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First iPad Review, I played with it on 1/27


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Update 4/5/2010: we had much more time to write an in-depth review if the iPad. It supersedes this one and can be found here: iPad Review.

Shortly after the Apple Launch in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to play with an iPad for long enough to have an idea of how it feels to use one and how the iPad looks in the real world. After months of speculation, we have to say that the overall pre-launch perception correct was at times correct (hardware+OS) and plain wrong on other topics – like the pricing. You’ve seen all the info, and now it’s time to answer the question: how is it to use one?

Responsiveness

The first thing that I pay attention to in a touch device is how “responsive” it is. Despite the vastly superior resolution, when compared to the iPhone, the iPad is just as responsive (or may be even more so) than the iPhone 3GS. The overall 2D graphics speed is very good, there’s no question about that. Because it is so fast, the user interface responds right away to input, which makes the user feel in control. With the exception of the Zune HD, I have never used a device that’s more responsive than the iPhone 3GS, and now, the iPad.

Watch the responsiveness of the iPad (fullscreen for HD view)

The computer is the display

The second thing that is critical to a touch display device is… well… the display! I used it to browse the web and to read a few paragraphs of a book and I have to say that it looks very good. It’s not as good as OLED, but the colors are great and the sensitivity of the touch sensor is great too. I could not test it outside, but *if* it is based on the same display tech that is in the 3GS, I predict that it would do OK in direct sunlight – that remains to be seen.

Better than E-ink? It depends in which context. E-Ink is very nice to read for extended periods of time, but clearly, if one’s goal is to read a magazine or a website what one want is probably color and fast refresh. And for that, the iPad is, by nature, definitely better than any eBook device. Now, if you plan to read for a couple of hours, it might be a different story, but I don’t think that you would end up with a headache. I’m looking at an LCD display all day and I’m doing just fine. That said, I recognize that reading for two hours on a e-ink display is less strenuous than doing it on an LCD.

Thanks to the color display, you can access things that you already read daily (web, pdf, email) but in a different way. Even if eBooks are very popular, the web is still king because it’s dynamic and it’s free – that’s certainly worth a few points, right?

Connectivity Wifi, or Wifi+3G

Prior to the launch, one big “no go” about the connectivity was “who wants to pay a second wireless subscription”? And it’s true that this was a potential roadblock. Fortunately, the pay as you go (month to month) option for 3G in the form of two relatively cheap options at $15 and $30 (cheaper than a phone plan, at least) helps remarkably. The fact that all iPad devices will be sold “unlocked” (carrier-free) is also remarkable. Other tablet makers have never been able to get anywhere close to a deal like this. This is a game changer, not only for Apple but for other connected devices – hopefully.

I suspect that most people will opt for the $499 Wifi-only version, and Apple has been quite smart to build a version without the 3G radio that costs less. The “pay as you go” makes it tempting to pay an extra (+$130) “just in case”, but this is a bit steep just to get 3G in my opinion.

Movie Playback

The iPad plays “Up” from Pixar at 1024×768 (switch to fullscreen for HD)

The animated movie “Up” from Pixar was available in the devices, so I was able to look at a short demo. You’ll see in the movie above that the playback quality is impeccable. Colors were vibrant, but these animated movies are super-saturated, so they are not so great to gauge color accuracy, which is probably quite good anyway. With a Dock connector, you can also output the 1024×768 video to a TV/monitor.

iBooks

Playing with eBook and the iPad (switch to fullscreen for HD)
 
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eBooks are interesting, but I think that the iPad is so much better for colorful magazines and web content that I wished that Apple had demonstrated less books and more colorful stuff. Regardless, I expect the iPad to be a good reading device – depending on how long you like to read.

PDF files are supported, and assuming that the support is complete, this could be the best PDF tablet reader yet as eBooks are usually too weak to handle complex PDF files. We’ll have to test that too and I know just the person to do it…

At the moment, I don’t see any support for open eBook formats, so your options are: the book store, PDF attachments, ePub files and the web.

