The Apple iPad is a tablet computer with a 9.7 inch high resolution, multi-touch input display. It comes in three different memory sizes, 16gb, 32gb and 64gb. For each memory size, there is the option of Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi with 3G mobile Internet, giving a total of six different configurations available to purchase.
This is a review of the 64gb, Wi-Fi only model.
What's in the box?
Apple have a tendency to keep their packaging design simple and minimalistic and the iPad is no different. There are the ubiquitous white head phones that are terrible. A USB lead, a USB plug and various crib sheets. And that's your lot. Oh, and one bright and shiny new iPad.
Turning it over in the hands, it feels quite heavy and at 1.5 pounds, it's certainly not light. But it was actually smaller than I imagined it to be. Those funky TV adverts don't give you a sense of how thin and compact it actually is. The dimensions are 24.3 × 19 × 1.3 cm.
Turning on the iPad for the very first time, you are prompted to connect it to a computer and sync with iTunes. Luckily, I do have a PC (obviously, it will work just as well with a Mac). What happens if you don't have a computer to plug it into? The short and unsatisfying answer is; I don't know.
Trawling through the Internet reveals little or nothing to answer this question. It would seem, for the time being at least, if you haven't got a computer then you ain't going nowhere. Bear this in mind.
Syncing with iTunes is as straightforward as plugging one end of the standard Apple connection lead into the iPad and the other into a spare USB socket on your PC. iTunes automatically recognises the device and asks what of your digital media collection you would like to copy over. My biggest worry at this point was iTunes not being able to cope with multiple devices as I already have two iPods and I didn't want to fill the iPads memory with lots of music. My fears were unwarranted as I had the option of choosing exactly what I wanted to sync. So far, so good.
After turning on, which it does instantly and there's none of this waiting around while it boots up, iTunes also recognised there was a new update to the operating system on the iPad and proceeded to download over 700 megabytes worth of updates. A timely operation, especially when you're chomping at the bit to play with this brand new shiny toy. This update brought the OS version up to iOS 4.2.
After an indeterminable age, the opening screen finally appears and you are able to swipe your finger across the unlock mechanism and use it for the first time.
The screen is 1024 x 768 pixels of liquid crystal, covered in glass and is reckoned to be scratch and fingerprint resistant. While I certainly didn't want to take a knife to mine and try to etch a groove into the glass, I'm a little dubious as to the effectiveness of the lipophobic coating. It does seem to get caked up with smears and the like quite quickly. A quick wipe of a cleaning cloth soon sorts that out though.
After using it for several months, the screen has stayed resolutely scratch-free. Unlike my old iPod that was marked as soon as I looked at it, the iPad's scratch-resistant claims are living up to the task.
There is a border around the edge of the screen of about an inch and this serves as a placeholder for hands to hold onto. Keep it in a firm grip, it's an expensive toy to drop. At one end of the screen, there is a small, mechanical button that is recessed into the border. This button acts as the Home key.
The screen resolution itself is stunning and the colours are bright, the details intricate and it's a real pleasure to use. For something that is simply flat, in use it's surprisingly tactile and engaging. It seems a weird thing to say but dragging ones finger across the screen and seeing it react in such a smooth, natural way, makes you almost want to kiss it (alright, I *have* kissed it once or twice and we've held hands a bit but that's all, honest).
It's designed to be used with not just one finger, but several, and objects such as applications or text boxes or buttons (or anything else) are selected with a light tap. It's NOT a pressure-sensitive screen so it doesn't matter how hard you press it, it won't react any differently - a fact I repeatedly try to explain to my two year old son.
'Gestures' are also another important way of interacting with the iPad. An example of a gesture is the pinch and zoom. Pinching two fingers together on a web page for example, will zoom out and show the page in all its glory. A 'reverse' pinch will zoom in. Gestures are app-dependent though but most will have some kind of gesture support built in. In fact, in Apples software development guidelines, there are strict rules to make sure an application developed by a third-party adheres to their 'User Interface Standards'. This is a Good Thing by the way as the user interface is standardized and doesn't become fragmented. Once you know how to use one app, you can use just about all of them.
The iPad has a 3-axis accelerometer and will 'flip' orientation, landscape or portrait, to suit whichever way you are holding it. This means there is no actual 'top' or 'bottom', merely it adjusts to the way you hold it.
Glare *is* a problem. It's a glass screen and as such, is difficult to see in harsh, bright sunlight. I guess laptops suffer from the same problem. It does have a backlit display though meaning you can use it with no light at all and if you're like me, you can use it as a torch for those all-important midnight trips to the bog.
The Home Screen
The iPad's home screen, its equivalent of the Windows Desktop, consists of several icons for the included applications and a shortcut tray at the bottom to more commonly-used ones.
