iPad Review

I bought an iPad on opening day. As I said in my initial observations, I really needed to hold one, see it and feel it, before I could have a sense of whether I wanted one.

So I wandered down that Saturday afternoon to give one a shot. I wanted to see 3 things: video playback, book reading, and stereo bluetooth. These would be the determining factors for me. Why? Because if the iPad could do these things well, they would replace two other pieces of hardware: the kindle and my MSI Wind netbook.

I originally bought the netbook as a couch surfing machine and possible controller for a panoramic photography head that I was working on. I installed OS X on it, and it was mostly fine. Except the touchpad is awful. Just completely awful. And it more or less ruins working with the machine. So instead it has taken up duty as a video playback machine for when I’m working out. It does this competently through VLC. But I recently started using stereo bluetooth headphones, and the combination of VLC, Mac OS X, and Bluetooth Stereo lead to a lot of pain. I constantly had to turn bluetooth on and off, quit and restart VLC, tell Mac OS X to use it as an audio device, etc. This usually added a good 5 minutes onto the beginning of my workout, and very quickly got old.

So I was very interested in how the iPad would handle this. The answer is very very well. Much better than OS X, and exactly what you would expect. Once the headset is paired, click the play button and the headset pairs up and switched audio over to it. Turn off the headset and audio falls back to the built in speaker. Once it was set up, I haven’t had one problem with not pairing, or poor audio. It really just works. So that was a very big plus.

In the Store I pulled up iBooks and read through a few pages. While the text is not as clear as the kindle, it’s definitely not bad. The IPS display is very high quality and allows for a wide range of viewing angles, and at least in the short term I didn’t find myself straining to read.

So with the 3 things met, I decided to buy one, along with the case and if it didn’t work out I figured I could unload it on craigslist.

So here goes the real review:

The Device

Much like the recent unibody Macbooks, the iPad is almost a work of art. It’s sturdy and solid and feels like it could take a fall or two without much trouble. It doesn’t flex in your hand, or squeeze in when you pick it up.

The screen is bright and beautiful, but it has two fairly major problems: glare and smudges. The glass of the iPad screen is very glossy and given that it’s almost always held at an angle opposite the ceiling or sky, you end up seeing a lot of glare. While I have used a glossy laptop screen and not had too much trouble with it, it’s something I’m almost constantly aware of while using the iPad and it makes me want to turn off lights indoors to get rid of it.

The glass also gets very smudgy very quickly. This has often been the first thing people notice about the iPad when I show it to them. While you mostly don’t notice it when the screen is on, it looks pretty nasty when it’s off.

The combination of glare and smudges is something I consider relatively serious as it requires pretty consistent cleaning, and a lot of juggling to avoid glare in any place with overhead lighting.

I’ve got an anti-glare screen protector on order, which is also supposed to prevent smudginess. I’ll keep you updated.

The iPad weighs in at about 1.5 pounds, which makes it significantly lighter than a netbook, but a good bit heavier than a kindle. Overall I consider it a lightweight device, but it’s not something that you can hold with one hand away from your body for extended periods of time like you can with a kindle. With tablet devices, you will want to do this more often than you would expect.

This leads me to my main issue with the iPad: There is almost no comfortable way to hold this thing over a period of hours if you’re not at a desk. When you’re sitting on a couch, and have it in your lap, you have to angle it up with one hand at all times, while your neck is craned down to look at it. So your neck gets sore quickly. Watch the iPad ad, and count the number of people with their knees pulled up to support the iPad at a comfortable angle. The Apple case doesn’t give enough lift or stability to place the iPad in the traditional laptop position and angle which would be the most comfortable. So I find myself holding one position for a while, then switching to another, then another to avoid fatigue of use. And it’s a whole other ballgame when you want to type with 2 hands on the screen.

Presumably this is something that could be fixed relatively easily with a stand or case, but it’s worth noting that without some stand or case, using the iPad for a while becomes very tiresome. This is not something you really experience with a kindle, due to it’s light weight and smaller form factor.

The built in speaker is plenty loud for most situations, and much louder than the one in my iphone.

As I posted previously, the only connector on the device is the iPod connector. This is not a terrible thing, but it’s not great either. I can think of no credible reason not to include mini usb. The only real reason I can think of is Apple’s desire to control what kinds of things can be connected to the iPad and therefore collect a royalty for the connector’s use. It’s just lame to have to spend $30 to hook up a camera to the iPad. If it had usb, you could hook up an xbox or playstation game controller for games. You could hook up a price gun. You could hook up a cool little doxie. It makes sense to restrict this kind of stuff on the iphone. It makes much less sense on the iPad

It also makes little sense to not have included an isight. The iPad seems plenty powerful to do video chat, and I can’t help but think this was probably a last minute omission. I’m going to go ahead and speculate that the next revision will have one.

I have some of the wireless problems people have been reporting. While I can connect fine at home, I do get random drops. As I write this on my Macbook Pro in the carwash waiting room, I have full signal. My iPad doesn’t even see the network. Apple has said this can be fixed via firmware, so we’ll see how long it takes. This is a major issue however because without a working network connection, the iPad becomes a very limited device.

