Review: Apple iPad (16GB/32GB/64GB) - With Full Interface Videos
Pros: An impressively built tablet computer, featuring a clean industrial design borrowed from Apple’s MacBook Pro computers, internal components derived largely from its iPod touch and iPhone pocket devices, and stable, multi-touch software. Runs over 150,000 applications, thousands of which have been optimized for this device, offering iPod-equivalent sonic performance, better than iPod- and iPhone-quality visual performance, and 10+ hour battery life unmatched by any current-generation Apple product, or most competitors. Superb for book and periodical reading, strong for web and video viewing, more capable of content creation than iPods and iPhones. Supports 720p HD video playback.
Cons: Cannot serve as a standalone computer; in addition to iTunes dependence, horsepower is presently shortchanged by limited, iPhone-class multitasking that forces all third-party applications to occupy and waste entire screen; lack of camera similarly limits value for video communications. Screen dimensions are sub-optimal for movies, including HD content. Confusing battery charging requirements and slow iTunes synchronization. Initial iPad-optimized applications, as well as Apple’s strategy for performing and selling color digital publications on the device, need additional work. In addition to anti-glare, anti-fingerprint screen film, most users will need new in-car, docking, and/or speaker accessories.
Apple registered the design for the iPad back in 2004, and made only the most minor changes to its early vision before debuting it in 2010. In a nutshell, the iPad is an aluminum- and glass-bodied computer with a footprint just slightly smaller than a magazine, and weight roughly comparable to a small hardcover book.
Though the iPad has been described as a “giant iPod touch,” it actually resembles the lid of a MacBook Pro computer, only a little thicker, with room for ports and controls on its shallowest side. Like the MacBook Pro, it bulges at the center to achieve its 0.5” maximum depth, while its flat edge measures roughly 0.25”, just enough to surround a bottom-mounted Dock Connector port with untapered metal before giving way to angular, machined edges.
To the right of that port are three pill-shaped mesh speaker grilles, while the device’s right side breaks with iPhone and iPod touch tradition by containing up-and-down volume buttons—previously found on the left—and a switch that was originally demonstrated to mute the iPad’s audio, then changed at the last minute to serve as a screen orientation lock. At the top of each iPad are a standard 3.5mm headphone port, a hole for an integrated microphone, and a Sleep/Wake button. The buttons are made from black plastic, similar to the original iPhone and current iPod touch.
As noted above, the first-generation iPad comes in two different configurations, each with three different storage capacities. Apple calls the first version iPad Wi-Fi, and the other iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, selling the latter at a $130 premium over the Wi-Fi-only models. They are physically differentiated by the presence of a wide black plastic antenna strip on the Wi-Fi + 3G model, running roughly a half-inch from the top of that iPad down the back, and interrupting its silver front bezel.
Unlike the Wi-Fi-only model, which depends upon your home, office, or paid wireless network for Internet access, the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G antenna strip enables it to wirelessly connect to the same cellular data networks as the iPhone 3G and 3GS, while adding a slot for a micro SIM card on its top; sub-millimeter differences in height and width make the Wi-Fi + 3G version a hint bigger than the 9.56” by 7.47” Wi-Fi-only model, and 1.6 pounds in weight versus 1.5 pounds. Both models of the iPad come in 16GB ($499/$629), 32GB ($599/$729), and 64GB ($699/$829) capacities, each indicated with a small badge on the device’s lower back like most iPods and iPhones. A large, glossy metallic Apple logo is centered vertically on each iPad’s rear, with the iPad name, certification logos, and product identification details underneath.
While we’d stop short of calling the iPad’s shell perfect, it does so much right that it’s hard to criticize for anything other than its minimalism. In weight, size, and gentle curvature, it feels great in the hand, firm in the lap, and far more durable than the average iPod or iPhone these days, though the aluminum is subject to the same scuffs and scratches that MacBook Pros and the original iPhone gather over time. Its most obvious deficiency is its lack of additional ports—the scuttled second Dock Connector on the long edge for widescreen mounting, an integrated card reader for photography purposes, or even a USB port for use with popular Mac accessories. Any one of these features would have been appreciated by a significant number of users. An elegant integrated stand, capable of letting the iPad stand upright on its own, would also have been worth including.
