Apple are geniuses at showing us how technology can be used in novel ways within our everyday lives. The latest and greatest of all these gadgets is, of course, the iPad. I have heard all sorts of uses they have been put to: as an ebook reader, as a toy for the kids, as a way to access online recipes while cooking and so on.

My dear husband calls these little technological gadgets ‘shinies’. Most of us love to buy the shinies – and I am no exception. Lately I have come across a couple of posts from professors singing the iPad’s praises as a research assistant. So – is the shiny new iPad something you should buy to help you with thesis?

My friend @deanp – an enthusiastic early adopter and PhD student – outlined some of the benefits and disadvantages of his new iPad in an email the other day. He likes that he can check email on the run, read news and blogs, as well as access other documents in many formats. In particular he likes to put notes on PDFs and draw diagrams with the simple vector graphics tools.

@deanp claims that the battery life on the iPad is good, which means that it can probably be used to watch videos on the couch for hours … but I shouldn’t promote this feature as it sounds to me like this could make the iPad the enemy of done. Some people have complained that the iPad is too heavy, but @Deanp reckons it is fine for long hours of holding and playing with.

So far it is sounding pretty good, but on the downside @deanp claims that the iPad’s full word processing feature is let down by difficulties in integration with referencing software like endnote. He also acknowledges that it’s not great for taking notes in lectures (but, dare I say it, we still have paper for this). He is a little annoyed by the lack of Flash and found the lack multi-tasking meant he had to make some adjustments to his working style. @Deanp likes using ‘Keynote’ for presentations and has a connector which enables him to plug into monitors and projectors.

I’m not sure that the iPad is a real laptop replacement yet – but this is certainly the direction that Apple and other tablet developers seem to be heading in.

This conversation made me think about the other shinies which make great PhD companions. For instance – I do love my new Android phone for many things, but not the least for the way I can call up book reviews and my research notes at the library shelf. I am interested to hear from others what technology they find indispensable in their research life.

So – what shinies do you have? How do you use them in your research? Which ones would you recommend to other PhD students and why?

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