iPad: The Verdict

Originally I intended to buy a netbook for overseas travel. After searching through an endless amount of models there was nothing I saw that has decent specs and a long battery life.

Apple announced the iPad… At first I figured it’d be a useless heap of junk, but after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like a logical netbook replacement. So, I bought one. A 64GB WiFi+3G one…with accessories. Here’s the review.

The Hardware

You can tell the iPad is a first generation Apple device. The screen isn’t 16:9, it has no front facing camera, let alone any camera. I’ve also found that the iPad has only 256MB of RAM. It’s essentially a giant iPhone. However, the only significant flaw of these, is the RAM. I’m still experimenting but even without backgrounding apps, things start to get a little low and laggy. Maybe I just need another factory restore. On the upside, it’s pretty fast, the screen is bright, it’s perfectly sized and the battery life is fantastic.

Another flaw is USB charging. The iPad requires a full 10W of power to charge and unfortunately most USB ports don’t supply that much power. Only ports that implement a new USB standard can charge the iPad (currently only new i7/i5 Macs). This sucks. It makes it impossible to keep your iPad fully charged and syncable at the same time. The only solution is the Wi-Fi Sync jailbreak app (which is fantastic, by the way) so that you can connect your iPad via the power connector and still sync. Without the jailbreak, this would be a show stopper for me as I intended to use the iPad in it’s dock next to my current monitors. Thank god for jailbreaking.

The Accessories

I bought the case, dock and camera kit. You could say I went all out.

The case is great, it adds a tilt that is great for movie watching and typing…but you can’t dock the iPad in it’s case. Not a huge deal, but it’s pretty hard to pull the iPad out of the case once it’s in it. The dock works okay too, but it has no weight, so you have to hold down the dock to pull the iPad out. It would be nice if the dock included some sort of TV out or way to connect both power and USB, but alas it doesn’t…but it does sit nicely next to my other screens. I haven’t tested the camera kit yet, but I bought this since there have been reports of connecting other devices to the iPad. As jailbreaking evolves, this seems like logical device to toy around with other peripherals with the iPad.

The Operating System

iPhone OS 3.2 seems like it was rushed. It works, but a significant amount of features are disabled from the operating system for no good reason. Upon booting for the first time I realized that there’s no Weather, Calculator, Voice Recorder, Compass, Stocks or Clock app. I can’t decide whether or not Apple rushed it out or if they wanted to leave it to the developers, but it’s rather annoying since some of these applications use a private API, only accessible to Apple (the alarm feature in the Clock app, for example). Either way, it’s a bit disappointing. The apps that Apple have ported are rather decent. The iPod app is like a miniature iTunes and Calendar app has a great UI.

Tethering is completely disabled. So is voice control, but at least the latter can be enabled with a simple hack. Since there is no camera, any application that has a camera feature often crashes since there is no check for the hardware. And hell, why isn’t there an SMS app or Phone app. They could have least enabled the API for developers.

Apple claims the iPad supports iPhone applications…and it does…but frankly it sucks. iPhone applications show up in small area of the screen…or you can use pixel doubling to make it look like an awesomely distorted JPEG image. If you think that you’ll use an iPhone app for something the iPad does not yet support, then you’re kidding yourself. Frankly, the iPad is only good for native iPad apps, iPhone apps are an absolute last resort.

Luckily, there’s a jailbreak solution, sort of. FullForce will force iPhone apps to the native iPad UI. Unfortunately, your mileage may vary depending on the app. It does however work well for the Facebook app, for which there is no native iPad app, yet. Keep in mind though, most applications are just mobile front ends to websites…and now that you have a giant screen, you can can get an excellent experience from MobileSafari.

Jailbreak users will be a bit disappointed, at least for now. There are several apps that simply don’t work with OS3.2. However, I spent some time going through jailbreak apps that I feel are 100% essential: ProSwitcher (Palm Pre style task manager), SBSettings (toggle pad that works in 3.2) and LockInfo (lock screen information). Luckily, at least ProSwitcher has active development. The github repository has partially working code for the iPad… And it’ll probably be ready soonish.

I feel OS4 will make the iPad shine. There are a couple of cool things in OS3.2 though: SpringBoard now rotates to landscape, there’s a rotation lock, and the keyboard is fantastically huge. Yes, I’m typing this article on an onscreen keyboard, and it’s actually productive!

The Apps

Even though the iPad has been out for a month or so, there is a lack of decent apps. No doubt, over time this will sort it self out. Also, you’ll find that app store prices are incredibly inflated at the moment. Angry Birds for iPad (a popular game for the iPhone) is 5, yes f i v e, times the price of the iPhone version…and to top it off, there are only 2 chapters in the iPad version vs. 4 in the iPhone version (say wut?!). Nevertheless, first I’ll go through some alternatives to the default iPhone apps (Weather, etc.) then I’ll cover some gems for the iPad.

