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I’ve been hesitant to write an iPad review until now for a handful of reasons — namely, I worried that the lack of iPad specific apps, my being in China, where some of the web’s greatest services are blocked, or that I’ve been otherwise pretty busy, would skew my view — but because iOS 4.2 is scheduled to come out in the next week or two, I figured it’s now as good a time as any.
First, as a sort of disclaimer, a few notes that make my iPad use perhaps somewhat different from other people’s:
- I am in China, so sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or a handful of sites that require SSL to login (Simplenote, some VNC, etc), are blocked and accessible only with a VPN.
- I have a whole lot of Apple products, so how I use my iPad depends in large part on how I use my iPhone 4, iPod(s), MacBook Pro, or Mac Mini.
- I travel a lot for work and for pleasure, thus spending lots of time out of my house (and thus away from my iTunes library, which resides on my Mac Mini media server).
- I despise softwares like the Microsoft Office Suite or Adobe Creative Suite, and refuse to use either if at all possible. As a result, the software I use tends towards those made by smaller companies’ or otherwise simple in nature.
Many of the reviews of the iPad I’ve read up to this point have either been too detailed or about “Tablet computing” in general. And while I’ll try to stay away from that, it is somewhat inevitable, as the iPad is really the first mainstream, high quality, tablet computing device.
The display on the iPad is pretty beautiful, but after using my iPhone 4 for, now, a few months, I don’t and can’t lust after it the way I did when I first saw it. The screen gets oily easily, much more easily than the iPhone, and somehow I’ve already found three hairline scratches on my iPad (I take extremely> good care of my electronics, and have zero idea how it got those scratches).
When Steve first announced the iPad, I thought the aspect ratio was a lousy decision. I wanted more widescreen, as I figured it would both be more natural to hold in widescreen mode if it were wider, and that it would make watching movies more enjoyable. Boy, was I wrong. Any wider, and it would have a completely different feel. With the 3:4 ratio, it’s more like a book, which feels very natural to hold in both orientations.
The battery is absolutely incredible. WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G, bright screen, music in the background, and this thing still lasts all day.
I personally have no problem with the weight, and have a hard time understanding people who complain about holding it up for the length of a movie. It’s amazing how many things you can find to prop it up against, especially on an airplane. But, I do wish I could find a better case that would hold it at a slightly better angle for when I’m typing. And I don’t like the Apple case which I foolishly spent too much money on.
My only complaint about the hardware is that the headphone jack is on the left, while the buttons are on the right. This works fine when in portrait mode, but when in landscape, and I’m resting the iPad on my lap, it means I have the choice of either potentially bending my headphones, or inadvertently pressing the volume buttons. While I’m sure this was necessary to fit the hardware inside of the tiny body, it seems a flaw that I hope they can correct.
In attempt to defend the iPad, after first getting my iPad, I was always reluctant to say that the iPad’s strongest feature was Safari. I’m not entirely sure why I tried so hard to avoid this topic, perhaps because I was so tired of people calling it a “Media Consumption” device, but have since learned that the web browsing on the iPad truly is incredible.
Browsing the web on the iPad is fast, clear, and whether the site is optimized for the iPad or not makes only a small difference. As someone who has been joined at the hip to my iPhone for several years, browsing on a 10” screen is a relief (though I am by no means saying browsing the web on an iPhone is not enjoyable as well). The ability to manipulate what you’re seeing — scrolling, resizing, or even just moving around because I can — makes it just as intimate as everyone has said. The first time I used Safari on my iPad, I could tell it would be hard to go back to using a non-touch interface.
My biggest complaint here is one that has been mentioned many times — the memory on the iPad is just not enough. Almost every time I write something on the web, and jump to another page to copy a link, when I come back, the page needs to reload, thus losing all my changes. I’ve gotten used to this, and use “Simplenote” to write everything before posting it, but it’s pretty irritating. Especially because I use a VPN to load pages that are blocked by the government here, and then refer back to them later. (I also don’t understand why it tries to reload a page even if there’s no connection or if it’s in airplane mode.)
The Virtual Keyboard
Not long ago, I would have argued that the virtual keyboard is just fine for my normal use. However, only recently I realized that my “normal use” was in part dictated by the fact that typing wasn’t as much a joy as I previously claimed. On an iPhone, in portrait mode (I can’t understand how people like typing on an iPhone in landscape), I can type super fast with my two thumbs. Because the screen is pretty small, my digits never need to move too much.
