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.
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.