The Apple iPad runs iPhone OS 3.2, the debut of this version of Apple’s mobile operating system. It’s almost identical to the OS that runs on this company’s smartphones and handhelds, which has pros and cons.
The software on the tablet is blazingly fast, thanks in part to its 1 GHz processor. It makes the average netbook look positively sluggish. The device is ready to go the instant you touch the power button, and apps like the word processor load virtually instantaneously.
And because the iPad uses the same OS as the iPhone, it can run most of its 150,000 or so apps. Though many of these were designed for a 3.5-inch screen, they can be pixel-doubled to almost fill the iPad’s screen. However, fonts and images are a bit pixilated (see an example). Still, a growing number of titles have been tuned for the iPad’s 9.7-inch display.
The primary downside of the iPhone OS is its anemic support for multitasking. This doesn’t mean there’s no support for multi-tasking, however. As long as you’re using the built-in software, you can easily switch between apps without them closing.
Third-party apps, on the other hand, do close when you switch away from them. But this is a temporary drawback: Apple is building much more support for multitasking into iPhone OS 4.0, and an update is coming this fall.
Another downside is that you’re going to need a second computer to set up the iPad and to install OS upgrades. After that, though, this tablet is on a fairly long leash in most respects.
Because of its much larger and higher resolution screen, the iPad definitely offers a better option than the iPhone for almost everything you do, and nowhere is this more obvious than when you’re surfing the Web or watching video.
Using the device to access websites is like you’re using a desktop, not a smartphone or handheld. Because of the high-resolution screen and powerful browser there are few compromises. The only caveat is that there’s no support for Flash, but Apple is doing everything it can to make sure that doesn’t matter.
I have have happily watched a movie on the iPad, an activity most people won’t do on a pocket-size device. Even video on YouTube looks good. I’ve had to come up with a stand that that can hold the iPad when it’s in landscape mode, however, as Apple’s standard docks only offer portrait mode.
The version of iTunes that comes on this tablet lets you buy songs and videos, download podcasts, etc, so you don’t need to depend on a PC for this.
Apple is emphasizing eBook reading, and I’ve tried out its iBooks app. I wasn’t impressed and quickly switched to the iPad version of the Amazon Kindle software. The Kindle app offers features not in iBooks, Amazon’s store has a much greater selection, and Amazon’s prices are lower.
There’s one more thing to keep in mind: the iPad is lightweight for a small computer, but it’s heavy for an eBook reader – about 50% heavier than the Amazon Kindle 2. After holding it up for 15 or 20 minutes, it starts to get heavy. I’m building up my forearm muscles using it.
I’ll confess, I haven’t paid much attention to gaming on the iPad, as this tablet doesn’t come with any games. Still, there’s a growing collection of third-party titles being created for this device.
Email can be drawn from consumer services like Google or Yahoo and business users can connect to a Microsoft Exchange Server.
Your calendar and address book can also be synchronized with consumer or business servers, wther that’s Google or Exchange.
I really like how the the PIM apps have been designed so it looks like you’re working with a paper calendar or address book, with the different panes being the different pages.
The Notes application literally looks like a notepad, with a yellow background and ruled lines. The font looks like it’s been handwritten.
For an extra fee, Apple is offering software to allow users to do word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. TabletPCReview.com will be publishing an in-depth review of these in the near future.
All versions of the iPad have built-in Wi-Fi. This feature is critical — I was recently trying to demonstrate this device to a friend in a place with no Wi-Fi access, and it really drove home that without an Internet connection most of the features are unavailable.
Those who want to be sure this never happens to them should look at the versions the iPad that can connect to AT&T’s 7.2 Mbps 3G network. The device itself will cost extra, plus you’ll need to pay $14.99 for 250 MB of data or $29.99 for a month of unlimited data. This will be pre-paid directly on the slate, and no contract will be required. During the time you have 3G service, you will also have access to all of AT&T’s Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S.
Just to make it clear, even though this tablet will be able to connect to AT&T’s data network, it will have no access to this carrier’s voice network.
All versions of the iPad also have Bluetooth, handy for wireless accessories like the keyboard I mentioned earlier. But the iPhone OS supports very, very few accessories.
The price Apple is asking for each version of the iPad is directly related to its storage capacity. The version with 16 GB of capacity sells for $500, the 32 GB one goes for $600, and the 64 GB version costs $700. Those who chose to add 3G capabilities will have to add $130 to these prices.
As mentioned earlier, there is no memory card slot, so there is no way to add additional built-in storage. The closest approximation available is wirelessly accessing remote servers for additional storage.
The iPad’s battery life is one of its strong points. It is long enough that the only time I’ve run the battery down in a single day was when I was testing it to see how long it would last.
Apple promises 10 hours on a single charge, and I’d say I’m getting at least 8 hours with heavy use: Wi-Fi on constantly, screen brightness above 50%, lots of multimedia, that sort of thing. If all you’re doing is reading an ebook with Wi-Fi off, I can see it lasting well beyond 10 hours.
As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the iPad’s greathest strengths. HP is prepping a tablet computer that will offer many more features, but it will also have half the battery life.