Aluminum and Glass: My Review of the iPad 

After Apple unveiled the iPad back in January, almost everyone I know asked me if I was going to buy one. My answer was usually a jumbled thought about not needing a third device.

Not wanting a device and not being excited about it are two different things. In the months leading up the its release, I was excited about it. More so, I was excited about seeing what app developers were going to do with extra screen size and power.

As the release day drew to an end and I read more reviews of the device I caved, drove to the Apple Store and plunked down some money for the 16GB Wi-Fi model. (Major props to my forgiving wife.) Here are my thoughts on Apple’s newest creation.

Hardware

The iPhone and the Mid–2007 iMac kicked off Apple’s current love affair with smooth, slick aluminum coupled with glass-covered panels with thick black borders. The design language they introduced with those products can now be found on Apple’s notebooks, and it’s embodied in the iPad. In many ways, the iPad reminds me of an iMac — both machines are defined by their large glass-covered displays. What lives behind the screen is easily forgotten.

The glass gets pretty greasy after just a few minutes of use, and the reflections at certain angles are blinding. However, the super-bright display can cut through even the nastiest of fingerprints and reflections. In fact, it’s the brightest display I think I’ve ever used. I’m using it at about 4 clicks above the darkest setting, and in some situations, that’s even too bright for my taste. The only time I’ve cranked it all the way up was while using it outside in pretty direct sunlight.

There is no up or down on the iPad. No wrong way or right way to hold it. The OS and most of the apps don’t care how it’s oriented. It’s a clean break from the desktop computer that is always the same, no matter what the content requires.

Unlike other devices I’ve owned (including iPhones), I use a case with my iPad. I opted for the Incase Convertible Book Jacket. It offers protection, can double as a stand and stays shut with a Moleskine-esque band. It isn’t perfect, but carrying a sheet of glass in my backpack makes me nervous. Additionally, the case makes it easier to use it while laying on the couch, as it keeps the device from sliding on my jeans.

Even in the case, it never gets hot. After playing a racing game for 30 minutes, it was barely warm. It’s pretty incredible. I’d almost like my iPad to get warm more often so I know it’s actually working. That, coupled with the complete lack of noise or humming, makes the iPad seem even mure futuristic. Like most groundbreaking Apple products, it doesn’t have a fan — think of how magical the G4 Cube and the iMac G3 still seem.

The lack of heat and noise is impressive in a device that is so thin.

Battery life is incredible. Simply incredible.

Finally, it would have been nice to see an SD card slot. I use it on my MacBook Pro all the time, but I can’t bring myself to order the SD card adaptor from Apple quite yet.

Software

As a former iPhone owner, I found the iPad interface amazingly easy to use, but Apple has added a lot to the OS that takes advantage of the bigger screen and additional power the iPad offers.

An obvious example is how many apps display additional info in landscape mode, and display content with no window chrome or menus in portrait mode. (Oddly Apple’s Pages app does the opposite. I suppose it’s to make the keyboard dock they sell more viable.)

A huge complaint of mine is that the icons on the home screen shift when the iPad changes orientation. It really screws with muscle memory, and makes me hunt down icons when I’m in portrait mode, since I use mine in landscape most of the time. Apple needs to fix it.

I can’t emphasize how impressed I am with what the developer community has built for this device in such a short period of time. Apps that I use on multiple platforms (like Things, Evernote and Instapaper) just feel so much better on the iPad.

A lot of third-party apps (and apps like Contacts and Calendars) are designed to look like the real objects they replace. It’s an odd trend, and I’m not sure I am in love with it. Virtual bookcases and sticky notes just aren’t as effective as their physical inspirations.

Text Input

I’m a keyboard guy. I have an Apple Extended II keyboard setup at home and at work. As awesome as my Magic Mouse is, my goal is to touch it as little as possible while working.

That said, I really like the keyboard on the iPad. But only in landscape mode. In portrait, the keys are too small for me comfortably use, but the landscape keyboard is just right. When you toss in auto-correction, it’s really quite fast.

I haven’t paired my iPad to a bluetooth keyboard, but it seems like a good solution for long typing sessions. I just don’t see the need at this point. Even typing this review on the iPad wasn’t bad enough for me to go grab a keyboard. Granted, I’ve been working on over the course of a week, not all at once.

How I Use It

Apple’s biggest problem with selling the iPad isn’t the device itself — it’s the fact that the iPad doesn’t fill any holes in the product line. There’s not much of a gap between the iPhone and the MacBook, purpose-wise.

I find myself using my iPad in two primary ways: taking notes in meetings, and reading web and email content at home. In both cases, the iPad is lighter and more accessible than my 15-inch MacBook Pro. I do most of my heavy-duty tasks at work at my desk, so if I go out to take care of something, my iPad usually goes with me, not my notebook.

Netflix has also been pretty sweet on the device.

The Future

With OS 4 coming in the fall, it’s obvious the iPad’s future is exciting. As more developers rework their apps for the device, it’s usefulness will continue to improve.

The biggest question of all when it comes to the iPad is this — can it revolutionize the computer industry? I’m not sure it can.

I think it can replace the desktop for some users who just surf, email and look at photos, the iPad is a compelling alternative.

Of course, since the iPad is dependent on iTunes, it makes it more difficult to think of it as a stand-alone machine.

For another class of users, the desktop computer cannot be replaced at this point. People who use computers to create will see their iPads as secondary devices for light tasks, note taking and media playback. That’s where I am with it. All in all, it’s a great device with lots of promise, but it’s far from being as revolutionary as the Macintosh was in 1984. No matter what Apple says.

Update: Check out my thoughts after traveling with Apple’s tablet device in my bag — without a laptop along for the ride.