Apple iPad Reviewed: Game Changing Tablet

By: Gadjo Sevilla

April 30, 2010

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By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Its been hyped, its been delayed for a month and it is still the hottest gadget of 2010. WhatsYourTech.ca reviews the 32GB Apple iPad and discovers a special place between notebooks and smartphones where many things are possible and where the future for users and developers looks really bright.

The 32GB Wi-Fi enabled iPad comes in a small box that can easily be confused with a coffee table book. Inside the box is the iPad, of course, plus a few loose pages for instructions, a power brick and a USB cord. And that’s it. Slim, slick, Spartan, stylin’.

Well, maybe a little too Spartan a package. Apple doesn’t include headphones or even a microfiber cleaning cloth with the kit – and a cleaning cloth is a particular must, because the iPad attracts fingerprints like nobody’s business. Oleophobic or not, the screen is a smudge magnet – and seems to have a fondness for cat fur as well. In a perfect world, your US$ 499 (for the 16GB iPad) should buy you the iPad, a nice carry case, headphones and a dock but you will need to buy all the accessories separately.

The iPad isn’t officially for sale in Canada, preorders for the device will begin on May 10. A recent visit to Pacific Mall in Markham revealed that there are already cases and screen protectors being sold for it. To get an iPad today, you would need to either cross the border or risk getting ripped off by prospectors who’ve bought early iPads and are selling them in Canada via Craigslist or eBay. Even if you do get a US iPad, you will not be able to use the Apple App store from the device and will need to purchase apps via your desktop computer and then transfer these to the iPad. There are a lot of hassles involved in early iPad ownership.

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Still, the iPad itself is an incredibly sexy piece of technology. It elicits the same awe and wonder as the MacBook Air did when it first came out. You’ve seen tablet computers before, but you’ve never seen one like this. The sense of amazement grows even greater when you actually touch the device.

The cool and solid aluminum back wraps and tapers around the vast expanse that is the 10 inch touchscreen. Said screen is surrounded by an inch-thick black bezel. Everything about it seems delicately calibrated and machined to be as perfect as possible and the build quality is simply breathtaking. Even without turning the thing on its too easy to fall in love with it.

Thoughtfully, Apple ships the iPad fully charged, which is great since you might soon realize that the USB ports on older or underpowered computers don’t deliver enough juice to charge the iPad, leaving the lonely wall plug as your only power option. Bummer.

But you do need USB to plug the iPad into iTunes and get it all set up. For testing, many apps, some movies and a few photos were moved from a previous iPod Touch backup over to the iPad. The process took roughly 40 minutes. Not bad.

The iPad’s operating system is part iPhone OS and part Mac OS, incorporating elements of both as new navigation functions demand, with subtleties that take a while to discover. The big upgrade is still to come with the iPhone OS 4  Fall release for the iPad. This will bring multitasking to the platform which while nice-to-have on the iPhone and iPod Touch is a must-have feature for the iPad if it is to be used as a serious computer.

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The iPad will run most iPhone and Touch apps and games natively, but they appear at iPhone size, meaning small. While you can upscale them to 2x the size, the net effect is jagged and blurry – downright ridiculous, in fact. This becomes most evident when the upscaled apps bring forth the iPhone keyboard which looks horrid in pixel-doubled form.

That said, Bloomberg and Evernote slipstream free iPad versions of their apps when you first sync the device and a number of developers are seeing the wisdom of offering free iPad upgrades to paid customers.

You can also access some iPad-specific apps, including games, utilities, online newspaper subscriptions, educational aids, etc.

Amazon’s Kindle App, for example, is also readily available. While this might seem to indicate that Amazon has thrown in the towel for its proprietary e-book reader, it’s really just a new way to sell books, a core business for which Amazon is rather renowned. At any rate, once you see Kindle books blown up to iPad resolution, the Kindle hardware looks wimpy and old.

Some of the better apps you’ll see are from New York Times, BBC, Thomson-Reuters, Associated Press and USA Today. These content-heavy apps have been re-envisioned for this new medium. Collectively, they illustrate quite clearly the future of publishing, right here, right now, right before your eyes.

