The iPad is a truly remarkable product. Is it a gamechanger? Here are some thoughts from reviews around the net:
“The build quality is excellent. The aluminium back feels great under the finger and nothing feels cheap. There is an audio jack connector for headphones, and a microphone for apps that need it. The speaker is on the bottom of the device where the “Home” button is. The audio quality is so-so and the maximum speaker volume is too soft for my taste. My advice: use headphones whenever possible. The volume button is accessible and active whenever the iPad is playing something.
Other than the standard 3.5mm audio jack, the only external connector is the proprietary Apple connector, which seems similar to the one found on the iPhone.A number of accessories can be connected to that, and this is the only wired way to connect to the outside world. Update: I’ve spotted an iPad to VGA connector at the Apple Store.
The display deserves its own section: with a resolution of 1024×768, it has a seemingly low pixel density compared to select high-end smartphones. That said, everything looks sharp and colorful. The contrast and colors are very nice (dare I say “Amazing”?). Plus, the brightness distribution is very stable regardless of the viewing angle.
For those who have used an iPhone or an iPod touch, there is no learning curve whatsoever. It’s the same look (with many additions) and feel and you’ll be productive right away. If you are not familiar with it, this is arguably one of the best touch interface out there, and I expect most people to be able to ramp up fairly quickly.
There is a lot of: “grand parents would love it”. May be so, but this is largely unproven. I think that most people who believe this have never actually tested it on their tech-averse relatives. If you have, feel free to drop a comment at the end of the review. Anyway, if you are thinking about getting one for an elderly person, just keep in mind that: 1/ it might not be as easy as you think it is. 2/ A computer is still required to register and setup the device
Virtual keyboard: after typing on it for some time, here’s my feedback: it is so much better than a smartphone in either portrait or landscape mode. However, this is not as fast as a 10″ Netbook keyboard, or a full-sized keyboard. Here’s my own typing speed: 60 words per minute (wpm) with the iPad, 70wpm on a Netbook and around 80wpm with a full-size keyboard. Personally, I think that the iPad is great for casual typing (one paragraph email replies), but I don’t like sustained typing (10mn+) on the virtual keyboard.
Thanks to progress in low-power designs, testing the battery life of computers is becoming seriously long. The custom iPad A4 processor consumes very little power, so in most cases, the display will be the largest drain factor on the battery.
- Local storage video: 10+ hours
- Streaming video (Netflix): 10+ hours
- Book reading:11-12hrs
- Music (display off): (too long, if I want to publish this week)
A typical day: For my personal use, the iPad will stay alive for about 1.5 days, and possibly 2 days if I stop trying all the apps with shiny icons.
Sleep mode: most gadgets continue to drain power when they are in sleep mode. In the case of the iPad, I noticed that it lost about 1% per night (7hr), which is quite low. This might be a positive effect of not having too much stuff running in the background…
USB charging incompatibility: although it is mentioned that the iPad can be charged from a computer USB ports, it turns out that this is true mainly for Mac computer USB ports because they have a little more juice. It doesn’t work on most PC computers, or USB HUBs.
Battery replacement: the battery is not user replaceable, and like most batteries, it might lose its charge capabilities or simply die (after a while). Right now, the cost of replacement is $105.95.
What is the iPad great for?
I’ll speak for myself, and you have to realize that I have not tried every possible applications on the platform, but in my case here’s what the iPad is great for:
Web browsing, Email: I tend to use my laptop in my couch/bed, and for most of the web browsing and email that I do, the iPad is great. The battery lasts much longer, it’s lighter and most importantly, it is “instant-on” – no boot, no shut down. As I said earlier, some sites aren’t accessible because Flash is not supported, but 95% of the time it’s not a problem.
Browse my Netflix account: Add DVDs or instant-on movies to the queue and check new releases. Watching streaming video works great too.
Turning me into a couch potatoe, one swipe at a time…
Read news & comics: Reading comic books is truly awesome, it is so much better to me than the paper experience… Some news apps are great too. They are faster than going to the website, although I’m not quite sure if the web won’t win in the long run. It’s too early to tell. Books are good too, but I feel that the display could use a higher resolution and a higher size before I can truly love it. That said, I would chose the iPad over the Kindle any day.
