Apple looks set to shake up casual computing with a tablet that offers clever design and ease of use. But that streamlined approach may also be the iPad's weakness.
Specs and speeds
Before diving into the details of the iPad, it’s worth recapping some of the details of the product. There are currently three versions available, all identical save for the amount of onboard storage: a $499 16GB model, $599 32GB model, and $699 64GB model. Three other models with built-in 3G networking in addition to Wi-Fi will be available later in April, at the same storage sizes: 16GB for $629, 32GB for $729, and 64GB for $829. Before you buy a Wi-Fi-only model, it’s worth considering how you might use the 3G models.
With the iPhone and iPod touch, Apple has been reluctant to talk about processors and speeds, preferring to treat those products as magical black boxes. But we must forgive Apple from crowing a little bit about the processor that powers the iPad, because it was custom-designed by Apple itself. The new A4 processor, running at 1GHz, is a “system on a chip”—in other words, it was built to run the iPad, not chosen from a parts list and adapted to work for the iPad.
Geeky chip talk aside, the iPad flies. It was fast at almost everything I threw at it. The only times I found myself waiting were either for content to download over the network or for one of the iWork apps to convert a file into its native file format. Games played smoothly, with gorgeous graphics. There’s no lag when panning and zooming around large images. Any touch-based device stands or falls based on how quickly and smoothly the content on the screen can react to the movement of fingers on that screen. The iPad passes that test masterfully.
Apple hasn’t released details of the battery that’s powering the iPad, but whatever combination of battery and power efficiency is lurking behind that aluminum back, it’s impressive. Apple boasts a 10-hour battery life for the iPad, and most reports from reviewers who have spent a week or more with the device suggest that the real-world life of that battery is even longer. My two days with the iPad bear out those reports. If you charge the iPad overnight, you can pretty much use it the whole day.
We’ll have more extensive speed and battery testing in the next few days at Macworld.com, but the short version is this: it’s fast and the battery lasts.
Typing on the iPad
The iPad’s software keyboard is more typeable than I would have ever thought possible. This is not to say that it’s a suitable equivalent for a hardware keyboard—it’s not, and Apple has as much as admitted it by offering a Keyboard Dock as an optional accessory. But with some focus and a little practice, I was able to type with both hands at a decent enough pace. The keyboard in landscape mode isn’t quite the size of a real keyboard, but it’s close, and once you’ve got both hands on the keyboard you can really start picking up speed.
The software keyboard makes good use of the shift keys, giving you quick access to two extra punctuation symbols. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room to include the apostrophe or quotation mark on the first level of the keyboard, and those symbols and the numbers were the speed bumps in my otherwise passable typing sessions. I don’t think I would ever choose to compose a long e-mail or write a lengthy document using the software keyboard, but it proved good enough for small bouts of typing.
I tested both Apple’s Keyboard Dock and several Bluetooth keyboards with the iPad, and they all worked well. The iPad supports keyboard shortcuts, so anyone who has trained themselves to hold down shift to and press the arrow keys to select text, then press command-X to cut the text and command-V to paste it somewhere else, will discover that those keys perform those very same tasks on the iPad. And the iPad is plenty responsive, even to a fast typist like myself—I never noticed it dropping any characters.
The Keyboard Dock works well if you’re sitting at a desk, but in general I think more people will like typing with a Bluetooth keyboard like Apple’s incredibly tiny Wireless Keyboard. (You’ll just need to use a case, stand, or convenient box to prop up the iPad at a good angle for viewing while you type.)
Next: Reading on iPad
Apple looks set to shake up casual computing with a tablet that offers clever design and ease of use. But that streamlined approach may also be the iPad's weakness. Read the full review
- Best-in-class touch interface
- Large display shows pics and videos beautifully
- All-day battery life
- No way to manage files, no camera, no multitasking
- Lack of Flash support cripples many Web sites
- Poor scaling of iPhone apps