I’ve always been interested in Virtual Reality and the possibilities it holds. In its early days, I spent a lot of time in Second Life. I still think that at some point VR is going to fundamentally change our lives.
Although I’m usually an early-adopter, I tried to hold back on VR a bit. Then over the holidays I had a chance to really use an HTC Vive setup, and decided I could wait no longer.
I commenced my usual excessive research and in late January I made a decision and started ordering gear.
Which gear? Some of the “inside out” headsets on the horizon were tempting, but I’m skeptical that they will have the processing power and movement-tracking quality of the PC-based headsets, so I narrowed my search to the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
I went with the Vive. It was close between this and the Rift, but after looking at a lot of reviews and comparisons the Vive seemed to be a slightly better option. The fact that my son has one was also a factor – I could be sure that any multi-player games we might want to try would be available without them needing to be available on both platforms.
It was also a close call between the Vive and the Vive Pro. I chose the Vive mainly because I was not certain just how much I’d really use VR and this was an attempt to not go too wild. If money is no object and/or you are convinced that VR will be amazing, the Pro is pretty tempting. It’s better, but probably not amazingly better. And the price difference is significant.
One big advantage of the Pro beyond better resolution is the Deluxe Audio Strap. This is a $100 option if you add it to the regular Vive headset.
The Deluxe Audio Strap is not only more comfortable, but it avoids the need to fool with earbuds. Well worth the money, and was an immediate upgrade for me.
The next issue is how you run the headset. If you have a Windows PC with a sufficiently fast GPU, then you are all set. I’m a Mac guy, so what I had was a very nice Mac laptop with completely inadequate graphics performance for VR. Yeah, you can do things with external GPUs. However, that only addresses the hardware side.
On the software side, the amount of games and applications that are Windows-only is vast. Apple has a real chicken-and-egg problem here, and until they solve it Windows is really the only viable platform for the full VR experience.
I bought an Alienware Aurora R7 tower, and it’s worked well so far. (Other than having to use Windows 10, which is as awful as I was afraid it was going to be.)
I’ll explain later why I went with a desktop and not a laptop.
Here’s the key specs for mine:
- 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-8700 Processor 3.2GHz
- 16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
- 2TB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
- 8GB NVIDIA® GTX 1080 Graphics
Only thing wrong with the model I got was that instead of an SSD it had a spinning drive. I immediately replaced this with a 512G SATA SSD for a reasonable price. The system I bought was from Costco, and that was worth the drive shenanigans – I like their extended warranty and return policy.
The GTX 1080 is more than the base Vive headset really needs, but I wanted to aim a little high so that when I upgrade to the next generation headset in a couple years, I won’t need to replace my PC hardware as well (hopefully).
I’ve made one other upgrade, which is the HTC wireless adapter for the Vive. This was $300 well spent. Not having to worry about stepping on and getting tangled up in the wire to the headset is great.
May not matter as much if you play mostly games and apps that are “seated” experiences, but for anything room-scale, it is a great advancement.
My suggestion would be to start wired and see just how annoying it is, which is what I did.
Some of the games I enjoy involve a lot of movement and turning, so this was well worth it to me.
I’m still in the early stages, with a lot of games and apps to look at but so far it’s been pretty amazing. I’ll certainly have more updates as I get to spend more time in VR.
Now that I’ve had the iPad Pro for about three months, a friend pointed out it’s time for an update to my initial impressions blog post from back in November.
Spoiler: It is great, happy with my purchase!
I still really appreciate the larger screen. For things like PDF documents, technical books, and graphic novels it is dramatically better than the normal full-sized iPad.
And multi-tasking with two apps open on the screen has been a nice productivity advantage in some cases. I use my iPad more for leisure and travel than actual productive work so my expectation would be that for actual work that feature would be a huge factor.
The accessories (Smart Cover and Pencil) are both quite nice In my opinion, and I discuss them a bit more later in this post.
It is certainly true for some people (those who care not about the pencil and the keyboard) that the iPad Pro is just a normal iPad with a larger screen and better speakers. But I don’t see that as a failing of the Pro – most of my use has been without those accessories, and the large screen has made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the iPad.
While I haven’t done any actual benchmarking, the Pro seems to be quite fast, especially compared to my generations-old iPad. This has made using it a pleasure as well.
Watching video has also been, as expected, better with the larger screen. When we travel, we use the iPad as our “TV” in the hotel – great to unwind by watching a show via iTunes or Netflix. So the bigger screen plus the better speakers make it wonderful for that purpose. Nice having no external wired or bluetooth speaker to mess with. And of course, it is our inflight entertainment system when we fly.
Apple Smart Keyboard (Cover)
If you are the type of typist who can live with the minimal-travel keys on the Smart Keyboard, that is quite a nice accessory! It’s basically full-sized to allow touch-typing. Using that keyboard cover I’ve entered much more text that I would have wanted to dow with the onscreen keyboard. And that’s even taking into account the much nicer size of the onscreen keyboard that the iPad pro allows.