On the desktop, the included apps are:
- Game Center
On the shortcut tray at the bottom, you will also find:
- App Store
To accomodate more icons as new software is installed, extra 'desktops' or pages are added and these can be accessed in turn by swiping to the left or right. In the bottom third of the screen is a small page indicator to see which screen you are looking at out of all the ones available. There can be up to 12 different screens holding all the software you may want to install.
The positions of the icons are not fixed and you have control over which icons go where. Holding down a finger on an icon switches into a kind of desktop 'edit' mode where icons can be dragged around in the positions you want them. For example, I have put my main word processor (iA Writer) onto the shortcut bar at the bottom which I achieved by just dragging it on.
Very neatly, as you drag the icons around, all the other icons react accordingly and will 'shuffle' along to make room for it. I spent hours with that.
There isn't a single web page big enough that explains in detail how every app for the iPad (or iPhone) works. So, for review purposes, we will have a look at what most users will *expect* the iPad to do and briefly summarise how each piece of software works on the iPad.
Safari and Web Browsing
This is the main web browser for any Apple system. The iPad, targetting squarely at the ultra-portable NetBook market, has to be good in this area or it would be a dead duck in the water. Thankfully it doesn't disappoint. Load and render times are fast and moving around a page with ones finger is fluid and natural.
Links to other pages are accessed with a quick tap. Filling in forms such as login screens are easy enough. Tap on a text box, the keyboard flips into view, type, hit return and away you go. All very seamless and nice. It's multi-tabbed too meaning several pages can be open at once. Tap the pages button in the top tool bar and a small representation of each page is presented. Only 9 open at once though.
Certain websites, or more specifically, certain *parts* of websites can be a pain. On Ciao for example, posting new reviews is quite frustrating as the slider indicators on the right don't keep their setting for some reason and navigating text boxes where there is a scroll bar is excruciatingly difficult.
There is one great big, controversial omission with Apples browser on the iPad and iPhone and that is lack of support for Flash. You may be browsing upon a website to be suddenly faced with a large black area and a prompt asking you to install the latest version of Flash. Don't bother, it simply won't work. I'm not here to comment on the validity of this omission except to say, in reality, it's not *that* big a deal. But then, I don't surf many websites with Flash on them. If you're inclined to play lots of Flash games for example, you could find it lacking somewhat.
Photos are sync'd to the iPad via iTunes and the included Photos app is simply an image viewer. It's still very swish to use though. Photographs are grouped together in folders. On the face of each folder is a small graphic that looks like a load of photos roughly stacked. Double-tapping, or more coolly, dragging out with two fingers, expands the folder and the stack 'explodes' into view. Double-tapping again brings up the photo.
You can zoom in and out using pinch and zoom and moving to the next photo in sequence is a case of swiping left or right. It's very fast and pictures are loaded with a minimum of fuss. There is only a brief moment where the image is rendered but is barely negligible.
Photos and images look great on the clear iPad screen. Colours are vibrant and the high-resolution display makes detail really stand out.
Neatly, the iPad can also be used as a digital photo frame, randomly displaying photos from your collection.
Disappointingly, iBooks is *not* installed as standard and you are required to download it from the App Store. Strangely, you are prompted for this when you first turn on the iPad. Don't ask as I have no idea why this is not included. It's free after all AND produced by Apple. What's that all about?
Anyway, assuming you've downloaded the app, reading books is something of a revelation. Access a book from your own bookshelf by tapping it and it actually looks like a book. The pages turn convincingly and the little page-turning graphic very satisfyingly follows your finger. As with most apps, it will work in landscape or portrait where it shows two pages or one respectively. There's a small selection of fonts and sizes to make it easier for your own eyes and the brightness of the screen can be dimmed to suit.
It's also got a bookmark facility, a slider along the bottom to move quickly to a page and will massage your shoulders for you. I lied about the massaging shoulders bit.
Due to the sensitive touch screen, it can be quite easy to turn a page without meaning to. Just brushing with a misplaced elbow will do it. Due to the iPads quite hefty weight, reading in bed while lying down can become quite tiresome if you're holding it above you. I tend to sit up while reading and rest the iPad on my knees. I'm weird like that.
There is an obvious comparison of iBooks to Amazon's diminuitive Kindle. The Kindle is much (much!) cheaper so that can't be ignored. That device also uses a technology called E-Ink which means it is not affected by glare. It DOES need a light source to see it however and lacks colour. They are two different beasts really and both do a good job at what they do so is it really fair to compare? Probably not. The Kindle beats the iPad in two very important areas. One is its size and the other is with its book store. Having access to the Amazon website is a massive bonus for the Kindle and the iPads book-store is but a tiny fraction of the size.
