This was a big one. After months of anticipation, Apple finally released the iPad in March and after we got our mitts on it we wrote a sprawling four page review to give you the full run-down of this brand new category of device. We loved it, we still love it, and hopefully you’ll love our review from issue 81.
Key features • 9.7-inch, LED-backlit, multi-touch display • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth • Over ten-hours battery life
Available from… • www.store.apple.com (UK pre-orders begin May 10)
It’s hard to think of an Apple product announcement that built as much buzz and anticipation as January’s reveal of the iPad, yet technology pundits decried it for its lack of connectivity, lack of support for Adobe’s Flash and for being just a big iPod touch. Expecting a giant iPod touch, your initial reaction when you get the box in your hands is that it’s too small. You were expecting something bigger. Lifting the lid, Apple doesn’t make you wait a second more than you have to before getting your hands on the device that has lightened your wallet by a not-insignificant amount. Your iPad sits proudly at the top of the box, in the way you’ll be familiar with if you’ve bought a iPhone or iPod touch in recent years. Lift the plastic tab and the iPad raises up for you to lift up and out, and it’s at this moment that you first notice that, for a device this slim, it’s certainly not flimsy. A svelte slab of brushed aluminium and glossy black glass, the iPad has a reassuring weight and cleverly disguised strength. It’s clear that Apple has learnt a great deal in its unibody manufacturing, and anyone who’s held a MacBook Pro will be familiar with the surprising sturdiness Apple can cram into stunningly sleek industrial design.
Back to the box and sitting below the iPad you’ll find Apple’s usual, succinct documentation. And underneath that a standard Dock Connector to USB cable and power adaptor. We understand that one of Apple’s key priorities here was to keep costs down, so we forgive the lack of a bundled dock, but would it really have broken the bank to throw in one of the black microfibre cloths you get with a new iMac? Trust us, you’re going to need it – this screen collects fingerprints like Sherlock Holmes.
Unwrapped and in your hands, the obvious resemblance to a giant iPod touch does nothing to qualm any initial reactions you may have had. From the thin silver surround down to the positioning of every button, there’s a surprising familiarity considering that there’s every chance this could be the first time you’ve ever held an iPad in your hands. Along the top-left edge sits the headphone jack and microphone (seasoned Mac users, don’t try and jam a paperclip in there, there’s no disc to force out or sim card to extract). Slide your finger across the top and you’ll reach the sleep/wake button in its usual position. Back down along the long edge sits a switch to lock the screen rotation and the volume rocker. Apple hasn’t sacrificed the mute switch to give you the ability to lock the screen in portrait or landscape mode, it simply integrated it into the volume switch – press and hold the volume decrease button to jump quickly to absolute silence. Expect to see this setup in the next iPhone revision. Along the bottom edge you’ll find a three-hole speaker grill, the standard dock connector and that’s it; like the current iPhone, there’s no SD card slot, no USB port and no webcam. Keeping in mind that this isn’t just a big iPhone and these omissions make even less sense, for a device with aspirations above and beyond the capabilities of a netbook, these are features that many are going to consider essential.
A press of the sleep/hold button brings the iPad to life, and once again you’re reminded that the iPad sits far closer to the iPhone than the MacBook in Apple’s portable lineup. The first screen you see is the icon and cable display requesting you connect to iTunes. If you were expecting this to be a standalone device, if you’ve already tossed your home computer out with the garbage, you’ve been mistaken – you’ll need it at least one more time to get this baby up and running.
Plugged in and synced through the standard iTunes interface and you’re ready to rock (there’s no need to leave it charging, it comes primed and ready to go). In fact, it’s perfectly possible that it’s going to be some time before you have to think about plugging it in again. Whatever complaints you might hear about the iPad, the length of time between charges is never going to be one of them. At launch Apple boasted a ten-hour battery life and, to be honest, we all took that with a pinch of salt. Tech companies, Apple among them, have long got into the habit of rating battery life a little optimistically. With the iPad, Apple seems to have reconsidered that stance; perhaps it was so confident of the iPad’s herculean capacity that it thought it would be better to leave the reviewers pleasantly surprised. If that was Apple’s plan, it worked. Subjected to the usual real- world testing, the iPad consistently blasts through Apple’s estimates, often lasting in excess of eleven or twelve hours. Check out the teardown on page 83 and you’ll see one of the reasons why; inside it’s almost all battery with a diminutive, almost iPhone-sized computer attached. The other major contributor to the iPad’s stamina is the custom Apple chip, which was designed specifically for low power at high speeds.
Like Apple’s battery claims, talk of that speed isn’t just marketing fluff. The responsiveness of every gesture, swipe and Apple-designed app combine to make this, without a doubt, the most immersive computing experience we’ve ever enjoyed. With this kind of power poised directly at your fingertips – and with such a large, clear display – your awareness of the hardware quickly drops away and you’re left interacting directly with the content. Anybody who fails to be impressed by this kind of responsiveness in a mobile device deserves to stick with a netbook. Cursed to the same fate are those who fail to be stunned by the incredible 9.7-inch LED display. With a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, the iPad packs 132 pixels into every inch – roughly the same as the highest resolution MacBook Pro and a touch lower than the iPhone’s 163ppi – but on a screen this size it’s simply stunning. Under the natural gloss of the touch- sensitive glass, photos look rich, deep and luscious in every detail, while text appears clear and sharp without the jagged contrast evident in most other mobile devices. Even compared to the Amazon Kindle’s 170ppi e-ink screen, which was designed especially for clear reading, the iPad – with all of Apple’s experience of rendering on-screen typography behind it – stands it’s ground proudly.
