Hardware Review: iPad First Look
iPads are the hot commodity right now. The Wagamer's Jim Zabek shares his initial thoughts on it.
Yesterday I bought an iPad. Having used it for less than 24 hours my intent here is to provide some first impressions of it rather than a hard core hardware evaluation. Although my time with it has been brief, I think it is fair to say that the iPad is sufficiently simple to use that even after a brief evaluation it is possible to share some general thoughts about it.
The reason to buy an iPad will vary from person to person. Word of mouth from a friend told me that he thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was more skeptical but my soon to be 11 year old daughter was pleading for it, willing to trade all other birthday presents, her birthday party (we usually spend a hundred to two hundred bucks hosting a party with friends), and much of her Christmas presents in order to get one. My wife was considering an iPod Touch, elected instead to call the iPad a shared item with my daughter, and the deal was sealed.
Getting an iPad isnít easy. You have to want one. I surfed around Appleís website to buy one, then wanted to pick it up in the store (the thinking was that our daughter could have the ďApple experienceĒ, whatever that meant). But you canít do that. A buyer can either order it online and have it shipped directly to an address (a signature is required), or he can go down to the Apple store, ďreserveĒ one with an Apple ID (your iTunes ID). That will then put you on a list. The Apple store will receive exactly the number of iPads pre-registered. You will get an email notifying you of its arrival, and you will then have 24 hours to pick it up. After that 24 hours the iPad will be released to the general public. So if youíve ever walked into an Apple store and asked if they had any in stock, the answer is typically no, because most pre-registered orders are picked up.
Of course my wife had me scouring my spam boxes in a frenzy of paranoia that the one email that would be eaten by the spam filter would be the one notifying us of when our iPad arrived. By a stroke of fate, things didnít work out that way. Other retailers besides Apple do carry iPads, and as luck would have it we ended up getting one that was an open box, possibly returned as an unwanted Motherís Day gift. So one lucky duck is going to walk into our local Apple store sometime soon and get the one we pre-ordered. For what itís worth, our pre-order was placed a week ago and weíve heard nothing as of this writing.
My first impression of an iPad was that it was essentially a giant iPhone sans ability to call people. Now that I own one I can confirm that impression is unchanged. If you like your iPhone and donít mind paying a multiple of the cost to get a larger one, you will love the iPad.
The biggest benefit of the iPad is the larger screen. The next one is the battery life. I havenít recharged ours yet, but I have spoken with several friends who tell me eight to ten hours of battery life is the norm. We played with it for a couple of hours last night and the battery is still hovering around the 70% mark. I have no reason to doubt the reports of itís longevity. Contrast that with the iPhone: I get no more than about four hours of continuous use out of my iPhone Ė by that I mean playing with it, calling people, surfing the web. It will run a couple of days if I donít use it, but when I use it heavily I have to be very cautious about being close to power. I have power inverters in both cars, so I can charge it in the car if needed. The iPad will eventually need to be recharged, but it appears to not suffer from too short of a batter life.
The iPad I bought is a 32GB with 3G capability. I havenít activated the 3G yet, but expect to do so today. Currently the only option appears to be AT&Tís service. The purpose of this article isnít to compare and contrast various wireless services, but I think itís worth noting here that the advertising wars between AT&T and Verizon. Verizon claims to have significantly greater 3G coverage than AT&T, while AT&T claims its 3G network is the fastest. AT&T also claims that it has a network that covers the vast majority of the
Iíve had my iPhone for six months and have travelled across the
Let me turn my attention back to the 32GB of memory. By almost any measure of hardware specifications, Apples are more costly than corresponding PCs. Tablet PCís offer somewhere close to ten times the hard drive memory of an iPad for a similar amount of money. Even netbooks appear more robust in terms of hardware. But the iPad isnít just about the hardware, is it?
Apple has a several things going for it that laptops and netbooks do not. There is a cachet to many Apple products that lends an air that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To some degree thatís true. The iPad is pretty nifty. Much lighter and more portable than a laptop itís easy to reach for and can accomplish many tasks that heavier, clunkier, and less suave machines do.
