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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Apple iPad: Full Review of features

The Apple iPad: Great device...but what's it for?

I've been using the iPad for a few weeks now, bringing it with me to most places I go, from work to leisure. In that time, I wrote up a few mini-reviews on the unboxing and physical features, the different ways of maintaining connectivity, and the typing experience on the iPad.

Next step to close out the review: What is the function of the iPad (or, What is it used for?)
The Video and written review of Apple iPad's features are continued below:

Let's start with what the iPad ISN'T.
It's not a phone or communicator replacement, obviously because it cannot make any calls
It's not an iPod replacement ether, because of the unwieldy size.
Then is it a laptop or netbook replacement?

Well, Yes and No.

No it can't, because:
1. The iPad needs to be connected to a PC (or Mac) in the first place, to activate and sync it.
2. The iPad itself does not accept any connections to it. Why? Its has no USB/Firewire ports or SD slots. Meaning your phone, camera, portable mp3 player, etc. will all be homeless if you just rely on an iPad. Apple has released an accessory ( a camera connection kit) that will allow your camera to sync with it via USB or SD card, but it's not a stock solution (nor is it cheap).
3. Will all of your files fit in 64GB? I don't think so....and that's the max capacity of the iPad. You can't connect an external storage either (because no USB/Firewire port)

With those reasons, the iPad definitely will not replace your main laptop. But then what can it replace? Let's look at the laptops little brother: The Netbook.
I've used a couple of Netbooks before, from Asus to Acer, and to be honest they aren't that good at doing anything either, except light functions like surfing the net (hence the name "Net"book). It's a powered down laptop, that people probably have just for portability. I'm betting it won't replace your main laptop either, which put's it in an even playing field with the iPad.
Therefore, if like most people, you rely on a Netbook (or are considering to get a Netbook) for light activities such as web browsing, social networking, moderate word processing, portable video, Reading, or casual gaming....then the iPad presents a strong case.

Actually it's in those functions that the iPad excels at, and that's my cue to talk more about the iPads functions. Before we go into detail of what the iPad does, it's imperative to remember that the device is just the size of a large notebook...a real paper notebook, not lingo for "laptop". Because of this size and weight, it can compete and win against even the smallest Netbook in terms of portability. Portability is key, in the section to follow.

Here is a Video review of me using the iPad in normal day to day life activities, which has a short highlight on the features I will describe afterward.

Yes it can!
Lets take a closer look at the features the iPad does best:

1. Web Browsing - Sure you can take your laptop or netbook with you anywhere, and pull it out for some quick web surfing....but it's not as easy to lug around as an iPad. With the iPad it's literally as simple as opening a notebook and then tapping the Safari browser. Speaking of Safari, the popular app is just as good as ever at what it does: Surfing the net. We might even say it's right at home in the iPad with a much larger screen than the iPhone, and amazingly intuitive touch controls not found on a Mac. On a netbook, you can connect to a USB or ethernet network, which you can't on an iPad. But as I've mentioned in my last mini-review, there are still several ways to keep your iPad connected all the time, practically everywhere you go. I would be remiss if I don't mention the Flash plug-in issues of Apple's mobile devices. Both the iPad and iPhone cannot load or play Flash plug-ins which the internet is littered with. This is indeed a setback, but during weeks of usage, i haven't really found myself being negatively affected. After all, like I said, we still have a main PC/Laptop to browse on. The iPad is used for surfing the net when we're mobile (and I find it increases my night-time "before sleep" internet usage as well, since I can comfortably lie down using it).

2. Social networking - Facebook, Yahoo messenger, Google Talk, Twitter, Buzz, etc....all of those popular social networking sites have applications working on the iPad. And since you will always have the iPad with you, and it will always be connected, then it lets you become accessible more often.

3. Word Processing - I made a previous review on the iPad's typing functionality here. It's not that bad. Once you get the hang of it...it'll be like 2nd nature. In fact I wrote 90% of this review on the iPad while away from my desk (and boy do my arms hurt.... but seriously the trick is not to type while holding it up, but rather lay it down on a surface, or use a stand).
If you're the type of person who brings a laptop to meetings just to take notes, the iPad is for you.
If you're the type to bring a notebook, well the iPad is just like a large notebook in your hand. If you're really turned off by typing on a touch keyboard, there are physical keyboard accessories to be found. You can even write on the iPad just like a paper notebook: by Scribbling with your finger or stylus acting as a pen. There are some apps on the store that allow you to do that remarkably, some notable apps are: Penultimate, Note taker HD, or SketchPad (which I use). You can also find lots of stylus' to suit your preference.

