Apple iPad Tablet Review
By Sandy Berger on April 29, 2010
Apple’s new iPad has caused some big ripples in the world of technology. The iPad seems to be a new category of high tech devices. It isn’t a phone. It isn’t a laptop. It isn’t a netbook. Now that we’ve ascertained what the iPad isn’t, in this review we will investigate just what the iPad really is and how it performs.
As might be expected from Apple, the iPad comes in a very sturdy, unassuming cardboard box, shown in Figure 1.
Inside the box, as shown in Figure 2, you will find the iPad itself, a USB charging cable, a wall charger that connects to the USB charging cable, and a small single sheet that shows the location of the iPad’s four buttons. The back of the sheet gives a three-step process for setting up and syncing the iPad and the web addresses for getting more information and for downloading the User’s Guide.
Apple’s “less is more” mentality is obvious in the packaging and the included instructions.
The iPad measures 9.56 by 7.47 by 0.50 inches (242.8 x 189.7 x 13.4mm). The 9.7-inch LED-backlit is a touch-screen that has a 1024-by-768-pixel resolution. As you can see from Figure 3, the screen is framed by a 1-inch black border. When you are holding the iPad vertically you can see the Home button on the bottom. This button will be familiar to iPhone and iPod touch users.
While the front of the iPad looks like a giant iPod touch, the back, as shown in Figure 4, is a classy brushed aluminum rather than the shiny back of the iPod touch.
The iPad comes in several models. There is a Wi-Fi only model that supports 802.11 a,b,g, and n. There is also a model that has 3G cellular support with service from AT&T as well as Wi-Fi. Currently prices range from USD 499 to USD 829. If you purchase a 3G version, you will have to pay AT&T for coverage. Currently they are offering service with no commitment or contract to sign so you can switch the service on and off as you like. You can also purchase continuous coverage at USD 14.99 per month for 250 MB or USD 29.99 a month for unlimited data. Unlike the iPhone, if you don’t get AT&T service for your 3G iPad, it will still work through the Wi-Fi connection.
The iPad is an elegant example of great design. Although it is thin, it is sturdy. Although it is useful in many ways, it is simple in its design with a minimal numbers of controls.
The top of the iPad, shown in Figure 5, has only one button, which is an on/off or sleep/wake slider switch on the left. On the right you see the standard headphone jack. Although the much cheaper iPod touch comes with headphones, they are not included with the iPad. Next to the headphone jack is the hole for the microphone.
The right side of the iPad, shown in Figure 6, holds the iPad’s only other controls. On the right is a useful screen rotation lock, which keeps the screen from rotating when you don’t want it to, like when you are lying in bed. Next to the rotation lock is the up/down volume rocker.
The bottom of the iPad is also uncluttered. As shown in Figure 7, in the middle is the 30-pin connector that is used to charge the iPad as well as to attach accessories. Just to the right of the connector is the built-in speaker which has three small sections covered in mesh.
As you can see from this summary, there are several things lacking in the iPad. The most noticeable is that there is no camera and no USB ports, which means that you can’t do video calls or print anything.
You can add accessories that attach through the 30-pin port. The USD 30 iPad Camera Connection Kit gives you two adapters. One for a standard camera SD memory card; the other for your camera's USB cable. Both allow you to send photos to your iPad and then sync them back to your computer.
Apple also sells adapter cables for external video gear and for an external keyboard. However, even if you output the iPad content to a hi-def TV, the iPad videos will only be in 480p.
As on all Apple portable devices, the battery is sealed in making it non-replaceable (except with Apple’s expensive help). That’s too bad, because we can easily see the entire family using this device enough to wear out the battery before the device becomes ready for the dump. The memory is also sealed making it non-expandable.
However, this is actually Apple’s stance with all their portable devices. They give you reason to upgrade to each new version of their products. So either you wear out the battery or you will be drooling over the improvements. We envision in the next few versions, the iPad will have multi-tasking, a camera, the ability to print, and many other improvements. It’s not that Apple couldn’t have put that stuff in the first generation iPad. It’s that they felt this version was compelling enough to make people purchase without them.
Prices for the iPad start at USD 499 and go to USD 829. Be sure to leave room in your budget for some accessories because the iPad doesn’t come with any. You will need to purchase a pair of ear buds and a cleaning cloth and may also want a case that can be used to prop up the iPad.
Apple continues its support for our environment. The iPad has arsenic-free display glass and a mercury-free LCD display. It is made of a recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure and is BFR and PVC-free
When you turn the iPad on, the first thing that you see is a picture of a USB cable with an arrow leading to an iTunes icon, as shown in Figure 4. You will see nothing else until you connect the iPad to a computer that is running iTunes, which the iPad uses to synchronize files. In our opinion, this is the first drawback of the iPad. Later in this review, you will see that the iPad would make a great Internet and email appliance for newbies and entry-level consumers, but you have to have a computer to even get the device working. That’s a shame.
This need for a computer for setup is also disconcerting for those who purchase their iPad from an Apple store. Most are ready to show it off immediately and are saddened to find that they have to wait until they get home to get it up and running.
