Apple iPad: The Switched Review
The capacitive 1024-by-768-pixel, multi-touch screen is gorgeous and extremely responsive, if a bit glossy with a tendency to pick up fingerprints. While the display lacks the crispness and pixel density of e-readers like the Kindle (or even the iPhone), it's perfectly suitable for viewing over long periods of time. The Kindle and other e-ink readers trounce the iPad in outdoor (or even bright-light) performance, and the glossy display only serves to make the iPad's outdoor readability worse. As a result, you probably won't be ditching your paperbacks or e-ink readers for beach reading anytime soon.
The iPad's battery life is a pleasant surprise from Apple; after a full day of Netflix, heavy Web browsing, music streaming and gaming, our iPad still had over 20-percent of the initial charge left.
FilesThe iPad's odd treatment of files is a major sticking point for us. Although the iPhone and iPod touch are no different, the iPad makes it frustratingly difficult to browse, access and move your files. Are you working in a .txt file on your desktop machine, and wanting to bring it to your iPad for later editing? You could import it into Pages, but will probably need to come up with some convoluted workaround involving e-mail, copy-and-pasting and crossed fingers.
MultitaskingPerhaps a deal-breaker for many, there's still no multitasking on the iPad. Granted, at Switched, we're usually running an abnormal 10 to 15 apps at any time, but we encountered countless situations where we simply wanted to do more than one thing at a time with the iPad. For example, if you're listening to Pandora and a new e-mail comes in, you have to drill out of Pandora (cutting off your music stream), check your e-mail, pull out of your e-mail app and then open up Pandora again. For a device that claims to do things better than netbooks -- and "magically," at that -- this is absurd.
NotificationsSystem notifications (such as incoming IMs) are implemented in the same way as they are on the iPhone. When you receive a new IM, Facebook message or other notification, the alert appears in the center of the screen, and you can't continue what you were doing until you press 'OK.' Android and Web OS both provide subtle, unobtrusive updates to what else is happening on your device, a lesson Apple could definitely stand to learn.
SafariOn one hand, Safari on the iPad gets very close to perfecting a style of browsing first glimpsed with the original iPhone. Browsing on the iPad is blazingly fast, and navigating the Web on a large screen via touch, instead of a mouse, feels exactly right. One small problem: a giant chunk of the Web's online video, gaming and content is inaccessible without iPad support for Adobe's Flash. You simply won't be able to load Flash games, videos from Hulu, or music from Grooveshark and countless other sites.
iTunes and iPodThe iPod interface fits between the iPhone version and iTunes on your desktop machine. The split screen format lists your playlists on the left side of the screen, and reveals all the tracks in your playlist on the right. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's much easier to browse your library and create playlists. Unfortunately, there's still no drag and drop for creating playlists, but creating playlists on the fly is much easier than on the iPhone with the added screen size. The iTunes Store shines on the large screen, revealing far more information at a quick glance. Subscribing to and downloading podcasts may be even easier than on your PC, and the iTunes store is tightly integrated with the iPod app.
YouTubeWe're still annoyed by the YouTube app icon. (It still hides itself in the app list with no visual connection to YouTube.) But, the app itself provides for endless YouTube viewing. Running on our Wi-Fi network, videos started up quickly, were extremely responsive to dragging along the time scrubber and jumped smoothly from fullscreen and back.
A simple tap of the iBooks' 'Store' button flips the wooden bookcase interface around to reveal the iBookstore. So far, the iBooks selection seems pretty slim; quick searches for Cormac McCarthy, Jorge Luis Borges and Joan Didion -- all available in the Kindle Store -- turned up nothing. iBooks pulls a selection from Project Gutenberg, opening up the free online book resource to iPad users. More importantly, both Amazon's Kindle app (our preferred reader on launch) and iBooks take full advantage of the iPad's large full color screen.
iPhone AppsTo be blunt, upscaled iPhone apps look terrible. Although all the current apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch work perfectly fine on the iPad, the experience reminds us of running Classic Mac apps on OS X. The apps are either run at iPhone size or doubled in resolution, leading to chunky and pixelated text and images. The non-iPad optimized apps force you to use the iPhone keyboard (which has a different key layout) on the iPad, a bizarre rift in the interface.
For example, the iPhone version of Facebook uses a clean, easy-to-understand interface that recognizes the challenges of the small screen size. On the iPad, this same app is simply a badly pixelated browsing experience, driving us to visit Facebook in the browser instead. Apple's Remote app is the same way; it looks like the blown-up iPhone app that it is, where an iPad-optimized version would merely take design cues from Apple's iPod app. In effect, developers will need to construct separate experiences, respectively optimized for both the iPhone and the iPad.
We're left with mixed feelings after a weekend with the iPad. It's the first device we've seen that embodies the tablet we had imagined we'd use in the future. Many apps are a joy to use, and the device has some of the best implementations of browsing and Google Maps we've ever seen. Limited connectivity aside, the device is a beautiful piece of industrial design, and official software updates and third-party app development give us hope for the coming months. It's a radically cutting edge device.
It's not perfect, though. Though the multitasking issue could be fixed with future OS updates, it's still a serious stumbling block on the track to a true productivity machine, much less a primary computer. A huge chunk of the Web is left inaccessible without Flash support, and a file system obscured from users will prove frustrating for power users and beginners alike. Much of the iPad experience is marked by remnants of an operating system designed for a smartphone-sized screen. Yes, you can write, edit and be mildly productive on it, but, for now, it's no laptop killer. As with most Apple products, the price will eventually come down, and many of the early complaints will be handled with software upgrades. Today, Apple teased an event for the major iPhone OS 4 update, which could render many of these software issues meaningless on Thursday.
At $499 for the base 16GB model, the iPad will remain a polarizing luxury device for the immediate future. There's really nothing else quite like it out there, and it's a thrill to use -- despite all its Apple quirks.