Apple iPad

I pre-ordered my iPad on March 12, deciding to get the 64GB 3G iPad. Ordering the model with 3G meant that, not only did I have to wait the 22 days before the April 3 launch day but I also had to wait the additional 27 days before I actually received my own. And unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere near an Apple Store so I wasn’t even able to get my hands on one until I visited family in Pittsburgh on April 23.

Using the iPad for the first time was a pretty amazing experience, it’s heavier than it looks but feels like the perfect weight to me. The hardware is beautifully designed, the aluminum back is simply gorgeous, the glass front fits nicely against the aluminum with only a thin rubber piece between them. When I originally ordered the 3G model I was worried that the plastic piece at the top would bug me, but it disappears as soon as the display lights up. The bezel is just the right size, giving you enough leverage to hold it up with one thumb without forcing you to place your finger on the display.

Speaking of the display, it is simply gorgeous. I’ve never owned a screen that looked this good. It’s bright, responsive, and colors look amazing. The speakers sound great and are considerably louder than the speakers in my white Core Duo MacBook. I’m very happy that they decided to include an orientation lock on the side of the iPad, I think it gets switched on and off nearly as often as the home button gets pressed.

Aside from the black plastic on the back, my other worry was the keyboard. The landscape keyboard is just the right size — I find using my thumb, index, and middle finger on both hands to be the best way to type on it. So far, I’ve kept the device in landscape mode the majority of the time I’ve used it. But, from the amount of time I’ve used it in portrait mode, I’ve found it quite awkward. Over time it gets easier to use, but the keyboard in portrait mode is just too small to be used with six fingers, but too big to be used with your thumbs. This leaves it in an odd middle-ground which keeps me from using it for any meaningful length of time.

The biggest problems I’ve had with the iPad keyboard are most likely due to the long-term use of the iPhone keyboard. I keep tapping the extra characters key to type a period (instead of using the period key to the right) and I am constantly forgetting about the shift key on the right side. My finally gripe with the keyboard is that I keep missing the spacebar with my thumb and am instead hitting just below the screen. Although it’s gotten better with time, I have a strong feeling that I’ll eventually be just as comfortable using it as I am on the iPhone.

I also wanted try out a hardware keyboard with the iPad. Pairing the keyboard was a breeze, simply turn on Bluetooth, choose your keyboard, enter the passkey, press enter, and your done. Using a hardware keyboard was comfortable enough, I thought reaching past the keyboard for the screen would feel cumbersome, but it turns out that you spend most of your time typing on the keyboard itself and rarely have to use the touchscreen, especially if you know common keyboard shortcuts. Among the shortcuts supported, cut, copy, paste, and undo will get used the most often. The brightness keys, music control keys, and volume keys also work. And, tapping the eject key will bring up the software keyboard in case you need type special characters, I found this incredibly handy when I couldn’t remember the shortcut for an ellipses or number of others.

When using an iPad you’ll quickly realize that the specs are practically irrelevant. All you need to know is that this thing’s fast and the battery life becomes irrelevant. I haven’t done any proper testing on battery life but it’s easy enough to go an entire day without charging it. I’ve even gone two days when using it as I would suspect most users would (which I would guess to be about 4-5 hours per day).

But, enough about hardware, the software is what the iPad is really all about. As much as I enjoy the hardware, it practically disappears once you start using it. And, it certainly helps that every default application on the iPad is implemented in a fantastic and incredibly usable way. I actually found Calendar, Safari, Mail, and Photos to be much more enjoyable to use on the iPad when compared to their Mac or iPhone counterparts.

My girlfriend and I have spent hours sitting around the iPad just flicking through photos. The iPad is the best photo sharing and browsing experience we’ve ever used. As much fun as we’ve had looking through photos on the iPhone or Apple TV, the iPad is better. The bigger screen and the multitouch interface makes it possible for several people to sit around and all interact with the photos. There’s no keyboard or mouse to get in the way — you just touch your photos. The Photos app for the iPad has even convinced me to finally get all of our photos together into one iPhoto library. I’m getting together with the my whole family this summer and I’m really excited to browse and share all of my photos with them. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it much more than they did on the 3.5-inch iPhone screen.

I’ve heard others mention that Mail on the iPad is one of the most efficient email apps they’ve ever used, and I couldn’t agree more. Reading, deleting, organizing, and replying to emails is faster and easier than on the iPhone or the Mac. This happens to be one of those applications that works best in landscape mode and the split view that displays your current inbox on the left and the email preview on the right is exactly how email should be displayed. There is no need for a third pane like in Mail for Mac. Jumping between different folders and inboxes is a joy. Although, I’m sure jumping between inboxes will sound primitive once 4.0 comes to the iPad this fall. The modal view that is used when composing an email works like a charm. It pops-up above the rest of the app and gives you a nice set of margins on the side of the screen (I can’t imagine having to type an email with all that extra horizontal space). Because of how efficient the iPad is with email, I’ve found myself spending less and less time in my email app and still managing to get the same amount of work done.

