Monday, June 28, 2010

iPad Review - One Month

Well I have had my iPad for almost a month and decided it was time to give a review. Before i start I will admit i am an Apple fanboy, but I am always quick to point out any flaws I see in Apple's products I.e flickering MacBook screen, cracked case on MacBook, slowness in iPhone. so rest assured you should get a relatively honest review out of me.

Now the biggest comment i typically get from laptop owners is "my laptop does that too, big deal." This is important, because Steve Jobs mentioned the key to the iPad succeeding is it being able to do a bunch of things a laptop or mobile phone can do, just doing them better. i will come back to this throughout the review, but first impressions are really more important.

After taking it out of the box I laughed at the one page mini instruction manual and fired it up. Right away it was better than expected, the size of the screen was great and it was very quick especially comprared to my iPhone 3G. I was tempted to just play around, but knew it would be best if I synced some stuff from iTunes. Synching was a breeze and I was even asked if I wanted to load from an iPhone backup. While syncing I did notice that the iPad wasn't charging and as I later found out this was true, it can only charge from the included adapter (allegedly if the iPad is sleeping while plugged into a laptop it will charge but i haven't tested this). The synch was about as fast as a usual iPhone sync. I only bought a 16GB model because i figured i would have my iPhone at all times and wouldn't need all of my music.

Once I was ready to go I quickly played around with the apps that came with it. First the updates to Mail and Calendar are great. They are both much more robust than the iPhone versions, but are so much more usable. The Photos app is also improved with some more multitouch functionality and also support for some of the native iPhoto concepts like faces, and places. The only other app that comes out of the box I really cared about was the iTunes app. It is a little easier to navigate and also supports creation and editing of playlists. Besides that it is a music player so i don't that one would expect more.

The most common app people want to see when I give a demo is the iBook app and usually they are pretty impressed. The readability on the backlit screen is great and the added features of a dictionary, font type and size control and bookmarks are really great additions. I will admit i haven't spent several hours in a row reading, so I don't know how it will effect eyes, but I did do some reading and really enjoyed being able to read hands free. I also went through the process of buying a book, the best part is the ability to preview a book. The sample I downloaded for a 350 page book was about 70 pages, which seemed very generous.

Oh I almost forgot about Safari. It was made a lot more usable in the new iPad version with support for a bookmarks bar and also more controls in general available at the top of the screen. Surfing the internet is a great experience and feels so much more natural than on a laptop. There is something to be said about tapping and pinching web pages on a 9 inch screen. When i bought the iPad I mostly intended to use it from the couch at night while watching tv. Basically whenever i was at home and looking things up on the Internet with my iPhone would be a time i would use the iPad. It turns out I did use it for those occasions and much more, it seems the only time i use my MacBook now is when i need to import photos or do some iPhone app development.

Okay I think that takes care of the basic set of apps. Now as with the iPhone you can download apps from the App Store (that is actually where I got iBooks). Going into this I heard about support for iPhone apps on the iPad and thought I would just use those apps on the iPad. Initially I loaded several apps I had come to love on my iPhone on the iPad, but once loading them you can either see them in a 1X size which is exactly the size of an iPhone or you can tap the 2X and see them in double the original size. Unfortunately, most apps just look distorted and the graphics get very 8-bit block like. A couple apps are okay, but I ended up removing most of the iPhone apps and went to the App Store in search of new apps. It is actually cool to see some of the apps that have been created so far and how they take advantage of the big screen. One of my favorites so far was Solitaire, which is great to play on the big screen.

So far it has all been rosy, but there are indeed some frustrations/annoyances/problems. First and foremost I think is the on screen keyboard. When held in the landscape orientation the keyboard is a really decent size with keys almost as large as on a standard apple keyboard. Unfortunately for the "touch typist" it takes a lot of practice to get good with the keyboard and typing anything longer than a couple paragraphs (like this review) isn't worth the trouble. Yes, the keyboard does inline corrections, but I find I am constantly deleting or moving the cursor back to a spelling error for correction. Also the keyboard in portrait mode is virtually unusable, it is too wide to type like on the iPhone, and the buttons are two narrow for a regular typing stance.

The screen is another annoyance for me, mostly because it gets messy very quickly. Unlike the iPhone though you can't just rub it on your pant leg and instead need to find a towel or sleeve to wipe off any oils you lathered the screen with. The other problem with the screen is that it is glossy, so it is almost unusable in direct sunlight, well unless you want to use it as a mirror. If you are able to sit in the shade and can sit with darkness around you then it is okay, but the reflection is still there.

One other important thing to mention is how important the Apple iPad case may be for the iPad. I had the good sense to buy the case when I got it so I can't say not having it is bad, but if you ever intend on typing on a table or other flat surface I think it would a pain without the case. Now I am not a huge fan of cases on Apple products, but I planned on using it at work in meetings and knew I would be putting it on a flat surface. I have also found it provides a few more options even when sitting on the couch.

So the big question: Does it do things better than a laptop?
Internet - Yes, great experience.
Book Reading - Yes, it is slightly wider than a book, but the brightness, availability of titles and hands free reading is great.
TV/Movies - Yes, I downloaded the ABC app and really enjoyed sitting on the couch watching Lost. There is less concern about battery life and it isn't hot on your lap like a laptop.
Music - The jury's out. Its not really practical for listening to music, but neither is a laptop.
Calendar - Yes, flipping through the calendar with the tap of a finger is great.
Mail - Yes, if you are just reading and not typing out super long emails.
Word Processing/ Note Taking - No, typing a ton of stuff isn't reasonable.

In general as long as the way you use an app isn't keyboard intensive, the smaller size and touch navigation of the iPad give it a leg up. Oh yeah and the lack of Flash Player is rubbish. Despite claims that the internet is full of Flash content, I only come across Flash content every once in a while and while somewhat annoying isn't a deal breaker.

Overall, I love the iPad. There is certainly room for improvement: front facing camera, multi-tasking for third party apps (coming this Fall). I only got the WiFi version because I already pay enough for internet and also plan on using it primarily at home and at work where I always have Wi-Fi.

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