iPad Review – is it an iFad?

This review is about the new Apple iPad. I am lucky enough to have one from my place of work for testing purposes (thats what IT professionals call it when they get new toys to play with). I have been testing the 64gb 3G version. The six different models are:

16gb, 32gb and 64gb all with and without 3G.

The 3G model requires a micro sim, which is a normal sim card but Less plastic around it. As our provider Optus was unable to get any, they unofficially advised us just to cut up a regular sim down to size. I did this, and it worked first time! I have no idea why Apple decided to go against the current standard, it’s not like normal sims are very large anyway.

So, I opened up my sparkly new iPad and powered it up. I am immediately told to connect it to iTunes… Great. Another thing that I’m not sure why apple forces, but it only takes a few seconds and then starts up properly. I am then greeted with an eerie desktop with some pretty mountains and stars. I look at the shortcuts that come with it by default, and become unimpressed.

Rather uninspiring. I start by setting up my Exchange email account which is very easy to do, same process as an iPhone using ActiveSync. After this, I realise for some good functionality I’ll have to check out the App Store. In my opinion, this is the one thing that separated the iPhone from any other phone at the time – any easily accessible central store with free and very cheap apps. For the iPad, the first half of the same statement is true. Apps aren’t as cheap for the iPad, and the free options are currently rather limited.

An example of this is a highly popular game called Angry Birds. On the iPhone it is a cheap $1.19 but the iPad $5.99. Of course the iPad version is HD but why such a markup? Oh, you CAN run iphone apps on the iPad, and reinstall previously bought ones, but they either run at the same size as they would on an iPhone, or at 2x zoom, which looks rather hideous. Just think of running your screen back at the old 640 x 480 resolution and you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, I did find a few free apps. There are a few new innovative ones, such as browse4two which allows two people, one at each end of the iPad, to simultaneously browse separate web pages. The keyboard is shared, but a button will switch it from one end of the screen to the other.

An interesting free game was Racecar, a top down view racing game, similar to a very old Slicks. The quirk with this one, is that it is up to 4 players at once, each using a corner of the iPad to control their car. So it looks like developers are making more use of the multiple touch screen and I hope to see some other new apps.

There are also other apps which can extend your Mac desktop onto your iPad – which is a rather cool idea, but apparently slow. I haven’t tested this as I don’t have a Mac, and there’s no Windows version yet.

Since apple changed their policies, you can now download free apps that charge you once you’re inside it. Some of the magazine apps do this and a lot of the ‘lite’ apps let you upgrade to the full version inside.

What I don’t get is the absolute basic functionality that comes with the iPad. You are paying up to $1000 for a device that does very little out of the box. Compare it to a $200 net book and I see it as a hard sell. But, people have gone crazy over this device. Why? I think some of it is the Apple hype, which Apple really do well. Yes, I was excited opening up the fresh new box – but personally it really didn’t last long.

Pros: It is a pretty device with a pretty interface. You do want to pick one up and play with it to see what it’s about. The battery life is great – it can easily survive a working day, and that’s because almost all the inside is a giant battery. You have access to a store with now over 200,000 applications which you’ll never get through. It always sits there waiting to go, you just pick it up and start using it. It is also relatively compact. It does make a great document reader, and a lot of papers and magazines are releasing apps for this purpose. You can even get a Kindle app! The iPad is very responsive to commands, and handles screen rotation incredibly well. You never feel like the device is running slow.

Cons: Price. The iPad isn’t cheap for what it does. Nor are the apps. There is no multitasking currently (this is claimed to be an addition when OS 4 comes out in August) which makes doing more than one thing tedious. If you want to find a bunch of apps in the app store you have to do it one by one, and each time you download one, you’ll be booted back to your desktop. In a business environment, you have no control over the iPad. You can lock down acme things when you first get one before deploying to a used, but that’s it. Everyone needs this paid app? Well they will all need an iTunes account with a credit card and manually download the app. Updates are also user controlled only. Then there’s the whole Adobe Flash support which is non-existant. I also tried to open a Quicktime video which I had been emailed – after downloading the 3.6mb file, it told me it couldn’t play it. Thanks for letting me know AFTER I’ve wasted my bandwidth. Some websites don’t work properly either – Safari support needs to improve. Also, there’s no USB port. You can buy an official Apple adapter to convert the normal plug to usb for only $39, of which I would guess $38 is profit.

The Rest: The onscreen keyboard is good, but still doesn’t match a real one. You can connect a keyboard via Bluetooth but to me that seems to defeat the purpose. The iPad is touted as a brilliant web browsing device. I’ll agree it’s the best touch screen experience, but it doesn’t have absolute basic functionality like text searching a webpage. You can buy a 3rd party add-on to do that for $2.49 though!

Summary: The iPad is a good start to making these devices more common, but if you have a good mobile and a good laptop, why bother? It doesn’t give you any more functionality, and is only slightly more convenient. It’s too large to carry around, you might as well have a laptop with you. It is a nice lounge room device, but to me just seems lacking. What it can do, it does very well. For the right person, this device will be good. The basic use who does a bit of browsing may like this rather than a laptop, and more so when things like Web Office are more common. It’s slightly awkward to use too being completely flat. I have typed this whole article from the iPad, and the spelling correction is great, but going back and fixing mistakes is painful. Watch out for some good Android touch devices for competition and more open access to the device.

NB: From my personal experience, I had 14 guests over who all had a look at the iPad. They all thought it was an interesting device, but nobody actually wanted to buy one.

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