Review: Apple iPad

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The Apple iPad has already been out for more than six months, so why post our review? Well, mainly to give you our editors take on the device just in time for the Holiday Shopping Season. Does the iPad do well when TECHGEEK.com.au gives it for a spin – eight months later. Does the iPad live up to the hype and to the same standard of its sister products – the MacBook, the iPod and the iPhone? Is it better than them, or is it worse?

The review is after the jump.

  • Score:

    8.5 / 10

  • The Good:

    Fast; Looks and feels amazing; Great looking screen; No matter what people say, iOS is a great tablet OS.

  • The Bad:

    Expensive; No Flash; iBooks is terrible.

  • Bottom Line:

    It’s good, but there’s bound to be a better iPad pretty soon that’s hopefully cheaper or better.

What’s In The Box?

Firstly though, what’s in the box? The first thing you see when you remove the lid is your shiny, new toy, the iPad. When you remove that you get a information pack, which has your one year warranty and Apple’s famous one-page instruction manual which tells you which iPad buttons do what. Also in the pack is a Micro-SIM removal tool. Behind the info pack is an Apple Dock Connector to USB Cable for syncing and also a 10W wall-charger. Sadly a pair of earphones are not included so you’ll have to supply your own.

Hardware

The front of the device simply looks like a big iPod touch. There is a single button on the front, the home button, that’s used to exit applications and unlock the device. Also there is an almost invisible Ambient light sensor at the top of the device which was working great for us. The sensor changes the brightness of the screen depending on how bright your current environment is.  On the right side of the device is a volume rocker and a physical screen-rotation lock. This is really nice for when you want to, say, read a book in bed and is just what the iPad needs. On the left side of 3G model is the micro-SIM slot. And on the top is the lock button and a headphone jack.

Update: At the time of writing, the screen lock button was still available. This has since been removed with the latest update to Apple iOS.

The capacitive, LED back-lit, multi-touch screen is 9.7” and displays at an old school resolution of 1024 x 768. It’s full colour, unlike E-ink devices, which means it displays pictures and anything else iOS throws at it beautifully. It is a bit of a fingerprint magnet but there’s no real way Apple could stop that.

The real disappointment of  the screen is that it’s only 4:3, just like an old TV, which, compared to the iPhone’s almost (1:5:1) wide-screen display, feels like a step backwards. And with the iPhone 4 just released in Australia it’s definitely going to feel dated next year if Apple puts a Retina Display in the iPad 2. But other than that the iPad gives you much more room to play with than the iPhone and has a great screen for viewing media on.

The iPad also has the same accelerometer as the iPhone, allowing many applications to be played by rotating the device. It also lets you hold the iPad anyway you want, like upside down, where the screen will rotate to fit your viewing angle. And as said before, you can also click the rotation lock to stop this, something I think the iPhone needs.

iPad runs on a 1GHz A4 chip, Apple’s new custom processor. It’s fast and also helps the iPad have a generous 10-hour battery life.

Other features include a inbuilt microphone and speaker. The microphone works with Skype and other applications but Apple didn’t include their own Voice Memo’s app, leaving you to find one. Also this would have seriously been a highly recommendable device if they’d had a camera. Imagine talking to people on your iPad. Now we are left with only voice chats. Also, with Apple’s new FaceTime expect to see next year’s iPad with a camera. The speaker, while a bit underwhelming for audiophiles, is truly astonishing keeping in mind the iPad’s super slim design.

You get Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G inbuilt. You can play Blue-tooth games but, unlike almost every other non-Apple, Bluetooth supported device in the world, you can’t file share and headsets buttons, like pause or the microphone, don’t work. Come on Apple, this is just silly. The Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) is great, just like a laptop or iPhone, and is used throughout the device to keep you connected. It also supports 3G Data. We couldn’t test this, but we’re guessing it’s like the iPhone’s 3G, without voice and SMS/MMS.

The iPad requires syncing with iTunes to get content on and off the device. This is one aspect of the iPad that makes a netbook look like a more attractive option. Also, when syncing our unit said “Not Charging”. This is because it requires a powerful USB port which, plenty of modern computers and definitely laptops don’t have meaning you have to use the wall-charger.

Software

Note: The iPad I reviewed was running iOS 3.2, not the upcoming iOS 4.2.

iOS, the Operating System the iPad runs on, while being a little lacking compared to a full desktop OS, fits well with the iPad. Not meaning to go off topic, but if you’ve ever used a Windows 7 touch screen device you’ll know that it can feel clumsy at times because Windows has and always will be made with a mouse and keyboard in mind. The iOS is made with touch in mind and is a joy to use. Unfortunately the iPad hasn’t yet received the iOS 4 update, meaning some cool new features are not present.

Firstly, lets talk about the universal aspects of iOS for iPad.

The on-screen keyboard, while still not being as good as a physical keyboard is actually surprisingly great. You don’t get any force feedback but I actually found myself typing at the speed I type with on a physical keyboard and making close to no typo’s.

The lock screen can show a wallpaper of your choice and you can also turn the iPad into a digital photo frame by tapping the slideshow button. Also there is an option to protect your iPad with a pass-code.

The Homescreen, where your apps sit, has a wallpaper, something that the iPhone just got in iOS4. But it lacks the Folders function. Also the Spotlight search bar to the left of the Homescreen is strangely the same size as the iPhone’s.

