While our US cousins already have their hands on Cupertino's latest touchscreen creation, Australians are still awaiting details of iPad pricing and release dates. Of course the grey market was always going to meet demand and iPads are already trickling into the country via international flights and express couriers. For around $100, FedEx can ship an iPad across the globe in three or four days.
Beautiful hardware, and a magnet for dust
When you first handle an iPad you're struck by how elegant it looks, the silver and black styling reminiscent of the original iPhone 2G. Early reports of the generous bezel created images of an awkward and unwieldy device, but the iPad feels perfectly balanced in either hand - solid but not heavy, large but not cumbersome.
Unfortunately it's a magnet for fingerprints and dust, although like the iPhone you don't really notice the smudges once you light up the bright, crisp 9.7-inch display and tilt the screen so it's facing you.
|Before the dust started settling: the iPad is undeniably a thing of beauty, though as we soon discovered, that screen has some drawbacks
Out of the box - firing up the wonder tablet
Fire up the iPad and the first thing it does is ask for iTunes 9.1. Setup is straight forward, although strangely it insisted my MacBook had been previously synced with an iPad and asked if I wanted to restore from a previous backup (which was an iPhone backup). I declined, set up the iPad as a new device and everything went smoothly.
The iPad picked up my Australian iTunes account details and imported all my iPhone apps from my MacBook - even those purchased with my US iTunes account. None of the settings were imported.
The iPad even imported the apps that won't work such as sat-nav (the TomTom app is convinced it now resides on an iPod). iTunes now classifies three of my apps as "iPhone, iPod touch and iPad apps" - Planets, Kindle and Logmein Ignition. Large screen versions have been installed on the iPad and they look fantastic.
|Decisions. If we owned the one on the right, we'd find the one on the left a bit hard to justify, even though we're very impressed.
That display - yes it really is exquisite
As with the iPhone, the iPad's display is exquisite - making it hard not to fall in love with the device at first sight. Images and colours are deep and vibrant, plus the iPad's extra grunt under the bonnet makes menus and animations silky smooth.
When it comes to using the iPad you don't need to press hard, just gently caress the screen and it responds to your every touch. The interface is amazingly intuitive and engrossing to the point where you absent-mindedly find yourself trying to flick menus with your finger on your notebook and other non-touchscreen devices.
And the screen glare - it really is that bad
Unfortunately the iPad's Kryptonite is direct sunlight - get it outside on a bright day and even at full brightness you can barely see the screen for your own reflection (similar to the new LED-backlit MacBooks). The reflection is far worse than the reflection off my iPhone 3G.
Sunlight also shows up every little fingerprint on the iPad, making the device all but useless unless you constantly wipe off the screen. As such it's surprising Apple doesn't include a cloth as it does with some MacBooks. The terrible screen glare is a major blow to those who envisioned the iPad as the ultimate device on the go.
Shooting stars and animations
The iPad interface lets you double the size of iPhone apps, which is generally okay for images and games but rather clunky for text. Thankfully applications remember their zoom settings.
|You don't need to press hard on the iPad screen. The interface is so responsive and engrossing we found ourselves accidentally swiping our laptop screen afterwards. Shown in the picture is Google Maps.
Developers have been quick to embrace the iPad format - for example the weather icons are now animated in the Australian Pocket Weather app, while shooting stars cross the night sky in the Kindle app. Such touches are indicative of the iPad user experience. After a while your fingertips become quite sensitive and it feels strange to type on a physical keyboard again.
The iPad's keyboard - surprisingly functional, but there's a problem
Dipping into the applications gives you the first taste of the iPad's keyboard - which naturally has more generous spacing between the keys than its iPhone equivalent. Apple's impressive auto-correct feature allows one-finger typists to reach impressive speeds, although the larger keyboard slows you down slightly because your finger has farther to travel.
Switching to landscape mode offers a surprisingly functional experience for touch typists, although proficient iPhone typists will be annoyed that Apple has relocated a few keys such as Return and Backspace.
|Auto-correct will get a workout. Excellent for one finger typing, potentially awkward if you pretend it's a laptop.
Our biggest concern - typing two-handed gets a little...awkward
Mentioning the keyboard brings us to one of my biggest concerns about the iPad - Apple's claims regarding two-handed typing in landscape mode. Watch Apple's iPad demo videos and you'll see smiling fanboys typing with the iPad on their lap whilst twisted in all kinds of backbreaking positions - positions that you might get away with on your couch but not on the bus or in a cafe.
Sitting the iPad flat on your lap quickly becomes uncomfortable and is fraught with danger for both the iPad and your neck. Raising your knees improves the typing experience but also raises the chances of a sore back or, worse yet, your slippery iPad crashing to the floor.
I'd say forget about word processing, the iPad is far more practical for iPhone-style typing while writing quick emails. Apple sells a wireless keyboard for the iPad, but it's very impractical for a supposedly mobile device. The iPad is designed for consuming content, not creating it, and would be a disappointing notebook replacement.
It's tempting at this point to launch into a long list of the iPad's shortcomings. It lacks many features compared to a netbook of the same price, but that ground has already been well covered elsewhere. They're points worth thinking about, considering the iPad's price tag would buy you a decent netbook (although Steve Jobs would have you believe there's no such thing as a "decent" netbook).
Why it's more than a big iPod touch
What I will leave you with is a quick list of iPad features that caught my eye and may convince you the iPad is more than a big iPod touch (although personally I think the jury is still out on that one);
- bigger screen, allowing for more functionality in apps
- 802.11n compatibility
- orientation lock for when you're reclining in bed
- picture frame mode for when the iPad is at rest
- redesigned interfaces for native apps such as Mail
- access to the iBookstore (US-only at this stage, and worthy of its own review in the near future)
Our initial impression - amazing, but hard to justify if you have an iPhone
|This could get addictive, and annoying on public transport. Playing Need for Speed Undercover on the iPad
So what's the verdict? If you'd never seen an iPhone before, the iPad would blow you away - sufficiently advanced that you might think it "magical". Unfortunately for Apple, if you own an iPhone or iPod touch it's actually harder to justify paying so much for what's little more than a bigger version of what you already have.
The iPad is gorgeous, there's no argument about that, it just comes down to justifying what will be a $AU650+ price tag for a luxury device that probably won't meet a specific need or replace an existing gadget.
Thinking of the iPad as an eBook reader is probably the best strategy - although if you're a regular traveller with a passion for books then you'll probably be better served by the size, weight, price, battery life and display technology of a 6-inch Amazon Kindle. Some demographics might find it easy to justify the expense of an iPad - such as photographers wanting to showing off their photos, or students needing to carry around textbooks.
If you buy an iPad you'll probably love it, as long as you don't expect it to be a notebook replacement. Big is certainly beautiful, but Apple's eyecatching iPad isn't designed to be your one true love.
Will the iPad break the bank when it lands here? Here's what it costs in the US.
Has Apple bungled its chance at perfecting the tablet? Join the discussion here.
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