I was not an external keyboard guy with my previous iPads, so can’t really compare to earlier offerings. What I do like is that since it is a cover, it can be “always there” if I want it, albeit at the cost of a noticeably thicker cover. Noticeably, but not annoyingly. Still seems almost like just a cover, but with a thicker section than the normal no-keyboard cover that Apple sells.
For artists and anyone who likes doing even fairly simple drawings, the Apple Pencil is quite amazing. I have zero artistic ability, but the Apple Pencil actually tempts me to look into some classes or something that can allow me to take advantage of its capabilities. The way it replicates doing things like shading with the side of a pencil point is really amazing. If you have a shred of artistic talent, you should really spend a little time at an Apple Store playing with the Pencil.
I was really looking forward to Apple announcing an iPad update this Fall. My iPad 3 was due for replacement, being heavy and slow due to the GPU being underpowered for the Retina display. Since the iPad Air 2 had been out for a year, I was waiting for its refresh/replacement model.
When Apple did not announce any new full-sized iPads, I was greatly disappointed.Sure, they announced a new iPad Mini, but I’d had a mini at one point, and missed the larger screen.
As time passed I started to give more and more thought to the iPad Pro that had been announced. Awesome screen. Great sound. Fast CPU and GPU. Huh.
The more I though about it and the way I tend to use my iPad, the more I thought maybe the Pro would work. So when ordering became available, I ordered one, and picked it up the next day at a local Apple store!
Here are my early impressions.
Yeah, it’s not small. But the large screen is terrific. In the same way the mini screen felt to cramped to me, the Pro screen feels better than the “normal” iPad screen. The device is a little heavy, but coming from an iPad 3, which is pretty heavy itself, it’s not bad at all. Admittedly not something you want to spend a lot of time holding up in mid-air, but resting own a lap or a table is more common in my experience anyway. If you are coming from an iPad Air or a mini, your opinion about the added weight may differ from mine!
Great. Very fast and fluid. Haven’t done much that really taxes it (e.g. gaming) yet, but for my normal everyday tasks performance is great.
Having an iPad with a Touch ID sensor is wonderful. I know this isn’t the first iPad to offer that, but it’s a new iPad feature for me!
The audio is impressive. Amazing sound from an iPad.
Split-screen multitasking. So so good. It took me less than a day to begin being annoyed by the apps that don’t support this feature yet. Being able to have two apps on the screen and active at the same time is a fundamental improvement in usability. Even though the pre-existing app switching functionality is pretty fast, not having to do it at all is a vast improvement in usability. Evernote in one pane for reference or not-taking with a browser or some other app in another pane is very cool. And by cool I mean “incredibly useful”.
I expect it to be transformative for travel. When we fly somewhere, the iPad becomes our major device for entertainment. TV shows and movies one the airplane, as well as in the hotel room.
Really looking forward to the larger screen for this purpose. And no more need for a Bluetooth speaker in the hotel. The audio from the iPad itself is plenty for watching video. And, I expect, for background music in the room.
Since the iPad Pro is treated like an iPad for purposes of airplane restrictions, it means that even though the screen is in the laptop size range we can use it during takeoffs and landings. And it can stay in my backpack through security.
I also expect the game of protecting a laptop screen from the suddenly reclined seat on the airplane to be eliminated by the iPad Pro as well. (I’ll admit I need to obtain the new keyboard cover and test this to be sure, but it seems like a reasonable conjecture.)
Combined with a hardware keyboard it should be able to eliminate the need for a laptop when traveling. I never got as much time to program when traveling as I thought I would anyway, and that’s about the only thing the iPad can’t do that the laptop can. And if the rumors of Xcode for the iPad Pro are true…
The Apple Pencil. The Smart Keyboard. Two things I don’t have. When I pre-ordered my iPad Pro, I foolishly thought it would be the hard-to-get item and the accessories would be readily available and I could grab them once I decided how the device itself was going to work for me. Oops. I have both on order, but by the time I decided to place those orders, the deliver time was 4-5 weeks out. Sigh.
I’ve heard nothing but good about the Pencil. So even though I’m in no way an artist, I want to take a look. I do like to sketch diagrams and such, so I’m hopeful it will be useful even for me.
I’m a little more uncertain about the keyboard/cover combo. If Xcode for the iPad ever does actually appear, then OMG yes yes yes. But since I’m not a writer, or even a rabid blogger, I don’t find myself typing that much on an iPad. I suspect that multitasking (and the larger screen) might change that equation a bit for me, but up until now I was much more of a “consumer” on my iPad than a creator.
But the laptop-replacement aspect of the device seems to be related to having a well integrated keyboard, so in for a penny, in for a pound.
Bottom line is I’m looking forward to trying them both!
