I got my hands on the brand new Apple iPad on the launch date and after about a week in use, there’s a lot I have to say. The simple idea of a lightweight slate has always captivated the minds of consumers and Apple finally made it happen. The iPad is now the buzz of the tech industry causing competitors to scramble, is an icon of “must have gadgetry” in the eyes of the media-frenzy, and has even taken the center stage on TV shows including Modern Family and The Colbert Report. While that’s all great, there are many questions left unanswered. What does it do? Is it easy to use? Is it better than other tablets? Who is it for? And is it worth the price?
What’s in the iPad?
The iPad is essentially a large iPod Touch, but some would argue that the iPod Touch is a small iPad. Both devices share many characteristics including having the same iPhone OS, WiFi, Bluetooth, a capacitive touch screen display, built-in accelerometers, light sensors, a headphone jack, a dock connector, and volume controls. Both devices are also offered in 32GB and 64GB storage capacities. It’s similar, but there’s a big difference: the iPad sports a 9.7-inch 1024-by-768 pixel display versus the 3.5-inch 320-by-480 pixel display on the iPod Touch. In addition, the iPad packs a vastly superior battery that offers 10 hours of runtime, WiFi 802.11n for fast downloads, and a proprietary 1Ghz Apple A4 processor. It doesn’t sound too innovative, and that’s because it isn’t. That being said, it does manage to overcome some of the hardware restrictions of the iPod Touch and iPhone which opens the doors to more possibilities.
Taking a look back at 2007, the iPhone’s multi-touch capabilities were fascinating. Today, the iPad expands on that experience. It’s hard to comprehend the full potential and personal gratification of the new display until you try using one. While the tiny iPod Touch display often feels constrained, the iPad lifts those boundaries. Sliding through windows, pinching to zoom in and out, twisting two fingers to rotate pages, and flicking to scroll is incredibly easy and entertaining. Plus, with a bright LED backlit IPS-powered display, everything looks stunning. Colors are rich, blacks are dark, images are clear, and text is crisp. The extraordinary viewing angles offers the same quality experience from any side. I’ve used various tablets over the years, but none can compare to iPad’s responsiveness and sensitivity.
What does it replace?
Nothing. The iPad is a new class of “gadgetry”. There’s nothing to replace because a tablet market does not necessarily exist. The iPhone was only able to spearhead the mobile phone revolution because a market for it already existed. Sure, the iPhone was undoubtedly light years ahead of competition. It was also definitely responsible for the accelerated emergence and adoption of smartphones. However, it is hard to tell whether it would have been as successful if that market didn’t already exist. As for the iPad, the closest competitors are the JooJoo and the upcoming HP Slate, but neither have substantial recognition by the mass market.
Apple will find it difficult to tout the iPad as a netbook replacement. That’s because there’s simply no way an iPad can “do more” than a netbook. To begin with, activating an iPad actually requires pairing it to a regular Mac or PC running iTunes with the included USB cable. Although the iPad can self-update Apps on its own, upgrading to a new iPhone OS version requires a computer. Since the iPad doesn’t have an accessible file system, there’s no way to store files on the internal SSD asides from the music, photos, and videos that sync through iTunes. Even dealing with other major file formats requires 3rd party Apps. Apple fortunately offers Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for $10 each to handle word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, respectively.
As the iPad lacks a physical keyboard, it can’t replace a laptop for getting work done anytime soon. And it shouldn’t try to do so. The device is primarily an “information viewer,” not an input device. Apple makes it easy to consume the web and manipulate visual data, but not for creating content. I should mention that Apple does offer an external keyboard which some may use, but it’s simply another expense and another item to lug around. Even with an external keyboard, the iPad’s software limitations won’t help getting anymore work done. That being said, I should at least give Apple credit for designing one of the best virtual keyboards to date. The touch screen input interface is the best on the market, however it still can’t replace physical keyboards.
What are some issues?
While the iPad’s finish and polish are phenomenal, there are countless underlying issues. Let’s start with the basics, without USB ports, it can’t connect to the millions of accessories on the market. The most of important of which include flash drives, external hard drives, and possibly even printers. Without an internal multi-card-reader, there’s no way to take advantage of expandable storage or to access images from a digital camera. (Apple offers an optional Camera adapter.) Even with cloud-computing advancements that make files available through the web with services such as DropBox, those still aren’t widely adopted and won’t work without an internet connection.
