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Apple iPad

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What's hot: Ultra modern design, very easy to set up and use, gorgeous and responsive touch screen, fast.

What's not: No Flash support, no iSight camera built-in.

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March 2011 update: Read our review of the iPad 2 that repaces this model.

Reviewed April 4, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

Apple’s gene pool has just gotten larger with the addition of the iPad, a tablet that can surf the web, play videos, music and games, and view email, ebooks and more. It’s like a giant iPod touch but it’s also much more than the iPod touch thanks to the very large display that opens up seemingly endless possibilities for media consumption and application interaction. The 9.7” capacitive touch screen makes the iPad a very strong PMP and the easy-to-sync feature to iTunes ensures it’s painless to get all your multimedia content to the iPad as long as you stay within Apple’s walled garden. Thanks to the iPhone, the iPad has a familiar OS and essential apps, and soon no doubt a huge selection of apps and books will be available in the App Store. 

Those who speak Apple and get Apple’s ultra modern designs will fall in love with the iPad as soon as they lay their hands on it. If you have the money and want a fast web surfing device for the couch, great gaming, magazines and sharp video playback you should get the iPad. For serious productivity users, the iPad doesn’t replace your notebook. For iPhone diehards, the iPad doesn’t replace your iPhone. At 1.5/1.6 pounds, the iPad is perfect for the living room where even kids can play with it without the risk of messing up the OS and built-in applications. The hardware is another story and young children should be supervised in consideration of the large glass screen.

iPad

Design

The iPad has an ultra modern, ultra clean and absolutely gorgeous design that only Apple can pull off. The tablet felt surprisingly heavy when we held it to watch movies, read ebooks and play games. The backlit LED IPS gloss display looks fabulous though a bit dark when playing video dark scenes. For the best viewing experience, don’t watch movies while sitting in a sun-washed room.  The screen has plenty of glare so you’ll also want to avoid bright lights placed directly behind you. Like the iPhone, the touch screen has a fingerprint-resistant coating but it still shows fingerprints like mad. The iPad has very few ports and controls, and the capacitive touch screen is very responsive. The onscreen keyboard is very easy to use; imagine your iPhone keyboard only roomier, and there is a landscape keyboard currently for built-in apps but not for all third party apps.

The speaker fires from the bottom edge and it’s loud and full. The thin body has defined edges and it can feel like it’s digging into your hands if you hold it for too long. If you don’t need a syncing dock, we found that plate stands work perfectly with the iPad and they generally cost only $5.

iPad

The iPad resting in a wooden foldable plate stand.

 

Check our our iPad Game Reviews!

 

Video Review

Here's our 14 minute video review of the iPad. We pay particular attention to apps like Netflix for movie streaming, iPad games and iTunes.

 

Syncing

Setting up the iPad is very easy and the syncing speed is quite fast. If you have used the iPhone or iPod touch, this is a walk in the park for you. It has a very similar interface in iTunes for syncing all your content like Contacts, Calendar, bookmarks and email accounts as well as your music, movies, TV shows, Podcasts and books (there’s a new tab for the iPad iBooks). You can pick and choose from all your iTunes content to sync to the iPad, and once you set up the Wi-Fi or 3G (if you get the model that has both WiFi and AT&T 3G ) connections you can buy and download content from the iTunes store directly, just like you do with the iPhone.  The 3G model is due out later this month and you need not sign a contract to use the $30/month data plan.

iPad

The Apple iPad has a 30-pin dock connector, and it comes with a USB cable that’s the same one used with the iPhone. There is no USB connector built-in, but Apple sells a USB adapter for $30 as a part of their camera connection kit. The SD and USB adapters work only for transferring images and video to the iPad.

iPad

The iPad runs the iPhone OS and has a very similar file structure that’s good for keeping novices out of trouble since you can get all your content through iTunes. This also means there’s no built-in file manager or easy way to copy your documents to the iPad. Third-party apps like FileMagnet will help to get occasional files onto the iPad, but in general for doing serious work that requires transferring all sorts of files to and from the iPad, it feels crippled just like the iPhone and iPod touch.

