ipad review

Which iPad?

A lot of folks have been asking me about which iPad they should get. The answer is that it depends. Only you can decide whether the extra expense of a data plan is worth it to you, so I can’t help much with that part.

As for whether to get the New iPad or the iPad 2, I have the original iPad and the New iPad. Everything they say about the new screen is true, but  in most real life situations I don’t find that it makes all that much difference unless you’re a major pixel peeper. (Yes, I know lots of people disagree–I guess it depends on how you use it.) For music reading in particular, the only major advantage to the newer model is that the angle of view is much better–you can see what’s the screen more easily when it’s not dead on straight to you than you can with the original iPad, and it does get brighter, too. But for reading PDF sheet music, I can’t really say I see a lot of difference in the way things look on the better screen. I’ve read several articles saying that text is amazingly, hugely better, but I just don’t see that, honestly. Yes, there’s a difference, but it’s not as enormous a difference as the hype machine would have you believe.

I do find the color rendering is sometimes a bit peculiar with the new super screen, which can be over saturated and unrealistic looking at times. Night scenes in video are particularly noticeable–the highest budget film can look like the lighting budget was in the hundreds of dollars sometimes. I guess you could argue that it’s actually more realistic, since it looks like people acting under artificial lighting, which is just what it is, but it’s not always exactly pleasing.

It’s true that it gets a bit warm, but if you have a case this is pretty much of a non-issue. It seems like the battery life is less than on the older model, but in real life it’s pretty close.

I ran a test, running movies continuously at maximum brightness with the sound, push notifications, and bluetooth all turned off. I started at 10:17 AM, and the New iPad went to sleep at 6:05 pm and the iPad 1 at 6:22–pretty close considering how much more screen the new one is driving. Of course, it takes a lot longer to fully recharge the New iPad, not surprising considering the size of the battery.

So if you’re a musician, which one do I recommend? I think your best bang for the buck right now is to get a new iPad 2. Apple cut the price on this model so it would be a real bargain anyway, and there are several reports that it has hugely improved battery life in the current iteration. With a starting price of $399, you really can’t go wrong.

Photoshop for iPad?

Well, well, who’d  have thunk it? If you’ve tried Adobe’s Photoshop Express for iPad, you know that it’s not bad, but also not a shining star among the many apps available for gussying up your photos, and not much like either Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

But according to Photography Bay, Adobe just demoed a new app that’s a kind of Photoshop for iPad with layers and all. You can read more about it and watch a demo here.

Very interesting idea, but I have to wonder how they’ll work around two big problems with this kind of stuff: the white points for iPads are all over the place and there’s currently no way to calibrate one, and it’s hard to be ultra-precise for things like masking when using your finger (or a capacitive stylus). Still, I bet it would be really interesting for quickly editing an image to upload out in the field.

If you currently use PS or PSE and you find masking to be a difficult concept, it’s worth watching the video just to see their animated layers example. Very clear visual of how masking works. (Incidentally, the demo is Flash so you can’t watch it on your iPad.)

Part 6: iPad Cases for the Gig

Now that you’ve got your iPad and your apps, you’ll definitely want a case to protect it while it’s on your stand. It’s a long way down if it should fall, and it’s a lot easier to handle the iPad when it’s in a case. There are literally thousands and thousands of cases/bags/skins/wraps, at just about any price point you want. A site like iLounge is a good place to get an idea of what all is out there. These are the two cases I have (a well-dressed iPad usually has a wardrobe, not just a single case), but you may well find something else that works better for you.

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Apple iPad Case

Nobody loves this case ($39), but a whole lot of people use it. I’ve looked at lots of other cases, and while I totally understand and agree with the unenthusiasm it creates, I wound up going back to it for use in the house.

apple iPad Case
The Apple Case. Not a thing of beauty, but it works

Let’s start with the bad. The first thing that strikes most people about this case is that it feels pretty darned cheap for something from Apple. It’s true–it’s not at all the kind of quality I’d expect from them. The corners are sharp, which makes it kind of uncomfortable to hand hold until you figure out the technique. And the microfiberish surface attracts all sorts of gunk.