There is a big BUT to this advantage Kindle has over the iPad. Amazon have seen fit to release an iPad Kindle app for _free_. This allows iPad owners to have access to the Amazon book store AND read it on the iPad (not through iBooks though - it's through the Kindle 'App' (Oh gosh, it's getting all rather complicated isn't it?)). To that end, a friend of mine has both the iPad and Kindle devices and wishes he hadn't got the Kindle due to the free app by Amazon. Make of that what you will. Would I buy a Kindle now I have an iPad? Probably not.
iPhone / iPod Apps
I've been told and have only managed to verify a small handful myself, that _most_ apps designed for the iPhone / iPod will work with the iPad. Of the ones I've tried, they all worked and I have no reason to doubt this statement. It's worth noting, due to the screen size iPhone apps have been designed for, they appear half the size of the iPads screen. Tapping the x2 button will make them larger albeit with chunky graphics.
Apple had to make sure iPhone apps worked with the iPad as straight out of the box, new owners suddenly have access to the 200,000+ apps available. As of January 2011, it is estimated there are 25,000 iPad _specific_ apps.
In any kind of scenario that requires keyboard input, the iPads keyboard pops up from the bottom of the screen and in landscape mode will take up to half of the screen estate. In portrait, this reduces to a third but the keys are smaller.
Is it ok for touch-typing? Yes, in landscape and possibly, just about, maybe, in portrait if your fingers are small enough. I've got chunky hands and can hit nearly the same words per minute as I can on a regular keyboard. In portrait, I find myself reverting back to the two-finger shuffle.
Obviously the lack of tactile feedback is a concern for many people and for the touch-typists in particular, not being able to physically put your fingers on the home keys is a distinct drawback. However, you *do* get used to it. It does emit a small clicking sound when typing and that helps a lot.
Due to the lack of screen estate, numbers and symbols are accessed via a special button either side of the space bar. This flips the keyboard to an extended character mode and while it may sound faffy, in reality it works well. Again it's a case of getting used to it and it's no great hardship.
Thanks to the iPads inbuilt spelling auto-corrector, any mistakes while typing are fixed for you with no fuss and even apostrophes are inserted into phrases such as 'I'm', 'can't' or 'don't'. It's not perfect but about as good as an auto-correction facility I've used. You can even cancel the suggestion if you want to.
Sound and Music
At one end of the device, there is a little mono-speaker for playback of music and sound. It's 'adequate' is about the best I can say. Either plug it into speakers or use some headphones (and NOT the supplied Apple headphones which are notoriously bad).
Apple provide iPod software to play music from your collection. It's got all the usual features such as playlists, music controls etc and it does its job well enough.
App Store and Installing New Apps
First up, you're going to have to create an iTunes account with Apple. Only apps available through the App Store can be installed on the iPad and that can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Bad as in you're putting more money into Apples already deep pockets. Good as in viruses, malware are pretty much non-existent. As of time of writing, I don't know of _any_ infected iPad.
This ring-fenced approach by Apple is part of its appeal. Installing a new app is simplicity itself. Find an app, tap the 'Install' button, a new icon is added to the desktop and a small progress bar informs you of its progress. There are no Install Wizards or other such nonsense and it really is easy. Once installed, tap on it and it runs. Ta-dah.
Apple have also pulled a masterstroke in effectively re-inventing shareware. The apps are so cheap, it's easy to think it would be rude NOT to install something. There are loads of free apps to download too but these tend to be cut-down versions of full-price products. Apps start at a miserly 59 pence, rising up to ten pounds or more. Compare this with the price of a single XBox game. It's a no brainer really.
_Because_ it's so easy to install new stuff, filling up your iPad with junk is a distinct possibility. A little restraint is needed, especially when one receives a gift voucher for Christmas and _every_ app suddenly looks good and affordable.
As far as receiving updates goes, there is a special area within the App Store called 'Updates' that will notify you if any of the software you have installed has an update to it. You can then tap the 'Download All' button (or individually if you like) and it will update everything for you automatically.
It works. What more can I say? It finds any Wi-Fi hotspots in the near vicinity and asks which one you'd like to connect to. It connected to my home network with no problems and after entering the password for the router, I was communicating with the outside world in no time at all. There's a little network strength indicator at the top left.
The only problems I have had are when moving into a new hotspot, away from home. It finds them and quite often presents them to you but sometimes, the network selector box doesn't appear. I have to quit Safari, even as far as unloading it from the currently running apps, to make it appear again. A little annoying.
It does remember networks you have connected to previously so it's always easier the second time round. I connect to the Wi-Fi service on the train every day with no problems.