4. Portable Video - The screen of the iPad is gorgeous. Much better looking than any portable DVD player I've seen. The drawback is the instead of just plopping in a DVD, you will need.

5. Casual gaming - I usually LOL when people talk about the gaming possibilities of the iPhone (and now the iPad). I always say, if they want real games, just play at home on their PS3/XBOX 360/PC. But the funny thing is, casual gaming has its own main attraction: You will have it with you more often during the times you are bored. Waiting for someone in the mall? Sitting down in the doctors office? Killing some break-time at work? Stuck in traffic? Guess what you got with you...hint: It's not your home console or large gaming PC. In the last few weeks, I've actually clocked more game time on the iPad than on my PS3, simply because of availability. Yes, the same can be done with the PSP or DS, but since that's all it does (play games), there is again a bigger chance you will not always have it with you as compared to a portable device that does many other things. And although the PSP and DS have some really hardcore or popular games, the Apple App store is no slouch either. 

There are some really good casual games to be found, that make up in fun factor what they lack in graphic power or brand recall. Plants vs. Zombies is so addictive it should be made illegal. Angry birds is another. You can also find the first 2 Final Fantasies on the App store.

6. READING - I saved the best for last. The iPad is a marvelous book reader, not only because it has a beautifully rendered screen, but also because it can serve up more functions than the standard eBook reader. People who were keen on reading will enjoy the iBooks application on the iPad.  I have a more in-depth look at that in my accompanying video, dedicated just to "Reading on the iPad"right below.

To the point, reading on the iPad has a great feel to it, and similar to other Apple-ications, it just seems to work well, from the homely looking bookshelf, to the page flicking, to the iBook store. And even if I wasn't satisfied with it, there are many other book reading apps to be found. The best alternative being Amazon's Kindle app, which contains an even wider selection than Apple's iBooks. Aside from books, there are also magazines and comics readers to be found. In the video we can see that the resolution and size of the iPad is naturally suited for that media. Add on the touch gesture controls, and you have the future shift of printed to digital media right there. Impressive to say the least.
I was personally motivated to increase my reading habit due to the iPad. Why? I'm no illiterate (well, maybe I have a little A.D.D.), but the main reason is that I don't want to keep and carry around all those books, magazines, and comics. And I will not spend on an eBook reader or carry it around only to read. That's just me, but there may be others who feel the same. But now with an iPad, since it does many other things, then the Reader function is just a bonus. My bet is that interest in reading (i.e. Literacy) will see a moderate increase due to Apple's little gadget. I know it worked with me.

What else?
The Maps feature is nothing special over the iPhone, but due to the larger scren size and resolution, it becomes a lot more handy for finding paths and directions. In fact if there were a decent car dock, i would stick my iPad on there and use it as a "pseudo-GPS" device.

The Photo gallery is superbly functional, and again due to the great looking screen on the iPad...your pictures look crisp and beautiful. I sometimes just flip my iPad as a frame, and then activate the slide show using my Photo albums.

Having used the iPad thus far,  I can say that it answers a need that we didn't know was there. Because it's such a new product, many people (myself included) are still learning how and when the iPad can be useful for them. It's not an essential device for the general consumer, but it can be more practical for some uses and some people. While most people can just comfortably live with their laptop+smartphone combo, for me, I think it's exactly in the middle of that setup where the iPad belongs. It's usefulness falls squarely between the void of laptop and smartphone, that we didn't even think existed. It addresses the lack of portability and large size issues of the laptop, while addressing the lack of power and small screen size issues of the smartphone. The iPad serves up a potpouri of functions that is hoping to hook you with one feature, and then "pad" on the others as a bonus. All of this packed tightly into a neat little package. It's in that niche that Apple's ubiquitous device is hoping to thrive on. Will it succeed? 2 Million units sold in the first 3 months is a good first sign. Let's see where it goes from here.

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