The Apple iPad launched today, and the tremendous amount of attention it has attracted caused most of us to ask ourselves, “Do I need a tablet computer?” At this point, I think the answer might be “yes.” At least for a lot of people.
Some people have been quick to dismiss the iPad as nothing but an iPod Touch with a glandular problem, but the iPad is four or five times bigger than an iPod Touch, which means it is about four or five times more useful.
This new device is an excellent combination of power and portability. I have only been testing it for a few hours and it’s possible my opinion might change, but right now I have no doubt Apple has a winner.
BUILD & DESIGN
The iPad is basically a netbook without a keyboard, which allows it to be smaller and lighter without sacrificing much functionality.
The iPad 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.
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 it. 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 device on a table or in your lap. Once I did that, my typing speed shoots way up. It’s not possible to touch type, but 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 going to offer one that also acts as a dock, but there are other options too. The Apple Bluetooth keyboard works fine with the iPad, and I was able to connect to an old portable Bluetooth keyboard I’ve had for years.
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