iPad: worth the hype? My review of the iPad

Apple’s iPad is a very nice device, but it is hardly the ‘magical’ wonder that Apple and it’s CEO try to say it is.ipaddouble The iPad is a product that is hard to describe, especially when it comes to why anyone would  want one, especially at the price point that Apple set for the device.

The Hardware

iPad is a very nice looking device. It is thin, attractively styled and has a good ‘feel’.  The screen is wonderful, but is awful in certain lighting conditions.  When looking directly at the device, you don’t notice how smudgy it can get.  Look at from an angle, however, and you’ll see the smudges.  I don’t, however, find myself constantly wiping the screen like I do with my Palm Pre. 

Audio from the built in speaker is remarkably pleasing.  It is far better than what I had expected from the device.  I have not yet listened to any media via headphones, but I would expect audio quality to be on par with the iPod.

The device has several physical buttons, something that kind of surprised me, given the propensity to leave them off of devices due to a specific person’s alleged dislike of them.  The included buttons are: On/Off, orientation lock and volume up/down.  Also on the device are the connector for audio out and the dock connector.

There is no way to use this thing with out a Windows or Macintosh computer. Once you unbox the device, you MUST dock and sync it with iTunes.  You do not have a choice to set it up on its own.  That’s too bad.  Once you do, you can purchase both apps and media from the device.  It would be nice to be able to register the device without connecting to a computer first.  So far, syncing has not been a problem though I am glad I purchased the 32gb version since I darn near filled it up on the first sync.  I changed the sync settings so that I determine what media gets synced since I use my Zune for music and video and will continue to do so.  Admittedly, the few iTunes TV shows that I did sync look really nice on the device.  However, I don’t have the VGA out connector whereas I do have a video capable dock for my Zune (which outputs great video to my flat panel set.)

I had already downloaded a few apps prior to getting the device and I have downloaded more since getting it in my grubby hands.  I can understand the allure of the App Store:  the more I used it, the more I WANTED to use it and the more I wanted to see what had been developed for the device.  Let me say that there are some very nicely done apps and a few that aren’t so much.  I’ll cover the few that are really nice later in the post.  Once thing I noticed, though, is that the iPhone/iPod Touch apps only look really nice in the 1x mode.  Most got heavily pixilated at 2x.  A couple games that I got that were iPhone games looked fine either way.

The user interface is a bit of a mystery to me.  It is almost as inconsistent as Vista was.  In some places, you’ll swipe left or right to scroll sideways while other times you actually have to press left or right arrow buttons.  It is not always obvious to go back a screen.  Safari took a bit getting used to in its way of handling pop up windows and additional web pages.  It was not clear how to switch between the windows.  Once I figured that out, it was pretty easy but I can see people getting very confused and/or frustrated.  Overall, however, the UI is pretty clean and pleasant. 

The setup app is very busy but not hard to use.  My only real complaint was in setting up the Wi-Fi.  Entering my network key was as cumbersome on the iPad as it was on my Zune HD and it has more to do with the on-screen keyboard than anything else.  The way Apple and Microsoft implemented the on-screen keyboard is probably the best compromise, but it is still on the cumbersome side.  The problem: you have to switch between alpha and numeric keys and when you are entering a 26 digit hexadecimal key, that gets cumbersome.  It took me three tries to get it right.  In normal text entry, it’s not that bad, but when entering hex numbers, which use the digits 0 through 9 and the letters A through F, well, you can see how that would get tricky.

Apps

The apps are what make the device drool worthy. Apple includes a few basic apps like email, calendar, the Safari browser, a YouTube app, the App Store app and iTunes.  You also get the iPod player, a video player and more.  Those are fine but the good stuff comes from the app store itself.  No matter what you think you are going to use this thing for, the App store will have an app for something you didn’t think of and you’ll wonder why you didn’t.  And no matter what apps you buy, Pages is THE app you must buy.  Pages is a really, really nicely done word processor.  It is really easy to use, looks fantastic and has a lot utility. I imagine Keynote and the spreadsheet app are probably just as useful. 

The App Store app does not seem to give you the full App Store experience.  Unless I am missing something, you only get the top fifty or so apps in each category’s ‘Whats hot’ section.  I couldn’t figure out how to see them all and not just the ‘hot’ apps.  You can, however, pay on the device and download directly.  That’s a great feature. 

There are a few apps that are, I’d say, ‘essential’ for a broad range of uses.  They are:

  • EverNote – I’m a huge OneNote fan, but EverNote’s ability to sync among devices is very handy.  I am now syncing several computers, my Pre and, now, the iPad. I can have my data just about anywhere and from any of my devices.  (Free)
  • Pages – See my comments about Pages above. ($9.95)
  • Yahoo! Entertainment – Get general entertainment news, view interviews and other entertainment related clips and keep up with your television listings.  (Free)
  • ePocrates – Look up medicines, interactions, side effects, etc. (Free to $200, depending on the service you want.)
  • USA Today – A very nicely done app that pretty much resembles the actual paper. (Free)
  • iBooks – Very good eBook reader.  The iBook store is light on content at the moment. (Free for iBook reader, books vary in price)
  • Kindle Reader – An Excellent software version of the Kindle device.  Not as elegant as the iBook software, but easy to use and syncs your books between devices. (Software is Free, books vary in price)
  • Tweetdeck – Twitter client (Free)
  • GoodReader – GoodReader provides an alternate method for getting PDF’s, text files and other types of files on the device.  Very handy. (Free)
  • Pandora and ABC Player – two media players, one for streaming audio (Pandora) and one for watching your favorite ABC television programming. (both are Free)