Alternatives
Compass: Compass-HD
Weather: Pocket Weather
Stocks: Bloomberg (really informative on the iPad)
World Clocks: MyWorld Clock
Calculator: Calculator HD for iPad
Alarm: Weather Watch (has a fantastic UI that merges alarm clock and weather display)
Voice Recorder: Voice Recorder for iPad

iPad Gems
AirVideo: this application is one of the killer apps on iPad. It allows you to stream video from a computer to your iPad. It supports just about every type of video format as it transcodes on the fly using the server software you install on your computer (transcoding is done with ffdshow). The application just works. I’ve even used this with 3G by VPNing to home. Even with 256kbit upload, I was able to pull up a TV show with just 60 seconds of initial buffering. From then on in, the video played flawlessly. It automatically transcodes to an acceptable video bit rate depending on the amount of bandwidth available.

WunderRadio: this is also an iPhone app. It has a vast and extensive database of internet radio streams, including many of the Australian radio stations. Another app that just works.

iTap RDP: is a Windows remote desktop application. The 1024×768 screen of the iPad makes these applications shine. iTap supports a ton of touch gestures and has a few innovations up its sleeve to make it easier to use on the iPad. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support files on the clipboard, but that’s where the next app comes in…

FileBrowser: supports file sharing and SMB share browsing, so you can grab files and send files between your iPad and computer. It also supports an “Open With” function so you can grab a word document and open it with Pages.

iSSH: if you want VNC instead of RDP, this is where it’s at. It also supports SSH, which is fantastic for jailbreak users since MobileTerminal isn’t yet iPad compatible.

Sociable: while MobileSafari is pretty pleasing experience…sometimes it’s nice to have a native app. Sociable is a good alternative for the iPhone Digg or iReddit app.

Twitterific: this is where it’s at in terms of Twitter clients. Nuff said.

Beejive: while I was rather pissed that I had to pay another $8 for Beejive, since I already had the iPhone app, it’s a worth while purchase. It supports MSN, Facebook, AIM, ICQ, Gtalk, Jabber, MySpace and Yahoo!

TWiTPad: a fan of Leo? Then this is for you.

Quota: a usage tracking application that works for just about any Australian mobile provider and ISP. It has a pretty damned good UI.

GlobeConvert: everyone needs a unit converter. This one has a fantastic UI and selection of units. The company also makes WordBook XL, an excellent offline dictionary and thesaurus.

Bento: is hard to explain. It’s like a journal…a library of things. A database? I’m not sure. It has a pretty UI and it seems like a decent application to store some….stuff.

1Password: sort of like Bento, but with security. This is a great app to store all your sensitive information. It’s pretty much a wallet.

Penultimate: if you have a stylus…or want a OneNote style application, this is it.

Magic Piano: this is from the same company that made Ocarina. Fun++

Star Walk: if you like astronomy, you might wanna give this a go. It has support for the compass and accelerometer so you can figure out where constellations are.

Atomic Web Browser: this is an alternative web browser with a Firefox-ish layout and an adblocker.

Korg iELECTRIBE: if you’re a DJ, this is fantastic. It’s an easy to use interface for loops. It has a pretty decent database of synths and effects.

InstaPaper & The Early Edition: these are two separate apps, but great if you like to read articles in a newspaper style. InstaPaper is able to save webpages for offline viewing and The Early Edition is a fancy RSS reader that lays out articles into a newspaper template.

The Apple Suite (iBooks, Pages, Numbers, Keynote): I was a tad pissed that these aren’t included on the iPad by default and that the prices of the office suite are in the $10 range. The apps however, are quality. Apple kept it simple and it worked. I would think that for people that read, iBooks is the killer app, but I don’t read…so I can’t comment on that.

The Verdict

I’m not quite sure I know the exact use for my iPad…yet, but I feel that once the apps evolve and OS4 comes out that it’ll be clear. If you haven’t yet got your iPad, and want one, I’d wait a month then test the waters. The few quality applications that are out nearly make it worth it, but somethings still need a bit of polish. If you do buy one, be prepared to change your work style for the iPad…as in it’s current state, I don’t think the iPad will influence the way you work. No doubt this is a luxury device, but I feel that Apple do have the price set a tad high.

Do I recommend one? If you have the money and you feel the iPad can fill a gap, then yes.

For now, I have tried to avoid using my laptop, and I’ve been fairly successful. The iPad can handle most of my day to day tasks…and if not, there’s remote desktop ;)

Sent from my iPad… (WordPress.app)

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