Talking of the Kindle, one of Apple’s targets with the iPad is the growing electronic book, or eBook, market. Somewhat revitalised (at least in the US) by the launch of Amazon’s eReader, it nonetheless remains an industry, like the music industry before the launch of the iPod, still waiting for the right device to come along. So, is the iPad that device? Out of the box, no. The simple reason for this is that Apple’s flagship new app, iBooks, doesn’t come pre-installed – you’ll need to download it (for free) from the App Store. The reasons for this are the subject of rumour and conjecture, but it could be that – as a standalone app – Apple can update it whenever it likes rather than having to wait for a complete OS update. Considering how competitive the eBook market is going to get in the next year, this could be a very good thing.
Installed, iBooks comes preloaded with all ten beautifully illustrated chapters of A. A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. It’s the perfect choice for Apple to entice you with – held up alongside the Kindle’s stark greyscale display, the vibrant colours of E. H. Shepard’s artwork, sitting within the text, are the perfect demonstration of iBooks’ capabilities. Whether the iPad is going to replace printed books in your life is going to be a very personal decision, but Apple has certainly made it a compelling experience.
The device sits comfortably in your hands and, under all but the most direct sunlight, the text is clear and sharp – with the added advantage that you’ll never need a side lamp for reading again. Buying books from the online store is as simple as you’d expect. Tap a button and your bookshelf spins around, revealing a hidden emporium behind. You can search and browse through an extensive catalogue, and download generous sample chapters to try before you buy.
The Video app is also new, splitting away from the iPod app to showcase large clear artwork. As a personal movie player, it’s hard to imagine a better device. A screen of this quality held in your hands seems to do HD footage more justice than a massive 1080p television hung eight-feet away on your wall. The picture is rich and pin-sharp, the refresh rate incredibly smooth and the colour fidelity has depth and vigour, right down to the deepest blacks. If you were planning on getting the 16GB model, we urge you to reconsider – you’ll be wanting to cram in all the HD movies you can. Once you’ve got over the picture quality you’re still in for two big surprises. The first is that, considering the size of the speaker, the iPad manages to kick out a decent audio experience. It’s no surround sound setup (it’s not even stereo), but it’s adequate for enjoying a movie on the go. The second surprise will come as a relief if you prefer to share your cinematic experience: the viewing angle is quite possibly the best we’ve seen from any device. Ever.
Like the iPhone, the iPad’s onscreen keyboard will stay tucked out of the way until you need it, at which point it will slide up from the bottom of the screen. In portrait mode you find yourself stuck in a weird compromise between the tiny iPhone keyboard, where every key is easily within a thumbs reach, and a full-size keyboard that’s usable in a traditional, fingers on the home keys, touch-typing stance. It’s not a perfect arrangement, and suits a hunt and peck approach to tapping at the keys, but it’s more than good enough for knocking out a URL. Spin the iPad around to its landscape orientation and the keyboard expands to take up the full width of the screen. At this size the keys and spacing are pretty close to those of a full-sized keyboard, and the difference is huge. With the iPad on our lap, propped up against one knee, we were able to tap out over 1,500 words of this review at a very happy speed indeed. A soft keyboard brings with it another advantage; having got used to this being much more than a giant iPhone or iPod touch, you’re somewhat taken by surprise by its eagerness to help you autocomplete words as you type. You shouldn’t be, it’s part of what makes the iPhone keyboard work so well, but somehow you don’t expect it on a device this large. Tapping a word to correct it will quickly become one of the things we miss the most when forced back to our desktop.
As the iPhone proved, software keyboards are a contentious subject, and if you’re on the side of the fence that has yet to be convinced you’ll no doubt be overjoyed that Apple capitulated and has finally allowed Bluetooth and docked keyboards to work with the iPad (and the iPhone with the coming OS 4.0 update). Connection is a breeze, and typing works exactly as you’d expect it to with the soft keyboard sliding away to leave a full-screen view.
Until we sat down to type, the iPad hadn’t left our hands. However, to test stability and comfort during tabletop use we laid it down on a desk. The good news is that it works fine, although the tapered back means you need to be gentle with your taps, otherwise you’ll be trying to hit a moving target as it rocks back and forth. The bad news is that the days of hearing people complain of scratched backs on their iDevices aren’t over. Turning the iPad from landscape to portrait while it lay on the desk gave out an audible rasp as it caught a tiny grain of grit against the desktop, and the iPad was christened with its first small, curved scratch on its aluminium back. We doubt it’ll be the last.
Whether you need an iPad or not isn’t going to be a simple decision. It also maybe isn’t the point. This is, quite simply, the most compelling product Apple has ever produced. We have yet to meet the person who has picked it up, played with it and not gone away wanting their own. How it would fit into your life is another matter; for many it could fulfil almost all of their computing needs (bar the need for that initial sync). It handles email, the internet, photos and casual gaming with style, and for an awful lot of people that’s enough. For the rest of us who need the power of a full-blown Mac, you’ll be surprised by how quickly the iPad becomes the easier, more convenient and more enjoyable alternative for many of the tasks that have traditionally kept you chained to the desktop.
Pros Could redefine the way we use computers – a stunningly compelling device.
Cons Lack of Adobe Flash, USB and printing support could be a deal-breaker for some.