After one week of using the iPad, I thought Id share with you my impressions of the new device that is touted by Apple as “magical and revolutionary”. Before hand, I admit that as a devoted aficionado of Apple and its products, this review might appear to be single-sided, so I vow to tackle the gadget and its features in an objective manner. As the device at hand is the WiFi only model, I will not delve into the upcoming 3G model, which as of today has yet to hit the market.
What exactly is iPad?
By now, everyone must have formed an opinion about iPad, even those who know about it solely from news reports. One hears opinions that the iPad is just “another tablet computing device like many that we’ve seen in the past”, or that its “just an over-sized iPod Touch”. Somewhat, these opinions are correct, for the device is indeed a tablet that shares many aspects with Apple’s previous and more pocketable offerings. Yet such opinions are as accurate as a circa-1984 observer lamenting that the Macintosh is just another computer. As I’ll attempt to illustrate: iPad is the beginning of something far more significant; for it combines various aspects of computing (few of which are still in their infancy) into a package that is single-handedly powerful, easy to operate and handle and elegant.
Size and specifications: The iPad fits within the dimensions: 245 x 190 x 13 mm, and weigh around 700 grams. The device is somewhat hefty to hold, imagine holding a notepad that carries the weight of a bulky magazine or catalog. Most of that bulk must be due to the glass front of the gadget.
The device is powered by Apples own 1-GHz A4 chip, the first product to feature this new processor. The iPad ships with iPhone OS (hence: iOS) version 3.2, noting that as of today the current version of the OS for the iPhone and iPod Touch is 3.1.3. For wireless communications, the gadget is equipped with WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1, so it should stay current for many years to come. Although the WiFi model lacks its own GPS sensor, it does have a digital compass along with the accelerometer and ambient light sensor now common in iOS devices. Three models are available, the only difference between them is the memory capacity: 16/32/64 g. The iPad works on both Macintosh and Windows PCs, and require iTunes 9.1 on both platforms.
Whats in the Box?
Apple is proceeding with its policy of minimal packaging for its products, the box includes the iPad, a connecting USB cable, a 10-watt power supply (with the US plug attachment, easily replaced with the European plug), and documentation. The latter is something of a misnomer, as the documentation turned out to be a card with the instructions to download the latest version of iTunes and connecting the device to a computer, followed by the relevant web links. A small warranty paper pamphlet and the now obligatory Apple logo stickers are also included.
I purchased my iPads from a physical Apple store, and I had both activated in the store. This was a straightforward procedure where each iPad was connected to a Macbook Pro, where iTunes launches and the screen is verified for any defects. I preferred to do this in store to avoid the hassle of leaving with a dud that would require a replacement.
OK, so the iPad is up and running, now what?
Imagine acquiring a Swiss Army Knife that includes blades you are not likely to ever use while lacking many of the essential blades; that is probably how iPad (and likewise the other iOS devices) feels right after you take it out of the box. Unlike the knife, the “blades” can easily be acquired and attached in no time at all. In contrast to traditional, non-iOS iPods which would require an initial sync to the computer before they do anything, one may start using the iPad with only a minimal of installed options.
The iPad comes with keys that are familiar in form and function to those available on the other iOS devices with one major addition: on the top right corner near the volume control there is a switch intended to lock the orientation of the Ipads screen in either a landscape or a portrait position. This proved invaluable with certain uses, and I trust this physical key will make its way into future iOS devices.
I attempted to sync my Bluetooth keyboard to the device, and the procedure was straightforward although I opted not to use the keyboard with the device since that would defeat the purpose of using the iPad as a stand alone gadget.
Once I entered my MobileMe information, I was able to read my mail and my contacts were instantly available. Using the iPad for email and web browsing turned out to be an experience so natural and the speedy responses of the device made it so attractive to rely heavily on the iPad as a portal to the internet. Surprisingly, while the iOS version included on the iPad is version 3.2, surpassing the current versions on the iPhone/iPod Touch, it has no current support for Arabic keyboards. However, browsing Arabic websites posed no problem. Hopefully future iOS updates will rectify this shortcoming.
Once I entered my iTunes / App Store login information, I was able to acquire music, videos and applications directly to the iPad in a manner similar to the familiar operation performed on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices.
However, not all the apps standard on previous iOS devices are readily available on the iPad: missing are the familiar applications Clock, Stocks, Weather, Calculator and Voice Memos. Currently, the functionality of these apps may be fulfilled by applications available on the App store, and in my case the only one I felt the need to download was the Weather Channel iPad app. Incidentally, while previous iOS apps are promptly available for the iPad, many of them have been released as dedicated iPad applications and many are intended for both iPhone/iPod as well as iPad applications (on the iPad a distinction is made for the intended platform for the app, and in cases of universal availability the app is marked with a “+”). On iTunes, a selector button is pressed to select the apps for the intended platform.
Of the dedicated iPad apps, so far I’m impressed with one particular family of applications: news apps. These include offerings from Reuters, the BBC, NPR radio, the Guardian and others. Such apps are really poised to change news broadcasts, for a single news story can now include text, images, videos and audio all in one page. While this in itself is not new and was available on web sites for years now, but the iPad implementation of this multimedia functionality promises to be the new shape of the newspaper, minus the “paper” in the name!