But on an iPad, it’s too wide to use your thumbs, but too narrow to type comfortably as if it were a normal keyboard. And while I’ve gotten pretty good at typing on an iPad, there are times when my fingers move too quickly and my iPad thinks my finger merely slid from one key to the other. It reminds me of why they designed the QWERTY keyboard — to help people avoid jamming up their typewriters. I don’t like hunt-and-peck typing, but on an iPad, it’s somewhat necessary.
That said, using a bluetooth keyboard on an iPad is amazing. It’s easy to join, it’s easy to disconnect, and it has an unbelievably fast response time. (Note: navigating is far easier with a keyboard and Apple’s apple/option and arrow keys combinations.) In fact, my bluetooth keyboard is what got me interested in finally writing this!
If only they can figure out a way to get Apple-Tab to work in a somewhat natural way…
This will change a lot after using iOS 4, but for now it has the same problems that the old iPhones had. The complaints I hear about all the time don’t bother me (I don’t need a unified inbox, and Apple’s idea of threaded messages pale in comparison to Google’s. Why is it so hard to save your sent messages in the same place as your incoming?!)
There is one complaint I never hear, and it drives me completely nuts. This could go in a number of categories, as it seems to have become a standard. When you open Mail in landscape, the main viewer automatically chooses your most recent message (when one isn’t already chosen), which then marks the message as read. Think of how many times you don’t have time to read the message, but you need to open the mail app to refer to a past email or to write one; every time, you need to hit the “mark unread” button before exiting. This seems like a huge oversight.
iPod and Videos
The built-in iPod app and the Videos app, separated as they are on the iPod Touch, are fantastic. The iPod interface has encouraged me to add higher resolution photos to all my albums and to better organize my playlists, etc. Steve may have said the iPhone had their “best iPod ever”, but I’d argue that the iPad does.
There are times when I wish I could pinch to zoom on the videos, but the double-tap to resize works as a compromise.
Software in General
The argument that the iPad is a “media consumption” device still really bugs me, because it’s hardly different than saying computers are only made for web browsing and YouTube. This is only limited by the software people use. I’ve read tons of posts by people who have created amazing stuff on the iPad, so it is without a doubt possible.
I’ve used several SVG apps to draw, and got frustrated because all of them are awful — and most of them are not cheap. I don’t know if this is because of the short memory limitations, or if it’s just poorly written software. I am confident that this will improve in time, but I still have yet to find a solid SVG app that doesn’t crash with nearly every use.
The added screen space makes me want to do things visually creative on my iPad, especially because I can do almost anything else on my iPhone. For me personally, the only two things I do frequently in the “creation” realm are SVG drawings or web design. And if someone can create a good piece of software for web development, I’ll gladly bring my iPad and bluetooth keyboard with me everywhere. Until then, I’ll use it mostly as a device to jot down notes, make quick drawings/sketches, and to — shudder — consume media.
Probably one of the greatest features of the iPad is how wireless it is. When I first bought it, I got the 3G because I hoped it would make for a higher selling price when the second generation came around; I never intended to get a 3G plan. But then I did. And I can’t go back. Recently I lent my boss my SIM card for a few weeks, and my iPad sat at home. Now I’ve got the SIM card back, and my iPad is once again traveling with me everywhere. You may think you can download everything you need (think ReadItLater, RSS readers, etc), but it only takes a few links that you want to follow to make you regret not spending that extra change to be able to browse anywhere, anytime.
The iPad, despite a small number of issues, is an amazing device. As a tablet, mobile computing device, it is nearly perfect. But as any new device with new uses, it depends entirely on what void you are looking to fill.
In other words, if you have a choice between an iPad and an iPhone, I’d say take the iPhone. If you choose between an iPad and a laptop, take the laptop. But if you have a laptop and an iPhone, but you’re a bit tired of taking your laptop around with you everywhere, the iPad is perfect.
After several months, I’ve finally found the place for my iPad, and am very happy with it. I take it with me everywhere I go. I use my iPhone for quick tasks, such as reading emails (and writing shorter ones), task management, etc, and I generally only use services that will sync with either a website or my iPad. Then, when I’ve got a bit more time, from anything to having a seat on a bus ride to waiting for the train, I use my iPad. (Added bonus: using the iPad saves your iPhone’s battery drastically!)
My final recommendation: before getting an iPad, think about what you could do with it. Ask a friend what sort of things he does with his iPad (and remember, of course, that having an iPad will help you find a whole lot of things you never even realized you can do). And finally, if you get an iPad, without any doubt, get the 3G model.