One model gets online only in Wi-Fi hot spots ($500 to $700, for storage capacities from 16 to 64 gigabytes). The other model can get online either using Wi-Fi or, when you’re out and about, using AT&T’s cellular network; that feature adds $130 to each price.
You operate the iPad by tapping and dragging on the glass with your fingers, just as on the iPhone. When the very glossy 9.7-inch screen is off, every fingerprint is grossly apparent.
There’s an e-book reader app, but it’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits). The selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces). And you can’t read books from the Apple bookstore on any other machine — not even a Mac or iPhone.
When the iPad is upright, typing on the on-screen keyboard is a horrible experience; when the iPad is turned 90 degrees, the keyboard is just barely usable (because it’s bigger). A $70 keyboard dock will be available in April, but then you’re carting around two pieces.
At least Apple had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor. Things open fast, scroll fast, load fast. Surfing the Web is a heck of a lot better than on the tiny iPhone screen — first, because it’s so fast, and second, because you don’t have to do nearly as much zooming and panning.
But as any Slashdot reader can tell you, the iPad can’t play Flash video. Apple has this thing against Flash, the Web’s most popular video format; says it’s buggy, it’s not secure and depletes the battery. Well, fine, but meanwhile, thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad — places where videos or animations are supposed to play.
YouTube, Vimeo, TED.com, CBS.com and some other sites are converting their videos to iPad/iPhone/Touch-compatible formats. But all the news sites and game sites still use Flash. It will probably be years before the rest of the Web’s videos become iPad-viewable.
There’s no multitasking, either. It’s one app at a time, just like on the iPhone. Plus no U.S.B. jacks and no camera. Bye-bye, Skype video chats. You know Apple is just leaving stuff out for next year’s model.
The bottom line is that you can get a laptop for much less money — with a full keyboard, DVD drive, U.S.B. jacks, camera-card slot, camera, the works. Besides: If you’ve already got a laptop and a smartphone, who’s going to carry around a third machine?
Review for Everyone Else
The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch.
The simple act of making the multitouch screen bigger changes the whole experience. Maps become real maps, like the paper ones. You see your e-mail inbox and the open message simultaneously. Driving simulators fill more of your field of view, closer to a windshield than a keyhole.
The new iBooks e-reader app is filled with endearing grace notes. For example, when you turn a page, the animated page edge actually follows your finger’s position and speed as it curls, just like a paper page. Font, size and brightness controls appear when you tap. Tap a word to get a dictionary definition, bookmark your spot or look it up on Google or Wikipedia. There’s even a rotation-lock switch on the edge of the iPad so you can read in bed on your side without fear that the image will rotate.
If you have the cellular model, you can buy AT&T service so you can get online anywhere. (Cellular iPads aren’t available until next month; I tested a Wi-Fi-only model.)
But how’s this for a rare deal from a cell company: there’s no contract. By tapping a button in Settings, you can order up a month of unlimited cellular Internet service for $30. Or pay $15 for 250 megabytes of Internet data; when it runs out, you can either buy another 250 megs, or just upgrade to the unlimited plan for the month. Either way, you can cancel and rejoin as often as you want — just March, July and November, for example — without penalty. The other carriers are probably cursing AT&T’s name for setting this precedent.