The Apple iPad has almost exactly the same interface with a dock in which you can put 6 applications for quick launch and sliding application panels. The settings lets you set up Wi-Fi, change screen settings and wallpaper and tweak settings for built-in and third party apps. What’s new and unique to the iPad is that Apple added a Picture Frame feature that can turn your 9.7” bright tablet into a digital photo frame when you are not using it. You can point the frame to all photos on the iPad or certain albums and set transitions, shuffle pictures and zoom in on faces.  

iPad and iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS and iPad.

eBooks

With the increasing popularity of ebooks, Apple clearly wants a piece of the pie. The iPad comes with a built-in iBooks app that can view books you buy from Apple’s ebook store as well as DRM free ePub books. If you have your own ePub books without DRM you can use iTunes on the desktop to add the books to the iBooks library (you’ll have to use the “import” menu item under the file menu to get ePub books into iTunes). We tried using Adobe Digital Editions on the desktop to load ePub library books protected with Adobe standard DRM. But Adobe Digital Editions does not seem to recognize or support the iPad. In contrast if you connect ebook readers that support Adobe DRM ePub books like the Sony Reader family, Barnes & Noble nook and IREX DR800, those readers will appear in Digital Editions and you can copy books. You can also download books from websites that offer public domain free eBooks in unprotected ePUB format (Google Books etc.).

iBooks portrait view
iBooks portrait view

Above: the iBooks app viewing a book in portrait and landscape modes. Click on an image to see a larger view.

There’s already a Kindle app and a Kobo Books app so you can download books you’ve purchased with those services and read them on your iPad. Barnes & Noble should have an iPad reader available soon too. Thus you aren’t forced into buying only Apple eBooks via iTunes. That’s a good thing since Apple’s opening selection includes only 60,000 titles (including public domain books). We’re sure that Apple will get plenty more books on board but the other drawback is that Apple uses its own DRM and you can’t read these books on any other platform (there goes the seeming openness of the ePub standard). You can’t even read iBooks on your iPhone or in iTunes on the desktop, and we hope that Apple adds that ability to be competitive with Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and others.

iBooks portrait view

The Kindle app for the iPad. Click the image for a larger view.

There is no built-in app for magazines and newspapers, but as each newspaper and magazine releases its own app you can get content via these third party apps.  So far, we’ve been very impressed with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal apps. They look like a cross between a website and a virtual newspaper: for example you can click on a front page article to go to the rest of the print-like article. Prices for subscriptions vary with the Wall Street Journal costing $18/month and Time Magazine costing $5/issue. Unlike dedicated eBook readers, there’s no standardized option to buy today’s issue solo as an alternative to a subscription. That will vary from iPad app to app.

The bright LED makes reading ebook tiring on the eyes if you read for long periods of time.  We’ve been using e-Ink eBook readers like the Sony Reader and Kindle since they came out and had no trouble reading for hours at a time without eyestrain. When we sat down for a several hour reading session with the iPad, our eyes felt tired just as they do when we stare at a computer screen for hours. The glare and backlighting combined with the screen refresh (it’s there even if you don’t perceive it) are harder on the eyes.

If you’re a light reader or are more interested in short form reading via magazines and newspapers, the iPad offers a great layout (especially the books from Apple store) on a large screen. The iPad offers a more compelling periodical reader experience thanks to the fast CPU, excellent touch screen and instant refresh than do eBook readers. But if you're a hardcore ebook reader who enjoys reading for hours at a time and has a collection of ebooks in different formats, then get a dedicated ebook reader like the Sony Readers, Amazon Kindle and others. Likewise, there's currently no annotation feature in the iBooks app, something many dedicated eBook readers offer.

iPad and iPhone 3GS

Web Surfing

Web surfing is fast and easy to do with finger touch control. Safari loads pages very quickly and presents them in a desktop layout. It has pinch zooming and an accelerometer. The on-screen keyboard works in both landscape and portrait modes and you get the same set of features and options as you do on the iPhone (history, bookmarks, cache control).

While the page loading is fast and the touch controls are responsive, the web surfing experience on the iPad is hobbled by lack of support for Flash.  It won’t hurt when you want to watch YouTube videos because you get the mobile version. That means you can use the YouTube player and you can watch videos embedded in web pages. Hulu alas is a no-go as are web sites whose pages depend on Flash. For example, try to visit sonystyle.com and you will see a broken and dysfunctional home page. Come on, Apple, make nice with Adobe already!  The iPad does support HTML 5 video but that’s not exactly a ubiquitous standard yet.

iPad and iPhone 3GS

The rotation hold switch and volume rocker.

