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The Apple iPad Review (update: now with video!)

Apple iPad 32After so much anticipation, the Apple iPad is finally here.  There’s been hype to the heavens on this one, so it’s time to reveal whether the iPad actually delivers now that it’s landed.

Apple iPad: First impressions

When switched off the iPad looks awesome although mildly featureless, with its simple front and limited connectivity around the edges.  There’s a volume control, screen orientation lock, dock connector and headphone port.  That’s it; simple design which we have come to expect and admire from Apple.  The headphone socket is curiously placed at the top of the device, which means the cable needs to stretch behind the iPad to avoid obscuring the screen.  However the screen can rotate to all four orientations so in practice this is not really an issue.

While the iPad weighs only around 1.5lbs, it does get tiring in the hand after a few minutes.  Holding it in mid-air with one hand and typing with the other becomes uncomfortable pretty quickly, so a stand or some kind of resting place in use is necessary.

Apple iPad 35Switching on the iPad, I found the screen less impressive than early reviewers had suggested.  I was expecting an exceptionally stunning screen and in reality even at full brightness it looked like a typical LED backlit laptop screen.  Colors were good, but under the sky-lit glass roof of the Apple store it was clear that the iPad would be less than ideal outside on a sunny day.

Apple iPad: The best Internet experience?

Let’s tackle the Flash issue right off the bat.  While I was expecting the worst, the lack of Flash was not as disastrous as I had feared.  The iPad delivers a fast Internet experience, subjectively rendering pages over WiFi about as quickly as using Google Chrome on a mid-range Windows 7 PC.  The message is that pages load quickly.  In particular I was pleased to see that pages with YouTube videos embedded rendered correctly, with the HTML5 version of the video being presented instead of the normal Flash version.  This is thanks to YouTube’s HTML5 development work.  For example the front page of theONbutton with its YouTube videos in the right hand column rendered and also played back correctly.  While I was expecting the lack of Flash to be a complete nightmare, in reality it was only noticeable occasionally.

Finger scrolling was liquid perfection, pinch-to-zoom worked instantly to blow-up text or images and page content was easy to read thanks to the crisp screen.

Apple iPad: The app experience

This is where the iPad makes up for its lack of Flash and takes the fight back to the netbooks.  Many of the sites which fail to fully work in the browser have a dedicated app to deliver their content.  This is also the case on the iPhone but the Apple iPad 25iPad goes further by offering dedicated apps for ABC, the YouTube and Netflix (which apparently is also be coming to the iPhone).  The advantage of this approach is that the dedicated apps look great and work beautifully.

Like the iPhone, good apps on the the iPad take the device way beyond a netbook experience; providing amazing looking content tailored specifically to the iPad.  Take a look at the screenshot of the MLB app for example.  We should also expect the already huge selection to continue growing at a significant pace.

The iWork suite also looked great, its one big issue being the lack of an easily accessible file system when trying to save and manipulate files.  The on-screen keyboard in portrait form is very usable when holding the iPad in both hands.  I was able to type almost perfectly from the get-go.  The landscape keyboard was a stretch however.  Apple could have benefitted from taking on the Dial Keys implementation of the Samsung Q1, which is an elegant solution to the landscape challenge.

Apple iPad 13Unfortunately there’s still no multitasking so apps work one at a time.  If you’re watching a YouTube video you cannot have an IM conversation going at the same time.  iPhone users will be familiar with this restriction already, but netbook switchers may be frustrated.  This really should be basic functionality on a device in this price range and is a glaring weakness of the iPad.  It actually makes it difficult to use the iPad as a truly powerful Internet device as so many online services such as Facebook, email and YouTube work best when the user can move seamlessly between each application to perform quick interactions.  For example it would be very challenging to blog effectively using the iPad as having to be in and out of applications manipulating photos, doing research and referencing web links would just be too much of a schlep.

But for those happy to do things one-at-a-time the iPad app model works great, just like the iPhone one does.  The problem is, the iPad is a large and expensive device which we expect to be capable of multiple simultaneous activities.

Apple iPad 26Apple iPad: iBooks

The iPad delivers a fantastic reading experience through iBooks.  Page turning is stunningly animated and the limited content will surely expand once content deals are struck with other publishers.  However the screen is so reflective that I could not envisage reading with the iPad outdoors.  As you can see from the photos indoors, every reflection is picked up by the screen.  The Kindle, while a grayscale device, is definitely more suitable for reading on a sunny vacation.  For those reading indoors iBooks provides a screen brightness control within the app, which is a useful touch.

Apple iPad: Music, video and photos

Apple iPad 10As with the iPhone music and video are at the heart of the iPad through iTunes.  Music lacks coverflow, which is odd given the size of the iPad’s screen, but otherwise works as one might expect.  Video looks just okay on the iPad.  Colors are rich but since the screen is in old-style 4:3 format, large black barApple iPad 9s are present when viewing widescreen videos.  Double tapping zooms in to make the image fill the screen but you then lose the video on the left and right of center.  Check the screenshots from the 2012 trailer to see what gets lost when zooming in, it looks like around 20% goes missing on either side.  The photo app looks great and the iPad could even be used as a coffee table photo album when not is use.

Apple iPad: The missing bits

There are no USB ports or memory card slots on the iPad.  While these are available as accessories it means buying and then carrying/losing these little add-ons if you, say, want to get photos into your iPad when away from a computer.  There’s also no webcam so you won’t be doing a Skype video call on the iPad.  All of these omissions seem glaring given that they are present in almost all other ultrathin computers available today.

Should you buy an iPad?

On balance the iPad feels like a perfect appliance for Main Street.  More demanding users who forgave the iPhone for its deficiencies may find it harder to overlook the iPad’s weaknesses, given its netbook sized screen..  In particular the continued lack of multitasking is likely to be a dealbreaker for many.  Regardless of whether you’re a casual or power user however, it all comes down to finding a use-case valuable enough to drop upwards of $500.  That is the real problem for the iPad, because for typical users it’s not necessarily $500 more useful than the laptop and smartphone they’ve already invested in.  If on the other hand you’re expecting a killer app to appear or you just have the cash burning a hole your pocket, it’s an enjoyable way to do everyday tasks and have fun in the process.

Neil Berman

theonbutton.com

facebook.com/theonbutton

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Apr 3, 2010 - Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. totally agree: “Unfortunately there’s still no multitasking so apps work one at a time. If you’re watching a YouTube video you cannot have an IM conversation going at the same time. iPhone users will be familiar with this restriction already, but netbook switchers may be frustrated. This really should be basic functionality on a device in this price range and is a glaring weakness of the iPad. It actually makes it difficult to use the iPad as a truly powerful Internet device as so many online services such as Facebook, email and YouTube work best when the user can move seamlessly between each application to perform quick interactions. For example it would be very challenging to blog effectively using the iPad as having to be in and out of applications manipulating photos, doing research and referencing web links would just be too much of a schlep.”

    Comment by Elie | Apr 4, 2010 | Reply


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