Apple iPad Delivers on Entertainment, but Lacks Productivity Punch
Friday, April 9, 2010; 12:19 AM
The Apple iPad ushers in the era of tablet computing, with a slate-style handheld that looks nothing like a typical computer. in fact, the iPad is more reminiscent of an oversize iPhone than a laptop. But because the iPad's screen is three times larger than that of the iPhone/iPod Touch, you'll be tempted to use the iPad for activities you wouldn't consider doing with an iPhone. Innovative apps and content optimized for the spacious, high-resolution touchscreen make the iPad a treat to use. Nevertheless, the iPad's other limitations make it hard to recommend as a replacement for (rather than as a complement to) the devices you may be carrying around today.
Apple plans to offer six variants of the iPad, starting with the three Wi-Fi models available now: a 16GB model ($499), a 32GB model ($599), and 64GB model ($699). In late April, Apple will ship three additional models that tack on 3G capability, for an extra $130 each. The 3G models will also have a GPS chip inside.
Setting Up iPad
Power up the iPad, and it immediately prompts you to connect to iTunes. I had iTunes open already; and it immediately recognized the iPad and ushered me through a series of screens to register my iPad and set up my iTunes Store Account.
Setup did have some hiccups, starting with the fact that iTunes erroneously thought that I had previously synced an iPad with this computer, listing a last synced date of 6/18/2009; evidently, it mistook my new iPad for an iPhone (I had synced my current iPhone to the computer just the day before). As such, during setup it offered me options to set up as a new iPad or to restore from the backup of either my first iPhone (a former iPhone 3GS) or my current iPhone 3GS.
I chose to set up as a new iPad. From there I got to name the device and choose how to sync it. I opted to sync songs and videos to my iPad automatically (so iTunes will sync the iPad to mirror my iTunes music library and playlists), and to add photos from my Pictures folder automatically. Finally, I selected to sync apps to the iPad automatically; consequently, the iPad performed an initial sync, during which iTunes a slew of iPad apps that I had predownloaded to the device.
I hadn't anticipated that iTunes would pick up all of the settings from my previous iSomething devices--for instance, the folders I'd selected for my iPhone, the apps I'd selected for my iPhone, and the music and videos I'd already selected for my iPhone. After an hour of app downloading, I interrupted the transfers to get music, video, and photos on there, too.
The usable capacity of the 64GB model shows as 59.17GB. On the primary sync screen, you can choose to sync iTunes automatically when the iPad is connected, to sync only checked songs and videos, to prefer standard-definition videos (an option that's not clearly explained), to convert higher-bit-rate songs to 128 kbps AAC, to manage music and videos manually (another unclear option), and to password-encrypt the iPad backup. Click the Universal Access button to bring up audiovisual aids, such as voice over and zoom, white-on-black text display, speak auto-text, and mono audio.
File handling is a compartmentalized, frustrating experience. You have to associate files with a specific app at the bottom of the Apps tab; there, under File Sharing, you'll see which apps support files, and then you can associate files with those specific apps. Unfortunately, when you click an app, you get no indication of what file types it supports. And oddly, whenever I added a file to an app's queue, the iPad would begin syncing, without my pressing Apply.
During installation, iTunes for Windows crashed twice while trying to convert my chosen 1600 photos, but eventually I got the iPad set up. I should note that four colleagues set up iPads without incident on both Mac and PC platforms, though they had far less content to contend with.
Because it shares an underlying operating system with the iPhone and the iPod Touch, the iPad immediately feels familiar. The main menu mimics that of the current iPhone OS, with four icons across and four rows down, plus Safari, Mail, Photos, and iPod icons in a row at the bottom (you can select to display up to six icons). Icons have the same characteristics as those on the iPhone; they include Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, YouTube, iTunes, App Store, and Settings. One new item is a dedicated icon for Videos--a logical addition, given the device's roomy screen.
One app that doesn't come preinstalled is iBooks, Apple's one-stop shop for reading and shopping for e-books. The first time you access the App Store, you get a prompt asking whether you want to download iBooks. And of course, you can add apps from the Apple App Store.
The 9.7-inch LED-backlit screen uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology to achieve better color and contrast, and Apple identifies as a wide 178-degree range of viewing angles. In my tests, I found that I could view video at an angle, but I was often distracted by severe glare, whether I was outdoors or indoors in an office setting. When I could overcome the glare, the screen looked bright and displayed brilliant, accurate colors. The device's native 1024-by-768-pixel resolution is sufficient for watching high-definition video, though the experience is better when you watch videos stored locally, as opposed to watching streaming video content. The screen is also great for viewing photos and for flicking through content.