Is the world going to change just because Apple decided to enlarge its iPod Touch? In a word, yes. The iPad is here, and because of its appealing design and tremendous selection of software, it's a sure-fire hit. Apple's long-anticipated tablet PC takes everything that was good about the iPhone and iPod Touch and enlarges it to a size that's comfortable to read and easy to see. Read along as we show you how the world just changed.
1. Heavy Stuff! Don't Drop It
The iPad weighs 1.5 pounds, with a 9.7-inch glossy screen and a brushed aluminum back. The official specs quote its thickness at a half-inch, but that's at its thickest point. Its edge is about half that, making it feel remarkably thin. Its overall size feels ideal for relaxing in an easy chair. But while 1.5 pounds doesn't sound like a lot, it's too heavy. When you pick it up, it's surprisingly dense. And, its aluminum back feels precariously slippery, adding to the anxiety surrounding the notion of dropping a $500 device to its untimely demise. We'd rather have a back with better traction, and will be swaddling the iPad in a protective case as soon as possible.
2. Headphones or not?
There's a headphone jack on the top, a positioning we think is a mistake — it would've been better on the bottom so that pesky cable would stay out of the way. But then maybe Apple was thinking you'd be using it in horizontal mode when you need the headphones. There's one tiny speaker with three sound holes on the bottom of the iPad (too bad there's no stereo), and given the speaker's diminutive size, sounds remarkably good. In many cases, the speakers sound good enough to avoid using earbuds, which you must supply yourself because there isn't a pair included with the iPad.
3. Spectacular Screen
The highlight of the iPad's hardware design is its exquisite display. It has Apple's mysterious and effective oleophobic coating, designed to keep greasy fingerprints to a minimum. It works well, just like it does with the iPhone. Apple ported the world's best multi-touch technology to the iPad, and in this larger size, its graceful control becomes even more apparent. Just like the iPhone, it feels like the laws of physics are in play, with screen slides and scrolls moving by as if they were dampened by magic gel. It doesn't get any better than this.
4. Shiny Good, Reflective Bad
Besides its superior controllability, the screen's brightness at its highest setting is almost too intense to look at unless you're in bright sunlight — the iPad's default setting was at 50% brightness, which we raised to about 60%, making it easy to read text and graphics in a well-lit room. However, no matter how we had the brightness set, the glossy screen was way too reflective. That phenomenon is easier to deal with on an iPhone because it's small enough to tilt away from the glare, and on a laptop, which is more or less stationary so you can position it out of glare's way. With the iPad, if you're reading it in a bright room with lots of windows, it's awkward to find a spot where glare hasn't made the screen barely visible.
5. Butta-smooth Video
The iPad has a 1,024x768-pixel LED-backlit LCD screen, unfortunately laid out in the 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the standard HDTV layout of 16:9. Nevertheless, it's a sharp and quick display. The iPad's powerful graphics technology plays movies with admirable smoothness and super sharpness. If you want to spring for Apple's $29 iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, Apple says you can play 720p H.264 movies on an HDTV directly from the iPad. Looking at Netflix "watch it now" movies and ABC's new iPad HD app, we realized it will be a rare viewer who's not impressed with the iPad's video capability.
6. Keyboard Sized Right
The on-screen keyboard was surprisingly easy to use. While it would be better to have physical feedback while typing, the spacing of the keys while in horizontal mode seems identical to most laptops we've used, and our typing is a lot faster on this larger keyboard than it is on the smaller iPhone. We're not sure we'd want to write a book on an iPad, but for quick blog posts, note taking, or field work, it's just good enough to get the job done. Still, while using the iPad at home, we'll opt to use our Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard, which was quick and easy to pair with the iPad.
7. Tiger in the Tank
Inside its flawlessly built enclosure (with even better build quality than the iPhone) reside first-rate components, including Apple's home-grown processor that allows applications to open just as quickly as the 12-core workstation we've been testing here at the Midwest Test Facility. And its wireless N capability is fast, busting out the broadband 8.4% faster than our fastest wireless N laptop. We didn't get the wireless N iPad, mainly because we would have to wait a few more weeks for it, and also because we have a MiFi portable Wi-Fi-to-3G access point, which worked flawlessly with the iPad, hooking us up to 3G without spending the extra $130 for the internal 3G connectivity with the iPod.
8. Keeps on Going and Going
Despite the iPad processor's noticeable quickness, its hardware is efficient at the same time. We haven't yet used the iPad long enough to run its battery down completely, however that big battery inside was only 40% depleted over 4 hours of hardcore testing, and we were running the screen at a brighter level, constantly using Wi-Fi and had a Bluetooth keyboard attached much of the time.
