iPad: Two Week Review

Having been an iPad owner for two weeks now, here are my unbiased thoughts about this innovative, wonderful, spectacular piece of hardware …

Before we begin, I should point out that I’m not particularly pro-Apple; in fact, I’m actually kind of anti-Apple. I’ve been a Microsoftie my entire life and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, more important to me than any sense of “brand loyalty” is buying things that meet my needs. Yes, I ate some crow after purchasing an (Apple brand) iPod, but the interface and performance far exceeded that of my previous mp3 player. iPods are a gateway drug, for sure; before long, I found myself carrying my iPod in one pocket and a new iPhone in the other. I’m still (and probably always will be) a Windows user, but I must admit, Apple makes some nice products.

Apple’s iPad is a device without a specific purpose. It’s not like a phone or a coffee maker or a television; in fact, it’s almost the opposite of those things. Those things provide a specific service or meet a specific need. The iPad is just the opposite. The iPad fills no specific hole in my day. It doesn’t specifically solve any of my problems, or even make me coffee. I use my iPod for listening to music both in my car and while exercising. My iPhone allows me to talk, text, and game on the go. The iPad, however, is a solution in search of a problem. Prior to buying one I had two specific thoughts: “I most own one of those,” and “what on Earth am I going to use it for?”

While I don’t know that the iPad has a “killer app” yet, it does a lot of different things pretty well. Right up front it replaced my Kindle and my netbook. Plus, it’s a pretty slick little portable media center, for enjoying movies, music and photos on. Oh, and it plays games.

Physical: Physically, the iPad resembles little more than an oversized iPod touch. The screen is amazingly bright and clear (1024 × 768 on a 9.7″ screen looks fabulous). Like Apple’s other iDevices, there’s only one button on the front (Home) and few other hardware ports. Like the iPod you have the charging port, a headphone jack, and a volume rocker. The only addition is a “orientation lock”, which locks the device in whichever mode it’s currently in (landscape or portrait).

Downsides? At 1.5 pounds, the iPad is too heavy to be held with only one hand for any length of time. Also, having the charging port on the base of the iPad makes it difficult to both charge the device and rest it on my tummy while reclining in my chair.

Compared to the iPhone, the iPad is missing both a camera and a GPS. The iPad does some sort of GPS triangulation (even without 3g) that’s pretty accurate, so the lack of a GPS wasn’t a deal breaker for me. As for no camera, that means that (without an add-on) the first generation iPad won’t support Apple’s “Face Time” (video chat), which kind of seems like something the iPad was designed to do.

Being twice as big as an iPhone means you’ll be recharging your iPad twice as often. With 3g and wireless turned off, people are reporting between 10-12 hours between charges. If you’re streaming a lot of video through your device, you’ll be looking at closer to six hours between charges. Also, the iPad needs more juice to recharge; a standard iPhone charger will charge the unit, but at half the speed (the iPhone charger puts out 5v — the iPad’s, 10v). Apple also says that the iPad can be charged by connecting the device to “some” high-powered USB ports. I’ve tried it with three fairly modern computers so far and haven’t had one work yet.

Interface: Currently the iPad runs 3.x iOS, which means it looks just like your iPhone did before you upgraded to 4.x. There are a few nice iPad-specific additions. You can now easily change the background of both the splash screen and your work space (you can make them the same, or different). Icons can still be moved and organized by making them “wiggle” and dragging them around.

The iPad is continually orientation-aware. Rotating the iPad rotates and realigns your icons, too. Most (not all) iPad applications support this as well. Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been holding the iPad upside-down until you go looking for one of its physical buttons.

The iPad, like other iDevices, also uses a virtual keyboard. If you hold the unit horizontally, there’s no way I can use my thumbs to hit all the keys. I simply cannot reach the middle rows — great for days when I’m not using a lot of v’s and b’s, but otherwise, not so good. Holding the unit vertically is slightly better, but when holding the iPad comfortably I still can’t reach those middle keys. For the time being I’ve reverted back to holding the unit in my left hand and pecking away at those virtual buttons with the index finder on my right. I briefly experimented with lying the unit flat and using it like a “real” keyboard, and although it feels weird typing on a piece of glass, surprisingly it worked pretty well.

iOS4 is coming to the iPad this November. Until then, there’s no folders and no multitasking.

iPad vs. Netbook

Last year I bought a netbook — which, to be honest hasn’t had much use. Netbooks are smaller and less powerful than their laptops, and are designed to handle normal, day-to-day duties like e-mail, web surfing, and so on. There’s been a lot of talk about iPads and other tablets taking a bite out of the netbook market, so how do these two devices stack up against one another?