Video and Gaming

Video and movie watching is a joy on the iPad as long as you don’t do it in a bright room. All your iTunes movies, videos and TV shows can easily sync to the iPad. And you can browse movies directly on the iPad using the iTunes app, and watch trailers and rent movies. The scenes are sharp and audio via the built-in speaker is loud. Besides movies from iTunes you can put your own videos on the iPad. Just as with the iPhone and iPod touch, drag your MPEG4/H.264 video into iTunes on the desktop and then set it to sync that video to the iPad. It supports MPEG4 and supports higher resolutions if you use H.264 encoding. If you have a Netflix account, you can watch streaming movies over Wi-Fi. The movies buffer at good speeds and the playback quality is very good: very, very nice!   

iPad and iPhone 3GS

The iTunes app on the iPad, browsing movies.

The iPad’s IPS screen is extremely responsive in most games. The glossy screen has saturated colors and sharp HD images. Games developed for the iPad look fabulous. If you have been an iPhone or iPod touch gamer, you will very likely enjoy gaming on the iPad. The audio is loud and full when playing most games (try Need for Speed Underground if you want to test this out). The device is a lot heavier than the iPhone/iPod touch and you feel the added weight when you're holding it gaming for hours on end.  iPhone games can run in a small window (yuck) or stretched to full screen. Go with full screen; it’s surprising how decent these look on the iPad.

We recorded videos of the iPad playing HD games and here's one of Mingore HD:

 

Battery

The iPad has a built-in rechargeable Lithium-polymer battery (25Wh) that’s not user replaceable. We really wish Apple would get away from the non-user serviceable batteries but now everything from MacBook Pro notebooks to the iPod fall into this category. The iPad comes with a 10-Watt USB charging adapter that outputs 5.1 volts and 2.1 amps. In comparison the iPhone charger outputs only 1 amp. You probably don’t want to use the iPad charger with the iPhone as the amperage is doubled and is higher than most USB chargers for smartphones and eBook readers. You can also charge the iPad via the USB cable only when you connect it directly to your late model Mac as it won’t charge via a USB hub, Windows PC or older Macs.

In our real life battery tests, the claimed 10-hour web surfing, video watching and music playback time was on target. You might actually exceed that run time. Watching Netflix movies streaming over Wi-Fi lasted us at least 6 hours.  Color us impressed.

Conclusion

Apple is good at carving out a market and creating (or re-inventing) a new device space. The iPad can be a perfect couch companion for web surfing, video watching, gaming and light reading. It doesn’t replace your notebook for serious work, your mobile phone for ultra mobile portability or your digital ebook reader for the true bookworms; what it gives you is a piece of beautiful hardware for your downtime fun.

As ever, Apple’s walled garden approach frustrates us since there’s no easy way to transfer documents and content to the iPad outside of iTunes.  The product is designed for passive media consumption as outlined by Apple’s design group. Yes, you can buy the three iWork apps for $10 each to work on spreadsheets, documents and presentations, but that’s about as far as content creation goes.  There’s no printing, iWork document transfer is unintuitive and you can’t use USB peripherals beyond SD cards and USB mass storage devices for photo and video transfer one-way to the iPad.

That said, the iPad sets the standard for an entertainment tablet and it’s incredibly fun and easy to use. It’s hard to imagine even die-hard geeks not enjoying it when they take a break from grumbled about its limitations and restrictions.

Pro: Ultra modern design, very easy to set up and use, gorgeous screen.

Con: No Flash support, no iSight built-in.

 

Price: Starting at $499 for 16GB Wi-Fi model, up to $829 for 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G.

Web site: www.apple.com

 

Specs:

Display: 9.7” LED blacklit glossy IPS widescreen with multi-touch. 1024 x 768 resolution. Fingerprint resistant coating. Supports accelerometer and has ambient light sensor.

Processor: 1GHz Apple A4 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip.

Network: Wi-Fi model: Wi-Fi 802.11a /b/g/n; Wi-Fi + 3G model: UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100MHz, GSM/EDGE quad-band, data only; Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n. Both models have Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR. Apple dock connector to USB.

GPS: GPS onboard as well as digital compass.

Storage: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB internal flash storage.

Audio: Built-in mic and speaker, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Audio formats supported: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

Video: Support for 1024 by 768 pixels with Dock Connector to VGA Adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable. H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format.

Size: 9.56 x 7.47 x 0.5 inches. Weight: 1.5 pounds (Wi-Fi model), 1.6 pounds (Wi-Fi + 3G model).

Battery: Rechargeable 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Not user replaceable. Claimed usage time: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 3G data network.

Expansion: No storage card slot.

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