With additional accessories like a keyboard it can be a closer substitute for a laptop or netbook. Regardless of that fact, and the fact that at least one friend has dumped his notebook for the iPad, I do not foresee that happening in my circumstance. Why? There are differences between the platforms. The iPad has effectively no ports with which to connect anything except its power cord and proprietary keyboard. Even USB ports are missing. Want to print a document? Maybe if you have a Bluetooth enabled printer you could. Otherwise, I donít see an immediately obvious place to do that. My kids have to write reports, do research on the web, and a few assorted other tasks all of which need to be printed. In discussion accessories I think one of the things that might be easy to overlook would be the keyboard. With a laptop and netbook the screen and keyboard are attached to each other and move as one. It may not be a big deal to some, but instead of a single, larger laptop, the iPad compels you to take at least two objects instead of one. Itís probably not a dealbreaker, but juggling, storing, and hauling more stuff is at least a small consideration if youíre banking on a keyboard. For me, if I get to using the iPad on a regular basis (something I donít think will happen) a keyboard will be a must. I know how to type, and I type fast and well. The flat keyboard of the iPad is fine for those whose typing style is best described as ďhunt and peckĒ. For those of us who really, really typeÖthe lack of tactile feel of the keyboard makes it almost impossible to type correctly on the iPad.
Games on the iPhone have become such a big deal that Nintendo has openly declared the iPhone to be its biggest rival. At a couple of bucks per app for a game the iPhone has become a second gaming platform for me, well ahead of any console I own. So far almost every app I own Ė and every game Ė that is on my iPhone works fine on the iPad. More compelling is the fact that most games offer a 2x button that allows you to double the screen size from the default size of the iPhone to double. A couple of things are worth noting here. First, many of these games are not optimized to have their graphics doubled, and they become noticeably, but not fatally, pixilated. Second, some of them are less challenging. Games like iBomber and Buck Hunter are based around the ability to place a reticule or your finger on a precise point on the screen. Doubling the size of the screen removes much of the challenge, and I immediately saw my score on Buck Hunter improve with a bigger target. Other games, like AC-130, were actually more fun for the increase in size.
It almost could go without saying that pictures look great on the iPad. The screen is a beautiful crystal clear surface and images absolutely pop. Apple has long been known for its graphical quality and the iPad is no exception.
The 32 GB memory of the iPad that I bought is the mid-sized one. A 16 GB and 64 GB version are also available. Selecting the proper size will be directly a function of the media in your iTunes system. A half-dozen or so movies, five days worth of music (iTunes literally counts the minutes in your music library and adds them so you know how long your entire library is along with the length of any playlists) and the assorted apps gave me an all-in footprint of around 24GB, so 32 was the obvious choice. I realize I donít have as much music and all as some folks, but I might have more than others. Deciding the size of iPad you might want to purchase comes down to how much electronic media you want to tote around.
And with that, I guess I should drawn my first impressions article to a close. I think Iíve hit all of the significant features of the iPad. The hardwareís battery, screen, and memory. The games and apps. The network, the intangibles, and the practical application. If youíre an early adopter, youíve already got one. If youíre thinking about it, I hope that the above will help to shape a decision. Itís clear that no one ďneedsĒ an iPad. If youíre buying it for the cachet, donít let me stop you. For games? Ah, that remains to be seen. Iíve read that Apple plans on pricing its iPad games at around the $15 price pointÖwell above the $3 to $8 range for iPhone games. At $15, now weíre looking at bargain bin pricing of PC games. How that plays out with consumers remains to be seen, but Iím not convinced that the iPadís $15 games are going to be a winning strategy. However, will over a million units sold already, the user base is large enough that it may spawn some very excellent games. Time will tell.
So, ďWhatís the verdict?Ē you ask. The iPad as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But not by a lot. My wife and kids already love it. Itís the shiny new toy, but I think the practicality of picking it up to check the weather or the news will give it the edge over a laptop. Less convenient than an iPhone, but with a larger screen, the iPad clearly has a niche. It isnít going to replace laptops or netbooks until it grows some USB ports (at a minimum Ė Iíd add that 64 GB of memory is pretty weak, too). But for having around the house for a quick look at the web, an update to Facebook, or for watching your own private movie itís definitely solid. I expect the universe of apps and games to quickly grow and if youíre on the fence you should keep a close eye on this aspect because Iíll go out on a limb and predict eventually something will get developed for almost everyone. Pricey? You bet. iPads do not come cheap. But it may fill a need some of us didnít even know we had.