It is no secret that I never liked the keyboard on my Acer Aspire One. Even with my normal sized hands and fingers, the scaled-down keyboard is just a little too small for me to use. I’d venture a guess that, taking accuracy into consideration, I can type just as fast on the iPad as I can on the netbook. I wouldn’t want to tap out a novel on either one, but for e-mail and such, either are usable.

Compared to the Acer Aspire One, the iPad’s screen is bigger. For sitting around in my recliner, the iPad is a lot more comfortable. I don’t need to rest it on my lap or anything; holding it in my hand, I can check my e-mail, Facebook, Google, and so on. Surprisingly, I’ve found myself using my iPad a lot in bed, something I never did with my netbook.

For a while I had been holding out for a Windows-centric tablet, but for what I use mine for, I’ve found almost everything I need in the App store. YMMV. For simple to intermediate tasks, I’d say the two are a match. Anybody want to buy a netbook?

iPad vs. eReaders

Having previously owned a Kindle, allow me to compare those style of eReaders to the iPad.

The iPad’s screen is like having a small, high-definition television in the palm of your hand. The Kindle (I’m using “Kindle” generically to represent all eReaders) is like reading newsprint. I have read about people getting “eye fatigue” from reading for long periods of time on computer screens. I haven’t experienced it on the iPad yet, but then again I rarely read for more than 30-45 minutes at a time on it. For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say you’ll have less eye strain when reading on a Kindle.

What the Kindle displays best are books purchased through Amazon. There are converters that will convert files in other formats to Kindle-friendly ones, but they have to be performed one at a time, they take time to perform, and the results, depending on the complexity of the source material, often leave something to be desired. A lot of my time as a Kindle owner was spent converting files into Kindle-friendly (Kriendly?) formats. The iPad, on the other hand, reads everything. Reading PDFs natively on the Kindle was a big disappointment. On the iPad, it’s almost like you’re playing with them — you can spin them, enlarge them, highlight text, copy/paste selections and e-mail them … essentially, anything you can do on your computer, you can do on the iPad.

The Kindle wins hands down when it comes to battery life and cost. There were times when I only charged my Kindle once a month. With heavy usage, expect to charge your iPad every other day. The iPad certainly has enough juice to get you through a plane ride or most one-day road trips, but it’s no match for the Kindle’s e-ink technology.

And then there’s the price. Amazon’s Kindle has dropped to $159. An entry level iPad will run you $500, and the highest end model is $830. The iPad is an amazing device that does a lot of neat things, but if I were looking for solely an eReader, I couldn’t justify that kind of money for one.

All said, I love reading books on my iPad. The Kindle has its place, and if someone only needed a device that read books, I still highly recommend them. However, if you’re looking for something that does a lot of things AND reads books pretty well too, the iPad is your man.

(And if it’s the Kindle bookstore you’re worried about losing, the iPad has the Kindle app.)

iPad: Entertainment

So the thing reads books, big deal. Is it any fun to own?

First up are the games. The iPad can play every (AFAIK) iPod/iPhone game already on the market. Through a bit of technical wizardry, the iPad is able to upscale games 2x the size of the original, which essentially fills the iPad’s screen. All your old games and apps will work here, too.

There are, however, lots of iPad-specific games. These are mostly marked with the term HD in the app store, and feature stunning graphics. The kids love playing the iPad-specific Angry Birds HD and The Treasures of Montezuma HD (think Bejeweled). There are several HD racing games out for the iPad that I’ve been meaning to try out.

The iPad comes with a built in Video App for playing iPad-friendly videos, but to be honest I haven’t used it yet. VLC for the iPad is free, and it plays not only iPad-friendly videos, but pretty much any format you can imagine. Mine is loaded up with episodes of Mad TV, SpongeBob, and yes, Sharktopus. Another app I installed is AirPlayer, which lets you connect to any UP&P server (and who doesn’t have one set up these days?) and stream music, movies and pictures across your home wireless network. I love it and the kids love it too. It’s like having a portable magic screen that we can access any of our own media on.

That same screen that makes video such a pleasure to watch on the iPad also makes the device a bit less portable. I can’t imagine lugging an iPad to listen to music on; then again, I can’t imagine toting an iPhone around to watch videos on any more, either.

iPad: Summary

Multiple third party iPad cases contain a built in stand, to prop the unit up. I thought that was odd until I owned one; now, I totally get it. I’ve been hauling my iPad from room to room, keeping it next to me. While working on the computer, I have it streaming music. Morgan uses it to watch videos and make bake virtual cookies on. Mason has the high score on Plants vs. Zombies HD, and has been learning about the earth and the elements with a couple of different apps. Susan … well, Susan still writes her grocery list down on dead trees so she doesn’t get a vote. Point is, the reason it seems like we’re having to charge the iPad so much right now is, it seems like the thing is never off.

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