Included Apps

App Store. The App Store is the place to get games and applications for your iPad. There are three kinds of apps that you can get: iPhone apps, iPad apps and Universal apps which work on all devices. The iPhone apps run at either regular size (tiny) or 2X (pixelated). iPad apps are apps that work on just the iPad (so no iPhone or iPod touch support) and cover the whole screen. Universal apps are apps that work on iPhone and iPad.  As usual the App Store is locked down, meaning so is your iPad. If Apple doesn’t like an app, you won’t get it. Also many developers force you to get their ‘HD’ versions of their apps, even if you already have the iPhone version. These iPad editions usually cost even more than their iPhone counterparts and are obviously cash grabs.

Safari: The iPad’s webkit web browser is beautiful, with HTML5 support and more. I found streaming video (Quicktime), whether it’s in Safari or not, is pretty dodgy on the iPad, as it is on iPhone, especially on a slow connection, compared to Flash. For example some things like losing buffer and seek reloading the video.

Mobile Safari is basically Safari from Mac/PC on a mobile device. There’s not much you can say about it except that it’s fast and renders full web-pages perfectly. But two things I don’t like.
Firstly, the tabs system is basically copy and pasted from the iPhone. I think they should move the tabs into the top bar of the browser, under the address bar.

Secondly, as I said before Apple has locked down their OS. This means Flash, a major part of the Internet, is not included with the MobileSafari browser and cannot be installed. Major fail. No matter how slow or crap you think Flash is, you cannot deny that it’s a massive part of the Internet and without Flash support Apple can barely call it the entire web. Overall Safari is a great, yet locked down, mobile browser.

iBooks: Another major selling point for the iPad is reading, but unfortunately you might want to reconsider or get the Kindle iPad App instead. Firstly I found reading looks cool in theory on a video or picture, but when I actually tried to read a book I got really annoyed. When I was reading, I’d try and do the page curling thing.

Usually it would work, but sometimes it would read it as a tap and turn the page, and because I was curling my finger it turned two pages. Now this may sound complicated because I’m terrible at explaining things, but I found it no match to reading a real book. And if that’s their aim then they, to me, have failed. Full stop.

iBooks also sometimes lags when turning the page which, while could sometimes be expected happens a lot and detracts from the whole ‘I’m a real book” charade.

Also the Application has basically no options, except for different font sizes, fonts and brightness. So you cant turn off page curling or tap to change page. You must have them both enabled, causing me major confusion.

Also, how do you get books on the iPad? Well, the iBookstore was only just launched in Australia, so the collection of books you can buy is relatively small. But it’s still much, much better than what was available when the iPad was launched here. Books are a little expensive, but it’s still pretty good.

When you buy or sync a book onto the iPad, your position in the book is synced to your iTunes account, meaning that if you also have an iPhone you can start from where you left off. You can only read iBooks with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch though, so no Mac or PC Support.

Still overall I mostly didn’t like iBooks and would rather get the Kindle app, mainly due to the reading experience.

Mail: The iPad has an awesome email system, and the only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t yet have the features from the iOS 4 update, like unified inboxes and threaded emails. Mail supports POP, IMAP and Exchange emails. Overall it’s really fun and useful app to read your mail in and possibly, dare I say it, better than desktop and web mail applications.

iPod: The iPod app is great too. It looks a bit like iTunes on Mac/PC and is cool to use. They’ve made good use of the extra screen space too. One thing though is that Apple strangely left out coverflow which would’ve been great on the iPad’s big screen. Also it feels weird that songs open in a full screen cover view
It’s still a solid music application.

Photos: The Photos app is really a joy to use. You start off with stacks of your images:

And then you can pinch them to see what images are included in the pile. Also when looking at images you can quickly scroll through all images with a bar at the bottom of the page.

Also, when on the iPad’s lock screen you can turn on the Slideshow mode, which is like a digital photo frame in it’s dock and has plenty of transitions.

You can also buy an accessory that lets you import your photos from an SD card or USB Camera. I felt that these two accessories should’ve been either included with the iPad or actually have been present on the side of the device.

Videos: Nothing new here in videos, except as usual with Apple, the menu’s looks very stylish and smooth. Also sadly the 4:3 ratio of the iPad means you have to double tap the iPad screen to zoom in or out, meaning you either have massive black bars on the top and bottom of the movie or cut off half of the picture.

Maps: The Maps app is really cool, and useful especially on 3G, for when you need directions and such. Also there’s Street View which is cool. But again, it’s just a bigger version of the iPhone version, no new features here.

Calendar: The calendar app lets you Sync with your online calendar, like Google, Yahoo or MobileMe or have a locally stored calendar. When you add things to your calendar, they automatically Sync with your online service, over the air. The future is here people. You can view your calendar in Day, Week, Month or Year mode. Month is my favourite as it’s just like a wall calendar, but it’s expensive, interactive and portable. It’s great for planning and looks good too.

Wrap Up

Overall, while I think the review shows I thought the iPad was pretty cool, it’s also still lacking some major features from a desktop OS and for the money of the top model you could get a laptop with more features. So my final verdict is cool but expensive. Go get one Mr Monopoly man or wait. There’s bound to be a better iPad pretty soon that hopefully is cheaper or better.