Apple has heavily advertised the availability of the iWork apps for the iPad. These applications range in size from 30 to 45 megs, and they promise a seamless integration with the desktop iWork application as well as iWork.com. Of these applications, thus far the one I chose to purchase is Pages. As a matter of fact, I’ve written this entire review using Pages on the iPad using the soft keyboard. When the application is run, the user is presented with a document summarizing the features of the application, in essence an instructions manual. The app follows the desktop application in its features and the supplied document templates. The experience of using the word processing application was rather smooth, particularly when using the device in the landscape orientation. The application offers to export documents into three formats: Pages, PDF or Word documents, or to send the document by email or share it via iWorks.com.
I’m not a game player, so I didn’t run games on the iPad. However, I’m impressed by two Astronomy based programs that truly utilized the devices capability in creating a handy planetarium simulators: these are Star Walk ($5) and GoSkyWatch (free version available). Both apps make excellent use of the devices accelerometer and compass to identify heavenly constellations and objects in the sky.
Another app that makes use of the devices compass is the Maps application, which is an evolutionary step above the same application on the iPhone. The larger screen, however, proves to offer a dramatic improvement on the quality of the maps, satellite and street views on the device.
Other features on the iPad behave in a manner similar to that experienced on other iOS devices: as an iPod it plays music and videos, with the exception that movies and TV shows now play on a larger screen in the two orientations; and the same is true for YouTube videos. The pictures synced from iPhoto on a Mac and were available in distinct categories on the device that mirrored how they were categorized in iPhoto: Photos, Albums, Events, Faces and Places. In each category, the photos could be accessed with multi-touch gestures in a way that is unique to the the iPad.
New to Apple products: iBooks
To the two stores that were previously available (iTunes & Apps), now there is a third store available for the iPad, namely the iBookstore, which allows the user to purchase or download freely available published material. To obtain books, one must first download the dedicated and free iBooks app (currently available only to customers with US accounts).
The iBooks app reads the open e-Book standard ePub, hence books published in this format may be dragged to iTunes, and subsequently synced to iPad. To test this, I downloaded several books from Project Gutenberg covering several classics. The size of each book was quite minimal, ranging in the hundreds of kilobytes. Once the books are dragged to iTunes they are located within the Books category (in the same page where Audiobooks are located separately). Afterwards, the books were synced to iPad where they are treated in the same manner as the books downloaded directly from the iBookstore. Reading books on iPad is an experience that surpasses that found on other e-Book readers: it simply feels more natural flipping pages with a flick of a finger on the corner of a page rather than pressing buttons on a keypad. Also, the iPad offers single page in the portrait orientation and double pages on the landscape orientation – a feature demonstrated by another leading e-Book reader, yet its application on the iPad is far more superior. In the future, periodicals might find a place in the iBookstore rather than standalone apps, and that ought to really change the way we access publications in general.
Long term use
I found the display of the iPad to be absolutely gorgeous and comfortable to the eyes, even after long hours of use. My only complaint has to do with the high reflectivity of the glass which smudges too easily, so a clean microfiber cloth should be kept handy for a quick wipe-off. Also, reflections off the surface of the glass might prove to be distracting to the user. The longevity of the devices battery life depends of the type of usage, and in terms of display brightness along with WiFi and Bluetooth activity. I used my iPad on a flight that extended for a total of 19 hours, and with the wireless functions switched off I managed to read a book and watch several hours of video while needing just a quick charge in the 2-hours layover between the two segments of my journey.
I’ve purchased the Apple case for the iPad. I like the case in general, the velvety texture it offers helps grasp the device firmly. Also, it provides for a simple setup to use the device in a landscape orientation for displaying pictures and for typing on the soft keyboard. However, I found that it attracts dust too easily, but this is a minor issue easily solved by simple daily cleanup.
How does the iPad measure up against other devices?
First, how does the iPad compare against Apples other offerings, namely the iPod Touch? The entry level 16-g iPad sells for $499. While Apple doesn’t currently offer an iPod Touch with a similar capacity, the top of the line 64-g iTouch sells for $100 less than the iPad. However, the larger screen offers a far richer experience when it comes to browsing the web and emails, reading books, viewing pictures and videos, typing notes and the whole world of dedicated iPad apps.
Now lets compare the iPad to what might prove to be its nearest competitor: the 10-inch Amazon Kindle DX. That device sells for $489, a mere $10 less than the iPad. Currently, Amazon offers hundreds of thousands of titles for the Kindle and unlike the current iPad it depends on 3G for wireless connectivity. Yet the device proves to be an e-Book reader only: it has a monochrome display, it is not intended to be a viable portal to the internet nor play media like the iPad. Furthermore, Amazon was prompt in offering a Kindle app for the iPad, so in the long run the iPad might prove to become a universal reader for books from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Apples own iBookstore, among others.
Finally, the iPad is set to evolve in a manner similar to how the iPhone and iPod have evolved over the years. Later this year, Apple will release iOS 4 which will bring several new features to the devices in the platform, the most notable of which is multitasking. The growth of the app store is nothing short of phenomenal with new applications set to change how we use the device in fields of business, education, productivity, entertainment, and more.
The iPad will not make me ditch my iPhone / iPods, nor will I use it instead of my Macs & Macbooks for rigorous applications. However, over the last week I noticed that I’ve been using my Macs less for web browsing and email correspondence, especially when I was at a casual setting. Furthermore, I’ve viewed last weeks TV subscriptions on it rather than on the TV (using Apple TV). I await the release of the 3G version so that I may use it in my work related field excursions, using the devices excellent Maps app. And as an avid reader, I simply look forward to reading many books electronically on it. It is set to truly become a jukebox of life’s many interests!