The iPad is very fast. Page loads, launching Apps… everything it does is markedly faster than the iPhone 3GS. Take into consideration the (much) larger screen real estate that needs to be visually populated and iPad’s speediness all the more remarkable.

The iPad’s touch screen-based keyboard is functional, though it would probably take a lot of practice if you wanted to write anything substantial with it. But for banging out 140 character tweets or quick emails, the software keyboard does just fine. Nothing to write home about… unless you write home using Twitter. We did manage to write a number of columns, including this one on the iPad’s software keyboard and you do get used to it.

iPad’s 1024×768, 9.7 inch LCD screen uses IPS (In-plane switching) technology to provide really wide viewing angles and substantial brightness while consuming less power. The result is phenomenal. A YouTube trailer for  Iron Man 2 and episodes of The Pacific were crisp and vivid even at the lowest brightness setting.

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As a portable web surfing tool, you’ll likely spend a lot of time with the Safari browser, which is fantastic. If there’s an inherent game-changing feature in the iPad, it is how it relates web surfing to the form factor. The screen deftly manages to render entire web pages in such crisp and functional detail that it’s simply stunning.

That said, the lack of Flash support is inexcusable. Flash being the ubiquitous internet video and animation format that it is, building an internet-capable device that doesn’t support it seems daft. Many websites are scrambling to offer non-flash content specifically suited to iPhone and iPad, but thousands won’t even bother. So you are at a disadvantage when trying to view Flash based content because your nice, shiny iPad just doesn’t recognize any of it. Now that Apple and Adobe are having a very ugly and very public argument over the merits and deficiencies of Flash, we should assume that it isn’t coming to the iPhone or iPad anytime soon.

Battery life is really, really good. Even after extensive Internet use over six hours while listening to podcasts and music, the iPad had about 70 per cent battery left. The Wi-Fi version of the iPad reviewed here was truly an all-day device. However, it’s likely that a Wi-Fi + 3G versions, with its additional radios for Cell and GPS, will likely eat through the battery much more quickly. Despite hours of extensive use, the iPad remained cool to the touch and generated almost no heat that we could perceive.

After spending a few weeks with the device we can say that  the Wi-Fi-only iPad is great for light computing, heavy surfing, routine email and gaming on the go. It is a capable eReader device and a superb video and music player, too. After Ted’s review of Air Video, we loaded it up and have been having a blast streaming movies and TV shows via WiFi.

Developers now have the challenge of carrying the device beyond fad gadget status into a true  mobile computing and entertainment platform. So really, the iPad is exciting not just for what it is now – new, novel, and pretty darn spiffy – but for all the “magical” and “revolutionary” things it can still become.


5 comments

  1. timtro@gmail.com'
    Tim Teatro

    Hi again Gadjo,

    I wanted to say first, that it is my sincerest hope that you didn’t take my strong opinions as disrespect. I enjoy reading your work and I do most often refer to you for information on the latest Canadian gadget news.

    Regarding the device itself, I know that you’ve classified the device quite accurately, and perhaps weren’t even arguing for some of the points I was arguing against. I just wanted to put that perspective out there for readers.

    Again, sure, the device can edit spreadsheets, but do you really want to do it on an iPad? I mean, if it works out to be efficient, then yes. But if I have to strain myself to make this device fit my needs, then I think it’s wasted effort.

    I would like to point out that I’m not for a single moment suggesting that we shouldn’t hack the thing, stick Linux on it and have some fun making it do things that it wasn’t meant for. But within Apple’s vision of the iPad, it has restrictions for a reason, and I respect SOME of them. (I still hate that Apple cripples their devices so we have less fun and pay more.)

    But I really do think I’m seeing plenty of possibilities for the iPad. And I think there are so many new possibilities. Making the iPad jump through a computer’s old hoops isn’t necessarily the best use of the device, even thought it may be fun for geeks like you and I to do. I want you to know that I do see your point though.

    Unfortunately, on Flash, I have to hold my ground. I’ve seen this exact issue in the past, and if users have the OPTION of installing Flash, then the majority will simply do so. And that wouldn’t encourage web developers to use better technology. Unfortunately the only way that I know of to get rid of a standard is to discourage its use.