Battery life does indeed deliver the promised 10+ hours which genuinely shocked me as Apple has a history of greatly exaggerating battery life. Click the sleep button and it will consume almost no power despite still getting push updates. It’s really impressive.

I’m genuinely baffled about why Apple chose to include only 256MB of memory. 1GB couldn’t have added more than a few dollars to the cost of the machine. The iPad has the same amount of memory as the iPhone 3Gs, and as Gruber pointed out, it leads to issues even before allowing limited multitasking in iPhone 4.0.

The Experience

I’ve been using the iPad as a replacement for the laptop around the house, and for the most part it’s been going well. It’s been hard to communicate to people what using an iPad is like, because in many ways, it’s so unlike other computing experiences. There really is something magical about the touch interface which was partially realized in the iphone, but becomes a very real and tangible thing on the iPad. As other’s have said, the iPad isn’t a big iphone, the iPhone is a smaller and much more limited iPad.

That being said, the magic is hard to bottle, and very few companies are really getting it right. Apple has obviously spent a lot of time working through how the touch interface should function on larger devices and it shows in all of their apps. Mail just feels right. Maps is almost spooky great on the large screen.

But when we start moving into the land of the App store, it’s very hit and miss. The iPad really falls into a new uncanny valley. They aren’t iPhone apps, but they aren’t desktop apps either. So a lot of iPad apps are barely repurposed desktop apps, or barely scaled up iPhone apps. Netflix is a good example of a half-assed iPad app. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s there, but it’s not a pleasure to use. It looks like they more or less wrapped an HTML view of their web page into the app. Links and buttons are tiny and hard to hit. Managing your instant queue should be simple, but it’s not. I’m watching season 1 of “30 rock” in my instant queue, and when ending an episode, I can’t hit the next button in the video player and get to the next thing in my queue. Instead I get dropped out to the season page, have to scroll down and hit the tiny play button next to the next episode. By contrast, the Netflix console apps for the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 seem designed for their respective platforms. They fit their paradigms. I know it sounds like picking nits, but these are the things that make the iPad seem like a “so what”. Poorly designed apps make the iPad seem like a incapable laptop. What makes the iPad great depends very heavily on the ability of developers to design apps that take advantage of it’s particular design.

Even apps that seem to get the overall aesthetic right, still fall over in functionality. I use, and for the most part like newsrack for reading RSS feeds. But it feels clunky and unintuitive. I find myself struggling to get to the group of feeds that I want, having to try one thing, then another until I finally get it. I expect to get pull down menus where there aren’t any. How do I mark everything in this particular feed as read? I don’t know, and I can’t figure it out in less than 20 seconds or so. Again, not awful, but it screws up the magic.

A lot of other apps ride the wrong side of the desktop/iphone line by limiting what I can do. Including some from apple. Why can’t I crop photos on the photos app or do minor adjustments to the image? Why can’t I edit rich text in Evernote? Why can’t I filter by more than one tag in Things? There are a lot of little places where I feel like I “should” be able to do something, but I can’t. It feels like a lot of these are carried over from iPhone limitations.

I expect now that the actual device is released, lots of apps are going to get better really fast, so I think this will be a temporary problem, but expect some frustrations as developers try to discover the sweet spot for applications on this device. Capturing the magic is really hard and it will undoubtedly take time.

The BBC app is really great. The NPR app is okay, but not as well designed.

Evernote is a mess. It’s beautifully designed, but crashes constantly. So, BTW does Netflix.

Gmail works great on the iPad, even if I choose to use the built in mail app. Unfortunately Google Docs only gives you a crippled iPhone version that can do no editing except in spreadsheets.

I could use pages and numbers, but then I have the sucktastic experience of file syncing. No thanks. The iPad really calls for files that live in the cloud. Evernote has the right model here. This is one of the things that makes using “Things” painful for me. Manual syncing sucks.

As I briefly mentioned above, Gruber mentioned that the limited iPad memory leads to page reloads while using tabs in mobile safari. I see this very frequently using just 2 tabs, and it’s very annoying. Part of the reason I use tabs is so I can instantly get back to a page.

And speaking of tabs: there’s no reason to keep the iphone metaphor for tabs on the iPad. Want to close a tab and switch back to another? Click to pull up tabspose. Animation. Click to close tab. Animation. Click to re-open original tab even though it’s the only remaining one open. Animation. What takes exactly one click on a desktop browser takes 3 on mobile safari simply because we don’t have real tabs. And we don’t have real tabs because we’re carrying over an interface metaphor based on an iPhone screen. It’s not a screen space issue because you could simply replace the bookmark bar. This gets really obnoxious really fast for heavy browsing.

And speaking of the bookmarks bar: why can’t I drag to create bookmarklets? Why do I have to resort to syncing bookmarks from Safari? Makes sense on the iPhone. Doesn’t make sense here.


It’s a keeper. When the iPad hits its sweet spot, it really can be a better experience than a desktop machine or a laptop or an iPhone. There are a lot of rough spots getting the experience right, but I have confidence these will be worn down fairly soon. There are some frustrating limitations to the device that seem arbitrary, but nothing that kills its utility for me.

If you’re willing to put up with some early adopter woes, get one now. But I wouldn’t blame you for riding it out until at least after the iPhone OS 4 launch for the iPad this fall.

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