So it has been a couple of days since I picked up my new iPad and I wanted to give you some initial thoughts and impressions. This may not be comprehensive review, but I can tell you what I think so far. Out of the Box:
When I pulled my shinny new iPad out of the box my first thought was that it felt like one giant piece of glass. The iPad was heavier than expected, which I know makes me sound like a weakling considering it’s only 1.5 pounds.
The iPad felt very solid and a sturdy build quality. The giant glass screen worries me in the event of a drop, although the iPhone has taken a fair share of drops and survived. The back plate of the iPad is beautiful, like the top of my MacBook Pro lid, but I worry that it could be prone to scratches when you set it on a surface, especially considering the curved back. But the iPad was very comfortable to hold with two hands.
The packaging is well done in typical Apple fashion and includes the obligatory Apple stickers, USB cable AC adapter. It's important to know the iPad has higher than usual charging needs so you'll need to use the included adapter, or expect the iPad to charge slowly, or only when asleep when plugged into lower powered adapters or USB hubs. Apple says the fastest and best way to charge the iPad is with the included adapter.
The iPad comes out of the box setup for only about 1/2 brightness and I've never found the need to turn it up any brighter. The screen is absolutely gorgeous although it is very pone to fingerprints and smudges. It's easy to wipe off with a cloth and not noticeable while the device is in use, but turn the iPad off and you'll be shocked at the number of smudges.
I hate to sound like an Apple fangirl, but holding the iPad in your hand really is a near magical experience. Something about being able to touch, scroll and manipulate your content is memorizing. For casual surfing or reading it's quickly become my preferred way to browse.
As a lifelong Trekkie, I really feel like I’m using a device from the future. The iPad is about as close to the Star Trek PADD as you’ll be able to get. I’ve even noticed that I’m starting to hold the device in one hand and type fairly quickly using multiple fingers with the other on the virtual keyboard, just like they do on Star Trek.
I can’t describe the experience to you unless you’ve used the iPad, but I really feel like I’m interacting with my content in a way I never have before. Perhaps it will take a few more days for the Reality Distortion Field to wear off, but I whether I’m browsing twitter, surfing the web or reading RSS feeds, I want to do it on this device.
Which brings me to my first warning: If you don’t want to buy an iPad, don’t touch it. If you’re on the fence, you’ll likely end up buying it if you touch it.
Typing: The on-screen keyboard is good, but I'm still trying to find my stride. I imagine like the iPhone it will take some getting use to, but at some point your brain will just kick in and figure out. I'm finding that unlike the iPhone, I'm using my iPad most of the time in landscape mode. The landscape keyboard is far superior than the portrait keyboard.
I have already drafted a couple of multi-paragraph emails and short blog posts from the iPad, something that I never would have considered doing from my iPhone. That being said, I’m not going to do any major typing on the iPad screen. If you plan to take the iPad on the road and getting some work done, a wireless keyboard is a must.
I’ve been using the iPad for a little under a week now and I’ve found that my hands and wrists have started aching a bit. I should note that I have some nerve problems in my hands and as such I am extremely sensitive to things like this. Chances are it won’t bother most people as it bothers me. For non-typing activities on the iPad I have no problems or discomfort.
I've already picked up a few accessories for the iPad and have mixed reviews. For the price, I think the Apple wireless keyboard brings much more functionality to the iPad than the iPad keyboard dock. Though I personally have never been a big fan of Apple keyboards. Typing on the bluetooth keyboard takes some getting use to, but after a while you adjust. Again, this may be more of a personal issue as I much prefer large split design keyboards. Nevertheless, you can get some serious work done with the bluetooth keyboard compared to the on-screen option and I know many people count the Apple keyboards among their favorite and most comfortable keyboards.
While the Keyboard dock does have some built in features, many of the function keys on the bluetooth keyboard work as well. The screen brightness, mute and volume controls all work in any application. The eject key will show and hide the iPad's on screen keyboard. (The on screen keyboard is by default hidden once you pair a bluetooth keyboard.) The forward, back, pause and play keys work within the iPod application. Likewise you can use common key combinations to copy, paste, cut and select all. Though you can't select text and then use the key combinations to make it bold or italic. I haven't yet found a use for the dashboard and expose keys or the two blank F5 and F6 keys. It would be great if Apple would allow you to program functions to those keys as well. All this could be solved with software updates.
At first I hated the Apple case, but it's growing on me. I have never been a fan of cases. In fact, I've never used a case for my iPhone and instead opted for a ZAGG invisible shield. The iPad feels like a device that needs a case. The Apple case has the advantage of being used as a stand to prop up the iPad or lay it at an incline. Since purchasing the case a few hours after my iPad was delivered, I haven't removed it and see myself using my iPad almost exclusively with the case until I find a case I like better. (Unfortunately I don’t live near an Apple store, so I don’t have many options for browsing cases.) The build quality of the case is disappointing. For $40 I was expecting more, this is a case that feels more like it should be in the $20 range. The case is "glued" rather than stitched and is made out of an odd material that attracts dirt and smudges. However it does not add much bulk to the iPad so that's a positive. At the same time, I doubt it would offer much protection for the iPad if it was needed. Although it does solve one of my concern about back of the iPad scratching when you lay it down on a surface.