In the end, the question that you should ask yourself is: “Can I get the content that I care about”? More about iBooks

Web Browsing

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The web browsing works really well. Just imagine an iPhone / iPod touch, but faster and with a big display. At this game, the iPad beats any other tablet that I’ve seen, by far. I tried some popular sites and they all work, but Flash is still not supported. I think that Apple *could* support Flash, but you have to realize that this would open the gates to all sorts of video /music content living outside of Apple’s business turf. So far, few consumers complained with their wallet and Apple’s product are still selling well. As Google has shown with Google Voice, web apps are the way to get around Apple’s approval.

I would need more time to try more sites to write a more detailed report, but so far, this is looking good.

Gaming

An iPhone racing game on iPad (switch to fullscreen for HD)
 
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All the games that were demonstrated today were iPhone games in 480×240 that were stretched to 1024×768 using a good upscaling filter – it does look a little fuzzy but don’t expect any miracles: the original content is very small.

Because all the 3D rendering is still done at 480×320, we will have to wait for new titles to see how fast the iPad really is in terms of 3D rendering. The good news is that changing resolution is very easy for developers, but it is harder to design new user interfaces that take advantage of the higher resolution.

In that respect, today’s demos showed some interesting concepts. For example, the “swipe” to change gears in a racing game seem to work well.

We know that Apple devices are a huge gaming platform, but “hardcore” gamers that need a pad or a keyboard+mouse will probably continue to criticize a touch interface for good reasons (to be honest, I do prefer a pad). The conclusion is that you can’t be everything to everyone – it’s that simple.

Backwards compatibility

The iPad is backwards compatible with the iPhone and iPod touch, and that means that there are hundreds of thousands of applications available today – although most built for a lower resolution. I expect future devices to be backwards compatible as well, and that is a very good thing for the developer community. Scott Forstall the leader of the handheld division at Apple predicts a new “Gold Rush” – a race to pump out iPad applications. That’s true because the first apps will have much less competition than subsequent generations. That’s also true for game consoles.

Battery life

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Without an extended use, I have to take Apple’s word for it, but I’ve been told that the 10 hours of battery life is “probably” when the display is ON, but at a 50% brightness. We will have to test it for ourselves to see how it works in the real world, but knowing that the display is the #1 culprit when it comes to power consumption (the 3G radio is bad too), I would venture to say that battery life could be quite substantial when playing video and very long when playing audio.

Accessories

The iPad uses the same physical connector than the iPhone / iPod touch, so most accessories will probably work out of the box – thanks to the software compatibility.

iPad keyboard dock: the dock is probably the most interesting one. Because the iPad is email friendly, this would let one turn the iPad into an email station either at home (my preferred option) or on the go (I might prefer a laptop then).

iPad Case: The case is made of a ruber-ish texture which is quite nice to the touch, but I thought that it did not look all that great. Of course, it tries to be a cover and a stand and in that respect, it works, but it did not seem as the most stable platform ever. Take a look for yourself in an Apple store when you have a chance and drop a comment.

Don’t miss the iPad camera connection kit too.

Conclusion

The iPad is simply the best tablet ever built, partly because others before it sucked. But I honestly think that in absolute terms, Apple has executed this one brilliantly. This is a very interesting device with a very good user experience, even if I predict that it won’t be as successful as the iPhone is (in terms of unit sold).

The iPad pricing is probably the most shocking thing: it’s actually cheaper than competitors like the Archos 9. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that we’ve been bombarded with the ridiculous $1000 price for some time (well, there’s a $829 iPad…). Most people (non-geeks) that I talked to were satisfied with the pricing. Don’t forget that it will eventually go down too. My personal opinion is that it’s quite amazing that Apple can sell the basic version for $499.

I suspect that some folks will buy it just because “it’s cool”, but the device has a genuine entertainment/usage value as a secondary device. It’s really up to you to figure out what that is worth for you in dollars. I hope that this hands-on has helped you grasped how it feels to use the iPad. If you have additional questions, drop a comment and I’ll try to reply while my memory is fresh. Thanks for tuning in.

Worldwide release date: in 60 days for the Wifi version, and in 90 days for the Wifi+3G version. Update March 5 2010: the iPad will arrive in the U.S on April 3, pre-orders start on March 12.

Links

Apple iPad, official page

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