Product: Apple iPad 32GB Wi-Fi Web site: http://www.apple.com Price: $599 for reviewed model Pros: Fantastic screen resolution, responsive touch screen, great battery life. Cons: Need to connect to iTunes on a computer for first use, finger prints, not all app store apps are tuned for iPad, no Flash support. Stars: 7 out of 10 Reviewer's View: The iPad is a new type of device. Out of the box, it's a joy to hold and look at and the apps are the great differentiator. It's not perfect. Flash is conspicuously absent, for instance, and finger prints abound, but it's a wonderful little device, despite its flaws and people should enjoy using it.
After all the hype before, during and after the launch of the Apple iPad, I had high expectations when I went to my local Apple Store last Thursday. My goal was to buy an iPad. I had planned on getting the 16 GB Wi-Fi model for $499, but they were out of stock, so I went with the 32 GB Wi-Fi model instead for another $100. I also purchased 2 additional years of Apple Care protection for $99, which I've done with other Apple products and found it to be well worth the extra cost. I skipped the Mobile me account discounted from $99 to $69 at purchase because I wasn't sure we would use it enough to justify the additional cost.
The thing about the iPad is it doesn't really fit into any conventional computing category. It is in a way, the beginning of a new category--a light-weight media device. It's clear that many similar devices will follow in its footsteps, but few will probably live up to the simplicity and elegance of the iPad and none will have the App store.
I have to admit my expectations were high after we charged the unit for the first time and I was disappointed to learn out of the box (almost literally), that I had to connect the unit to my Mac or PC running iTunes before I could use it. This approach makes little sense to me, and when I called Apple Care to ask why, I was told that it was simply the way they had decided to do it, and if I didn't want to do it that way, I had to truck down to the Apple Store and have them activate it for me. I gave in and connected the device to my machine.
It was not the way I pictured using the vaunted iPad my first time, that's for sure. And what surprised me even more was that I never heard anyone complain about this requirement amidst the stream of iPad chatter on my social networks last week. Seems like an annoying obstacle to me, but as my wife says, "Nothing is easy when it comes to computers."
Connecting and Getting Going
After connecting it to my machine--the connector port in this unit is on the tight side and it's not easy to get the cable inserted--iTunes opened automatically and recognized the iPad without a hitch. At this point, I was able to select if I wanted to transfer my music and videos, photos and iPhone Apps to the device.
Of course, I had to go through the license rigmarole and I got yet another offer for Mobile Me before my iPad was finally ready to use.
The first thing I noticed was it looked like the iPad screen was scratched out of the box. I was literally ready to box it up and return it, but I mentioned it on Facebook, and for some odd reason, Apple has a default picture that looks like it has scratches. Strange choice in my view, but there you are.
That said, video and photos are just stunning on this device and the touch screen is incredibly responsive.
The Apps are of course the difference maker here and I immediately took a deep dive into the App Store. I picked up Kayak and BBC. I got ABC Player and iBook. I downloaded the gorgeous Guardian Eyewitness News Photo app. There are tons of Apps, and in fact, I found the choices just to be a little overwhelming.
The Apps do tend to be pricier than the straight iPhone Apps (although there are a variety of free ones just as on the iPhone), and you have to be careful because they mix and match iPhone and iPad Apps within the App Store. Some have been tuned for the iPad and some haven't. If it hasn't, the default view is (as you would expect) the size of an iPhone. You can click the 2x button to make it fill the iPad screen, but in the two cases I tried this, I found it distorted badly and I didn't like it.
Other aspects I looked at:
As you have no doubt heard, there is no Flash support. It is conspicuously missing when you visit a popular site like Hulu or try to play an embedded video on Facebook.
I had also heard about problems with the WiFi connections, but in my early tests, I haven't found any issues connecting even a couple of floors away from the router. In fact, I was surprised how quickly the Apps downloaded to the device.
The games that started on the iPhone get better on the iPad. The colors are amazing and of course the ability to manipulate the game by simply moving the iPad back and forth or using your finger make it even more fun (and challenging), and game developers have taken advantage of the larger iPad screen.
I find I liked the eBook reading experience quite a bit more than other eBook Readers I've tried, mostly because it doesn't have the eInk page turning delay. I haven't tried reading a whole book, but in my tests I found it had a very natural book-reading feel.
The device includes a large software keyboard, but because it's a touch screen, you can't lay your fingers on it without activating the keys and that makes for a much more awkward typing experience than you would expect. Also, frequently used keys like the period and apostrophe are on a second keyboard (as is the case on the iPhone), which slows the typing experience while switching between them. You get used to the experience quickly, but it's not as fast as an external keyboard. The good news is that later this month, Apple will release a docking station and wireless keyboard (and I would expect third party devices in the future).
Finally, the speakers are quite good, and they can get fairly loud, They are certainly more than adequate for a mobile device of this sort and much better than I thought they would be.
Some Unexpected OS Behavior
But there are strange aspects of this device. You can't open multiple browser tabs, but you do have multiple browser windows open. It just took me a few minutes to realize that. I was confused when a new window opened with no back button and the previous window seemed to disappear. I would prefer to see a tabbed browser interface in the future.
Secondary windows don't have a close window button. Instead you touch outside the window and it disappears, which is fine once you realize it, but it is not the way you necessarily expect the OS to behave and this can be confusing.
I don't think, as some had predicted that this device could be the one for your non-technical relative (your grandmother for instance). It takes a bit of training and understanding. It's not impossible to understand, but I doubt that many complete newbies could pick up the iPad and just instinctively know how to use it.
Overall though, given my high expectations, and my initial frustrations, I'm finding I like this device. It feels great in your hands, even if you feel compelled to clean the finger prints off it every few minutes (at least I do). The App choices are fantastic and will continue to grow, and as supply increases, prices will likely drop. It's hard to define the iPad within in any conventional computer category, but once you get it up and running and you download some Apps, you'll just know that Apple has done it again.
Photo by Richard-G on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.