One of the things I like least about the Apple case is that it does not appear that it will work with other accessories. Without some brute force, you're not going to be able to use the iPad in the Apple designed case with the dock or keyboard dock. That's a rare Apple design fail. I ordered the $29 overpriced Apple dock, but plan on returning it. I generally like using docks and would use it if it would work without me having to take the iPad out of the case every time, because believe me that's no easy task. Although because the Apple case props the iPad up at an angle, you can argue that you don’t need a dock. Still, would have been nice to have the option.
AppleCare is a whopping $99 for the iPad, and I decided against it. While I always buy AppleCare on my laptops, the cost of AppleCare on the iPad didn’t make much sense. I think the biggest risk is accidental damage, which isn’t covered by AppleCare anyway. AppleCare on the iPad also offers only 1 additional year of hardware warranty. The complementary phone support means nothing to me, I’ll troubleshoot my own problems. So $99 for another year of hardware coverage, or roughly 20% of the purchase price of my iPad was too expensive. Though keep in mind you can always buy the AppleCare coverage in the first year of ownership. So if I start to have trouble with the iPad or if there are widespread reports of problems, I may consider picking it up.
I have mixed opinions on the subject of Apps. First, let me say that while you can use your iPhone apps on the iPad, you won't want to. While I think it's great that old apps will work, the implementation is kludgy. The keyboard is off, and text looks horrible. It's probably fine for touch based apps, such as games. It just doesn't work well for most of my applications. You will want to go out and buy iPad native versions of your applications, but you will pay for them. (Keep in mind Safari is beautiful on the iPad, so consider web alternatives to your favorite apps such as Facebook and Mint.)
Apps are now segregated into three categories. iPad only, iPhone only (but will work in the wonky iPhone mode on an iPad) and hybrid apps that include both versions. Hybrid apps are my favorite, because I pay for one app and can use it natively on both my iPad and iPhone. I don't mind paying more for a hybrid app, and if a developer chooses to upgrade an existing app to make it a hybrid app, that upgrade is free for people who already own the app. But the hybrid apps do come at a cost in that they are about 3x the size of a tractional iPhone app.
This is probably the part of the review where I'll get in trouble. While I understand and acknowledge that developers have every right to make money on their products, and that I am the ultimate decision maker as to whether or not I decide an app is valuable enough to buy, I feel like I'm getting ripped off with some apps. Developers take different approaches to pricing and business models, but on the whole, iPad versions of apps are significantly more expensive than their iPhone counterparts. If I've already paid for an app, unless the developer chooses to upgrade their existing app to work in hybrid mode, I have to pay again for an iPad version of an app. Between the desktop, iPhone and iPad versions of an app, I’m paying three times which gets expensive.
Now before you start screaming at me, I blame most of this on Apple. Apple has yet to provide developers with an easy way to allow trial versions of their apps, upgrades or cross-grades, discounts or bundling. If this were an option, I believe a lot of developers would take advantage of this. Currently, they're option is to either give it away or charge full price.
I should also note that because of Apple’s Fair Play DRM and app sharing policy buying an app is comparable to buying a “family pack” since you can share it or use it on up to 5 devices. But I’m not sure how many people really do this. If the iPhone app store is any indication, my guess is we’ll see prices drop over time.
All that having been said, I am blown away by the quality of the apps on the iPad and I think things are just going to get better. Keep in mind, that as of the time I write this review nearly every single app on the iPad was designed without developers having had the opportunity to use the device. There is some bugginess in some apps, but I think in fairness we need to give the developers a little leeway to work those out in time.
I'm really excited about some of the iPad apps. Pages, Numbers and Keynote, obviously from a productivity standpoint. I really don't see myself using Numbers and Keynote all that much on the iPad, but this review was written entirely in Pages. I'm very excited about the Netflix streaming app. Granted, there are some bugs, but it's there, and for the first time ever I can watch my Netflix content on the go. The ABC app is beautifully implemented and the iPad is a real joy to watch videos on. I’m also really liking the USA Today app as I think it’s the newspaper app that has come closest to mimicking a traditional paper experience.
One negative: the Apple apps. Apple was the only developer who had advanced warning the iPad was coming and none of their apps (besides the apps that came on the iPad) are optimized. iDisk, Remote, and MobileMe gallery all run in iPhone mode and look horrible. No slack for Apple here, they should have been ready to go with iPad native versions out of the gate.
Also worth pointing out - there are several standard apps that come on the iPhone that are not available on the iPad. Clock, Weather, Calculator, and Stocks are all missing. There are third party replacements out there for most of these apps, some free, some not. But I'm really missing the alarms feature on the Apple clock app, especially because it was one of the only apps that could run in the background.
Edit April 9, 2010: Corrected a typographical error where I incorrectly said the calendar app was not included, I meant the Calculator app was not included. Thanks to those who pointed out my error!