Once you do get iTunes up and running on your computer and the iPad attached to it, you don’t have to do anything but wait. Depending on how many pictures, songs, and videos you have in iTunes, the initial synchronization can take some time. Our first syncing with an iTunes program loaded with music, photos, and applications took about three hours.
When the sync is complete, the iPad is ready to use. We were immediately impressed by the clarity and responsiveness of the multi-touch screen. Also the speed of the device is immediately noticeable. Apple has kept the covers on the details of the processor, but the 1 GHz A4 chip is speedy and efficient. We were able to play videos for nine hours and still had a little battery power left. The iPad comes in 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB memory sizes. Rather than a hard drive, the iPad uses flash memory for storage.
The iPad works much like an iPhone or iPod touch. Rather than a Windows or a Mac screen, your home screen is a screen of Application icons. As shown in Figure 9, the iPad comes with the calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, Videos, YouTube, iTunes, the App Store, and Settings preinstalled. At the bottom are the four main applications that you will use: The Safari web browser, Mail, Photos, and iPod for music.
Other Apps can be found in the next pages of the iPad. Just swipe your finger to the left and more pages will appear. If you swipe your finger to the right on the Home page, you will get to a very useful Search page.
Unfortunately, the iPad, like the iPhone, lacks the ability to run multiple tasks at one time. As mentioned earlier, synching is done through iTunes which lets you transfer music, photos, documents, and videos to the iPad.
Videos look great on the iPad. It supports H.264 up to 720p at 30 frames per second and MPEG-4. There is a special app for viewing YouTube videos. You can also download apps for viewing certain television programming. Watching ABC television shows was a great experience on the iPad.
The iPad lacks widescreen capabilities, so when you watch a video on the iPad, you may see the black bars above and below.
As mentioned earlier, the iPad comes with several apps preinstalled. Of these, Maps is the most interesting. You can easily find all the local Chinese restaurants, the movie theatres, or just about anything else. The Wi-Fi version of the iPad uses Wi-Fi triangulation to pinpoint you on the map. The 3G version should be even more accurate as it uses GPS and cellular signals to target your location.
Almost all of Apple’s 150,000 current apps will work with the iPad. That means there is no lack of content for the iPad. Regular iPhone apps appear in a small box on the iPad screen. All those we tried worked seamlessly.
Many of the iPhone apps are being customized to run on the iPad and special iPad only apps are already starting to appear. These apps are especially appealing and we feel that these apps are what will make the iPad a success. Games that take full advantage of the iPad are amazing. They do, however, tend to cost more. For instance Scrabble for the iPhone is $4.99. For the iPad is $9.99. Some will allow you to use the App on both platforms, but at the current time, it is a little difficult to determine which apps you can play on both platforms and which are available for only one.
Apple has made several of their Mac programs available for the iPad. You can purchase three applications from the Apple App Store under the iWorks umbrella, for use on the iPad. Keynote, Pages, and Numbers are available for USD 9.99 each. The presentations, word processing documents, and spread sheets that you create with these programs can be transferred to your computer using iTunes and they can be converted to Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, and Excel format.
Newspapers and magazines are sure to be a big draw for the iPad in the future. Right now, apps like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today are adequate – and very readable – on the iPad. But they aren’t yet taking full advantage of this platform.
If you get an iPad or know someone who has one, download the Paris Match app, which is currently free. It is in French, but even if you don’t know the language, it is a perfect example of what the iPad can do for a newspaper or magazine. It uses full screen photographs, audio, video, and wonderful transitions, plus a great interface that will have your fingers tapping and your eyes fully entertained. This is the real power of the iPad.
The Marvel comic-book app also was impressive. It was wildly vivid and had great navigation. Another app that we tried was Alice in Wonderland, which features little animations peppered throughout the pages of the book. This is just a little taste of what is sure to be done for the iPad in the future. This was the app for Alice in Wonderland, rather than the book itself. As we shall see a little later, however, reading books on the iPad is another adventure.
Surfing the web is a much better experience on the iPad than it is on an iPhone or any other smart phone. The larger screen makes viewing much easier of the eyes and although the iPad supports panning and zooming just as it does on the iPhone, you don’t have to use it as much. As with other Apple devices, the iPad doesn’t play Flash videos. Apple says Flash is buggy and insecure but not having it really limits your surfing. The lack of Flash is quite noticeable on a device like this that you are bound to use for surfing more than the smaller iPhone. During our review time we wanted to watch the Masters Golf Tournament on our iPad and we disappointed to find that every website we tried used flash.
Because of the large screen on the iPad, the on-screen keyboard is more useable than the ones often found on smart phones. In portrait view, the keyboard is still quite small, but in landscape mode, it is close to the spacing of a normal keyboard. Note that we said “close.” Although touch typing is possible, it will definitely take some practice. After two weeks of using the iPad, we were still not able to master it. However, the iPads auto-correction and auto-suggestion features did help a lot.
With all the touching on such a big screen, fingerprints are an unavoidable problem on the iPad. Luckily, they are not noticeable when you the screen is on, except in sunlight. However, they are quite noticeable, as shown in Figure 10, when the screen is off. The iPad has the same oleophobic (oil-resistant) coating as the iPhone, so the fingerprints wipe off quite easily. You may, however, want to include a cleaning cloth in your budget for the iPad, since none is included with the device.
