The iPad is, for all its hype, a very special device. Whether you’re an Apple fanboy, or a Mac-averse Windows stalwart there’s no denying this is the sort of gadget that makes tech-heads remember why they care so much about circuitry, software and specs. But the curious thing is, the iPad doesn’t exude technical prowess. It doesn’t scream about the technology inside, and it certainly isn’t a power-monger’s plaything. Instead, Apple has concentrated on the experience of using its minimalist slate.
The iPad is understated, simplistic, even feeling like a toy in many ways. So is this the tablet computer that’ll herald the revolution we’ve all been waiting for, or a poser’s dream machine, a glorified iPod touch with gigantism? Read our iPad UK review, and we’ll lay it on the line.
Empty your mind. Forget your preconceptions. Stop imagining, stop expecting and stop predicting. You have never used anything like this in your life. The iPad sets a new tone for mobile computing, and it’s… well, it’s odd.
After spending our entire adult lives hauling laptops and hunching over mobile phones, the iPad is a breath of fresh air, but also a strangely unsettling one.
Nay-sayers decrying the iPad as an inflated iPhone or iPod touch are, strictly speaking, correct; at least from an experiential point of view. Apple’s interface is so familiar, even the inflated size of its iPad icons is jarring at first. The iPad feels like a plaything, a toy, a bit of fun. But it’s not, this really is a true portable computer.
It’s that odd juxtaposition of fun and function that makes the iPad such an oddity. Apple’s slab really does feel like it has travelled back from a not-too-distant future. It’s reassuringly weighty, and feels astoundingly solid, but it’s also speedy, sprightly and packed with grin-inducing touches.
At first it’s tempting to be gentle with the iPad, to mollycoddle and cradle it. But this is a tablet built to last, to be thrown around, passed to friends and handed to even the clumsiest child without worry it’ll be broken.
The more you use it, the clearer it’ll also become that the iPad is the result, not of a minimalist feature cull, but of careful and considered construction. That narrow chamfer around its bezel makes the edge of the iPad melt away. Similarly, its gently curving rear makes the tablet feel less than half its actual thickness.
The black border around the screen too, while wider than we’d expected, is important: a valuable, and natural, resting place for fingers and thumbs, giving you space to hold the iPad without interfering with its sensitive touchscreen.
The iPad’s aesthetics are, to an extent, secondary to its purpose. This is a computer to be used – thrown into a daybag and touted around town. It’s a workhorse, and a true day-long companion. It just happens to look good enough to stop traffic.
Dive into the iPad, and you’ll be wowed by Apple’s touchscreen. If Apple set a new standard with the iPhone’s display, the iPad is here to smash right through it.
Bright and bursting with colour, using the iPad is a transfixing experience. Browsing webpages in portrait feels natural and engrossing, and if you’re an avid web-reader, prepare to lose hours browsing the web on an iPad. We’re not ashamed to say it’s extended several bathroom visits in its short stay at Electricpig towers, and will genuinely make you consume more of the web you love. That’s no bad thing, in our opinion.
Apple design boss Jonny Ive hasn’t achieved a perfect design though, the iPad has plenty of failings. It’s speaker placement is astonishingly bad, and the sound quality is not much better. Frequently blocked by your hands when held in landscape, Apple seems to have created a curse, as well as a blessing, by allowing the iPad to be held any way you like.
Crank up the volume too, and you’ll be disappointed. Almost all heavy basslines lead to distortion, while trebles sound weak and lustreless. Turn down the volume to counter the problem, and you’ll barely be able to hear the iPad’s feeble squeaks.
There are no headphones included with the iPad either, so it’s impossible to claim the speaker is a backup solution to listening in private. And the bad news doesn’t stop there.
The iPad’s accelerometer is similarly disappointing. Sure, it’s quick to react when you need it, but it’s also twitchier than a turkey at Christmas when you don’t.
Set the iPad down flat on a table, and you’ll be lucky if it hasn’t swivelled its screen before you’ve let go. That’s the reason for Apple including a lock switch on the iPad’s side, disabling screen rotation completely.
Don’t be mislead, that switch is a valuable addition, and works well while scouring the web, watching video or reading eBooks in anything but an stiff upright position. Take the iPad to bed, lounge with it on the sofa, or even slump sideways in your chair and it’ll be the first thing you reach for.
Those two annoyances, however, are minor niggles. Our few reservations fade away almost entirely when engrossed in Apple’s gorgeous new software, humming away inside the iPad like a caged tiger.
It’s clear this tablet has vast reserves of untapped potential, and out of the box it’s a little frustrating that Cupertino’s included iPad apps are so boring.
Sure, Google Maps looks astonishing on the iPad’s 9.7 inch screen, with Street View almost feeling like a portal to another world. Likewise, its Calendar, Notes and Contacts apps all stand up as solid standard features, but they’re not going to knock your socks into a cocked hat.
What will force an uncontrollable grin onto your mush is Safari and Mail. Apple hasn’t so much redesigned these two iPhone stalwarts, as given them room to breathe on the iPad. Diving through pages and rifling through e-mail on the iPad really comes close to a desktop-class experience.
Mail in particular makes excellent use of its expanded screen-space, tilting sideways in landscape mode, and offering up a side-by-side view of your mailboxes and messages. It’s fast, efficient, and like everything on the iPad: fun.
We’d happily use the iPad as a day-to-day e-mail machine, in place of our laptops, with the single exception of sending e-mail attachments. And that’s because of one final fault with the iPad. It’s file system, or should that be it’s lack of a file system.
Just like the iPhone, the iPad forces you to save files into pre-defined places. Photos and images live in the iPad’s photo library, for example. Sounds are kept in the iPod app, and videos in a new Video app, separate from the iPod. But documents and other files…. well, they’re homeless. Unable to be saved and, therefore, unable to be sent onwards as e-mail attachments.
What’s more, even if you’d like to e-mail one of the few files the iPad can successfully house, it’s an arduous task. Photos can only be attached to messages from within the Photos app, and if you’ve used a third party app to create something fresh, say a sketch or a spreadsheet, you’ll have to tap into it and hope there’s a built-in e-mail function.
Forget doing all your e-mailing from within the Mail app itself, the iPad will make you skip around collecting attachments first.
Likewise, file support within Safari is almost non-existant. Tap and hold an image and you’ll be able to save it to your Photo Library, but that’s where the iPad’s talents end. Found a site offering a free MP3? You can play it, but saving it’s out of the question. Want to download that PDF for later reading? Forget it.
Broadly, however, Apple has succeeded. Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive’s vision has triumphed over those who doubted the iPad would be more than a jumped up iPod touch. Instead, the iPad has proved itself to be a true portable companion, changing the way we use the web, ushering in a new generation of apps, and altering the way we think about entertainment on the move. Best of all, Apple has done all this with a sense of sheer joy, child-like wonderment and genuine excitement. The hype is justified. The iPad is amazing.