On the other hand, it’s definitely the slimmest case that includes a screen cover. It’s very lightweight and adds almost nothing to the thickness of the iPad (although it does make it taller and wider). It’s pretty easy to wipe the cover clean, too. So if you need to put the iPad on a stand along with printed music books or if you want to throw the iPad into your regular gig bag, this is a very decent, inexpensive way to do it. I use this cover all the time at home. (Yes, it’s extremely hard to get the iPad out of this case the first couple of times you try, but either the case gives a little or you get the technique down after you’ve done it a couple of times. It does get easier.)

In the first post in this series I mentioned how much I love just bringing one small clutch-sized bag on a job, so there’s no clutter to stow and no piles of stuff around the stand. In order to do that, there’s really only one case choice right now.

Happy Owl Studio Clutch

Shortly after the iPad was first announced Happy Owl Studio announced that they would be producing this case ($80), which is a combination of a case and a clutch purse. It looked like the dream gig case–just remove the shoulder strap, open up the clutch, put on the stand and away you go. Nothing  lurking around to stow, and no more having to worry about the security of a purse parked in a drawer miles away from where you are.

Lots of people, including me, ordered them and waited for them to get into production. And waited. And waited. Finally, they began to trickle in just in the nick of time for Christmas. Was it worth the wait? Almost.

It’s a cute little purse (I get a lot of compliments on it from people who have no idea there’s an iPad in there, and you can see the closed clutch here), and it holds a lot of stuff, considering:

inside the Happy Owl Clutch
You can see one all beautifully arranged on their website. Here's a candid of the inside of mine.

Here’s what’s in mine:

  1. Credit cards and drivers license.
  2. Cash for valet.
  3. Antique cell phone (no reception where I live so it’s not worth having a smart phone).
  4. Virgin Mobile Mifi (for internet connection, since I have the wifi-only iPad).
  5. iPod Touch (for the cameras).
  6. Cable for tuner pickup (the pickup itself could also go, but my gig harp has a built-in pickup).
  7. Glasses (to see iPad screen, sigh).
  8. Tuning key
  9. Nail clippers.
  10. Comb and  (some) makeup.
  11. Pen, pencil, stylus.
  12. Square credit card reader in Square Snare.
  13. Business cards.
  14. Copy of signed contract. (I could scan it in, but I never have time.)
  15. Microfiber lens cloth for cleaning iPad screen (these come in nice flat little cases).

That’s a lot of stuff in in a very slim little bag, but it takes careful arranging to get it all in there without stressing out the zipper (if you do overload it, it’s a self-healing zipper, so you can just run the pull back over the separated area and the teeth will get back together). The iPad lives in its own compartment, so you don’t have to worry about scratching the screen.

It’s almost the perfect case, but there are some flaws, some of them major. First of all, their quality control isn’t what it should be. I ordered two of these and the first one, a red limited edition with  looser pleats which I gave away, was flawless. The second one, the blue one,  has some issues. When I opened the box, instead of the nice new leather smell that accompanied the red one, there was an overpowering smell like auto paint. Fortunately this dissipated in a couple of days.

Also, the construction was shoddier. There was lots of extra glue everywhere, even on the cute little metal owl logo on the snap. And the corners of the purse section had been pulled too tight so they were already bending away from the iPad side, making it look kind of tired before it had ever been used. More importantly, this means that it’s easier for stuff to get into the iPad side and possibly scratch the screen.

The clips on the strap work very smoothly, so it’s not a chore to remove the strap when you put the iPad on your stand, but several people have reported having the D-rings on the case itself pull loose  from the weight of the iPad because they’re not attached to anything stronger than the case leather. I haven’t had this problem, but then if I’m not on a job I usually take the strap off and treat the clutch as a big wallet and carry it in a purse. And I still see some minor stressing on the connection points.

back of Happy Owl Clutch open on music stand
On the stand, from the audience perspective.
Happy Owl Clutch on music stand from front
And the performer's view. It fits perfectly.