Watching movies on a plane: Because of its size, the iPad is very good at displaying movies in cramped environments like airplanes but you will need some kind of stand, because it is not comfortable to hold it for a while. Movie playback is something that recent netbooks can deal with, but most of them will run out of battery after 3-6 hours while the iPad can go on for 10 hours.
Maps: the Map application looks great on the iPad. At the moment, we have not tested it on the 3G+GPS enabled, but it would be interesting to take it for a ride. Using the iPad as a personal navigation sounds cool, especially if we had a good way to mount it in a car (like this one). Is there an accessory for that?
Watching photo, videos: I like to play with the photo gallery, and I like to watch a trailer quickly to decide if I should record something on my video recorder, or rent a movie on my PS3 or Netflix.
It’s (really) instant-on: unlike my laptop, the iPad turns on and off instantly and in situation where I would turn things on and off a lot (in my couch) it’s pretty handy and convenient. Plus, it prolongs the battery life.
The Pros of the Apple iPad
Perfect Starting Price – You can get in on the ground floor of a 16 gig iPad for only $499. This is by far a great deal maker. Most everybody expected the iPad to start close to $1,000. You also have the option of the 32 gig for $599 and the 64 gig for $699.
Light Weight and Sleek Design – The iPad only weighs 1.5lbs, gives you a display of 9.56 in (24.3 cm) × 7.47 in (19.0 cm) and is only 0.5 inches thick. These dimensios couldn’t be any handier and puts the iPad in a class of its own.
iPad Applications – Straight out of the box the Apple iPad has over 140,000 apps that you can download and use. On the bigger screen these apps are much easier to use and read. there is also going to be an enormous number of Apps that are specifically designed for this fantastic little creature.
iBooks: This is going to be one of the major components of this device. You’ll be able to download your favorite books at half the cost with the tap of a finger. They have a bookshelf that is personally catered to your liking. As always, in Apple style, with a tiny tap the book will open up for you.
Bigger, Better, and Faster Photo Viewing – What’s even more amazing is you can do everything with photos that you can do with an iPhone touch with a much larger canvas.
The iWorks Apps Work on Mac Too – For the low price of only $9.99 you can utilize the iWorks apps which will make things much more convenient. Package deals will ultimately make this feature much more appealing.
Traditional Keyboard Accessory – The virtual keyboard is as big as a real one. Some people are totally against virtual keyboards therefore Apple has integrated an optional wireless keyboard to those that are more comfortable using it. This does make it a bit less portable but for many it’s mandatory.
Battery Life – Apple claims that you can run the iPad for 10 hours straight without a charge. We’ll have to see how true that is, especially when it comes to gaming.
No Cellular Contract: Finally! No cellular contract is required for the two options of the 3G. The 250 mb plan is available for $14.99 and the unlimited data plan is only $29.99.
Apple includes a USB-dock cable and AC adapter for that cable in the iPad box. Apple offers several optional accessories for the iPad, as well, including an iPad Dock, a VGA cable, a case, a Keyboard Dock (combining a dock with an attached keyboard), and a Camera Connector Kit.
The $29 iPad Dock is small but solid, wide and deep enough to provide a stable base for the iPad, but the iPod must be positioned in portrait orientation – it doesn’t work in landscape orientation. A 30-pin dock port on the rear connects with Apple’s cable, so you can charge or sync while docked, and a stereo mini-jack provides line-level audio output. Unlike the Apple Universal Dock, however, it offers no infrared sensor for Apple’s remote control.
Apple’s $29 VGA adapter enables some iPad apps to send graphics to many monitors and projectors at 1024×768 (XGA) resolution. Although promoted for use with Keynote, we also found it provided great video quality for movies, TV shows, and even YouTube.
The $39 iPad Case provides protection from scuffs and scratches and folds back to either stand iPad up on its long edge for watching videos or prop it up at an angle suitable for typing on the virtual keyboard. We found it a little wobbly in the upright orientation. The case is made of some matte black, faintly textured material that provides a better grip than the iPad’s aluminum back. Though clearly of high precision manufacture, it somehow still feels cheap. Amazon’s $29 Kindle case, by contrast, provides much more protection and is made of real leather but weighs only a few ounces and adds little bulk. Nor does the Apple iPad Case work with the Apple iPad Dock — unless you trim the case with a knife! We expected a little more for something with Apple’s logo on it. At least this lesson only cost us $39 plus sales tax plus expedited shipping charges.
