The iPad vs. the BlackBerry
On mobile devices, movies, music, and social networking are all very well; but the classic mobile application remains unglamorous, invaluable e-mail. And RIM's BlackBerry phones are still synonymous with mobile e-mail. Is the iPad--which includes Mail among its handful of bundled apps--a plausible substitute for a BlackBerry device? Definitely not, if you're the archetypal jittery CrackBerry addict who is always checking messages.
The iPad is best used when you are sitting down, and it does not lend itself to quick, inconspicuous peeks at your inbox. Furthermore, while every BlackBerry is an always-on data device that provides access to e-mail anywhere you have a cell signal, only the 3G iPads--which may be released just after this article is posted--will match that feature. With the Wi-Fi-only models, you'll need to hunt for a hotspot or invest in a portable router such as the MiFi.
For relatively unhurried mail access, though, the iPad is certainly okay--and is faster than booting up a laptop and diving into Outlook. For my money, the roomier display and the on-screen keyboard together beat the BlackBerry for reading and writing messages that are more than a few paragraphs long, and the built-in file viewers work well for checking out Office and PDF documents. Gmail users can choose between Apple's Mail app and Google's outstanding browser-based Gmail client, which provides you with instant access to gigabytes of mail.
The iPad's Mail app does have some limitations. For instance, while you can set up multiple e-mail accounts, you can't merge them into one inbox, and you can have only one Microsoft Exchange account at a time. You also can't open file attachments in anything except the file viewers and Apple's own iWork apps. Apple says that it will fix these issues when it upgrades the iPad's software in the fall. Here's hoping Apple also improves the search feature, which doesn't look within message text (it checks only the To, From, and Subject lines).
VERDICT: Even if you like the Mail app, you won't be tempted to ditch your BlackBerry. Or your iPhone, or your Droid, or any other pocketable e-mail device.
The iPad vs. the iPod
iPad skeptics are fond of slagging the tablet for being nothing more than a humongous iPod Touch. When it comes to playing music and movies, they have a point--the iPad does feel a lot like a Touch with a 9.7-inch display. That's not an entirely bad thing, however.
For many people--such as those who opt for the pinky-size iPod Shuffle--the iPad's heft alone is reason to eliminate it as an iPod replacement. A gizmo you can't slip into a pocket or strap to your arm is one you're not going to take on a stroll or to the gym. You can even make a case that the venerable Click Wheel on the iPod Nano and iPod Classic is superior to the iPad's on-screen controls for music navigation. (Oddly, the iPad's iPod app doesn't even have Apple's signature Cover Flow view for browsing through albums.)
But wait: With the exception of the Shuffle, all iPods have long done video as well as audio--and the iPad's comparative Jumbotron of a display makes it the best "iPod" for movie-watching yet. It's the first one that two or more people can comfortably watch together, at least if they're in close quarters, such as in adjacent airplane seats (and if they have the device nicely propped up). In fact, the iPad may be the best in-flight entertainment system ever designed, with enough battery life to keep you entertained from New York to Athens. And around the house, the tablet can serve as a sort of portable TV/boom box--its built-in speaker may be mono, but it's loud and clear.
When it comes to content, the iPad gives you everything that you can get on any iPod, plus more. And even if you don't feel like buying your entertainment from iTunes, a wealth of stuff to see and hear is available, thanks to impressive iPad apps from ABC, Netflix, NPR, and others.
VERDICT: The iPad is not an iPod substitute--it's really a different critter. But on its own terms, it's one of the most entertaining entertainment devices since the original iPod.