Screen and Face
All of the details mentioned above are important to understanding what the iPad includes and feels like, but the core of the device is its 9.7-inch color display, found behind an all-glass shield coated with Apple’s “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating,” and directly above a circular Home button like the ones on iPhones and iPod touches. The 1024x768-pixel resolution of the iPad’s display is on par with small laptops and higher than most netbooks, offering a higher pixel count per inch (132ppi) than 13” MacBook and MacBook Pro computers (113ppi), but lower than the current iPhone 3G/3GS and iPod touch (163ppi). Practically, this difference doesn’t matter much: due to the different sizes of the dots on their screens, the iPad’s “1x” rendering of iPhone applications is actually a little larger than their actual size, but the iPad still provides finer details than most Macs. Moreover, due as much to the quality of the wide-angled IPS display as the glass, the glossy screen pops with color and can be viewed almost as easily by people off to the left and right as someone directly in front of the iPad. This is an improvement on the iPod touch, iPhone, and certain Macs, which sometimes suffered from off-angle viewing problems. Additionally, there were no dead pixels or other issues with the four iPad screens we tested during this review—each one was perfect.
On the other hand, the shape of the iPad’s screen is a surprise. It reverses Apple’s design trend of the last three years, which has seen it shift all of its other devices—Macs, iPods, and iPhones alike—away from old-fashioned 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio screens to wider ones, which have varied from 1.5:1 on the iPhone and iPod touch to 1.6:1 or 1.78:1 on different Macs. Though the differences may sound abstract, Apple moved in this direction to improve the look of wide-formatted movies and TV shows on its devices, reducing or eliminating the black bars that show up when wide-formatted content is presented on a narrow display. The iPad’s screen uses that old 4:3 aspect ratio, so as a consequence, when you play a movie or HD television show on the iPad in its native format, you’ll see big black bars unless you double tap, which will fill the screen but crop off a lot of the video’s edges.
Except for videos, most users won’t care about the shape of the screen. Instead, they’ll be impressed by its sheer real estate—nearly seven times as much touchable surface as the iPod touch or iPhone, which enables both a dramatically expanded area to display maps, photos, web pages, and videos, all discussed below, and the use of more multi-finger touch controls than before. The prior 3.5” multi-touch displays didn’t have enough area to either display or let you control a full-sized doorknob, but the iPad’s screen could both show you such a thing as it actually looks, and let you turn it with several fingers working in a circular motion.
Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. HD already includes such a feature, missing from the iPhone version of the same game, and other applications will follow. This degree of interactivity will eventually allow users to connect with iPad applications in ways that Nintendo’s Wii motion controls have already proved addicting, but if history repeats itself, will also invite gimmicks and poor implementations of new ideas. Turning doorknobs isn’t necessarily fun in a world where doors can open themselves; Gameloft only requires you to do this on a handful of doors, and then, with differing gestures to keep things interesting.
On a related note, the iPad picks up finger smears in droves: on each day we tested the device, we found the screen covered in marks after 30 minutes of testing, and literally layered with them after a full day. The fingerprints are far more obvious outdoors than indoors, but can also be seen inside on off-angles, particularly when the screen’s turned off. Because of the oleophobic coating, they’re easy to wipe off with a soft cloth, but that’s far more necessary here than with iPhones and iPods, making the iPad’s face-up screen somewhat difficult to see outside on a bright, sunny day. Moreover, in our testing in cars, we noticed that a screen-tilting passenger quickly generated complaints from the driver regarding glass-reflecting glare that can become dangerously distracting. These are just a couple of reasons that we’d recommend an anti-glare, anti-fingerprint screen protector: the other is that we’ve tested our similarly coated iPhone 3GS without screen protection over the last 8 months, and have noticed that it shows scratches to a greater extent than the uncoated prior iPhone and iPhone 3G screens. Since an iPad won’t be sitting in anyone’s pocket, the practical likelihood of scratching from coins or keys goes down dramatically, but if you’re planning on tossing your device into a bag or purse, you’ll want to put something on the display to keep it safe. A large collection of iPad case and screen protection options can be seen in our iPad Case Gallery here; we await the inevitable release of cases with attached cleaning cloths.