Apple’s $69 Keyboard Dock arrived on our doorstep just before this review went to publication. It looks much like the Apple Wireless Keyboard but has several iPad-specific shortcut keys: The top left key opens the Home screen; the next key goes directly to Spotlight. Brightness controls are next, then a slideshow key that activates the Lock screen’s photo mode! Next is a key to show or hide the on-screen virtual keyboard. The center key is unused. A set of iTunes playback and volume controls are next, like on Apple’s more recent Macbooks and compact keyboards. Finally, the top-right key puts the iPad to sleep, or wakes it up and bypasses the lock screen.
The Keyboard Dock seems meant to live on a table or desk; its vertical support for an iPad adds more bulk than is convenient for other purposes. Highly mobile users may prefer Apple’s more compact wireless keyboard, despite its lack of iPad shortcut keys.
Apple Apps and Stores
Apps from Apple for the iPad can be roughly divided into three categories: entertainment, productivity, and stores for buying content and more apps. All combine utility, usability and pleasurable (even whimsical) design effectively.
“iPod” (a hardware ancestor of the iPad) is the name Apple gave the iPad’s app for playing music, audiobooks, and podcasts. As recreated virtually for the iPad, “iPod” looks like iTunes on a Mac or PC: content sources and playlists are on the left, content on the right, with big play/pause and forward/back buttons and a finger-friendly volume slider at the top. Also like iTunes, the album art of the currently playing song is shown at lower left.
However, that’s about as far as the iTunes similarities go. There’s no CoverFlow, no Internet Radio, no iTunes library sharing, no AirTunes, no music visualizers.
But, unlike its iPhone and iPod Touch siblings, you can create new playlists on this iPad iPod. Tap the + button at lower right, enter a name for your new playlist, and start adding songs. (iPhone/iPod Touch users will realize this is essentially “On The Go” playlist creation optimized for a larger screen.) Of course, Genius Mixes and Genius Playlists are available too.
If there’s not enough space on the iPad for your entire media library, iTunes 9.1 on your companion computer offers to fill it with a selection of your music while the iPad is connected. While earlier versions of iTunes would do this (for iPods and iPhones) by creating a new playlist and using that as the source, iTunes 9.1 instead just adds music to the iPad until it’s full. (After syncing your other media and apps.) It leaves a couple hundred megabytes of free space to ensure that there is still room to add a few apps, download mail, etc. If storage is at a premium, iTunes 9.1 has an option to convert your music to 128-Kbps AAC on the way to the iPad, saving space. (This is half the size of iTunes Plus and Amazon MP3 downloads, while retaining much of the audio quality.)
|When browsing in iTunes, genres and albums flip over to show you their songs
||Creating a playlist, which later will sync back to your Mac or PC
Like the iPod Touch, and unlike the iPhone, the iPad has a separate Videos app for your movies, TV shows, and any other videos you may have added to your Mac or PC iTunes library. The iPad provides a very nice interface for movies and TV shows purchased from the iTunes Store; artwork, plot summaries, and chapters are all available. Videos you’ve added to iTunes yourself show only technical data about the video size and format, but if your ripper adds chapter markers, they will appear.
The playback experience is excellent. The iPad’s LED-lit IPS display has excellent contrast, black level and color saturation, without the distorted or blown-out color common to less expensive panels. The built-in speakers aren’t great but they are sufficient for watching video in a quiet room. As on the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad scales video to fit its screen. The 4:3 aspect ratio means movies and TV shot for HD will be letterboxed, but you can tap a zoom button to fill the screen, cropping the sides off.
The iPad is limited to just a few video formats: H.264, MPEG-4 and Motion-JPEG in AVI. This limitation conserves battery life, as video decoding and playback is handled by dedicated graphics hardware. H.264 has become the most widely-used video compression scheme online today; even most Flash video uses H.264 underneath the interface. M-JPEG in an AVI wrapper used by many digital cameras to record short video clips.
|Movie from iTunes Store with chapter markers
||TV show from iTunes Store with full plot summaries
A dedicated YouTube app provides most of the same basic functionality as YouTube’s website, except it’s faster, easier to navigate, and ad-free! You can login to YouTube, access your favorites, subscriptions and playlists; rate and comment on videos; mark favorites; browse related videos, and, of course, search.
