First Hands-On with Apple iPad: Slick and Fun, But No Netbook Killer


We just spent a good half hour playing with the iPad and wanted to share our first impressions. First off, this is not a netbook killer. It’s really a new category of device, focused more on entertainment than productivity (although iWork brings some of that to the table). The iPad does a really nice job of surfing the Web, displaying photos, and playing videos, and we like that it taps into Apple’s ever-growing library of apps. After fiddling with Need for Speed on the iPad, I can say this is a killer gaming device, making the iPad the ultimate gadget for couch potatoes. And because of its extreme mobility and up to 10 hours of battery life, you can take this tablet anywhere. But is this really a substitute for a cheap mini laptop? Nope.

Dimensions, Ports, and the iCase

Because the iPad is like a supersized iPod touch, it shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses. But lets start with with the positives. Measuring 0.5 inches and weighing 1.5 pounds, the iPad is a gorgeous piece of hardware. The 9.7-inch display (1024 x 768 pixels) picks up a fair number of fingerprints but it is bright and crisp, a perfect canvas for photos, Web pages, and full-screen videos. The top side has the 3.5mm jack, and the bottom houses the dock connector, which fits into such accessories as the keyboard dock and carrying case. The right side of the iPad has the volume controls, and up front is single home button (just like the iPod touch and iPhone). The back of this tablet is decked out in aluminum, lending the iPad a high-end feel for just $499.


You can see the iCase and  learn more about it in this video.


What the iPad Needs

It’s what’s missing from the iPad that lessens its appeal. For example, you can’t multitask on this device, which we think is a big deal. A 1-GHz processor should be able to handle this capability. You also don’t get a camera, either for shooting or for video calls–another bummer. I imagine a lot of people want to make Skype calls on a device like this. In addition, the iPad doesn’t have GPS, so you can’t use it as a navigator (although I’m hoping the 3G version adds better triangulation than the stock Wi-Fi connectivity). And for a device that’s designed to bring you the full Web, the lack of Flash support is disappointing. The iPhone 3.2 OS that the iPad runs doesn’t offer this functionality. See a run-through video of the iPad’s user interface below.



I’m torn on the iPad’s inability to make calls. I would never hold a device like this up to my head, but I wouldn’t mind if you could make calls with a Bluetooth headset.

Typing on the iPad

As far as the typing experience, we’re kind of underwhelmed. Check out the video in this section for a small preview of the typing experience and a brief walk-through of iWork.

As we expected, typing in landscape mode proved a challenge with two thumbs, as the layout is too large to reach across to the middle of the layout. Portrait mode was better, but you don’t get haptic feedback. The good news is that Apple will be selling a carrying case that props up the iPad for easier typing with your two index fingers. And we like that there’s a keyboard dock accessory ($79), though it can only be used with the iPad in portrait mode. As much as it might ruin the aesthetic, a part of me wishes the iPad was a convertible tablet with a full keyboard always attached.



iPad as eReader

Should the Kindle be worried? Definitely. For not much more money you get a much richer experience. And even though the iPad lasts a lot less time on a charge, it does a heck of a lot more. There’s no way Amazon will be able to catch up to Apple when it comes to compelling apps. And the iBook store is just easier and nicer to navigate because it’s in color. I really liked the New York Times app, though it will be interesting to see how long that might remain free now that the company says it will begin charging for frequent access to its content in 2011. What we didn’t learn from Apple was if it had any plans to sell digital magazines. Maybe we’ll learn more closer to launch.


Good for Email?

As an e-mail device, the iPad seems more capable than the iPod touch because of how Apple utilizes the larger display. The left hand pane shows your inbox and the right side shows the open message. The attachement support is good, but during my hands on there didn’t seem an easy way to upload attachments from within messages, like photos.


Gaming is second to none on the iPad, and this gadget really raises the bar in that regard. I saw racing games that were super fluid (check it out in the second video below), and a first-person shooter that was very immersive. Accelerometer controls were responsive, but I’m not sure how much holding a 1.5-pound device will weigh you down after a half hour.



Data and Wi-Fi

3G connectivity will come from AT&T, and there’s good news and bad news here. Even though the plan is affordable at $30 for unlimited data, you have to pay more for the device itself. It’s $629 for the 16GGB 3G model, and it goes up from there to $729 and $829 for the 32GB and 64GB models, respectively. $629 is a lot of money for a 3G iPad when you can get a subsidized netbook from AT&T for $199. On the other hand, the cost savings over the life of the purchase is significant.

First Impressions

Overall, the iPad is easily one of the best tablet computers yet, with a great multitouch interface, speedy performance, long endurance, and a fun gaming experience. We also think it’s a strong Kindle alternative for those who want an eReader with more versatility. However, a low-cost netbook can do a lot more than the iPad, including multitasking and video calls, and they offer a better text input experience. Do I want one? Yes. Would I be willing to shell out $499 or more? I’ll wait to make that call until we get one  in for a full review.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer on
Twitter Google+
Email* (will not be published)
*Indicates required field
Submit Comments

  1. Steve Dougan Says:

    The iPad does have GPS. Check the specs published on!