While we're on the subject of Apps, let's talk about iBooks. First, let me say that I love that Apple included a free book with the app to show people what the iBooks experience is like and I'm just tickled that the included book was Winnie The Pooh, which is my all time favorite story. I love books, and grew up in a home where reading was strongly encouraged. One of the first things I do when I go over to someone's house is browse their bookshelf. Maybe that makes me a stalker, but I'm very interested in seeing what people are reading and I think a person’s bookshelf says a lot about them.
Given this, I have mixed emotions about the idea of an eBook in general. I want to have a physical bookshelf with hardback copies of my favorite books. There are also advantages of having physical books such as lending them to a friend or being able to take them with you anywhere.
The pricing isn’t great. Of course the eBooks (or is it iBooks?) are less expensive than full retail price, when was the last time you paid full retail price for a book? For several major titles, I found I was able to order the hardcover book off of Amazon at close too or less than the eBook price. If there’s a question as to whether this is a book I want to keep, I’d fall on side of buying the physical book. Shipping does add an additional cost, but when was the last time you paid for shipping on Amazon?
However there are books I read that I would likely never read again and would not want to display on a more "formal" bookshelf for the world to see. No, I'm not talking about risque romance novels or anything like that. I'm talking about the other kind of guilty pleasure, mass market science fiction paperbacks. Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. (Don’t laugh - you know we all have our guilty little reading pleasures.) Those are the types of books I see myself reading on the iPad, especially if I can buy them at a discount over their paperback counterparts. It's simply more convenient than running to the bookstore or ordering the book. I found out of the gate that the iBooks store had ample selection including a large catalog of free classic books from the Gutenberg project.
I've already downloaded Star Trek: Voyager Full Circle and gotten several chapters in and have found the reading experience on the iPad to be a joy. Bonus, the backlight screen means that I can read in bed without having the overhead light on and can close my iPad and go to sleep when I'm finished for the night. Again, I prefer reading on the iPad in landscape mode which surprised me, but seeing the double page view feels more like a book. My major concern was eye fatigue from reading on the backlit screen, but so far this hasn’t been a problem.
So we’ve established the iPad is a great device to use around the house, but what about actually using the iPad to get work done? At this point, the iPad will not replace a traditional laptop for most people, but I think that day is coming sooner than we think. In the week since I’ve had the iPad I can tell you that for the first time ever, there have been days that I did not even turn my home computer on.
The iPad isn’t ideal for getting work done on the go, but it will work in a pinch. You will need to invest in an external keyboard as well as the iWork docs that suit your needs. But you can create and format a document, convert it to a PC friendly format and email it off all without leaving the iPad. This blog post was written almost entirely on the iPad, however I did export it to my Mac before publishing so I could add in the photos. If I were publishing a text-only post I could have easily started and finished everything on the iPad.
If you could function on an underpowered-netbook with a cramped keyboard, you would likely be able to get by on an iPad. Sharing and transferring documents is doable, though not as easy as it should be. You can use workarounds like dropbox, iWork.com, third party apps and email to get around some of this. It’s disappointing that there’s no way to share via MobileMe iDisk, but I would hope that’s coming.
Keep in mind I’ve only lived with the iPad for 4 days, so I will still need some time to figure out how it fits into my workflow, but it will fit into my workflow, I’m sure of that. I don’t see myself being able to take the iPad in lieu of my MacBook Pro for a business trip or extended vacation, but for a weekend getaway - absolutely.
Which Model iPad?
I decided to buy the Wi-Fi only model of the iPad and a Verizon MiFi on a pay as you go plan. I’m still happy with that decision, but I do see now how the 3G would be a value add. I haven't had an occasion yet. where I needed the iPad to connect and didn’t have Wi-Fi. I still think my use need for 3G connectivity for the iPad will be fairly rare, and for those occasions I have the MiFi. I can tell you that if I had bought the 3G capable version, I would find myself buying the 3G data plan when perhaps I could have gotten along without it and thus spending a lot more money over the life of the device.
In terms of size, I went with the low-end 16 GB version. This works for me because I don’t intend to use the iPad as a music player and music makes up the bulk of my sync data. My 16GB iPad has 14.2 GB of usable space. I choose the option to convert my higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC when transferring to the iPad and still have a collection of my 500+ favorite songs and more than 50 audio podcasts (I'm a little behind on my listening) taking up less than 4 GB. I use another 3.25 GB for videos (including video podcasts), 900 MB for photos, 645 MB for apps and am still left with 4.81 GB free. That’s a comfortable cushion for me, but I can see the appeal of going with a larger model. If I do want to load my iPad up to take it on the road, I'll simply remove the music and use my iPhone as my music player.
It all really comes down to the cost/benefit. How often you’ll need the additional features and how long you plan to keep your iPad or upgrade to the latest and greatest as new models are released.
Perhaps what I’m most excited about the iPad is how it will grow and evolve over time. As I write this review Apple has announced a press event to show off iPhone OS 4.0, but that event has not yet occurred. I’ve never been more excited about an iPhone OS release, not just because of what it means for the iPhone, but more because of what it means for the iPad. Features such as some multitasking, printing capabilities and better file sharing will only make the iPad more powerful and useful. As MobileMe matures (hard to believe it’s still not there yet) I think we’ll see better integration with the iPad as well.