And if the keyboard isn’t useful for me, it would be for my wife. Who does not have an iPad Pro. But if it is as useful for me as I think it’s going to be, it would be even more useful for her. So I’m expecting/fearing we might have to become a two iPad Pro family at some point. 🙂
Wonderful screen real estate, fast, enough space for multitasking to be comfortable. I love it so far.
When the iPad mini was released, I bought one to see just how that size would work. I really liked it, to the point where I regretted getting just the 16G wifi- only model. I also missed the Retina display of my full-sized iPad. My plan was to grab a Retina mini when they release today, but since Apple made the full-sized iPad so much lighter and a bit smaller (but same screen size), my decision became a lot harder.
And then, to further complicate things, I happened to see the latest Nook e-reader at Barnes & Noble last night, and was impressed by both it’s extremely light weight, its small size, and the nice illuminated screen. (I’ve always been a fan of e-ink)
So now I’m contemplating just sticking with my full-sized 3rd gen iPad, perhaps getting rid of the iPad mini, and grabbing a new e-ink reader to fill the “just reading a book” niche.
(Yes, I still have my original Nook, but it’s about the size and weight of the iPad mini, so it hasn’t gotten much use lately.)
The iPad mini is an experiment – wifi only and just 16G, so not planned to replace my “big” iPad.
May put the Nook into the museum though (or limited to use on the beach where sun makes LCDs a poor choice).
The mini is thinner and lighter than the Nook and just slightly larger width and height. And iBooks is way nicer than the somewhat limited Nook software.
The new Lightning connector is very slick – easy to connect and feels a little less fragile than the complicated 30-pin connector of yore. Yes, it’s a pain to have to (slowly) transition all of my cables and devices, but the 30-pin connector had a good run.
The display is certainly less crisp than the Retina display on my full-size iPad, but it’s not bad, just not as good. If you’ve never spent time using a Retina iPad, it will look great, as the dpi is actually better than that of the non-Retina iPads.
Cannot believe that Apple releases OSX Lion on the day I’m headed to Florida! Guess I’ll just have to be satisfied reading John Siracusa’s review on Ars Technica.
It does tempt me to take my trusty old MacBook Air with me, but not sure I want to try downloading an OS over hotel WiFi.
And speaking of MacBook Airs, the upgraded models announced today look really sweet. I don’t need a new laptop, but I sure want one.
Have gotten Pages to crash when looking at inserting a shape, I think. Document was ok.
The ability to use Pages in both landscape (better if you like a big keyboard) as well as portrait is nice.
I’m enjoying both GoodReader and InstaPaper Pro.
The on-screen keyboard should be prettier. It’s clear and functional, but lacks the “ooh – pretty” factor that so much of the rest of the iPad has.
See an app like PCalc for an example of how nice keys can look.
After using the iPad on my flight to Italy, I have to say that it is excellent for that purpose. No issues with trying to open a laptop screen in a crowded seat, or fears of the destruction that can be cause by the person in front of you leaning their seat back!
No cleaning cloth? Apple seems to be cheaping out a bit here.
WiFi sensitivity does seem a bit less than other devices.
After several days in Italy with no Internet for my iPad I am thinking a bit harder about the whole wifi-only versus wifi-plus-3G question. Not that that should have helped here – with the insane data rates I’d be paying in Europe, even my iPhone is not connected to the internet.
Now, this isn’t really a fair test since even without 3G, if I was a stateside I’d have regular Internet connections which would at least let me sort of “cache up” some data. But still… Thinking about it.
Seems like there is plenty of room to put more app icons on the screens. Did Apple decide not to for aesthetic reasons? Avoiding the too-crowded look?
The iBooks app is completely amazing. Very good book reader, lots of eye candy.
It is weird that iTunes mixes both audio and print books in its “Books” section of the library. With no way (from the grid view) to tell which are audiobooks and which are print e-books.
Zooming in and out (for example – in a web page) is so fast it amazes me.
Still trashing around looking for a good PDF reader app. Tried ReaddleDocs (as in purchased it) due to the Dropbox integration, but that functionality goes through their servers, and I’m not certain I like that idea.
Trying GoodReader next.
GoodReader looks pretty good. Unlike ReaddleDocs, it supports the new way of doc sync via iTues.
The Apple case is nice, and not only protects the screen (when closed), but makes the entire device much less slippery. Only drawback so far is that you can’t place the iPad into the (optional) dock when it’s in the case.
Due to the slippery factor, I’d suggest that if you don’t plan to have it live in a case, buying a “skin” of some sort for the back might be a good idea. Either the silicon type, or (my preference) a stick-on skin from GelaSkins.
Weatherbug is very cool.
Update on Charging: The 5W iPhone chargers will actually charge it, but more slowly. And my MBA seems to charge it as well. Also appears that even a computer that doesn’t provide enough charging current when the iPad is “awake” might charge it very slowly if the iPad is “asleep”.
I’m spending way more on apps for the iPad than I did for the iPhone. Wonder if that’s due to it feeling like the apps are worth more since they run on a “bigger” platform?