The Apple iPad is an attempt to launch a new class of devices, more than a smartphone but less than a laptop. For some it's the product they've been looking for all their lives, for others it's no better than an iPod touch with a glandular problem.
Its strengths are its beautiful 9.7-inch touchscreen, 1.5 pound weight, and extremely long battery life. Its weakness include its weak support for multitasking, lack of Adobe Flash, and no memory card slot.
The iPad is available now starting at $500 and going up to $830, depending on configuration.
BUILD & DESIGN
Like all tablets, this device is basically a netbook without a keyboard, which allows it to be smaller and lighter without sacrificing much functionality.
It is definitely more portable than your average laptop or even netbook, but you're going to need to add some bulk with a case. I can't imagine anyone carrying this computer around without some additional protection for the display.
The centerpiece of the device is its 9.7-inch touchscreen with a 1024 x 768 pixel resolution. It's the iPad's most critical feature, so it's a good thing that it's beautiful. Colors are vibrant, fonts are crystal clear and the support for a wide selection of viewing angles is amazing.
While this screen looks great indoors, outdoors is another matter. It's fine in full shade, but if I go out in the sun I have to turn the backlight all the way up and carefully pick the direction I'm facing to be able to get anything done -- it's basically a hassle.
Orientation switches automatically, depending on how you hold it. Most of the time this is good, but if you are using the iPad flat on a table, the orientation will switch back and forth at semi-random. Fortunately, there's a small switch you can flick that locks the screen into its current orientation.
Because we're talking about a touchscreen, it's inevitably going to collect fingerprints. Apple has included a coating that's supposed to minimize them, and while it's helping a little, I suspect most users are going to carry around a cleaning cloth.
The iPad's keyboard is probably going to keep more people away than any other feature. A device of this size that depends on a screen keyboard is definitely controversial when people are more accustomed to laptops with large keyboards.
How you use the keyboard depends on how you are holding the iPad. In portrait mode, you hold the device between your hands and type with both thumbs. I have average-size hands, and I find this to be just barely possible; hitting the keys in the middle of the keyboard is kind of a stretch. The process puts a strain on my wrists; I'd write a short note or a quick email this way, but not much else.
Switching the iPad to landscape mode opens a much larger keyboard. To type on this, you have to put the tablet on a table or in your lap. In this mode, my typing speed shoots way up. But keep in mind, when you're typing you can't do like you do with a physical keyboard and rest your fingers on the keys. You have to hold your hands above the keyboard.
I'm a proficient hunt-and-peck typer, and I'm probably getting 20 words per minute, if not more. I'd happily write long emails or documents using this method.
If you want more efficient typing, you can get an external keyboard. Apple is offering one that also acts as a dock. If this intersted you, I've written a review of it.
There are other options too. The Apple Bluetooth keyboard works fine with the iPad, and I was able to connect to a third-party portable Bluetooth keyboard I've had for years.
The iPad's design is very simple, with a minimum number of buttons, ports, etc. It's a clean look, but somewhat limits what you can do with the device.
Most notably, there's no removable memory card slot, so there is no way to extend the storage capacity. There's also no GPS and no camera, and no way to add them.
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