  2. Dmitriy Says:

    It looks like this iPad does not have USB port(s). Which is not very convenient, in my opinion. For example play movies from flash drive or simply transfer data to iPad from flash drive. I think many people would want this feature in iPad.
    And of course, it’s missing webcam, that present on many netbooks.
    Other than this it looks like a good device.
    Good Luck Apple !

  3. Ian Says:

    @Dmitriy There is a dock port dongle to allow the unit to read SD cards and (I would assume, perhaps incorrectly) write to. I expect there will be more dongles or docks in the future to expand functionality.

  4. Corinn Says:

    My guess is Apple will sell a ton of these just because it’s Apple.

    However, this device seems useless in the extreme. It doesn’t fill an existing niche, and it doesn’t do a very good job at creating its own niche.

    For a power user like me, I need several devices to fill all my niches. An always-on communications device (filled by a smartphone such as the Droid), a portable, long battery life lightweight PC (with an actual keyboard) for media consumption and connectivity (“enthusiast” CULV notebooks such as the Asus UL30Vt-A1 fill this niche) and a powerful desktop computer for all very demanding tasks.

    The iPad (god, what a stupid name, it makes me think of menstrual pads) doesn’t fit a single one of these niches. Everything I can think that the iPad would do, the UL30Vt can do much, much better–and do more besides, with a real desktop OS.

  5. Fanfoot Says:

    Mark, it looks like the confusion about GPS is somewhat universal. It appears that certain models, in particular those with 3G, will have GPS support, while the low-end Wifi models will not. Not sure exactly where the break is. You’ll want to follow up with Apple for details…

  6. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    I’ve already asked Apple to comment on GPS issue and am awaiting a reply. Specifically, I’m trying to find out if the iPad’s assisted GPS supports turn by turn navigation apps like Navigon and TomTom.

  7. AFC Says:

    @Mark Spoonauer

    Just one comment/question – how can this iPad device be labeled as a tablet computer? Apple is clearly targeting this device against the new media products, such as the Kindle and Nook; the similarities between the iPad and netbooks, tablets, and other true computers is, at best, illusory, if not ridiculous. The iPad runs the iPhone OS and cannot complete basic computer functions such as run flash or multitask. Moreover, the iPad does not provide the user with a similar level of control over the device – for example, iPad users will have no out-of-the-box control over the file system and will only be able to install applications through the Apple store, rather than having control over where to purchase the software/media and how/where to install it.

    I could go on, but my point is probably clear. Should you require more information, you might want to turn on your HP TC1100, Motion LS800, or swivel around your X200t. Certainly, these limitations are enough to separate the iPad from what a computer is.

  8. nick Says:

    Notice in the second video when the Apple rep says “Its the best way to surf the web” and gets on the Wall Street Journal app, and sees a little Flash video that can’t load on the maxiPad and quickly swipes away from it.

    No multitasking is bad, but no Flash is crippling for a glorified Mobile Internet Divice (really just a giant iPod….maxiPod?)

  9. Fabrice Says:

    Steve Job’s revolutionary iTablet will rapidly grow after this initial over-hype time during it’s unveiling. The lack of keyboard and Apple’s potential to fix some problems will start to make the iTablet a monster in time.

  10. chuckdaly Says:

    The lack of flash support is tolerable on an iPhone/Touch, but on a 10″ tablet? No USB? Other e-readers use e-ink for a reason, so Apple’s TFT display actually sucks for reading anything longer than a few pages. Seriously, is the iPad better than anything at anything? I believe that if the iPad becomes the next Macbook Air, Apple will be lucky.

  11. what?!?!?! Says:

    I have a kindle and it is compltely different. I does not have apps and it doesn’t need them. The Ipad i believe is back lite so that strains your eyes. The kindle is e-ink and need a light source to read.
    One thing i don’t like is that it is just a bigger ipod touch. If you have that and not another mp3 player your stuck with a big one that you can’t stick in your pocket.

  12. Jimbo Says:

    I’d rather have a laptop. Ipad needs these features: usb port camera. Macbook is a better buy.

  13. Stan O Says:

    It’s not great for viewing photos, there’s no SD slot! Are magic monkeys going to carry the pictures to the iPad? Don’t say dongles! Some expensive easily lost add on that you don’t want to carry around. People are used to sticking in the sd card and saving the pictures and viewing them (wherever they want with Win7).

    No camera is deadly in a Web 2.0 era, even older adults like myself use Skype and post on Facebook.

    No USB is bizarre as well, but hey it’s Apple! They’ll sell a bunch I’m sure, but I would expect more Apple TV and less iPhone volumes.

  14. Wfbrunr13 Says:

    Why do you want it to be a phone? That is pointless

  15. sz Says:

    WOW, a lot of folks here seem to think that Apple products sell only because it has the Apple logo on it. Brand management actually works the other way, people care about the logo on it as a result of that product being great or not. In actual fact, if the iPad turns out to be a terrible device, the first ones to criticise would be the fanboys as they’ve set a pretty high bar in terms of what they expect from the brand they love.