The iPad calendar app is fantastic and might be the best demo of pop-overs on the iPad. I usually keep it in month view but I’ll occasionally jump into week view to get a more detailed look at my appointments. There isn’t a lot to say about Calendar, which I believe to be a good thing. To many, a paper calendar is the best calendar. I like to think of Calendar on the iPad as a paper calendar that helps keep me from running late. I use MobileMe to keep my calendars in sync, and I’ll tell you, having alerts on the iPad, iMac, and iPhone has saved my butt more than once.

With all of the hype regarding the iPad, I hope everyone has realized that Safari truly is the killer app. Of course, the App Store is fantastic and watching video on this thing is a dream, but surfing is where it’s at. The iPhone was just a glimpse at what iPhone OS can do. Tapping on links, scrolling through pages, it just feels right. It’s difficult to explain just how good it feels to hold the web in your hand. If you own an iPhone or iPod touch than you may have an idea of what it’s like, but all that extra screen real estate keeps you from feeling claustrophobic. Zooming in on small text and panning left and right to read a single line doesn’t happen on the iPad. And believe me, Safari is fast. I find it hard to classify the iPad as a mobile device, but if I was to do so, I could easily say that the iPad has the fastest web browser of any mobile device I’ve ever used. I’ve never had a web page crash on me — in fact, the only complaint I have about Safari on the iPad is that it often has to dump web pages from memory when three or more are open at the same time, forcing the web page to reload if you want to view it again. I have a feeling this issue won’t happen quite as often with future software updates, but for now it can get really annoying.

As for the other default apps, they work just as you’d expect. Contacts, Maps, Notes, Videos, YouTube, Settings, and iPod are all wonderfully built apps. With Contacts and Notes however, I’ve never gotten past launching the app. I don’t have much use for a contacts application on this particular device and my notes application of choice is Simplenote. It’s also worth noting that the iPad’s iPod app reminds me more of iTunes than it does iPod for the iPhone. The source list on the left hand side, the playback controls along the top, and the view controls along the bottom keeps the app feeling very familiar for those who’ve spent any amount of time with iTunes on the Mac or PC. But, I do find it funny when the album art blows up to full screen — is this really the best they could come up with?

iBooks exists. If I read actual books I would have more to say about it, but I don’t. If the iBook Store has the books you’re looking for then I’m sure it will work just fine for you.

I found the App Store and iTunes to be great looking, but they’re both incredibly difficult to browse past the top charts. There’s a certain level of discovery that I would like to have that neither store gives me at this point. It’s easy to find the apps that are selling well but that doesn’t always give you the best apps. Airfoil Speakers Touch is an amazing app for the iPhone, but I don’t think it’s ever even come close to any of the top charts in the App Store. Once Apple finds a better way to showcase apps like that I’ll be a much happier camper. But, for now I’ll have to stick with recommendations from friends and reviews of apps online.

Which brings me to iPhone apps on the iPad. Because the App Store is difficult to browse, it tempts you to install applications that you already know — iPhone apps. You’ll quickly realize that they look terrible and should be avoided at all cost. Apple didn’t try too hard to make it a pleasant experience. You have two choices when running an iPhone app on the iPad, run the app centered in the middle of the screen at native size, or run it blown up full screen, neither of which are the good options. The better option is the secret third option, which is to find an alternative application that is iPad native and leave that iPhone app behind.

The iPad has changed the way I think about using a computer, to the point where moving back to a regular keyboard and mouse just feels weird. It’s an understatement to say that I enjoy using the iPad — it might be the best computer I’ve ever used. No slow downs, no crashes, it just does things, when I expect it to, and as quickly as I’d like it to. If you thought it was “just a big iPod touch,”, then you were wrong. I’ve actually managed to write everything on here using the iPad since April 30 (with one image-heavy exception). I would never be able to do that on an iPhone or iPod touch. It’s not as though I’ve never written on my iPhone before, but I always did the final edits and subsequent publishing on a “real” computer. I even wrote this review on the iPad including the final edit, the only steps that called for my iMac was to insert links and place all the images where I wanted them (which speaks more about the need for a good iPad weblog editor than anything else).

The future of Apple’s touch based devices is bright. If the iPad taught me anything it’s that the iPhone was just the beginning. iPhone OS is a very big deal, HP has realized it. If you haven’t been paying attention to it, it’s time you did.