Videos play at the highest quality available, except for 1080 HD. We’ve found YouTube’s 1080 offerings to be disappointingly fuzzy on both Macs and PCs, so we don’t really consider this a loss, besides which, 1080 would be wasted on the iPad’s smaller, 1024×768 pixel display.
YouTube today offers video quality that is both technically and subjectively superior to what was being broadcast five years ago, before the digital HD transition. And on iPad, it looks fantastic.
|YouTube in full screen with playback controls
||YouTube with video info and related content
Rounding out Apple’s entertainment apps is Photos, which is in the Home screen dock by default (you can move it out to make room for other items if you wish). Photos for iPad is pretty much the same in function as it is on the iPhone and iPod Touch but with much nicer presentation. Instead of a list of albums, and inside them a dense grid of tiny icons, Photos on iPad offers you five views to explore: Photos, Albums, Events, Faces, Places.
- “Photos” is a traditional grid of thumbnails, generously spaced and large enough to easily distinguish each photo from the next. All the photos on your iPad are shown in this view.
- “Albums”, “Events” and “Faces” each shows you stacks of photos, arranged neatly on a grid and organized by type. Here’s where the fun starts: use an un-pinch gesture on a stack and it spreads out to preview. Keep stretching it and the stack explodes to fill the screen in another neat grid of photos. Pinch shut to put the stack back in place, or pinch open another picture to view a zoom preview. As before, keep stretching to zoom to full screen, or release to let it snap closed again. It’s simple, elegant, and fun.
- “Places” brings up a map view with pins for the geotagged locations of your photos. Tap a pin for a preview; multiple photos show as a stack. Pinch it apart to preview or explode the stack. Like the Albums, Events and Faces view, this is a fun way to explore (or show off) your travels or far-flung family’s photos!
Faces and Places are available only to Mac users of iPhoto or Aperture, which provides the appropriate person or geotag metadata to iTunes as it loads the iPad with photos.
|Photos shows Albums, Events and Faces as stacks of photos you can expand:
||Places shows a map with pins for every geo-tagged photo; here we’ve zoomed in to a local park:
Turning next to “productivity” tools, we again see apps evolved and expanded from their iPhone/iPod Touch incarnations. Calendar and Contacts in particular show significant changes.
The Calendar was iPad’s biggest surprise for us — because it is startlingly useful. Apple’s iCal on the Mac platform suffers from embarrassingly poor usability, mysteriously worsening with each iteration of Mac OS X, while Calendar on the iPhone has always been limited by its small screen.
iCal on the Mac offers basic functionality, but entering event details is painfully slow, with many different fields to set. Some fields allow only keyboard input, others only mouse input, and some require both — leading to an awkward dance between keyboard and mouse. Scheduling with iCal is a chore.
The iPhone version has as many fields, but they are far, far faster to set. Only the iPhone’s small screen makes it ineffective — great for adding new events or accepting invitations but not an efficient way to look at your overall schedule.
The iPad’s Calendar builds on the usability of the iPhone’s calendar and has a very pleasant visual design. Apple designed this Calendar to look like a paper desk calendar, with spiral-bound flip pages and tear-off day pages. There is even a little ragged remnant of a previous torn-off page sticking to the top of the calendar pad. In fact, they look so good that, with Apple’s checkered iCal past, we feared style had been put ahead of substance. This turned out not to be the case at all!
This new Calendar offers four views of your schedule: Day, Week, Calendar and List. Each is thoughtfully designed and clear.
Day view looks like a bound appointment book, showing two pages per day. On the left-hand page are details of each of the day’s events: title, start and end times, who created the event, invitees and description. You can tap an event to edit it using a popover. On the right-hand page is a traditional hour-by-hour view, providing a good idea of where you have free time. A mini-calendar for the current month graces the upper right; tap a day to jump to it. Pages flip left or right as you change days.
Week view looks like a paper tablet with a week’s events, hour-by-hour. Tap an event to show its details in a popover; an edit button shows the editor, which looks and acts much like the iPhone’s efficient calendar tool, with the addition of prominent buttons to accept, refuse or “maybe” an invitation, when you are the invitee.
Month view is much like week view: a paper tablet, traditional grid view, tap for details. You don’t have to tap each event separately; just drag your finger across events and their details appear as you pass over them. Again, like week view, tap the edit button to make changes.