    All websites that use Flash SHOULD offer an HTML variant. Don’t you think it’s inappropriate for those web developers to deny service to you if you are unwilling/unable to inflict proprietary, closed source and insecure software upon your device?

    What if you want to store sensitive data or perform sensitive transactions, such as banking? I strongly recommend that nobody does their online baking with any Adobe Flash capable device. Especially not when you walk around with these things that constantly have active Wi-Fi connections! It’s just asking for trouble.

    I would point out, that there are one or two open source alternatives to the official flash plugin. They are always behind in feature support, since they have to hack everything from scratch, but they are (as far as I know) more secure, and in SOME cases, more CPU efficient. But could you imagine Steve Jobs giving the green light for this? I doubt it’s even worth the effort.

    Thanks again Gadjo. Peace dude.

  2. gadjo@mac.com'
    Gadjo Sevilla
    Author

    Tim, thanks for your opinion.

    My review is based on actual hand on time with the device and my impressions are from someone who put the iPad through its paces. I clearly state right from the start that it is a device that falls between smartphone and a notebook.

    It is a mobile computing platform because it uses a mobile OS, not a desktop OS so no one is comparing this to your Windows Tablet PC.

    It is, however, capable of running applications that give it the capabilities as a word processor, a blogging tool, an image editor and yes, even work on spreadsheet (its a program called Numbers). You look at the iPad and see limitations when you really should be looking at possibilities and there are many.

    My opinion is that Flash should be made available and it is up to the users to decide whether they want to use it or not.

    It is extremely frustrating for many to discover that there are thousands of websites they cannot access because Safari on the iPhone OS doesn’t work with Flash. Yes, I agree Flash is a holdout from the PC era and it is a cumbersome but there’s no changing the fact that a large percent of websites are authored in it. Are we just supposed to pretend they don’t exist because we can’t access them? Rather than banning Flash outright, why not offer a working alternative or, even better, phase it out gradually so people can still access the content?

  3. timtro@gmail.com'
    Tim Teatro

    Oh, and Gadjo, I really don’t meant to be so contrary, but I forgot to add, that Apple not supporting Flash is not only excusable—but worthy of applause. Flash’s popularity is the result of lawyers and patents, and is certainly not the sum of any intelligent decisions.

    Flash it patent encumbered, piggishly inefficient and so full of unforgivable and security holes and exploitable bugs that Adobe should be held liable for damages. Adobe’s EULA as made them careless to the point of criminal negligence.

    Steve Jobs and I many not agree on a lot of issues of right and wrong, but I’ll never accuse him of poor standards. He’s as much as said that Flash isn’t good enough to be on his products, and I agree with him.

    Look forward to HTML 5 and other open standards. This is another sign post near the end of the road for Flash.

  4. timtro@gmail.com'
    Tim Teatro

    Hi Gadjo,

    Again, another good one. I do have to say though, that you accuse the iPad of being a mobile computing platform, and I think if you throw it against that wall, it isn’t going to stick. That’s just my opinion, but it’s not meant to be a computer.

    I’m a self proclaimed hacker, in that I like making devices do what they shouldn’t. In this way, Apple usually drives me crazy because they intentionally cripple so many of their devices. In this case though, I tend to see the wisdom in not forcing it to act like a computer. If they did, it might be a game changer. In this case though, I think what Apple has done is make a new game altogether.

    I’ve used tablet computers on a daily basis for about 8 years. The iPad isn’t a tablet in any sense that is familiar (or useful) to me, and couldn’t possibly hold up to one as a computing device. However, as a content consumption device, the iPad is spectacular.

    Wanna watch movies? Awesome! Why bother getting the DVD player upgrade for your SUV? Just throw a couple of these in the back! Wanna read a book? The Kindle app is amazing! Listen to music? Over-sized iPod, right there. Quick notes? What could be more convenient (except maybe a stylus). Wanna do your taxes? That’s really pushing it. Wanna work on a spreadsheet? I think you’re really using the wrong tool for the job. Get a notebook or at least a netbook.

    Again, just an opinion. I could be completely wrong.

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