Packaging and Pack-Ins
The iPad ships in an unremarkable white cardboard box with a product image on the front, the iPad name on the sides, and silver Apple logos on the top and bottom, duplicating the look of the iPhone 3G/3GS and iPod classic boxes rather than the transparent plastic ones used for iPod shuffles, nanos, and touches. A very simple manual, two Apple stickers, and a warranty book are included in a small cardboard folio, but the rest of the package is surprisingly sparing: a tray that holds the iPad, cable, and power supply is attached to the box’s bottom, occupying far more space than is typical in Apple packages these days.
Apple includes a Dock Connector to USB Cable that’s like the ones it has sold for years with iPods and iPhones, differing only in the shape of its USB plug housing, which changes one set of curves for another. The power supply is called the iPad 10W USB Power Adapter, virtually identical to the iPod USB Power Adapters Apple sold several years ago, complete with wall blades that can be swapped for an extension cord—not included here, but found in a standalone 10W USB Power Adapter package—or international wall blades, also sold separately.
It turns out that this particular Adapter is literally required as of press time to quickly replenish the iPad’s non-removable 25-watt-hour rechargeable battery. Apple didn’t publicize the problem prior to the iPad’s release, but the iPad’s battery requires much more juice to charge than iPods (0.5 Amps) and iPhones (0.5 or 1 Amp), so brand new 2 Amp car and home power adapters have been developed by companies such as Apple, Griffin, and Kensington solely for this product; only Apple’s are currently in stores. The packed-in Dock Connector to USB Cable enables the iPad to sync with your computer, but because of variations from computer to computer—and USB port to USB port—there are no guarantees that a given USB port will both charge and sync the iPad at the same time. Most ports will charge it at half or a quarter of the speed of the included wall adapter, while some ports will charge the iPad only when its screen its off, and others will not charge it at all. The “how to charge” question is far more confusing with the iPad than with prior Apple portable devices, and as a consequence, we found that full recharges could take between between four and eight hours, sometimes more. Attempting to charge while the iPad is syncing, screen on, is an incredibly sluggish process even on brand new Apple iMac computers.
Unlike all iPods and iPhones, the iPad does not include headphones of any kind. It does work with Apple’s microphone and three-button remote control-equipped headphones, as well as ones developed by third parties, and third-party remote control adapters. While headphones will obviously be useful for the iPad under many circumstances—travel, quiet use at home or in the office, and so on—the iPad’s integrated volume buttons and microphone, combined with its lack of pocketability, reduce the need for headphones with these features built in. Wired remotes and microphones will primarily benefit those who want to control the iPad’s iPod music playback while in other applications, or need closer proximity to the microphone for use with third-party voice-dependent applications. For whatever reason, Apple does not include Voice Memos, its iPhone and iPod touch recording application, with the iPad. A huge collection of iPad-compatible headphones we’ve reviewed can be seen here.
One omission from the iPad’s package that isn’t surprising is the absence of a Universal Dock Adapter, the small white plastic insert that has been included with iPods and iPhones alike since 2005. Apple developed the just slightly oversized Universal Dock well as a way to guarantee iPods and iPhones would fit in most licensed third-party speaker systems and standalone docks, as well as its own ill-fated iPod Hi-Fi, and has done a great job of popularizing the well. Not surprisingly, however, the iPad’s bottom edge is far too long to fit in any of the Universal Dock-equipped docks or speakers that have been released over the past five years, and its charging requirements are different, so developers are going back to the drawing board to develop new, larger, and more powerful accessories to handle the iPad’s size and needs. Apple has its own official iPad Dock ($29) and iPad Keyboard Dock ($69), both with completely open sides; similarly open docks found on speakers such as Bowers + Wilkins’ Zeppelin and iHome’s iA5 can hold and play music from the iPad, but not charge it; “Not Charging” actually appears alongside the iPad’s battery indicator when it’s connected to a device without proper 2 Amp power output. A large battery icon with a charge percentage indicator appears briefly in the center of the screen when a 2 Amp adapter is connected.