Although surfing on the iPad is a satisfying experience, we longed for the tabbed browsing that we have gotten used to on the computer. Touching the double-window icon in the left corner of the Safari toolbar gives you access to the nine sites you’ve most recently visited, but tabbed browsing would be easier.
The Photos app on the iPad is wonderful. Your albums appear as a pile of photos. Just pinch and expand a pile and each photo becomes a thumbnail. Touch a thumbnail and it looks gorgeous as a full-screen photo. Touch the bottom of the photo and you can see a small strip of all the photos. Or just swipe you finger across that photo to get to the next one. You can easily email the photo or use it as wallpaper. In three or four presses, you can also create a slideshow complete with music and transitions. There is a nice selection of slideshow music, and the Origami transition is excellent. Turn on a slide show like this and the iPad turns into a digital picture frame.
You can go into the Settings and change the duration of each slide and whether you want it to repeat or not. You can even start a slideshow without unlocking the iPad by pressing the Picture Frame icon at the lower right side of the unlock screen, as shown in Figure 11.
Email on the iPad is essentially the same as using email on the iPhone or iPod Touch. However, Apple takes advantage of the larger amount of screen real estate on the iPad to show each piece of mail in a dual frame mode, as shown in Figure 12. There is excellent support for mail services including MobileMe, Google Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, and AOL, along with most industry-standard IMAP and POP email systems.
The iPad has been widely promoted as an eBook reader. As you might expect, this is done as an app. When you start the iBook app, you are presented with your books on a wooden bookshelf, shown in Figure 13.
Reading a book on the iPad is pleasurable. Using the iPad’s accelerometer, you can view the book either vertically or horizontally. Not only can you increase the size of the text, but you can choose to display it in several different fonts. As shown in Figure 14, you simply swipe your finger to turn the page and you actually see the page turning.
Text is crisp and clear on the iPad, but the e-Ink technology used by other digital reading devices like the Kindle is easier on the eyes. However, the iPad has an ambient light sensor and also offers the ability to dim the brightness, so you may be able to adjust the screen to suit your eyes.
The iPad also has some other nice features for book reading. Tap any word and you get a definition, the chance to bookmark your spot, or to look up that word on Google or Wikipedia.
The iPad supports the popular ePub digital book format. If you download ePub books to your computer you can drag them into iTunes and sync with the iPad, as long as they are unprotected. There is also a protected ePub format. That is what Apple uses for their bookstore. So books purchased from the Apple store can only be read on the iPad.
The Apple book store is in its infancy. There are about 60,000 titles right now. The prices seem to be either in line with those in the Kindle store or a little higher. You can purchase a book directly from the iPad.
There is an app available that lets you read Kindle books on the iPad. Like the iPhone app, it will even keep track of where you have left off reading between the two devices.
The large color screen on the iPad will be great for books that support it. The only thing we noticed in reading a book on the iPad is that it is heavier than the Kindle, but then it is still lighter than a hard cover book.
Apple iPad main specifications include:
The iPad is a beautiful and very capable device. Although it is not a full-blown laptop, it is an excellent web browser and email device. In fact, this is the perfect Internet appliance that many were striving to find about 10 years ago. You may remember the failed Internet appliances of that time, like the 3Com Audrey and the Netpliance iOpener. This would be a perfect device for seniors and Internet newbies except for its reliance on iTunes and a computer for syncing. If not for that one thing, someone who doesn’t have or doesn’t want a computer could simply get Internet service hooked up to a wireless router and use a device like the iPad for their Internet needs. Hopefully Apple will move their syncing to the cloud in the near future. If not, we are sure that someone else will.
We expect the iPad to be a game-changer. Like the iPhone, there will be plenty of competition. This device is already filled with pizzazz and will be even snazzier when developers start creating visually appealing apps that take full advantage of the iPad’s large screen and multimedia capabilities.
Besides being a great Internet appliance, the iPad is also an excellent ebook reader, music player, and digital picture frame. Add to that 150,000 apps and there is a lot you can do with this device.
Given all of those pluses, the iPad is not a perfect device. It really needs multitasking, a camera and a USB port. Printer support would also be nice. But we are sure that in Apple’s eyes, these missing things just leave room for improvement in future versions.
You can certainly buy a netbook for less and get a full keyboard, a DVD drive, USB ports, memory card slots, and more. If you are into creating content, that would be a better choice. But for communication and content consumption, the iPad could be for you.
Right now there are tablet PCs, laptop PCs, netbooks, touch screen PCs, and cell phones but the lines are blurring between these devices. The iPad has created a new category making the lines blur even more. It will be interesting to see how the iPad develops and how the competition meets the increased expectations and demands that the iPad will create. Some people will buy an iPad now. Some will wait for the next version. Some will wait for the competition. Some will never buy a device like this at all. Yet, we can all thank Apple for taking us to a new level of computing and Internet use and for creating a great device that they can build upon and that is sure to spur competition and innovation.