9. Drop Dead Gorgeous
Beyond the specific specs, to step back a minute and look at this thing! Its elegant simplicity just begs you to touch it, and it's so easy to use that Apple didn't even need to include any documentation, beyond a single card with a few words explaining how to plug it into iTunes. No documentation necessary? Therein lies the genius of the iPad.
10. Heart and Soul: The Software
Once we'd gotten over our astonishment at the simple beauty and utter usability of the hardware, we started digging into the iPod apps, of which there are already more than 1000 and many more on the way. Here lies the heart of the iPad's power, where many key apps have already been ported over to its larger screen size. Unfortunately, iPhone apps show up looking lonely and small, parked in the center of the iPad's comparatively huge screen. There's a 2X button you can select to enlarge those old apps to a full-screen size, but they look ragged and sad compared to the shiny new iPad apps.
11. Will Do It All
The naysayers ask, "What are you going to do with the iPad? Why do you need it?" That's the same question my old dad asked when I was trying to talk him into buying a computer 15 years ago. The answer to that question is, "Well, you'll do everything with it. You'll read, you'll write, receive and send e-mail, watch video, rent movies, and play spectacular games that look a whole lot better than the iPhone. You'll check Facebook feeds, do some Tweeting, and maybe every once in a while do some work on it. But probably not much work." This is a fun machine, made for exploring, relaxing, goofing off, and all those other things you usually do at work.
12. The Perfect E-Reader
One thing we noticed right away: As an e-reader, the iPad chews up the Amazon Kindle and spits it on the floor. This is a far superior device for reading books, and ironically, if you're a Kindle user you can download the special iPad app for Kindle and import all of your books you've bought there. One key difference between the Kindle app on the iPad, and Apple's excellent free app called iBooks is the Kindle app's lack of that entertaining page-turning animation, which is a great novelty at first but probably won't make that much difference in the long run. We disagree with those who think a backlit screen will cause eye strain — to the contrary, a backlit screen can be read easily almost anywhere except the brightest sunlight, and it's easier to see in almost every situation than the Kindle. If the iPad weren't so heavy, it would be the ideal book reading appliance.
13. Gaming Powerhouse
While most applications for the iPad inexplicably cost about double what they do on the iPhone and iPod Touch, on some of them you get a better value. A case in point are some of the games that are already available for the iPad, including the exciting Real Racing HD, giving you clean, fast and smooth graphics with steering that feels more realistic than the racing games on the Xbox 360. Another example is Flight Control HD, giving you a lot more capability than its smaller sibling. Other games haven't quite made the jump from the iPhone to iPad yet, including one of our favorites, Apple's own Texas Hold 'em. But rest assured — there are thousands more games on the way.
14. Flashy but Flashless
Staying within the walled garden that is Apple's software ecosystem, it's not immediately obvious that the iPad doesn't handle Flash on websites. Only when we went poking around the web in Safari did we occasionally run into that loathsome broken icon that warns that you need Flash to view a site. For example, one of our favorite sites that's not working with the iPad yet, nor is there a special iPad app for it, is Mint, the excellent financial management site. While we're expecting to see an iPad app for Mint soon (that's probably going to be even better than the one available now for the iPhone), it's still mildly frustrating to run into that lack of Flash support.
15. But Flash Doesn't Matter
That might not make a difference, though. We're thinking there will be so many hundreds of thousands of applications available for the iPad before the year is out, the issue might soon become moot. If Apple's App Store pricing were the same for the iPad as it is for the iPod and iPhone, we wouldn't mind so much that Apple has closed its system, ignoring the ubiquitous Flash. We did feel a bit claustrophobic, though, being steered into using the App Store for everything we wanted. For those who want an open system, we're certain the iPad will soon be jailbroken so they can choose software not approved by Apple, but for the average user, the simplicity and all-inclusiveness of the iPad makes the user experience as easy as going on a cruise ship vacation.
We're in Love
Summing up, there's just no question about it: The iPad is a beautiful, easy to use, and strangely appealing device. It's too heavy and slippery, and we're constantly worried about dropping it, and even though Apple says it's tough, we don't think it could survive a fall onto a hard floor unscathed. Even so, it's an entirely new kind of device — it's not exactly suitable for content creation, but it's a whole lot more useful for consuming media than a cellphone. As the number of iPad-specific applications in the App Store becomes even more enormous, the usefulness of this magic tablet will increase exponentially. Is it worth the $500 we paid for it? Unquestionably, yes. And it'll be worth even more as the software choices expand. For the iPad, it's a bright future.
16GB with Wi-Fi: $499.00
32GB with Wi-Fi: $599.00
64GB with Wi-Fi: $699.00
16GB with Wi-Fi+3G: $629.00
32GB with Wi-Fi+3G: $729.00
64GB with Wi-Fi+3G: $829.00