The new iPad: I’ve seen a lot of reviews that talk about the features it has and the battery life and all that stuff, but I haven’t really read anything about how people actually use it and how useful it actually is. Having had significant time with it now, here are my thoughts in case people are thinking about purchasing it:
I bought the iPad as a replacement for my netbook. I love computers and technology, and I have built computers since high school. I’m a nerd, but I’m not going to compare specs or anything in this review because 1) no one cares about them and 2) all the apps and programs written for the iPad only had the iPad’s specs in mind, so it doesn’t matter anyway. As far as technology needs go, I believe people need two devices. One is a powerful computer (in my case, a desktop I built) that is fast, has a lot of memory, and has a lot of storage space. This is where you store all your pictures, music, and movies, play PC games if you are into that, and what you use for all your productivity needs. For most people, this is a decent laptop. The other device is a rather underpowered machine such as netbook which is small and portable enough for you to travel with and do basic things like browse the internet, send emails, and watch a movie. I bought the iPad to function as my second, portable device, and I haven’t opened my netbook since.
It really is amazing how much technology increases by leaps and bounds. The picture below to the left is a computer I built back in 2008. Today, there isn’t all that much that very powerful desktop computer can do that the iPad can’t (in theory).
On the flipside, however, I have found that while there isn’t that much that the iPad can’t do, it’s still very cumbersome to do many of the things standard things. It’ s certainly not a substitute for a real computer.
- The screen truly is beautiful. I’ve never used previous iPads, but I know I can’t look at them after being too used to the best. See pictures below.
- Pictures were taken, incidentally, by a pretty awesome feature that just takes a picture of the current screen by holding the power button and pressing the “lock screen” button. Great way to show what some app or something looks like.
- It’s extremely portable and has a long battery life (~7 hours or so from my use). I foresee this device making plane rides so much more enjoyable, as my netbook dies after one 90 min movie. This is one of the device’s main draws in my mind.
- Air Video. This single amazing app was the one reason I bought the iPad. I have probably over a terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of high-definition video on my computer. If I didn’t have a way to watch that on the iPad, I wouldn’t have bought it. Obviously, with the limited storage space you can’t just move these videos onto the iPad. Fortunately with Air Video, you can simply stream any video from your main computer onto your iPad through your home wireless connection. Your powerful home computer converts any video file format on the fly without delay, and the quality is acceptable. If you want to keep a video on your iPad (I believe Apple only allows mp4 videos) for when you aren’t on your home wireless network, Air Video will convert any video to mp4 format. Amazing app, and it’s free.
- Powerful app store. It’s really got great content, and there are a generation of young programmers who will only enrich it further. Some shoutouts to Jetpac for an amazing travel sharing app, to AllRecipes for recipes, and to Time Out New York for some good content. Most great apps are free. Khan Academy is also awesome, providing free videos to help you learn about almost any topic you can imagine.
- Kindle looks great due to the screen. Text is crisp, sharp, and easy to read, and settings are easily available to control the brightness and to shift to white text against a black background if reading in darkness.
- It’s a pure content consumption device. The keyboard and the device’s somewhat awkward size means that you will never want to type a long email or anything on it. Forget about working in Excel or PowerPoint. Keep your laptop around for a while; this is not a laptop replacement when you need to get things accomplished.
- Apple is unbelievably frustrating in how much of a closed system it is. I’m neither an Apple fanboy or an Apple hater, but I must say this is unbelievably annoying. Here is a list of what you can’t do:
- Can’t use Google Talk (G Chat) in browser form, and there isn’t an app (VTok and other stuff exist, but it’d be nice to just get G Chat as is).
- Can’t use Grooveshark, because it’s Flash-based.
- Can’t use many streaming services, because they are Flash-based. This is an area where Apple has really hurt consumers; yes they don’t like Flash and yes HTML5 is probably a superior standard, but that won’t be mainstream for a few years and in the meantime Apple’s consumers are really getting screwed.
- Web browsing is only allowed on Safari; other browsers aren’t in the app store. This sucks because Safari crashes on certain sites (TechCrunch). (EDIT: “Jonathon” has left a comment that there are indeed other browsers available. He pointed to Dolphin and Atomic; I will try those out.)
- After awhile, YouTube videos on Safari just say “this video is unavailable.” Then you have to use the YouTube app that is forced upon you by Apple by default (comes with the iPad). Sometimes I just want to watch the videos without leaving my browser.
- Can’t delete Apple’s default bundled apps. This pisses me off; I like to have a very clean desktop/home screen and I can only move these apps I never use to another screen at the back. I can’t just delete them.
- Videos have to be in Apple’s mp4 format. I mean, Jesus Christ. Not everyone is tech savvy enough to know how to convert.
- A lot of these restrictions are just ways to force you to buy already compatible content in the iTunes store. Smart? Maybe for now, but this is not good for consumers. Information wants to be free and clever people can get any content on the device (see Air Video in pros).
- The iPad can do only one thing at a time. If you are watching a YouTube video through the app and you go to Safari, the video automatically stops. If you are browsing in Safari and have a music video playing but go to another tab, the music video automatically stops. The only exception I’ve noticed to this is playing music through the Music app (comes default) does not stop when doing something else. I must say, it’s a bit of an adjustment when computers have been able to do multiple things simultaneously forever to be limited to one thing at a time.
- There is no comfortable way to hold it. It’s very awkward to hold in lying down, which is how I mostly use it to watch movies, read, or browse the internet. It’s too heavy and thin to hold comfortably with one hand. I wish someone would develop a case for it that comes with rubber grips or a tasteful handle or something that lets someone comfortably hold it one handed.
- Mobile sites are still mobile sites. Although the Safari lets you access most regular versions of sites, the internet still knows that you are browsing on what is considered a mobile device. That means you can’t access normal versions of sites like Hulu; many sites that are free for computer browsers are behind paywalls for mobile devices.
The iPad is a beautiful device with somewhat limited functionality. It’s certainly not a replacement for a real computer. Obviously any product has a value proposition that’s worth something different to different people. I would say that if you don’t need something that’s ultra-portable and are getting by fine with your normal laptop, it’s probably not worth paying well over $500 (tax) minimum for the device when better ones are on the horizon. However, if you are looking for a portable device to browse the web and use some cool apps, it certainly fulfills that role very well. This is especially true if you have a long commute or you travel a lot, at which point it’s easily worth it.
I do have some thoughts on what version of the device you should buy. I bought the 32 GB one at $600, and I think that’s definitely the sweet spot. Apps don’t take up much room, but the music, photos, and movies that you absolutely want on there will probably take up some space. 16 GB is cutting it a little close while 64 GB is overkill on a device that is meant to primarily access web-based content. Any of the 4G versions are a complete waste of money. Not only is the device itself significantly more expensive, but there is no way a monthly data fee is worth it. Free WiFi is prevalent enough in the world that you’ll be ok. When you are caught without it, well, that’s why you pay the $30 extra for your smartphone every month, right? TechCrunch posted some numbers that 96% of web usage on the iPad is from WiFi anyway, so it seems the vast majority of people do not use 4G anyway. Unless you are super rich and don’t care about money, I just don’t see how it’s worth it.