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iPad gets mixed reviews

The Apple iPad means one thing to the techie and another to the non-techie.Before you source it, ask yourself — what does the iPad do for you?

tech reviews Updated: Apr 06, 2010 20:18 IST
David Pogue

In 10 years of reviewing tech products for The New York Times, I’ve never seen a product as polarising as Apple’s iPad, which arrived in stores on Saturday in the United States. “This device is laughably absurd,” goes a remark on a tech blog’s comments board. “How can they expect anyone to get serious computer work done without a mouse?”

“This truly is a magical revolution,” goes another. “I can’t imagine why anyone will want to go back to using a mouse and keyboard once they’ve experienced Apple’s visionary user interface!”Those are some pretty confident critiques of the iPad — considering that their authors have never even tried it.

In any case, there’s a pattern to these assessments. The haters tend to be techies; the fans tend to be regular people.Since no single write-up can serve both readerships adequately, here are two separate reviews for these two audiences.

The review for the techie
The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch. It’s a half-inch-thick slab, all glass on top, aluminum on the back. Hardly any buttons at all — just a big Home button below the screen. It takes you to the Home screen full of apps, just like on an iPhone.

One model gets online only in Wi-Fi hot spots ($500 to $700 or Rs 22,367 to Rs 31,303, for storage capacities from 16 to 64 GB). The other model can get online either using Wi-Fi or the service provider’s network. You operate the iPad by tapping and dragging on the glass with your fingers, just like on the iPhone. When the very glossy 9.7-inch screen is off, every fingerprint is apparent.

There’s an e-book reader app but the selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 680 gm, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 283 gm). 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. 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.

The iPad can’t play Flash video. YouTube, 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. There’s no multitasking, either. It’s one app at a time, just like on the iPhone. Plus no USB 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, USB jacks, camera-card slot, the works. Besides: If you’ve already got a laptop and a smartphone, why carry around a third machine?

Review for the non-techie
The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch.Making the multitouch screen bigger changes the whole experience. Maps become real maps. Scrabble shows the whole board, without your having to zoom in.You see your email inbox and the open message simultaneously.

In the new iBooks e-reader app, 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.

Apple’s existing 1,50,000 iPhone apps run on the iPad, including Dragon Dictation, Skype (even voice calls) and a gazillion games. But Apple’s also come out with 1,000 apps specially designed for the iPad’s bigger screen. A free companion to that Scrabble app is called Tile Rack; it lets you fiddle with your letters in private, then flick them wirelessly onto the iPad’s screen.The iPad runs for 12 hours on a charge of its nonremovable battery — That’s four times as long as a typical laptop.