With a device that starts at $500, I expected quick syncing. Unfortunately, just like an iPhone, syncing about 16GB easily takes over an hour. It’s unbearably frustrating and time-consuming. It was further annoying to find that my two-year old Dell XPS M1530 couldn’t charge the iPad. The iPad simply demands more power than other devices to recharge. Apple’s documentation states that the iPad will still recharge with an older USB port even if the screen doesn’t relay that information. However, it’s expected to take a few times longer. The iPad’s new 10W charger is twice as fast as the charging cube included with the iPhone 3GS.
The issues don’t just end there. Let’s take the web browser for instance. While it’s the best touch screen browser I’ve used, it still lacks extensibility. Popular plugins including Flash, Java Runtime, and Silverlight aren’t supported. It’s hard to fully experience the web without those plugins. Popular services such as Netflix and YouTube offer dedicated Apps to circumvent the limitations, but parts of the web are left unusable. While it’s a good thing that Apple is focusing on HTML5 which is likely the future, they should still offer some backwards compatibility since the majority of websites aren’t there yet. Asides from that, most web pages still rendered quickly without any issues.
Is it better than tablet PCs?
For the most part, no. The iPad’s capacitive touch screen technology doesn’t support handwriting recognition. Taking notes by drawing with a finger isn’t practical. Tablet PCs generally have resistive touch screens that are excellent for sketching with pens. While the iPad is great for browsing information, it struggles to allow creating documents. It’s irresponsible to even compare an iPad with a Tablet PC. The two devices do not compare.
If you still need convincing, take this scenario for instance. I had to make a few small edits to a Word Document I typed on my computer. I began by emailing the file to myself to bring it up on the iPad’s Mail App. Since the iPhone’s OS doesn’t allow editing or saving attachments, I had to copy and paste the text into the Notes App. After making a few changes, I realized that I had entirely lost the formatting in the process. Since the iPad doesn’t allow uploading documents through a web form or printing, I had to email it to myself again and head back to a real computer to get the job done.
Without a fully function operating system that supports multitasking, it’s quite difficult to do real work. Trying to reference another email, web page, or document would entail having to close the current application. I can’t reiterate enough that the iPad isn’t for creating content. That being said, the user interface generally found on a Tablet PC isn’t finger friendly. Even though Windows 7 had improved touch support, it’s still not nearly as intuitive as an iPad. But since a Tablet PC has a touchpad, a keyboard, Ethernet, VGA output, USB ports, and memory card readers, it can do just about everything else.
Better than eBook readers?
Yes, but it’s a major distraction. I thought I would be reading books on my iPad when I first bought it, but I almost never did. The majority of my reading consisted of fresh content from The New York Times, USA Today, or NPR. I also spent plenty of time browsing through RSS feeds through Google Reader. Books just felt too outdated and old fashion for the iPad. However if you are a serious about reading books, there are a few pros and cons worth noting.
Starting with the issues, let’s focus on the display. While it looks gorgeous for browsing photos and watching videos, it’s harsh on the eyes after several extended hours of use. Lowering the brightness may resolve the problem for some, however the reflective mirror-like glossy screen then becomes an issue. While it’s not a problem in doors, the iPad is almost entirely unusable outdoors. Even at full brightness, the screen appears dark and recessed. Every single smudge and fingerprint becomes visible under direct sunlight. I couldn’t help but ask why Apple didn’t at least include a micro fiber cleaning cloth.
On the bright side, Apple did get some things right. The interactive feel of reading a book on an iPad is captivating. Each page turn has a smooth transition. While the eInk technology may represent print material more accurately, it’s unbearably boring. eInk might also be easier on the eyes, but with the iPad as an option on the table, I doubt people will even consider a Kindle or Nook. Browsing through a virtual wooden book shelf or searching for a word in a book is easy and quick. The interface even offers the ability to adjust the font size, bookmarking pages, or looking up words in a dictionary.
Asides from those pros and cons, the price of digital books through Amazon’s Kindle Store and Apple’s iBook Store were nearly the same for all the best sellers I cross-checked. While Amazon offers a selection reaching almost 500k, Apple only offers half the number of titles. With the price of a Kindle DX hovering at the same price as an iPad, I would simply go for the latter. The only other real advantage the Kindle offers is a longer battery life.
