iPad – First impressions…

Yesterday, I was browsing, as I often do, in the Cardiff branch of Mr Jobs’ finest tech-emporium, when I finally decided (after yet another round of touchy-feely, have-a-go marketing), to take the plunge and sort myself out with an iPad. After a lot of reading, trying, and agonising about whether it would be worth the cash, I came to the conclusion that it would be invaluable as a more portable version of my Netbook for web-browsing, mail gathering, and twittering, amongst other things. As well as this, coupled with the imminent release of the camera connection kit and the sheer drool-worthy experience of using the thing, it would bring me back into the Apple fold from a mobile device standpoint after my recent delegation to Android for phone duties.

So what’s it like? Well, first the bad. Ummmmmmm.

Hmmmmmm.

Either it’s post-purchase bliss, or there really isn’t much wrong with this thing as far as I tell at the moment. I know that there have been a lot of detractors when it comes to Cupertino’s latest output (ignoring conveniently the iPhone 4 for the time being), but after 24 hours of use, I’m starting to think that maybe people are going at this from the wrong angle. In a similar way to how they did with the iPhone, people rare seemingly enjoying pointing out what they perceive as flaws, and make them out to be a deal-breaker where the device is concerned. Things like the lack of multitasking (now to be sorted via the update to iOS 4.0), and the “walled garden” approach to application development, are often touted as reasons to dismiss apple mobile devices outright, without, seemingly, giving them a chance in other ways.

Yes, in a way I think that the restrictions placed on developers by Apple are a little harsh. For example, the turning down of all apps submitted that, in any way, duplicate functionality of the base device, means that no one can produce a fully featured alternative browser. The denial of a release of Adobe’s Flash plugin for iPhone and iPad has been hotly debated in recent months. However, I’ve owned an iPhone for the last two and a half years,and to be honest, I’ve never really found it to be much of an issue. The quality of the appraisal program that Apple employ is dubious to say the least. Just type the word ‘fart’ into the app store to see how many apps there are related to that particular bodily function, and you’ll get an idea of what i mean.  In other words, an approval process doesn’t mean all the apps are any good.  However, there are a lot of great ones out there, and the main issue about having an Android phone now rather than an iPhone is that the app store (or ‘Marketplace’ on Android), hasn’t yet got the spread of apps that are on the Apple app store.  Also, just due to the Apple devices’ visibility, most good apps are released on the iPhone / iPad platform first.  In a nutshell, I’ve lived with this exact situation on the iPhone for the last few years and never really had the issue with it that other seem to.  If you are happy with an iPhone, you’ll be happy with an iPad.

So, how is it then?  The answer is best expressed in one, very British, adjective.  Lovely.

The screen is fantastic quality, and the interface is a joy to behold.  It is by far the single most responsive piece of technology I have ever used, with more or less no lag when performing any task.  At no time do you feel you’re waiting unnecessarily.  The whole unit feels solidly built, and the weight, though not feather-light, is certainly not an issue.  The on-screen keyboard is the first I’ve used that I can genuinely type on at full speed.  This makes real-world use of the iPad for blogging, word-processing etc a reality.

Due to budgetary constraints, I chose the 16Gb WiFi model, as, to be honest, storing lots of music and movies on it is fairly far from my mind.  I’ve never really been one for movies on the move, and I have an iPod or my HTC Desire for my MP3s.  I’m much more interested in its use as an imaging/photography tool, and for web browsing, twitter, reading ebooks/magazines etc.  I’m going to get the camera connection kit when it becomes available here in the UK.  This allows the connection of any (in theory) mass storage device to the dock connector, to transfer files (including RAWs) from cameras and media cards to the internal memory for reviewing and backup.  This will be a great way to give myself a little more storage when I’m out on shoots, and will mean I don’t have to cart the netbook or laptop around too.  My recent migration from the iPhone to the HTC Desire will pay dividends soon, as come the Android 2.2 update, it’ll make my Desire into a mobile Wifi Hotspot, meaning I can use that as my access point when I’m out and about.

Apps-wise, the growing choice of iPad specific software is really impressive.  A lot of the older apps have been updated, some for free (i.e. they now have a version that works both on iPad and iPhone), whereas other seem to have come out with what is commonly now being called an ‘HD’ version.  usually this means buying it again if you want the iPad version.  Depending on the app involved, and the price, this can be a bit of a bind.  However, the most expensive app I’ve ever bought, Logmein Ignition, happily did the former.

Some of the highlights app-wise so far…

  • The aformentioned Logmein Fusion.  This app, great on the iPhone, has been updated to use the iPad’s higher resolution, which has made an already great PC/Mac app all the better :)
  • Google Earth – Good old google earth, is, not surprisingly,  much more usable on the iPad.
  • The first electronic issue of Wired Magazine is an explosion of multimedia delight.  It’s hard to explain without experiencing it, but the dynamic layout,  embedded media and hotlinking make the whole thing a joy to behold (and to use)!
  • Brushes – The already-well-regarded iPhone paint package gets a resolution and usability upgrade for the iPad.
  • FlickrStackr and Photo Pad are both fantastic Flickr-based apps.  The former has a better interface for online browsing of your flickr photos, and enables you to comment etc.  The latter is a syncing tool which downloads all or part of your Photostream for offline viewing.  Great for showing people your online portfolio when you don’t have an internet connection.
  • Ebay - A great app, making browsing and buying via eBay a joy on the iPad.
  • The Elements – A real showcase app for the iPad.  This is a reference book with a graphical periodic table.  Each element has its own set of pages with animated and interactive diagrams, and loads of info.  Written in quite an entertaining way which borders on the silly sometimes, but is nevertheless a great read.
  • Last but certainly not least, the official WordPress app has received and iPad boost.  Turns it from a basic editing tool to a much more comfortable blog composition tool.  Still no WYSIWYG editor, but fingers crossed for the future…!

Blimey – I could go on and on.  One thing to note is that you can run most of the iPhone apps on the iPad too.  These appear in the centre of the screen, at the same resolution as on the iPhone.  Mostly though, I wouldn’t recommend using them this way, as they don’t look particularly nice.  Exceptions where function over form is important, like, for example, Skype, of which the iPhone version runs perfectly on the iPad.

Battery life for this thing is phenomenal.  I had an afternoon (a good six hours) of (non-charging) syncing, browsing, YouTubing, and general messing around, and my battery life was still around 50%.  Now to me, that’s one of the most impressive things about this device.  Full stop.

In the end, the iPad is a device that does what it does extremely well, and in a way that is so polished, that it is yet to even be approached for quality in the tablet world.  It’s a media consumption device that branches out into other arenas with a generally high level of success.  As I get a bit more into real-world usage, I’ll report back and give my opinions.  Until then, its going to be interesting finding out…

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