Games

I have not  even scratched the surface for games, but here are a few that we like so far:

  • Diner Dash – My son is addicted to this game.  The version available is for the iPhone.($2.99)
  • Boggle – I’m addicted to this one.  Again, it is an iPhone game. ($2.99)
  • Air Coaster XL – an iPad Rollercoaster designer. (Free)
  • VH-1 Intellivision – I was surprised to see this one, but very happy.  It is difficult to play with the touch controls, but I will get the hang of it.

I’m sure we’ll be playing more games on this thing.  Some games we want to play include Shrek Kart HD (I have this for the Pre and it is very much like Mario Kart), N.O.V.A and a few of the 3D shoot ‘em ups.  Need For Speed looks awesome as well.  I could go broke buying apps for this thing. Which brings me to this…

Pricing for the apps is very low, for the most part, and that is a problem.  It is a problem for the developer, for the customer and for Apple.  Let me explain.  First, for developers, most will now have to price apps under ten dollars.  That means that they have to sell tons of them to make back the investment in time and resources.  As a developer myself, I find this to be an issue.  It also gives the impression that one’s work is not worth much.  For Apple, it cuts into the amount of money that they can make from apps.  For users, the low cost and ease with which you can buy these things is, or can be, a real problem.  ‘Its only two dollars’ or ‘its only ninety-nine cents’ makes it easy to justify a purchase. Problem is, you do that twenty times and, suddenly, you’ve spent twenty to forty dollars.  I can see this becoming a real problem for some.  In the space of ten minutes, I spent about fifteen dollars, and that does not include my purchase of Pages, which is ten bucks.  Maybe the confusing mess of the App Store in iTunes on the computer is a blessing.  I got put off a few times just browsing the App Store.  Self control will key here.

Complaints

I have two minor complaints about the hardware.  The first I’ve seen in just about all of the reviews:  iPad is a bit hefty.  It is a bit heavy to hold for any length of time.  My other complaint is that you cannot charge it while it is connected to your computer. This is the first device I’ve owned that would not charge while connected to my computer.  Weird.

I have several major complaints with Apple themselves.  My biggest complaint is the availability of the device.  I first went to my local Apple Store and, of course, they were out of stock.  When I managed to get a team member’s attention, he was very terse in his response to my questions.  Rather than offering to order me an iPad, show how to order an iPad or even telling me to get lost, he simply turned his attention to someone else.  Mind you, the store is located in a more affluent part of the Richmond area and happened to contain, at the time, a fair number of people, most of which were very attractive young ladies.  Put off, I left the store and decided to just forget about the iPad.  However, I had actually used one in the store and could not shake the damned thing.  I WANTED one. So, I went online to order it.  That was on the 17th of April.  The invoice said it would SHIP in five to seven days and I should get it between the 27th and the third of May.  I wasn’t really happy about that, but ordered one anyway.  Note that I had called a local Best Buy and was told that they and the other BB’s in the area were out of stock and were not expecting any until May!  As I found out, that was not correct.  I discovered that Best Buy had, in fact, gotten more during the week.  However, the Apple Store did not.  Say what?  Yeah, odd.  So, the Best Buy that is located near the Apple Store said they were out of stock and that none of the stores in the region had ANY of them in stock.  On a lark, i dropped by a closer Best Buy and was told that they had sold out of the 32 gb iPad the night before but a store just north of Richmond had five.  Having to drive up that way anyway, I decided to make a detour and get one there.  Sure enough, they had five 32gb iPads in stock, but had sold the last 16gb iPad just before I arrived. So, I purchased one there.  Now, keep in mind that the iPad I had order STILL HAD NOT SHIPPED, nearly a week after ordering it.  My credit card had not been charged either.  So, I cancelled the order and was happy to have given Best Buy my money and not that damned Apple Store, which I probably will never shop in.  Twice I’ve gotten rude answers and little help there.  That is enough for me.  I expect that type of service from McDonald’s, not somewhere that I would be spending six hundred dollars. That Apple Store, by the way, is my second big comlaint.  My third big complaint is iTunes.  Man, what a real piece of crap.  I wrote about it earlier.  Sigh. Apple’s pricing is another major complaint.  EVERYTHING is overpriced.  The bloody dock I got, for example, was thirty bucks and didn’t even come with another sync cable.  Really? 

Conclusion

Overall, however, the iPad is truly a great device.  The form factor, for me, is perfect. The fit and finish is outstanding.  It looks terrific and is, for the most part, easy to use.  The UI inconsistencies can be overlooked because of the usefulness of the product.  The battery life is superb:  six hours of near continuous use only drained the battery to about fifty percent and it was nearly fully charged when I took it out of the box.  Apple got that and a lot right with the iPad.  This is the first Apple product that I purchased.  It may not be the last either. I won’t be ditching Windows for Mac OS X, but I can see purchasing another iPad or, gasp, an iPhone.  Color me impressed and very happy with iPad.

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