How are the Apps?
Apple made a brilliant move when they decided offer backwards compatibility for iPhone Apps. Without those, the iPad App store would have been empty. At launch, there were nearly 200,000 iPhone Apps available excluding a few that may have required a camera or GPS to work. While that may sound great, those iPhone-optimized Apps are visually unpleasing on the iPad’s large display. They appear in native resolution in the center of the display surrounded by large black border. There’s a “2x” button to enlarge the App, however it’s blurry and messy.
Fortunately, when it comes to native iPad Apps, it’s an entirely new story. Premium Apps such as Netflix, ABC, Pandora, AIM, and many others take advantage of the entire screen estate. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those available just yet. The selection iPad-optimized Apps are still quite limited. Small-time developers probably find it hard to justify dedicating time and resources for a new device with a limited audience. As time passes, if the Apple continues to show promising sales figures on the iPad, more developers will begin rushing quality iPad Apps into the submission process.
While I did mention that iPhone Apps appear blurry, I figured that I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine, if Apple hadn’t offered backwards compatibility, pundits would have been having a field day complaining. Either move has a “no-win” situation for Apple, but I strongly feel they made the right decision.
Is it good for multimedia?
When it comes to entertainment, there’s nothing that can beat the iPad. While the device’s hardware may derive its roots from the iPod Touch, it’s clear that Apple actually used iTunes for inspiration. The interface rather closely resembles a slimmed down version of the desktop client versus a mobile interface. It’s easy to browse through Music by Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, and Composers. Since there’s plenty of screen estate, more information appears on-screen at a time including the song durations, the number of tracks in an album, artwork, and more. There’s also a convenient search tool, shuffle/repeat modes, and even a genius playlist.
The Video App is a separate entity from the iPod App. (iPhone merges both features.) Browsing through a collection of videos and podcasts is easy with large thumbnails. While Apple simply states ‘HD’ playback everywhere, it’s actually just 720p, not the full 1080p experience. Codecs are unfortunately somewhat limited as with most Apple devices. There are many free tools that can convert just about any video into a supported format, but that still is a hassle as encoding takes time. I interestingly found that some podcasts delivered directly from iTunes weren’t actually compatible. Despite that, the excellent display and battery life make the iPad an excellent video playback device.
As for photos, Apple really hasn’t made much progress. Launching the App displays all the photos on the device in a single stream, but also offers sorting by Albums. Unfortunately, since Apple doesn’t offer folder structure support, finding images amongst a large collection of photos is a difficult task. The only other related innovation is the improved slideshow feature. There’s even a button to launch it from the lock screen. As usual, there are a handful of neat animations. The entire experience is fairly solid, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
How long does the battery life last?
If there’s one thing that Apple did right with the iPad, it was outfitting it with a powerful battery pack. According to Apple’s claims, the battery should provide power for about 10 hours when surfing the web with WiFi, watching a video, or listening to music. Naturally, I put it to the test and found that their numbers were actually underestimates of my results. For instance, on my first day with the device, the iPad managed last from about 8AM to midnight with 25% battery to spare. That day included heavy usage since I was customizing settings, listening to music, observing video quality, and download new Apps. Not to mention that I let many people try the device throughout the day. As for most average days where I reply to emails, browse the web, check the calendar, and read the news, I drain less than 20%. With excellent standby savings, the iPad can retain power for nearly a few weeks at a time when not in use.
That’s quite impressive considering that my iPhone 3GS runs dry about half way through the day even with minimal use. Most new netbooks only began reaching the 10 hour mark this year with a 6-cell battery. However even those require charging daily. The iPad can easily go for a few days at a time with minimal use. It’s also only a matter of time before 3rd parties begin offering cases with extended batteries that will only further extend the lifespan.
The Bottom Line
As a computer geek, it’s truly hard to justify the price of an iPad. As the majority of Americans are still struggling through difficult economic times, it isn’t the wisest solution to grab an iPad. While the amazing simplistic design and long battery life is wonderful, there’s not much it can offer to the average person. With a locked-down operating system, a limited number of iPad-optimized Apps at this time, no multitasking until Fall, no expandable storage, no front-facing cameras, and no USB ports, it’s lacking just about everything. The $500 starting price can also buy a top of the line netbook with still $100-200 to spare. While netbooks might not have the “eye candy factor” or be as aesthetically pleasing, they do have a physical keyboard to get real work done. A netbook or laptop can do everything an iPad does, but not the other way around. If you have the cash to spare, want an easy-to-use fool-proof device, and don’t need to get office-like tasks done, the iPad won’t disappoint.
