So I decided to take the plunge and pick up an iPad and use it for work. I opted for the 3G version. which gives me Internet access when I’m not connected to a Wi-Fi network. This comes in handy when traveling or giving presentations where Internet access isn’t available, such as workplaces that don’t allow guests to connect to their network or issues come up when trying to connect. In the past, I’ve used tethering between my laptop and a cell phone, and have considered wireless data devices that plug into a USB port. Both options are a bit cumbersome to set up, and the cost and contracts involved with the wireless data devices are a barrier to entry.

What I like about the iPad 3G setup is it’s fast to set up, there’s no extra USB device to keep track of, and there’s no contract. I’m using the entry level $14.99/month plan (up to 250 MB in bandwidth) which makes me judicious about when I use 3G service. For the most part, I’m using the iPad at the office, at home, or in other places with Wi-Fi like airports and coffee shops, but the 3G has already come in handy during a presentation at a restaurant and in an office. When I’m not connected to Wi-Fi, I’m typically only using 3G for checking emails and browsing the web. No Pandora or YouTube for me in my quest to save money on the data plan, and the quality isn’t that great when streaming video.

Setting up the iPad through iTunes takes some time, especially if you’re copying over a lot of audio, video, photos, and apps. It didn’t help that I originally had a lemon that kept restarting on its own. Thankfully, the Apple Store came to the rescue and replaced my iPad free of charge. Once that was taken care of, it was on to exploring what apps to install, and the best way to protect it:

Essential apps for work

It becomes quickly apparent that the apps made for the iPad’s screen are way better than running the apps made for the iPhone’s little screen. Definitely opt for the versions that take advantage of the full screen real estate on the iPad(look for “HD” or “XL” at the end of app names). I’ve been a little disappointed with the selection of productivity apps overall, but these are the ones I’ve found to be most useful so far:

• Documents: GoodReader (essential tool for viewing a variety of files), Keynote(beautiful way to present and create simple presentations), PagesNumbers
• Communication: IM+ (unified place for instant messaging chats across multiple platforms), Twitterrific (clean design), TweetDeck (powerful features)
• Research: Pulse (fun news reader with quite a story), BloombergZinio(browse magazines and go green), iBooks
• Brainstorming: Adobe Ideas (Drew Bernard said it best: “I really like their sketch pad. I have tried all kinds of electronic sketchpads over the years Adobe Idea on the iPad is the first one that really works for me.“), SketchBook
• Utilities: Dragon (turns audio into text), Analytics HD (Google Analytics dashboard), Jumbo (calculator)
• Travel: Weather ChannelWorld ClockKayak Flights

Cases and bags

As opposed to cell phones (you need a case) and laptops (you need a bag), for the iPad you’ll probably want to get both a case (protection against scratches and more grip so the iPad doesn’t fly out of your hands or slide off a table which isn’t a problem with laptops) and a bag (phones can slip into a pocket, but unless you have Stephen Colbert’s iPad suit you’ll need a bag to carry the iPad around).

First, check out iLounge’s iPad accessory reviews. The number of cases reviewed will make your head spin. Fortunately, I’ve poured through a ton of them and came up with this short list for you:

• Cases: DODOcase (amazing Moleskine-style bamboo case!), Incase Grip
• Bags: STM JacketSTM ScoutTimbuk2 FreestyleWaterField Muzetto

In my next post, I’ll explore what happens when I leave my laptop behind and use the iPad outside the office.