I'm one of those unfortunate individuals that live in the UK, and as such have been pretty envious of those early adopters over in the US. I've spent the last 3 months singing the praises of the iPad without actually laying my hands on one!. I could see the potential, if only Apple paid the same attention to detail as they did with the iPhone. I've had mates practically ridiculing me because they simply don't see the need for such a device, saying that it is just an inferior netbook! So were my (short sighted) friends right, or were my instincts correct?
Before I begin the review I want to point out that I've spent the past 20 years programming hand held devices, and I'm not easily impressed. People are quick to point out the shortcomings of the iPad, when they should be focusing on what Apple has managed to achieve with this device. Who would have thought that the release of the iPhone back in 2007 would have taken the mobile phone market by the short and curlys, sending all manufacturers back to the drawing board?
Lets face it, this constant striving for higher DPI screens, open platforms coupled with unregulated hardware design has albeit brought the downfall of Windows Mobile devices. This resulted in new hardware that was not backward compatible, and developers like myself having to create many versions of my software because there were so many incrarnations of Windows mobile. Thankfully this is not a criticism anyone will level at Apple. Practically all iPhone applications are now compatible with the iPad, and from what I've heard the next generation of iPhone too.
So back to the iPad...
Well I simply couldn't wait for the UK release date, so I purchased a US import. My timing couldn't have been better since the UK release date has been put back a month till the 29th May. The only drawback with importing an iPad is that you need to purchase a seperate UK to US power adapter. Since I already had an iPhone 3GS, I simply used my existing mains adapter which seems to work fine. Apparently the iPad comes with an 1 year international warrenty which is still valid in the UK.
Another minor problem is that the iPad AppStore is not currently up and running, so it is not possible to download iBooks or iPad software from the UK App Store. There is however a workaround, which involves you signing up for a US iTunes account. This allows you to download the iBooks application (which is not pre-installed) and install other free applications. Although the UK store isn't up and running, most paid iPad apps can be found by searching the UK App Store from iTunes. These can be purchased and downloaded to the iPad in the usual manner.
The first thing you notice about the iPad when you press the power button is the quality of the screen. The iPad has a backlit IPS screen which is probably better than your desktop monitor. The contrast ratio, brightness and viewing angles are all very good, which makes you start to wonder how long that batter is going to last? The iPad is also very quick to boot, around twice the speed of the iPhone 3GS. This is one major advantage over a netbook which can take a couple of minutes to boot and be useable. The screen resolution is also better than most netbooks too at 1024x768 pixels.
So how long does that battery last? Well a lot longer than you think! I've had my iPhone three days, and used it continuously over this period with only a single charge. I've read many tests claiming more that 11 hours watching video, which is considerably more than Apple's quoted 10 hours.
So what about speed? Again you will be surprised as you would need a very substantial desktop PC to keep up with this device. I estimate about 2-2.5 times faster than an iPhone 3GS, which was double the speed of the 3G model. There is no noticable lag when navigating the main applications, with all animations being extremely smooth. It is quite amazing how a 1GHz processor can achieve this, which leads me to believe there is a great deal of hardware acceleration going on here.
Video playback at 720p, both downloaded movies and YouTube work absolutely fine, try doing that on your netbook! I haven't tried 1080p as it makes no sense on this size of screen. Viewing pictures again was very smooth, and the picture frame feature is the best I've seen. However, because the iPad doesn't have a camera you need to either sync your pictures via iTunes, or purchase the camera connector kit in order to get your photos onto the device.
I've read several comments about the iPad being a big iPod Touch, or not having a real operating system. What people need to remember here is that the iPod OS is essentially Mac OS with a touch screen layer bolted on, so these claims don't hold water. At some point I can see these two operating systems merge, especially if Apple decide to release a Mac Tablet running OSX.
Again people jump on the bandwagon and say the iPad doesn't multitask! This is of course "rubbish" as the OS has always multitasked, however support for third part apps had limited multitasking. This was a conscious decision by Apple to ensure programs didn't hog memory, and ran as smoothly as possible without fighting for CPU, thus externding battery life. If you've owned either Windows Mobile or Google Andoid devices, you will be more than aware of what a task manager is and how to suspend tasks, especially when your device slows to a crawl. Multitasking is a good thing, but not all tasks need to multitask, and Apple will address this problem in the next OS release.
Anyone that has owned an iPhone will be familiar with the main suite of applications, although all have been revamped to accomadate the larger screens. The YouTube , Contacts, Calendar and Mail applications are a huge step forward here, and a joy to use. The music application 'iPod' however is a big let down for me. I simply don't like the layout (which is more like iTunes on the desktop) and miss the cover flow view of your albums. This is an area which Apple need to address in subsequent releases.
The iPad like the iPhone doesn't have Adobe Flash support, and whilst this is annoying to say the least, it's not a deal breaker for me. Yes I would like to see the device support flash, but I think most content providers will eventually provide an HTML 5.0 alternative.
I've had chance to try a number of third party applications now, although I've not been able to try Apples Pages, KeyNote or Numbers due to them not yet being available to UK customers. In the main there are some exceptional applications out there already, which is quite amazing 2 weeks after release.
Here is a list of my favourite applications in no particular order.
01) Cogs HD (puzzle game).
02) N.O.V.A. (first person perspective shooter).
03) Need For Speed Shift (racing game).
04) Asphalt 5 HD (racing game).
05) Labyrinth HD (puzzle game).
06) GoodReader for iPad (transfer and view files from your PC).
07) File Browser for iPad (access SAMBA shares).
08) Sketchbook Pro (art/drawing program).
09) IMDb for iPad (internet movie database).
10) iBooks (book reader application).
So, the 50 million dollar question, should you buy an iPad? Well, I personally have absolutely no regrets, in fact I've now got a Samsung netbook which I'm probably never going to use. Obviously this is a personal decision, but if you spend most of your time surfing, sending emails, looking at YouTube and a few social networking sites then this is ideal for you. If you are a gamer then this knocks the socks of a Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. Whilst games like Need for Speed and N.O.V.A. really show off the potential of this device, I'm sure this is only the tip of the iceberg! The future is looking pretty rosie for Apple at the moment, and the iPad is set to become another runaway success.