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Great review, thanks.
When do we expect this new ‘gadget’ to be available in the market. I am from Kenya and if i want to be a sell this product within my country, how readily available are they? And where can I purchase the I-Pad
Probably the best review I’ve read about the iPad. Even with all the negative or neutral points I purchased an iPad on a recent trip to the US. I’m from Australia and it won’t be available for at least another six weeks. Thus one aspect left out of the review is the capacity to draw a crowd when using your iPad in pubic.
Love the review Sahas. I really agree with you after doing some more research. This really is the Jimmy Carter of its times. The idea is great, and Apple is notorious for making user friendly products however the practice is horrid. With out allowing multitasking and built in handwriting recognization,the iPad managed to fall flat. However, the SDK team seems to be taking advantage of what was given to then, and the third party accessories that exist. One of my favorite is the capacitive touch styluses. When combined with programs such as smartNote or future hand note programs, the iPad becomes closer to what it was supposed to be. Thought this is only the surface of the never ending pool of problems that they have created by releasing this early. The original plan was to hold back the release date till 4.0 was able to be released with it. However, they felt that it was good to push it out and see what the customers needed added to it to make it a viable tablet. All-In-All I 100% agree with your review and feel that this was also a very premature release. If I were looking at this review, I would highly suggest looking at the Adam tablet by Notion Ink. This tablet is set to be the first Chrome OS tablet, and will support flash. And though HTML 5, which will allow embedded videos its self, is just around the corner, flash will be like a cockroach and never seem to die. One of the greatest downfalls of Apple Mobile OS is is inability to run flash.
Great article, very well written and never found a better review than what you have written Sahas. I seem to agree with all the valid points you make in your conclusion.
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. Let me know if you have any questions.
Nicely written commentary, but there’s a negative undercurrent and some misinformation! It’s clear you weren’t going to diss in certain aspects from the beginning. Anyone who faults it for its lack of flash and USB ports just doesn’t get it! Same thing with comparing it to netbooks. It’s not just aesthetics, it’s the interactive experience, something no netbook will ever supply.
Hope you can reconsider your view that it’s just a “consuming” device. See
In some cases, there must be something wrong or you’re spreading misinformation.
“With a device that starts at $500, I expected quick syncing. Unfortunately, just like an iPhone, syncing about 16GB easily takes over an hour. It’s unbearably frustrating and time-consuming.”
It’s the first I’ve read of anything like that–and like the i-devices, that can happen once in a blue Moon with an OS update and something wacky going on. Subsequent synchings should be faster, much faster.
You’re also off-base on the e-reading… Kindle exists for the iPad already, so anyone wanting to access all those Amazon books can do so–right from their iPad. Anyone in the market for an ebook reader would be wasting their money on a Kindle hardware device.
Try changing the brightness and the screen colors (different color text on different colored backgrounds) and the supposed eye strain will vanish. Plus, page turning on e-ink devices is sluggish and flashes the entire screen– talk about eye strain!
Hope you’ll follow up with a fairer, more appreciative article down the road!
Thanks for the comment.
I couldn’t agree more that an iPad has a great interactive experience. It’s undoubtedly visually appealing and easy to use for basic tasks. Netbooks are not nearly as intuitive. But when it comes down to the bottom line, is that small amount of user experience worth the $500 price and the number of limitations?
I honestly completely disagree with the Computer World article. It’s quite irrational on so many different points. It is seriously trying to justify wasting money. It’s not impossible to write an essay with an iPad, but it is impractical. Having to dive in and out of Apps by waiting for them to close and open is not worth the hassle. Even Apple agrees, hence the multitasking feature in iPhone OS 4.0. If you don’t like multitasking because it causes distractions, just make MS Word full screen, close other programs, and kill the WiFi. (You’ll also save money and be able to do real work when you need too.)
