpensively, or earn more space by inviting your friends to create accounts (refer Dropbox to a friend and you both receive an additional 250 MB of space up to a limit of 8 GB). If you install the free DropBox app on your iPad, and on your Mac, Windows, or Linux computer, you can sync files between your iPad and computer, or via the Web. Many iPad apps support DropBox for backup or transferring files.

Word Processing on the iPad

If you use Pages, Keynote, or Numbers on a Mac for word processing, presentations, or spreadsheets, you should definitely think very hard about purchasing their iPad versions: the Pages, Keynote, and Numbers apps each cost $9.99. Pages for the iPad is very usable, even when using the on-screen keyboard. You can edit, view, or create a variety of documents, including those with sophisticated formatting. You can open and edit Microsoft Word documents in Pages, and export your documents as Word or PDF files. A caveat: although you can view and edit a document with footnotes on your iPad, you can't insert new footnotes (but note this workaround that allows new footnote creation in Pages for iPad).

If you have to create and edit Microsoft Office files on an iPad, look into Documents to Go from DataViz. It has both a basic iPad app and a Premium version. The basic Documents to Go iPad app is $9.99, and allows you to view, edit, or create Word and Excel files compatible with the versions in Office 2007/2008/2010. You can also view Powerpoint files, RTF (Rich Text Format) files, and iWork files as well as other file types that are supported by the iOS Open In ... feature on your iPad. Documents to Go supports WiFi syncing with Microsoft Office apps via a free desktop application for OS X and Windows, as well as via a cable and the iTunes Sharing feature. If you do decide to use Documents to Go on your iPad, I'd advise you to consider obtaining an external keyboard.

Note-Taking and Annotating

If you want to draft basic documents on your iPad to be incorporated later into more formal documents on your computer, you might find that all you need are one of the basic word processor or note-taking apps. The free Notes app pre-installed on the iPad is adequate, but you might want something a bit more sophisticated. Elements from Second Gear is $4.99. Elements creates plain text files and supports DropBox, TextExpander Touch, and Markdown (for wiki-style formatting text). You can export your notes to Evernote, send them via email, make them into PDF or HTML files, or send them to various services. For a cheaper alternative, take a look at Simplenote from Simperium. The free basic version of Simplenote presents small not-really-noticeable ads within the app (not in your notes). With it, you can sync your notes to a free Simplenote account or email them to yourself. The premium version of Simplenote costs $19.99 a year, omits the ads, and offers a number of extra features. If you're using Scrivener for OS X, Simplenotes syncs with Scrivener on your Mac. Both Elements and Simplenote create plain-text notes; there are more expensive note-taking apps that support formatting and rich text.

If you need to read and annotate PDF files, you can't do better than GoodReader for iPad from GoodiWare. Yes, it does cost $4.99, while iBooks, which also allows you to read PDFs, is free (and you should absolutely download iBooks too). However, GoodReader provides the capability to highlight, annotate, and draw arrows or boxes on a PDF and to share those marks and annotations with others. You can also annotate a copy of a PDF and leave the original unmarked. Furthermore, you can sync, download, and transfer files to and from GoodReader using Dropbox, SugarSync, or any WebDAV, FTP or SFTP server. Do take a look at the GoodReader documentation; this is an app that does a lot, including viewing Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint files, HTML files and Safari webarchives, and iWork'08/09 files.

Figure 1: GoodReader

Archiving Web Content

It is exceedingly useful to be able to stash Web pages or articles for later reading. Instapaper Pro for iPad is a $4.99 app that allows you to mark Web content for later reading. In addition to allowing you to send content from Google Reader or Safari on your iPad or any number of other apps or Web browsers on your desktop for later reading, Instapaper reformats Web content for easier reading by removing ads and extraneous content, while preserving the main text and images. You can send an article from Instapaper to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinboard, or Evernote, or even email the full text or a link to the original source.

Instapaper isn't meant for long term archiving though; for that you should use Evernote. With Evernote you can save almost anything you see on the Web. The Evernote for iPad app is free. It can save text, images, and complete articles from the Web into Evernote Notebooks, as well as share them or sync them across all of your devices. You can also tap the app's New Note button and start just typing. To use the iPad app, you'll need to create a free Evernote account as well as download the free Evernote app for your Windows or OS X computer. With a free Evernote account, you can upload up to 60MB of new data every month; that means HTML, text, PDF, or pretty much any kind of file. Evernote gives you a free Evernote email address (see Settings in the iPad app or on the Evernote Web site); anything you email to that special address gets stashed in your Evernote account automatically. Searching is very fast within Evernote, and the ability to tag individual notes, create notebooks, and share notebooks makes Evernote a super research tool.

Figure 2: Evernote

You can use Instapaper and Evernote together by having Instapaper reformat Web content for easier reading on an iPad, and then using Instapaper to send that content to Evernote; it's easy to configure the Settings in Instapaper to allow sharing with your Evernote account.

Reading Blogs and RSS Feeds

The Web is full of interesting and useful content, and much of it is academic in nature (no, I'm not talking about Wikipedia). The Perfect RSS app is an elegant, easy to use, gesture-friendly news reader tailored for the iPad. It supports offline reading, allows you to manage RSS subscriptions and folders from within the app, and easily can share items with Instapaper, ReadItLater, Delicious, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other services. To use it, create a free Google Reader account on the Web and then download the Perfect RSS reader from Connect technology Company, LTD, for $0.99. It only takes seconds to authenticate your Google Reader account (you can create a free Google Reader account from within the app). You can also get a free version of the app, Perfect RSS Reader Free, which omits the multi-touch gesture support that's available in the paid version, but is otherwise the same.

Index Card for Organizing Notes

If you're the kind of person who likes to organize your notes for a large project or paper using index cards, Index Card from DenVog LLC is right up your alley. Index Card displays a cork board of index cards: you can create new cards and notes and re-arrange them or view them in standard outline form. Index card also syncs with Scrivener on the Mac, and with DropBox, and you can export your note cards or outline via email or RTF using iTunes Sharing. For $4.99, Index Card is a bargain for note card and outline fans.

Figure 3: Index Card


Textbooks are always one of the main expenses for students. If you have the ISBN and the time required for shipping, you can check prices and order books online. However, you may be able to save money by buying ebook versions of printed books, especially if they aren't textbooks. Check the prices on Kindle books, as well as iBooks. The Kindle app works quite well on an iPad, and is free.

When You're Not Studying

If you can't study without a soundtrack, you can stream 40 hours of music a month with the free Pandora Radio app and a free account on the Pandora site. To fill your stomach while you're filling your brain, Yelp for iPad is great way to find affordable but good food when you're tired of the dining hall and sick of ramen. And, to keep your iPad fed, the Free on iTunes blog is a great way to find new free stuff on the U.S. version of iTunes. Pay attention to the Top Charts in the app store: there are two lists of app for every category, including games and education, and one list tracks the top free apps.

Have a great school year!

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