The purse side of it is really tight on space. There’s really not room for anything wider than its own strap. Even the iPad wall charger is pushing it. I’d like it a lot more if there were even another half inch of selvage on the zipper so that there was a bit more slack so I wouldn’t have to be so meticulous about putting things into it. You won’t get a set of harp strings in this case, incidentally. For me, since I mostly gig on a lever harp with a case that has a string pocket, this isn’t a big deal, but for a pedal harpist, it’s a consideration. You also won’t get even the tiniest hairbrush into it, and if you’ve got a long day where your makeup requirements involve full field artillery, it’s not so hot there, either.

It comes in red, the blue that I have, and a nice musicianly black (which unfortunately is lined with a rather lurid purple, which is why I don’t have that one). During the long, long wait lots of us searched and searched for an alternative, but although there are thousands and thousands of different cases of all sizes and colors, this is the only one any of us could find that has a purse, a strap, and lets you leave the iPad in it while you use it. I’d love to see them refine the construction and get a better grip on their quality control for the iPad 2 version.

Although it’s not heavy, it does add quite a bit of bulk to the iPad, which is why I prefer the slimmer Apple case when I don’t need to have everything at right at hand.

If you’re a guy and you want something that won’t look like a murse, or if you just don’t like pleats, they also have a wallet which is the same thing  in plain leather without the strap, but you can find a lot of alternatives if you forgo the strap.

There are innumerable other case options if you don’t need the all-in-one business. You can even find a case that makes your iPad look like a nice antique book.

Next time: No-hands page turns.

Part 3: Apps for your sheet music

Once you have your iPad, the next thing is to decide what app(s) you want to use for storing and organizing your sheet music. For the most part you want to have your music in PDF format, and a lot of people bumble along with one of the generic PDF readers like GoodReader or iBooks, but you’re really missing out on a lot of useful musician’s tools if you do that.

(If you missed the earlier posts, you can go to Part 1 or Part 2 of this series to get caught up.)

You’ll find a slew of dedicated music readers in the App Store. My favorite is forScore ($4.99), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here, but there are others with somewhat similar feature sets, including Music Reader (free) and Unreal Book ($4.99). What’s great about these apps is that they are designed and built by musicians who created them for their own use, so a lot of thought has gone into making them work well, and development on them is continuing at a blazing rate–there were something like twenty updates to forScore last year, and the iPad didn’t even appear until April.

If you buy music from musicnotes.com, they also have an app that makes it easy to get your purchases onto your iPad. More about that one in my next post.


forScore logoThis is absolutely my all-time favorite iPad app. It’s a wonderfully competent organizer and reader for sheet music PDFs. You can organize your music in various ways (organizer, title, genre) and also create setlists of the tunes you plan to play on a particular job, if you like. You can add keywords and ratings and use those as search terms.

You get all kinds of things, like a web browser, so you can just download a new tune right into forScore when someone requests it during the gig, as long as you can find it in PDF  someplace on the internet (if you have a connection, of course). Normally you can add scores by emailing them or just by dropping them into forScore in iTunes on your computer.

There’s a metronome which can be a regular click metronome, or you can set it to pulse the edges of the page if you want a visual guide. You can even set it to turn the pages of the score for you as you practice.  You can share your scores with other musicians in your group via Bluetooth, if they also have forScore.

And yes, you can mark up your  music. You can write with your finger or a stylus, or there are what forScore calls “stamps” which let you put in things like fingering numbers just by touching where you want them to go. (But I have to admit I can never get those stupid numbers right where I want them.)