List view is our favorite, and shows that Apple has finally thought through how calendars are used. Most scheduling software to date has provided a fair day view, but for schedule overviews, has emulated the traditional large paper calendar grid on a small, low-resolution screen. That turns out to be not very effective. The degenerate case is the last day of the month, where the calendar uses most of its space on past events which are no longer relevant, uses one-thirtieth of the space for today (at best), and leaves no space at all for upcoming days. Practically, an overview should show today in great detail, the next few days in moderate detail, and the past not at all.
The iPad’s List view accomplishes this goal with panache and style. At left, a spiral-bound pad provides a scrollable list of events. At right, a paper tablet shows details for the currently selected event from the list (which defaults to whatever is happening now) and an hour-by-hour view of your commitments and free time. Tap any event to update the detail pane; tap the Edit button to bring up the same popover editor used elsewhere. It is simple, clear and devastatingly effective. Our hat’s off to Apple on this one.
|Calendar’s List view shows all upcoming events,
the day’s commitments, and notes about the selected event.
The Contacts app also gets a visual makeover for the iPad; it looks like a finely-bound address book. The left page has a list of names, and at the edge is an alphabet, like those printed and embossed into paper address books. Tap a letter to jump to that part of the book. A ribbon bookmark in the upper corner opens to your address groups, which are either synced from the Mac Address Book, Outlook Groups, or your enterprise directory server.
When you tap the edit button on a contact, the book slides to the left and centers the contact information on the page, where you edit it in place. Tap “done”, and the book slides back into place so you can browse the list again.
Unlike most of the other built-in apps, Contacts doesn’t take full advantage of portrait orientation. The vertical style simply has narrower pages and big black blocks of unused space above and below. When you edit a contact, the page doesn’t even expand to provide as much width as in landscape view. Apple’s designers took the visual metaphor a step too far here, giving up valuable screen space for aesthetics at the expense of function.
The classic yellow lined note pad design came with the iPhone in 2007 and has remained relatively unchanged until now. The iPad’s big screen and on-screen keyboard, though, give Notes a lot more potential uses than before. It also is a lot more stylish: turn the iPad to landscape orientation, and Notes reveals itself as a sumptuous leather-clad note pad, with a list of your note pages down the left (and the active page circled in red pencil).
Notes retains the same love-it-or-hate-it MarkerFelt text face as iPhone. That worked fine on the small screen for short amounts of text, but it has poor readability for large blocks of text. It would be helpful to be able to pick a different typeface.
|Notes, in landscape view, after a test subject tried out the on-screen keyboard.
As with iPhone and iPod Touch, iTunes can sync your notes to Mac Mail or Outlook on Windows.
Email is an essential Internet activity for many users, and Apple has kept its Mail app simple and streamlined. Mail can be a little frustrating for “power users”, however — it supports multiple accounts but has no unified inbox; it searches messages, but only their subject lines, sender and recipients; it displays rich HTML messages, but can’t compose them. And your Internet provider better provide good junk mail filtering, because Mail hasn’t got any of its own. It’s no more a full-on email system than the iPhone’s, because it won’t hold more than 200 messages per mailbox.
But if you just want to compose and reply to messages with no fuss or muss, the iPad’s Mail app works fine. In landscape mode, the left quarter of the screen shows your message list, and the right-hand side shows messages. When you tap the Edit button at the top of the message list and start selecting messages, each one is added to a stack at right. Pick a destination mailbox, and the stack jumps into it. Little touches like this abound in Mail. What it does, it does very well.
|Landscape view is useful for managing messages, and rapidly scanning your inbox:
||Portrait view uses a “popover” to show mailbox contents on demand:
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in January, he sailed through Google Maps with a brief view of the Eiffel Tower and moved on. That’s because, aside from a much larger screen, and an option to show the turn list on top of maps with trip directions, there isn’t a lot different from the iPhone/iPod Touch version.
The iPad’s big screen shows off Google Street View to great effect, though, and map overviews are more like having a paper map. But that’s largely it. These days the real action in mapping is in found at the App Store, with dozens of GPS-enabled navigation apps, custom map apps like CalQuakes, and even GIS tools like iGIS, GIS.Data and Field Assets. We look forward to seeing this class of apps evolve for the iPad.
The iPad is a gamechanger. Users swear by it and for good reason. Now the question is how do you get the best price? Stay tuned for a future post on finding the best prices on the iPad.