We had the opportunity to spend some hands-on time with the long-awaited Apple iPad tablet after the much-hyped press event. Here is our first review of the Apple iPad.
Unfortunately, we were underwhelmed: we can see a lot of really useful applications for the Apple iPad, but the reality is that it looks and behaves like an Apple iPhone 3GS (or iPod touch) on steroids. And that's not exactly a good thing.
Apple iPad Hardware: Awkward to handle
While the Apple iPad is super slim at only a half-inch (13mm) thick, we had some difficulty handling it. At around 680g, it is too heavy to hold in one hand, which is troublesome if you plan on using it as an e-book reader.
Other e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle 2 or the COOL-ER e-reader, are much lighter in hand than the Apple iPad, and therefore make for a much more comfortable user experience. Using two hands is much more comfortable, but if you're reading a long novel, that could get quite tiresome.
Compared side-by-side, the Apple iPad's 9.7-inch 1024-by-768-pixel LED-backlit display appeared dimmer than our iPhone 3G's (auto-brightness disabled, brightness set to maximum). Whites, in particular, looked much brighter on my iPhone. Apple had no comment, however, when we inquired about the difference. Although, one Apple spokesperson pointed out that a phone - which we expect to use outdoors as easily as indoors - might need to be brighter.
Apple iPad OS: A giant iPhone interface
One of the biggest rumours leading up to the event was that iPhone OS 4.0 would be released in conjunction with the Apple iPad. Instead, the iPad is running iPhone OS 3.2 (which has not been released for actual iPhones yet).
The lack of a fresh, new interface for the iPad is disappointing. There might be some incremental differences between versions 3.1 and 3.2, but to me on the surface, the iPad's interface looked exactly like a blown-up version of our iPhone 3GS'. And in our opinion, the Apple iPhone OS doesn't translate very well from the much smaller iPhone 3G to the iPad.
It's not so much about the touch aspect of the interface; in fact, navigating by touch is a huge benefit on this roomy screen, superior to, say, the joystick-based navigation of the comparably sized, non-touch Amazon Kindle DX screen. But images, icons, and text aren't as crisp as expected on the higher-resolution Apple iPad. We found it much like watching standard definition video on an HDTV; Apple doesn't seem to have optimised the operating system's visuals for the iPad's display.
Because of the larger display, pretty much all of the native applications we're used to viewing on the iPhone look and function better on the Apple iPad. Video playback, in particular, is stunning on the iPad, but we're disappointed by the lack of Flash support (though that exclusion wasn't exactly surprising, it remains a grievous omission).
As a photo viewer, the Apple iPad shines. Photos looked superb on the iPad's display, and it uses all of the familiar multitouch gestures (flick, pinch to zoom) found on the iPhone's photo app. The iPad's photo application is much better than the iPhone's, too, with on-the-fly slideshow creation (complete with transitions) and different ways of viewing the images (including sorting by places, people, events, and a mini-thumbnail bar at the bottom of the screen to jump quickly to other photos in the album).
Unfortunately, the sorting capabilities will only work if you're using iPhoto - which means that those of who use any number of alternative imaging applications for the PC or the Mac (the majority of potential Apple iPad users) are left in the dark with regard to those features.