Pros: Perfect screen size; there’s an app for almost everything; crisp and clear; fast
Cons: It doesn’t do or support everything a person might want it for
Rating: 4 out of 5
I know we usually review books here, but we do occasionally tackle a few other things as well, like kitchenware and the occasional bit of computing equipment or software. Since I’ve been using my iPad daily since it came out, I decided it was time to give my initial impressions. Just for reference, I have the 16G wifi model, case, and keyboard with dock. Why did I go for the low-end model? Well, I’m not an early adopter. I like to wait until the second or, preferably, third round of a product so the bugs can be worked out and the price can come down. However, the iPad fits my needs so well that I couldn’t resist—but I also know that a first-gen device like this will probably need to be replaced sooner than a later one, so I didn’t want to spend the money for a truly top-end device.
First off: no, it isn’t a portable computer replacement. If you expect it to be, you’ll only be disappointed. Nor is it just an oversized PDA despite claims to the contrary. Instead, it’s a robust adjunct to your main computer. It allows me to take most of my web browsing, game playing, email reading, etc. away from my desk. I have tendonitis and my laptop isn’t one of the new tiny ones, so I don’t consider it particularly portable. It’s so nice to have something I can tuck easily into my bag to take with me.
In large part, whether the iPad suits your needs will depend on whether you can find apps for it that suit your needs. So far there’s a wide array of apps, so I haven’t found this to be much of a problem—but again, it’ll depend on your needs. I highly recommend poking around the iTunes app store if you aren’t sure whether it’ll have what you want.
It’s true that there are some things you just can’t do on an iPad, like view Flash content on websites. I do find this occasionally annoying, but honestly, I just hope it convinces more websites to stop using so much Flash content. I’ve always found that it bogs down my machine and causes more problems than it fixes. Flash games have gotten so bloated and slow that most of them are unbearable at this point.
In contrast, I’ve found that the apps on my iPad load and run super-fast. They’re streamlined to have a small footprint, and it shows. Most of them will automatically save whatever I was doing when I back out to the home screen, and they load so fast load screen tips in games often flash past before I can read them. They also take up a surprisingly small amount of memory; I’m amazed at how slowly I’m using up my 16G!
Now, like I said, I can’t do everything with it. In a crunch I can use the limited-use, paragraph-at-a-time Dragon Dictation app to dictate reviews, but I still prefer to type those, so I tend to do them on my laptop. In one of the more foolish moves, IMO, the fantastic protective case that Apple sells isn’t compatible with the dock, despite having an opening for the proper port—the edge of the case extends down too far and interferes with docking. It’s a pain to remove the case and put it back on again since it’s such a precise fit, so I’m unlikely to use the keyboard dock all that frequently. You’d think that they would have designed those things to work together.
The on-screen keyboard is actually pretty good, and suits normal finger size much better than that on the tinier iPhone screen, but it still isn’t meant for extended typing.
I’m also addicted to the touch-screen interface. It feels so natural that I find myself trying to use my laptop as though it had one. You do have to clean the screen of fingerprints frequently; I like the computer monitor wipes that you can get in bulk. If you keep it clean, though, it’s an absolutely beautiful screen!
iPad as e-reader
Since I do a lot of reading and reviewing, and I absolutely hate the other e-readers I’ve played with (the screen flash when turning pages would drive me batty before I finished a single book), the iPad’s value as an e-reader was important to me. In this, it truly shines. You can download the Barnes & Noble reader and the Kindle reader for free. GoodReader makes a fantastic pdf reader (just import pdfs from the app tab when synching with your computer). iBooks, however, blew me away. As a book geek, I really like the experience of reading a book rather than a computer file. And iBooks looks the most like a book. It stores books on a virtual bookshelf (although you can choose a list format instead), and books display with faux page edges and the works. You can choose whether to read in portrait, one page at a time, or in landscape, with two side-by-side pages just like in a real book.
The experience is fantastic, so I’m mourning the fact that most publishers don’t like sending out digital ARCs.
I’m truly amazed by the screen quality, the speed of everything, the variety of apps available (I’ll review some eventually!), and the utility of the iPad as an e-reader. I can use it near-constantly for heavy-use things like gameplay and the charge lasts me a good 24 hours. I just wish they’d thought of the case-vs-dock issue, and I hope this encourages fewer sites to use Flash.