In regards to slow syncing, I’ve tried an iPhone 3GS (32GB) and iPad WiFi (16GB) on an iMac (2009), Dell XPS M1530, and a Dell SXPS 13. Same issue everywhere. It has always taken about an hour or so to fill up 16GB of mixed music, videos, apps, and photos. If you are referencing a single quick sync afterwards, it generally only takes a few minutes.
Regarding Books, I don’t think you can change colors, only font, size, and brightness. If you get eye strain on an iMac, then you will get eye strain by spending the same hours on an iPad. It’s the same screen technology. And regards to wasting money on Kindle, I said get the iPad. The same thing you’re saying.
Do you want to buy my iPad?
Personally, my biggest complaint is the lack of video camera. I just want to be able to Skype on the go instead of always scheduling face-to-face time in advance.
Yeah I know what you mean. The one thing that apple has limited forever is the ability to Skype over 3G, so regardless of what ends up happening with the front facing camera (more on that in a bit) I would be surprised if you will be able to Skype “on the go” any time soon. The reason they have done so is due to AT&T feeling that allowing VoIP violates their contract with you. If they were to ever allow this we could pretty much get our iPhones for the cost, and then never pay another $30 phone bill for the “iPhone Plan.” With that being said the first rule in programming is that rules are meant to be broken and pushed. At this moment there exists many ways to trick the phone to thinking that it is on WiFi (ie Jailbreaking with Cydia App My3G). Hopefully AT&T and other providers will realize that they can’t stop Skype over 3G and just conform, because in reality this is the only way to end the cycle.
As for your desire for a front facing camera, I’m pretty sure I have big spoiler (which many are thinking is a reality) that I have heard that will make your day. The iPhone 4G Codename “iPhone HD” has been leaked. As has now shown your prayers have all been answered and a new front facing camera has been added. http://gizmodo.com/5520164/this-is-apples-next-iphone
While it has been added on the hardware end, iPhone OS4.0 is also being torn apart by developers. They have found this [appleinsider.com – link]
So while your Skype dreams have been crushed it looks like they are planning to integrate iChat (which supports Video over IP) with the new iPhone OS. Now well have to see if the .app can be used over 3G (doubtful), but we can always hope that we wont have to jailbreak in order to get all the features that apple has locked.
What does this mean for the iPad?
I wouldn’t be supprised at all if the next gen of the docks has some sort of mounting for a camera, meaning that there will be some support for Apple’s 30-pin output to WebCam when OS 4.0 for iPad is released in August (?).
I think we’re missing the big point here. A front-facing camera could have made this the killer Chatroulette device.
Anyways, Tal, it was nice meeting you at TED Berkeley!
Sahas, are you advocating teh pr0ns on the go? I’m very enthusiastic about walking around holding a massive screen to my face, whether I’m using iChat or Skype, and hoping I don’t run into too many poles – but I’m not sure how I feel about seeing other people walking around holding a massive screen in front of body parts preferred by the Chatroulette community.
And great meeting you too. I met up with with Justin today, maybe the three of us can grab coffee sometime.
Crossing my fingers for iChat 3G, Logan – thanks for the tip. And yeah, video conf/VoIP on all of those devices is inevitable. The fact that Verizon even agreed to partner with Skype is certainly proof of that. Verizon, of all carriers, is allowing unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls via BB and Android apps. I can only assume they are banking on the fact that people will only use it to dial international, which wouldn’t affect their bottom line since almost no one makes intl. calls from their mobile devices. They’re probably right about that currently, but they’ll only be able to operate under that assumption for so many years – I’m guessing that eventually all carriers will only offer one flat unlimited-everything plan, so that they won’t lose money when domestic VoIP goes mainstream.
I digress. iPhone with front-facing camera! Thanks for that link. Now let’s see if it’ll be useful beyond people taking photos of themselves at parties. It says video chat on Gizmodo, but we’ll see…
Yes I actually heard of that Tal. However we end with another problem when it comes to Verizon. They are still having talks with apple since they want their proprietary software on the iPhone. Verizon as you may no was offered the iPhone first (bet their kicking themselves in the ass now) and the reason they denied the contract was due to the fact that apple wouldn’t allow for their software.
As for what I have scene from the rumors and SDK screen shots, the iChat client still exists and iPhone 4.0 OS Beta 2 was released today. Sounds like were getting closer to D-Day. Don’t be surprised to see the “iPhone HD” to be released in June or early July. :-P