There is an email client and it's reasonable enough. It can scan multiple accounts and comes with some ready-made templates for the common mail providors such as Gmail, POP Mail, Hotmail etc. The email headers are displayed in the left-most column and the body is shown in the right pane. It's pretty basic to be honest and unless I'm missing something, it doesn't have many advanced features such as mail rules. It does have support for multiple folders though.
Videos and films, particularly HD ones, look stunning on the iPads full-screen display and there is no sign of ghosting or slow-down. You can sync videos in from iTunes on your PC or download new films and videos from the iTunes stores. Apple iOS 4.2 has DRM (Digital Rights Management) built-in and this is tied closely to the video store in iTunes. You can buy videos outright or hire them where the licence runs out to view them in a set number of days. Expensive though and in my mind, there should be more of a sizeable discount by having content delivered online.
Apple claims ten hours at full use and in my experience, this is pretty darned close. I've used it all day long doing one thing and another, and it has lasted until well into the evening. Re-charging takes probably up to two to three hours for a full charge. You don't need to plug it into a running PC to charge it either - use the supplied USB power plug. Like most of Apples portable products, the unit is sealed which means the battery is not serviceable by users.
One of the biggest complaints about the first iPad to be released was the lack of multi-tasking between different apps. If the user were to return to the home page, the app they had just been working on would be unloaded. Lost data wasn't really an issue as apps are supposed to save data automatically (as part of Apples app guidelines) but it was just a bind having to reload the app again.
In the iOS 4.2 update, Apple resolved this issue by introducing support for multi-tasking. Now, switching can occur between apps without having to reload anything. There are a couple of provisos to this: Namely, it's not _true_ multi-tasking. Each app simply saves its 'state' and restores to that 'state' when the app is switched back on. Secondly, the app in question has to specifically support this. Most do but some of the earlier ones don't.
As for printing, I wish I could provide a better report but I haven't tried printing yet. Sorry about that. Buy me a printer and I'll gladly report back to you with my findings.
Using the iPad is not without its challenges. If you're a dyed-in-the-wool PC power-user, you may find it frustrating at times. I found I had to adapt the way I did things over say, using a laptop. The lack of a mouse means your finger is the primary input device and that can take a little while to get used to. Editing text in a simple text box on a webpage for example can sometimes be a cumbersome affair, especially if you make a mistake. Zooming in helps but with no arrow keys on the keyboard, it's a real pain sometimes getting the cursor where it's needed.
Saying that, other areas are extremely easy to use. My two year old son can pick out his favourite apps and play them, switching back to the home screen when he's had enough (about two seconds later, usually). He loves a drums app we've got and Doodle Buddy, a kind of drawing app for kids that makes lots of silly noises. My wife, normally a computing Luddite, 'got it' straight away and was surfing, playing games and all the rest within minutes.
Games are fab and the form factor of the device means they can be much more immersive. Driving games tend to use the whole thing as a steering wheel for example. Where there are controls or 'virtual joysticks', they are a bit trickier due to the lack of tactile feedback. The graphics are top-notch and while it will never beat the photo-realism of an XBox or PS3, isn't it all about the gameplay?
As for the memory, 64 gigabytes doesn't sound a lot in today's age of terabyte drives but I am struggling to fill it. Having eschewed my entire music collection, instead leaving that to my trusty iPod, I am left with a shed-load of space. I currently have 114 apps and there is still 40-odd gig left. Fair enough, there aren't many videos but I could still fit quite a few on if I wanted to.
It is genuinely useful, no doubt about it and much more than a toy. I glibly refer to it as one but honestly, it isn't.
Time for the crux of the matter; Is it any good? Well, yes, it's a stunning piece of kit. It's easy to use and slick and jaw-droppingly gorgeous and Apple have really thought what the average home user needs.
Is it a laptop replacement? I would say, yes it is but it depends on what you do with your PC. As a home user, it *is* fantastic and allows you to do just about anything. Thanks to the App Store, you can guarantee there will be something for everyone.
For more power users, herein lies a problem. As a computer programmer by day, I couldn't use it in my job. If I were, say, a blogger or writer it would be perfect. It's down to your own uses and expectations. I personally love it and use it far more than I do my PC.
I don't mind saying, I was seduced by the promise of those Apple TV ads and my expectations were high. To say it has exceeded those expectations would be an understatement. It's much more than I ever imagined it to be and despite it's foibles, I can't imagine how I'd get by without it.
Recommended as highly as I can.
I bought my iPod from Comet for the princely sum of £599.00. Incidentally, the same amount as quoted on Apples website.
Please note: This was never intended to be a definitive review so if there are any questions or areas you feel should be covered, contact me and I will endeavour to update the review accordingly.