It would take pages and pages to go into everything that you can do in forScore, but here are some of my favorite things:

  • You can set it to go from one tune in your setlist  to the next just by turning the page, so you don’t have to go back into the menus again to get to the next piece.
turn pages in forscore for ipad
How it works: This shows where you touch to navigate. Tap or swipe in the right zone to go forwards, in the left zone to turn backwards, or touch the middle to bring up the controls.
  • Da capos, repeats, etc. are a dream with forScore. You can set up links in your score which appear as a transparent blue button. Tap that button and wham! you’re right back where you wanted to be, no matter how many pages back it was. The score even flashes orange twice in the exact spot so you can find it quickly. I LOVE this! I’ll try to get a video put up showing how it works, but in the meantime here’s a screenshot of the blue button:
button for repeats in forscore
Just tap the blue button, and you're back to the start of the repeat, no matter how many pages back it may be. (click for larger image)
  • Margin adjustment. Use a slider to expand the view of a file so that the notes fill the available screen space. You can also pinch a page to enlarge it, but when you use the margin slider, forScore remembers them and keeps the score at that size. forScore also remembers where you left off last time, so the next time you launch forScore or the next time you go to a particular piece, you’re right where you were.

It’s not absolutely perfect. Since the last major operating system update, iOS 4, page turns on really large PDF files can be slow sometimes. It’s mostly very reliable, but I have had forScore quit on me two or three times, which is really disconcerting in mid-piece, even though it’s only a couple of taps to get back to where you were. (Tip: It’s a very good idea to power cycle your iPad after a forScore update or even after adding a large number of new files. That pretty much avoids the quitting.)

There are still a few features that it doesn’t have. You can’t adjust the margins independently instead of globally enlarging a score, which would be useful for scans of printed music since they usually have uneven margins.  (This is evidently pretty hard to include, according to the developer, and there’s a workaround on the forscore website but it’s a pain and not worth the effort it requires, in my opinion.)

My main want, though, is a Bride button. By this, I mean a button something like the one used for an in-score link (shown above), only this one would float over all the pieces in a set, so that at any moment you can jump to a particular tune in the set. I’d like this for those situations where you’re playing the prelude,  the wedding coordinator comes out and says it will be ten more minutes, and you look up 30 seconds later and there are bridesmaids on the horizon. (Yeah, that’s no biggie if it’s Pachelbel, but when the bride requests something like Noel Coward’s “Zigeuner,” it would be very, very handy.)

Finally, the documentation never quite keeps up with the app itself. Given how quickly features are being added it’s not surprising, but it is sometimes annoying. forScore is far from unique in this, though, and it does have the best manual of any of the music reading apps I’ve found.

To me, forScore is the single best app for sheet music viewing. There’s a lot of feature copying going on among all these competing apps, and this is a good thing for iPad owners, but to me the interface and organizational features of forScore make it the one to get. On the other hand, given how cheap the apps are, you should probably download several and see which one works best for you. You won’t go far wrong with any of them.

Part 2: The iPad goes to a gig

So just what can the ipad do for you on a gig? Well,  you can fit all the sheet music you could possibly want on the longest job on something you can easily hold in one hand, for one thing. And it can also replace your electronic tuner, stand light, watch, and calendar. It can help make sure you don’t get lost on the way to the gig. You can take credit cards from forgetful brides, so you don’t have to wait around while someone runs back to the room for the checkbook, without the hassle and expense of setting a merchant account. You can even include a book to read or a movie to watch on your break.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yeah, it’s totally wonderful, except when it’s not. Playing from an iPad is different in a lot of ways, and you definitely want to practice with it before you head out the door. For one thing, music on the iPad is smaller than a printed score. Sometimes a lot smaller. Here’s the same page in print next to the iPad rendering, so you can get an idea of the difference:

printed sheet music compared to iPad version
Click for a larger version.

As you can see, if you’ve got great eyesight or really good glasses, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re like me, in the years where you need glasses for regular reading but not yet for reading what’s on the stand, it’s a dilemma. Vanity or vision? Of course, if you turn the iPad sideways, the notes are back to nearly normal size, but you have a whole lot of scrolling to do to get through a page:

music on the ipad turned sideways
Now the music is larger, but there's a lot less of it.

So while this is useful when you’re practicing hard on a couple of measures, for most people sideways isn’t going to work so well on the gig.

Another consideration is that you can only see one page at a time. If you play a single-line instrument where much of your music is only one page long  this isn’t much of an issue, or even if you play a keyboard instrument where you can turn with either hand. But for harpists, (we can only turn pages with the left hand because of where the stand is placed relative to the harp), it’s something to think about.

