Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad Hands On

Okay, yeah, I did it.  I bought an iPad.  I have been at least a little critical of the device from the day it was first announced, and I felt like if I was going to be fair about it I really ought to take it for a spin for real before forming a final opinion.

I was able to get it without any difficulty.  My local Best Buy was one of the ones that was going to have them at launch.  Twenty minutes before the store opened, there was still no line to get one.  At a quarter to ten I got out of my truck and I was third in line.  The store had twenty of each model (16, 32, and 64GB), so there is actually still a fair chance that if someone wants one they might still be able to get it, at least at the Orem store.

So now that I have had it for 2 1/2 hours, and played with every aspect of the device, and downloaded and played with quite a few apps, I feel more qualified to comment on it.  Here are my impressions…


  • The device is both smaller and considerably heavier than you’d imagine it being.  The screen is 9.7” (diagonal), but it has a considerable bezel, leaving the impressions in pictures that it is bigger than it really is.  But it also weighs more.  It’s heavy enough that I wouldn’t want to hold it up to read books on it.
  • The oleophobic coating on the screen that is supposed to prevent fingerprints and smudges, doesn’t.
  • The back has a textured finish, unlike the iPod Touch, so it doesn’t scratch as easily, thankfully.
  • The screen is very good.  It uses an IPS LCD screen, and these are among the best out there.  The quality of the screen is A LOT better than that of the iPhone or iPod Touch, especially with regard to viewing angles.
  • Battery life should be the expected 10 hours.  After playing for two hours my battery level dropped by about 15%.
  • It absolutely requires a computer to set it up.  When you turn it on it shows the iTunes logo on screen until you register it with Apple via iTunes 9.1.
  • For the most part it operates pretty smoothly and quickly.  Scrolling and zooming are particularly smooth.
  • Since the iPod Touch doesn’t have a microphone, I wasn’t expecting one on the iPad, but it does have one.  I was able to make Skype calls on it just fine.
  • The speaker is fairly loud, but it’s monaural.  Disappointing considering the device’s considerable size and the amount of unused space inside the case.  Sound quality is also dull and lifeless.
  • It doesn’t charge while plugged into a computer.  It shows “Not charging” in the upper right on the three computers I tested it on, one of which is a Mac. You pretty much have to use the included USB power adapter to charge it.  My other AC-to-USB chargers don’t work with it.


  • It comes pretty bare-bones.  It doesn’t even have the iBooks app installed on it from the factory; it has to be downloaded and installed.
  • Even though there are supposedly about 1400 apps specifically for the iPad, a LOT of them are books, or wrappers around the web browser.  There are a fair number of useful and cool apps, but the iPad App Store actually feels a bit sparse.
  • Apps are CONSIDERABLY more expensive than they are for the iPhone.  Many apps that are $1.99 on the iPhone/Touch are $9.99 for their iPad versions, for example.
  • There are free apps, but I didn’t find that many that were interesting.  In some cases apps that are free on the iPhone aren’t free for the iPad.
  • Even though the device can run iPhone apps, chances are that you probably won’t want to.  They either run on a very small portion of the screen (same physical size as they would be on an iPhone) or blown up to 4x normal size (2x in each direction), and when they are blown up they look, well, horrible.
  • There are some very notable missing apps right now, namely Facebook and Hulu.
  • Most apps seem to be pretty polished, but I did experience a handful of app crashes, and a fair amount of pauses and multi-second freezing, even among the Apple-supplied apps that come with it.
  • The iBooks app is pretty cool, but there is basically no free content.  It comes with one free book (Winnie the Pooh), so you can get a feel for how it will work, but I didn’t want to spend $10-15 just to have the whole experience.  Page turns are quick enough that they aren’t distracting, and the fact that you can view two pages side-by-side in landscape mode is cool.  I’m still not sold on the idea of holding up a 1.5 pound device to read, or reading on a backlit screen, though.  Some people will be fine with reading on the iPad, many will not.
  • The Apple included apps are exactly what you expect them to be… versions of many of the same apps that ship with the iPod Touch, but optimized for a larger screen.  It did feel like some apps, like Mail and Calendar in particular could do more to take advantage of the bigger screen, but I can understand how Apple would be trying to keep things simple.  For the most part the experience with the apps is the same as it is on the iPhone, just bigger.
  • The web browser is nice, and snappy.  I do find that entering URLs and filling in web forms on the on-screen keyboard is annoying, though.  And the ongoing battle with Adobe over including Flash is a significant irritation.


  • Standard definition video looks okay, but not great.  If you’re planning on watching iTunes movies or TV shows, the HD versions are going to look a lot better.  And keep in mind that HD content takes up a lot more space than SD, so getting a higher capacity version of the iPad than you think you might need is probably a good idea.
  • The on-screen keyboard has had a couple buttons added to it compared to the iPhone/iPod Touch.  Not many, but it is nice to have command and period keys.  But I do wish that they had added the row of number keys.  
  • In Landscape mode the on-screen keyboard literally takes up half of the screen, and the buttons are actually too big.  They could have really made it a lot smaller, and it would have actually been much more usable, in addition to requiring less screen real estate in the process.
  • It’s disappointing that app icons are only shown 4 across on such a large screen.  The icons feel like they are way too far apart, and Apple could have greatly reduced the number of pages by just allowing even one or more two icons per row, and one or two more rows.
  • Though the device can play iTunes music, it’s really way too big to be used as a music player.
  • It’s also very disappointing that the device doesn’t allow third party applications to multi-task, especially with such a large screen.  Apple could have easily fit four iPhone apps on screen simultaneously, or allowed applications to run in the background.
  • Even though Apple is pushing this thing as a game platform, many games rely on the accelerometer, and this makes them very slow to respond to input.  If this is a serious game machine they should have at least included a directional pad.  Touch-screen and accelerometer just don’t cut it for a huge portion of potential games.
Overall, the hardware feels pretty polished.  Most of the limitations come from the software itself, or from the fact that you’re really buying into an ecosystem, not just a piece of hardware.

But the biggest down side of the device is cost.  And I’m not talking about up-front cost; the up-front price actually isn’t too bad for what you are getting.  It’s the high price of the apps, and the fact that you’re going to want to purchase iPad specific versions of your iPhone apps (since running the iPhone native apps is actually a pretty bad experience).  And if someone is planning on using the device to read books, magazines, or newspapers, keep in mind that you’re going to be buying them over again if you already have them, and with the $10-15 book price, or inexplicably high subscription costs, it isn’t what I would call a bargain.

Everywhere I turned on the device it felt like Apple or other content creators wanted more money to really have a complete iPad experience.  While this is understandable, it still limits the usefulness of the device if you aren’t willing to make a big investment into content specifically designed for it.

After playing with the iPad for a couple hours and going back and picking up my iPod Touch, the Touch is SO much smaller, lighter, and ultimately nearly as functional at a much lower price.  The iPod Touch is a MUCH better buy, and could replace an iPad, but not the other way around, mostly due to size and weight.

Bottom line: It’s essentially a big iPod Touch, but you’re probably going to want to re-purchase iPad versions of apps and HD versions of video for it, so it is just like starting over from scratch as if you don’t already have any content.  So plan on making a pretty significant financial investment if this is something you’re considering.

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