The Great iPad Type-Off

By  |  Monday, April 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

Can an iPad replace a notebook, at least for casual use on a weekend jaunt? That’s actually several questions rolled into one. And one of the most important ones is “How’s the keyboard?”

I decided to do a test–a very unscientific one–to see how quickly I could bang out text on the iPad, in both its landscape and portrait orientations. A few notes on this undertaking:

  • I tested the iPad against a 15-inch MacBook Pro (with an excellent full-sized keyboard), an Asus EeePC 1000HE (a netbook with a pretty good keyboard by netbook standards), and an iPhone 3GS (with a keyboard that crams the same basic idea as the iPad one into far less space).
  • On each device, I typed the English lyrics to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s song “The Girl From Ipanema” (which, I should note, are by Norman Gimbel). I chose this test for a practical reason: I know the words by heart, and they therefore test my typing speed, not my ability to transcribe a passage I’m unfamiliar with.
  • I never took typing lessons and ¬†therefore type idiosyncratically; Wikipedia tells me my speed is average. If you’re an ace touch typist, your results might vary a lot.
  • On the iPhone, I typed with two thumbs in portrait mode, and one finger in landscape mode. On everything else, I typed with both hands, as I would on any standard keyboard.
  • On all the devices, I took advantage of autocorrection and autocapitalization where possible, and otherwise corrected my own errors as I typed.
  • For each device, I practiced a few times, then typed the passage and timed my speed with a stopwatch.

How’d the iPad stack up? After the jump, the results.

Device Typing time Words per minute Compared to MacBook Pro
15-inch MacBook Pro 1:42 69 n/a
Asus EeePC 1000HE 2:21 50 1.4 times as long to type passage
iPad (portrait mode) 3:02 39 1.8 times as long
iPad (landscape mode) 3:06 38 1.8 times as long
iPhone 3GS (landscape mode) 4:35 26 2.7 times as long
iPhone 3GS (portrait mode) 4:47 24 2.8 times as long

After two days with an iPad, my speed isn’t dazzling–I’m way slower than on the MacBook Pro or the Asus netbook. Punctuation is particularly nettlesome, since it often involves switching keyboards on the iPad: A surprising percentage of the iPad’s sluggishness is due to typing the quotation marks around the word “Aaah!”–which comes up twice in the song.

Typing speed and typing pleasure are two completely different factors, at least for me. When I type on an iPhone, for instance, it’s not the slow pace that bothers me–it’s the fact that the process makes me feel kind of seasick.

At the moment, I can type faster on the Asus than on the iPad, but the Asus feels more ungainly: I’m keenly aware I must angle my hands, and I feel constricted by the lack of width. On the iPad, I spent less time thinking about its limitations. Maybe that’s because it’s not a narrow version of a standard notebook keyboard but something quite different. Or maybe I’m just basking in the enjoyment of a new toy. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

In theory, the iPad’s Atari 400-like flat keys should make me pine for the decisive feel of a good full-travel keyboard. So far, they aren’t. In fact, going back to the Asus was a strange experience–it felt like work to push its keys down.

Oh, and I was surprised to find that I typed at about the same speed on the iPad whether it was in landscape orientation or the much narrower portrait mode.

Bottom line: I’m no speed demon on the iPad, but it’s by far the best on-screen keyboard I’ve ever used. For now, it’ll be adequate for e-mails, short blog posts, and other items that don’t involve vast amounts of typing. But when I’m planning to knock out more than a few hundred words, I’ll reach for a device with a wider keyboard made out of good old-fashioned plastic. (In case you wondered, I wrote this post on the MacBook Pro.)

Of course, my time with an iPad has been brief. (After two days with an iPhone back in 2007, I could barely type two characters in a row without at least one typo.) I assume that I’ll get faster over the next few weeks–and it’ll be fascinating to see if I catch up with my netbook speed, at least.

If you’ve got an iPad and have formed your own impressions of its keyboard(s), I’d love to hear them.


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. swildstrom Says:

    Tom Jobim wrote the music, but the Portuguese lyric are by Vinicius de Moraes.

  2. Ed C Says:

    I think true typing tests don’t permit you to correct your mistakes, and misspelled words are not counted in the final total.

    (Oh, and you need a spam filter for this comments section.)

  3. punditius Says:

    I think you missed a critical factor, which is where you were using the device – on a desk, in your lap, etc. You have to test them all in the same context.

    And you need to include a bluetooth keyboard in your test. If you used the laptop & netbook on a desk or table, then a bluetooth keyboard would probably be as fast as the laptop. If you were testing while kicking back on the sofa or lazyboy, the bluetooth would hardly be useable, but the overall difference might not be so great.

  4. Jon Says:

    It would have been also helpful to have kept track of the number of spelling errors per run, and total amount of time spent correcting such mistakes. I think an interesting question about the iPad/iPhone is whether your speed decreases because of errors, or simply because it's less ergonomic.

  5. Rick Carter Says:

    What app did you use to type the document

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