Apple iPad review

What Mobile
July 28, 2010

Steve Jobs calls it a “game changer”, but is it just an oversized iPod touch? Will we all want one of these in addition to our laptops, phones and eBook readers?

If you’re still standing in a queue outside an Apple Store as you read this, then maybe it’s time to go home – the iPad is probably sold out. Apple shifted two million by the end of May.

Yes Apple’s most-anticipated gadget, since the first iPhone finally landed in the UK in 2007, recently hit British streets. Unlike the US, the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/3G versions each went on sale here at the same time.

So was it worth the wait, including the month delay we had to endure because of the huge success Stateside? Put simply, yes!

But, before we come over as a bunch of Apple fanboys, let’s look at the arguments against buying an iPad. There are many (and some are justified) which include: no phone, no support for Adobe Flash, no keyboard, limited, and non-expandable, storage compared to many laptops, no camera and no multitasking (although that will come with iPhone OS 4.0). Nor does the iPad come with a lifesize cutout of Steve Jobs in the box.

But, believe it or not, none of that will matter when you first pick up the 9.7 inch beauty and hold it in your hands. You’ll be instantly smitten and it’s a relationship that will last.

This is no mere infatuation, even if the market will soon be swamped with tablets running on other operating systems, each trying to take a share of a market that they failed to create despite so many years of trying.

Fully connected

We’ve been testing a Wi-Fi version with 3G, on the Vodafone network. Unlike an iPhone, or any other mobile phone, you can’t get the iPad on a contract and enjoy a discount. Instead, Vodafone, O2, Orange and Three each offer SIM cards on a SIM-only rolling contract. There are also daily rates available for anyone that might not use the iPad out and about very often.

There’s only a very slight difference between the Wi-Fi only version and the 3G enabled one, which is a small black bar at the top of the rear aluminium casing to house the 3G antenna.

The benefits of having an always-on network connection are obvious. You can download new apps and media whenever you want, and never be stuck searching for your nearest hotspot to get online. However, you pay £100 more for the privilege.

Some users may well decide to keep this firmly rooted to the home, in which case you could consider something like Three’s MiFi wireless hotspot for the few occasions you need to get the iPad online. Of course, it’s not as convenient to carry around a separate gadget, which needs to be charged up and switched on, to get the iPad online. As a result, the 3G version is a worthy investment.

Despite having 3G on constantly, we could go a couple of days with intermittent usage before needing to charge the iPad. If you’re using it heavily, you can drop the standby time to under ten hours, but it’s still enough for a daily commute or a short flight. The iPad makes a perfect media player, although it can do so much more.

The third way

The iPad is neither a laptop or an oversized iPod touch. Although comparisons will be made, Apple is a little naive if it thinks it will replace laptops, or more likely netbooks. Indeed, given the fact that this is more of a companion device (you’ll need a PC or Mac to manage media via iTunes), you may well have this connected to a netbook.

When you accept the limitations and concentrate on what it can do, and how it makes your life more enjoyable, you begin to understand why the iPad is special. The large crisp LCD display has plenty going for it, not least, room for big keys to type on.

It’s a breeze knocking out emails or typing longer documents when put in landscape mode and laid flat on a desk, although a dock that perches the phone in a more upright position with a keyboard is probably more appealing.

The iPad also works with Bluetooth keyboards, although it can feel a bit odd typing on a keyboard and having to press things on the touchscreen instead of using a mouse.

A switch on the side locks down the accelerometer to ensure the keys don’t switch to portrait mid-flow, should you want to use it on your lap during a bumpy train ride. For doing serious work, Apple has released iPad versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, for £5.99 each. All three work superbly, especially manipulating presentations on the touchscreen to show off via a projector using the optional TV-out cable.

All the usual iPhone features are included, with the ability to run iPhone apps – which are scaled to fit the screen. While they don’t look too hot, there are already thousands of ‘HD’ apps to utilise the higher resolution screen.

When the new iPhone arrives with its higher quality screen, most apps are likely to be designed for the higher resolutions, which will give rivals a real run for their money.

The lack of Flash will be an issue with many websites, and there’s no hiding that fact, but some sites are already adapting to support the iPad, including the BBC. The beta release of iPlayer works like a charm, and other sites are reportedly looking into making their websites work on the iPad, regardless of the outcome of the very public Apple and Adobe spat.

Google Maps is a massive crowd pleaser, while StreetView comes alive in just a couple of taps. But you will need the 3G-enabled model to get GPS.

iBooks is the other big feature introduced on the iPad. It’s early days on whether this will work as an eBook reader, expecially given the brightly backlit screen that isn’t as easy on the eye as eInk based devices. Given how new Apple is to this, we’ll need to keep an eye on this over the coming months to see if the future of publishing is on the iPad.

The iPad could have done with a camera, and the lack of a front-facing camera rules out support for video conferencing – a feature likely to be included on the new iPhone (by the time we go to print, Steve Jobs should have confirmed this). However, it’s hardly essential. How many webcams are used on the many laptops and netbooks that have integrated cameras?

The iPad will change the way you interact with content on the move in a way the iPhone or a laptop can’t. Then, there are the apps and games, which are so much easier to engage with than applications running on a OSX or Windows platform.

The gaming experience is excellent, as long as you can accept that games all have to be designed around a touchscreen interface. Although there’s nothing, in theory, to stop support for Bluetooth joysticks or mice. It’s all down to whether Apple wants this.

There’s no disguising the fact that Apple has opted to keep a fairly tight grip on what the iPad can and cannot do. This will turn some people off, but when you use the iPad you can begin to see why this is a good thing for most people. It makes the iPad easy to use from day one, and will ensure everything continues to work just as easily in six months’ time.

With anything Apple, there’s a price to pay. The iPad isn’t cheap and you’re definitely paying the price to join an exclusive club, which – if the iPhone is anything to go by – won’t be that exclusive for too long.

Ratings (out of 5)

Performance: 4

Features: 4

Usability: 5


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