One of the very positive experiences almost everyone who has spent extended time with the iPad reports is the device’s exceptional battery life. Apple really went above and beyond with the design of the iPad to keep battery life in the double digits, and it shows. Customers who are used to taking manufacturers’ battery life claims with a grain of salt will be pleasantly surprised. Accessing data over 3G takes more energy than accessing the same data over Wi-Fi, and Apple adjusted their expectations accordingly: while the iPad with Wi-Fi only scores a 10-hour rating, the same iPad with 3G garners only 9.
To test the iPad, we charged it to 100%, then set out to use the device pretty much constantly. Wi-Fi was turned off in settings, and 3G turned on while the backlight was set to roughly 40%; additionally, the iPad was within at least three bars of AT&T’s 3G service the entire time. Over the course of the day, we streamed 30 minutes of video from Netflix, watched a couple of YouTube videos, played several different applications, downloaded a couple of new ones from the App Store, listened to some audio content and heavily browsed the web. While driving, the iPad displayed the iPad’s map program with GPS turned on and tracking the vehicle.
The test was started at 9:53 a.m. Despite using the iPad almost constantly throughout the day, it still retained 10% of its battery 10 hours and 12 minutes later. Different users will get different battery times, of course, depending on how and where they use the device. Running programs that are heavy on CPU power will definitely cut down on the iPad’s usable time, as will running the slate in areas with weak cellular signals – the radio uses extra power searching for a signal.
Data Subscriptions: 250MB or Unlimited?
Just like the Wi-Fi-only model, the 3G version must still be activated before it can be used to do anything. Activation requires access to a computer running iTunes; even though the 3G-equipped iPad can access the Internet, it can’t be used for self-activation. Purchasing the data plan, at least, is very easy and can be done over the AT&T network; users don’t have to activate it at a Wi-Fi access point. This is a huge boon for users who proactively buy the 3G iPad in order to forestall being without Internet access at a future date.
Apple convinced AT&T to handle the data plans for the iPad differently from just about any other device on any cellular network in the country. Users have two options available: a 250MB plan for $14.99 per month, or an unlimited amount of data for $29.99 per month. Both are available without any kind of contract – though it’s worth noting that the fine print of the $29.99 plan includes a line saying that the fee is recurring monthly until cancellation – and include access to any of AT&T’s Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. While heavy Internet users are advised to subscribe to the $30 plan, the 250MB offering may suffice for those who really just need something to check their email or the occasional text-heavy website while on the road.
The GPS functionality, at least, is unlocked at purchase and its use requires no extra subscription or fees. We tested the GPS in the iPad 3G (note: GPS is only available on the 3G model, not on the Wi-Fi only model) within its built-in maps application. Indoors, lock was acquired in a decent amount of time – a tight circle was shown within fifteen seconds or so. Outside, however, in a car, the lock was substantially faster – under ten seconds. Additionally, the GPS tracked the car closely as it was driven around, so users shouldn’t fear being able to use the iPad to keep track of where they are. When you look at how much companies charged for large personal navigation devices for cars as late as last year, the price of the iPad 3G seems much more reasonable.
On one hand, the 3G-equipped version of the Apple iPad creates a user experience no different than the one offered by its substantially cheaper sibling. Apart from a couple of minor design changes, it’s the same shell, with the same hardware, all running an upscaled version of Apple’s iPhone OS software. On the other hand, it’s so much more. Despite the negative press that AT&T gets for its 3G network, it still covers a substantial area. Using the iPad with ubiquitous Internet is a different experience than planning ahead and trying to find a Wi-Fi access point.
I didn’t expect to enjoy using the iPad to the extent that I felt during this review. Apple may have received some criticism for calling the iPad their answer to the swell of inexpensive netbooks that have flooded the market, but having spent a substantial amount of time using one, the conclusion is understandable. It’s definitely a different experience – the iPad can’t run most traditional computer programs, it can’t be expanded, can’t use a mouse – the list goes on and on. For many people, however, that doesn’t make it any less useful – just more fun.
- Internet everywhere (almost)
- Long battery life
- GPS functionality
- 3G is an extra $130
- Crippled video apps