    I think the iPad will sell incredibly well and key to that success will be a result of the features that are missing.
    Remember that as much cash as Apple may have, they are takling a huge financial and reputation gamble on this device. The Halo-effect which causes people satisfied with their iPods to consider switching to Macs also works the other way. A very hyped launch resulting in a laughable iPad fail can impact the global percepton of Apple products and the Apple marketing machine is known to be among the best in the world. Any fetaures missing have been deliberately left off.

    The reason I mention the above is that after I was underwhelmed by the unveiling of the new tablet from Apple, I noticed excitement from technophobe middle-aged relatives who don’t even know what a mac is. These men and women were practically jumping about how they can’t wait to get one and specifically highlighted the fact that they don’t want something with confusing ports. Turns out he icon based interface which I personally found to be way to sparse is actually what makes it easy and not intimidating to use, in fact it actually makes it ‘inviting’.

    After considering all these kinds of points I figure the reality, for me, is that iPad is a great 1st generation device. Just like the first MAC it offers a new vision, but with different generations and innovations on competing devices from other companies this form factor will evolve and find its place in society.

  16. Eugen Says:

    So let me get this straight:

    It does video but no HDMI out.

    It does audio but no digital audio out like a normal mac (combo) and no FLAC.

    It does photos but no SD card reader.

    It does notes but you can’t write on it. A pad without writing support, genius!

    It does webpages but no Flash and multi-tab browsing.

    It does messaging but no multitasking, so no background messenger app(s).

    I does books but it has a backlight so it strains your eyes.

    It does games but doesn’t have ANY button.

    I swear, it’s like they crippled EVERYTHING it does on purpose. Oh well, at least it’s pretty. :)

  17. Jack Ferry Says:

    Nice review. However is spot some flaws. How can this be a Kindle killer when it won’t outsell the kindle as it is a niche device and it costs too much? If you won’t buy one now and I bet you have a Kindle now then you tell me. I picked one of these bad boys up and it felt like holding a wood plank. I could not imaging holding it for an hour while reading or watching a movie. You have to set it down. It will sell. But I predict it tops out this year at 300,000 to 500,000.

    This magazine published an article…” In-Stat estimates that standalone eReader shipments will rise from 2.4 million in 2009 to 28.6 million in the next four years. ” That figure is going up. The iPad is a niche device and will complement the eReader but not kill it.

  18. IHA (IHATEAPPLE) Says:

    Does not look like even a competitor for Netbooks in the least. Hell, who would buy a 64 or 32GB IPad for $850, when you can get a good laptop for that or less. Which i might add, can do more than an IPad and probably has a 300-500GB HardDrive. Personally, i cant even think of it killing the kindle. The kindle has a paper-like display allowing users to read in bright sunlight. With a glossy screen like this, you would be lucky not to go blind trying to read.

    Overall, not expecting this to sell that well. Apple will make a killing on this as apple does on everything, but it really lacks everything someone might be expecting. IHA.

  19. Simon White Says:

    Jack Ferry did I see yesterday that Ipad sales have topped 1 million in only a couple of months.
    Apple haters go find something else to do, whether you like it or not apple is here to stay!

  20. spray white 90 reviews Says:

    What is this iPad? Overgrown mp3 player and mini laptop in one? It doesn’t work like a proper pc, and you can’t call with it.. What’s the point of this device? I think that was one of their worst products..


All Product Types Accessories Cars Digital Camcorders Digital Cameras eReaders GPS Laptops MP3 & Video Players Projectors Smartphones Software Storage Tablets / MIDs VoIP Wi-Fi
All Subcategories
All Subcategories All-Purpose Budget Business Desktop Replacement Gaming Multimedia Netbook Nettop Rugged Student Tablet PCs Ultraportable
Acer Alienware Apple Archos ASUS Averatec BenQ CTL Corp. Dell Digital Storm eMachines Emtec Everex Fujitsu GammaTech Gateway General Dynamics Getac Gigabyte Hercules HP HTC iBuyPower Intel Lenovo MSI Nokia Nvidia OCZ OLPC OQO Origin Panasonic Sager Samsung Sony Sylvania Systemax TabletKiosk Toshiba Verizon Viewsonic Viliv VooDoo Workhorse PC ZT Systems
Minimum Rating
Any Rating 4.5 Stars 4.0 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.0 Stars
Screen Size
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 4 5 6 7 8 9
1024x576 1024x600 1024x768 1200X800 1280 x 720 1280x1024 1280x768 1280x800 1366x678 1366x768 1440x1050 1440x900 1600x768 1600x900 1680x1050 1680x945 1920x1080 1920x1200 800x400 800x480
Weight Range
10.1 - 12.0 pounds 12.1 - 14.0 pounds 14.1 - 16.0 pounds 2 lbs 2 pounds and under 2+ lbs 2.1 - 4.0 pounds 4.1 - 6.0 pounds 6.1 - 8.0 pounds 8.1 - 10.0 pounds Over 16 pounds Under 2 pounds
more options