On the other hand, you just tap or swipe to turn the page, so turning is a lot faster, especially compared to trying to turn in windy conditions with page clips everywhere. And there’s a nifty bluetooth foot pedal that lets you turn without taking your hands off the strings. (More on that in a later post.)

The biggest problem with the iPad, though, is the screen itself. It’s great in dim light. You don’t need a stand light anymore, and it can put out enough light to illuminate your strings, too. For lever harpists, it’s borderline okay for finding your levers, even on a high-headed style harp. (For non-harpists, the lever harp is called that because the strings have  hand levers you flip to change the pitch of a string to make sharps and flats. The pedal harp has, you guessed it,  a series of foot pedals for this.)

But in bright light? Well that’s a whole ‘nother story. Those Kindle ads aren’t kidding when they make fun of how impossible it is to see the iPad in full sunshine. The screen washes out badly, making it almost useless for what would otherwise be its best musical use–those miserable outdoor jobs where the sun is beating down and there’s a semi-gale blowing. Even if you are stern and insistent with your clients about shade, that’s not always a complete solution:

the ipad in reflected light
When glare happens. This is inside in a fairly dim room with bright sunshine outside the sliding doors.

Reflected glare can be really, really bad with that shiny screen. I’ve tried several different anti-glare films on my iPad. They work great on the iPod, but even the best of them, the one from Power Support, isn’t enough of a help on the iPad. The glare just becomes more diffuse, but it’s still there. I wound up removing the film altogether, partly because the iPad seemed to run warmer with the film on it. You do get a little used to glare after a while, but I sure wouldn’t want to be sight-reading in a glare-ish location.

Ironically, though, all those customers who can’t understand at all why a very expensive instrument needs to be out of the sun are invariably totally cooperative when I say, “But my iPad needs to be in the shade.” That they get immediately. I’ve never once had a client refuse to move me to the shade for the sake of the iPad, for all that they’ll always argue and roll their eyes about getting the harp itself out of the sun.

Another point about the iPad is that it’s rather heavy for its size. You definitely want a good solid stand if you’re going to use it, rather than a cheap folding wire stand, or anything prone to twisting around when bumped. I love my Anderson music stand, but a plain old Manhasset should be fine, too, or any sturdy wooden stand. If you already have mic stands around, you can just get the iKlip or the GigEasy, but I don’t want to lug something as hefty as a mic stand everywhere I go.

So while it’s far from ideal, I love having the iPad on a gig, with certain limitations. I don’t want to sightread music that size, even in ideal lighting conditions, for one thing, and I’m not crazy about it for ensemble scores with more than one cue line.

But it’s definitely the future and it can be very, very convenient compared to lugging around twenty pounds of sheet music. And it’s wonderful to have all your music with you, so that when you’ve only been hired to play classical for the ceremony and they ask you afterwards to stay for the reception since the DJ didn’t show up, you can just tap your screen to break out the Bruno Mars or whatever. And I find that clients really like it that there’s no need to have the tunes bag and the purse and anything else that might be necessary cluttering up the floor nearby.

I don’t think I’d buy an iPad today, though, especially not for use as a music reader. There are lots of rumors that the next version of the iPad, which is probably only a couple of months away at most, will be lighter weight and have a less shiny screen. There’s also a rumor that it will have a smaller bezel area, but I don’t believe that one. While the iPad would be absolutely perfect for music reading if you could expand the working area to include all that black space around the edges of the  screen, losing the bezel width would be pretty annoying for a lot non-music uses.

But it’s really all about the apps. Those are what make the iPad so pleasant to use. Next time, I’ll tell you about my favorite music organizing apps and about how to get sheet music onto the  iPad.

EDIT: Oh yeah, I forgot. A couple of people have emailed me to ask how long the iPad battery lasts. For me, it’s close to ten hours on one charge, as long as I turn off Push notifications, so it will get you through the longest day of gigging.