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.
As our rare high recommendation indicates, we’re as close to wildly enthusiastic about the iPad as we’ve ever been about a first-generation Apple product: unlike the original iPhone, Apple TV, and iPod touch, all of which we cautioned readers about in their earliest forms, Apple has done so much right with the first iteration of this device that it’s easy to look past the iPad’s issues and just enjoy everything it can do. That’s a long list, too: great web browsing, solid video, photo, and audio playback, nearly excellent book and magazine reading, and roughly 15,000 other programs including outstanding games, powerful new creative tools, and much more. All of this is accomplished with battery life that is quantifiably better than almost any laptop or netbook on the planet, and at a starting price tag of $499 that is affordable by computer standards, if not aggressive given the storage capacities offered. Had Apple offered the 32GB iPad for $399, or included 3G networking as an option in every iPad at current prices, it might well have muted some of the iPad’s earliest critics, but the company has long had a “haters be damned” attitude, and if its continued successes across the Mac, iPod, and iPhone families are any indication, even 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPads may well be global hits despite the $499 asking price.
Having said that, the first iPad has its fair share of issues, as well, the vast majority of which relate to the iPhone OS 3.2 software it ships with, as well as the as-yet-unoptimized third-party applications Apple is selling through the App Store. True multitasking—the ability of an instant messaging application to be on screen at the same time as a web browser—is a must-have feature on a device with this screen size, and its absence is the one and only reason the iPad hovers on the finest edge of A- and B+ ratings for us. Additionally, though some may consider Apple’s “sell it first, test it on real devices later” approach to iPad software development to be progressive or practical, the result of its rush to get software out is a collection of not-yet-fully-baked concepts and executions, including everything from Apple-developed iPad apps that really need large-scale, large-screen updates—like Mail and Notes—to third-party apps that shipped with crash bugs, broken interfaces, and wildly varying levels of quality. Combine that with the iPad’s beautiful but rapidly dirtied glass screen, and you have a device that has awesome potential but requires a little bit too much user accommodation right out of the gate. Within six months, we’d expect most of the software issues to be fixed, but we’re not rating the iPad based on what it might or might not be six months from now.
So should you buy an iPad today, wait a little while—perhaps until the 3G version is released—or hold off altogether? After what happened with the first iPhone, Apple TV, and iPod touch, it’s all too easy to say “wait,” because Apple has justifiably improved each of its first-generation products in non-trivial ways within a year of initial release, sometimes sooner. Before any of those updates took place, Steve Jobs explained the rapid pace of Apple’s product evolutions and price drops in a letter to customers, saying:
“There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you’ll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.”
In other words, the entertainment and joy you’ll get from owning and using a fun new device has some dollar value, and even if something better comes along a year later, your purchase still has residual value—and continued utility. Unlike the first iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV, the iPad arrives on the scene with so much and such polished functionality that all we could ask for is more, at a lower price. It is such an extraordinarily strong product right out of the gate that, with full knowledge of the fact that there will be better versions in the future, we would recommend it broadly to our entire readership unless one of the key “cons” noted above is a show-stopper for you. In that case, we hope that Apple works quickly to remove that obstacle with a future software or hardware update, because the iPad is the type of powerful and beautiful piece of technology that deserves to be in as many homes and hands as possible, sooner rather than later.
Our A- rating and high recommendation are awarded solely to the iPad with Wi-Fi. Read our comprehensive supplemental review of the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G (iLounge Rating: B+) here.