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Early adopter – my iPad review

April 4th, 2010

When we decided to spend the long Easter weekend in Illinois with my parents, I didn’t immediately remember that our visit would coincide with the launch of the Apple iPad. Chalk it up to stress or whatever, but I was entirely out of the loop until some time on Thursday. At work, Cullen mentioned that he wouldn’t mind if I picked him up an iPad, you know, if I had the opportunity. (iPads won’t be available in Canada for several more weeks.)

That is how I found myself at Best Buy in Geneva around 7 am on a rainy blustery April morning. I joined a few other intrepid souls – all guys – and hunkered down with coffee and a warm jacket to wait it out. Several hours later, I walked out with Cullen’s iPad. An hour later, Sandra and I walked out with one of our own.

A pair of iPads

See, I’ve been looking for an eBook reader. But more importantly, I’ve been playing around with iPhone and iPod touch development, and I think it’s a perfect time to jump right into the iPad as well. The playing field for iPad-specific apps is still under-populated, and the larger screen, processing power, and resolution are appealing for knitting pattern related applications. (There are also no iPad apps for knitting, as far as I can see!)

See Amy Justify.

Anyhow.

We went straight to the hospital after shopping, and although I unboxed the iPad there, I couldn’t start to play with it before activating it by synching to my MacBook. (Thank goodness I had brought the laptop on this trip! The waiting might have killed me otherwise!) I’ve read that if you buy an iPad in the Apple Store, it can be instantly activated. Ah well.

Initial sync

The setup process was just like getting a new iPod. You plug it in. Accept a 53 page terms and agreements document. Click a few buttons. Decide what you want to automatically sync versus manually copy over. And then you’re done.

iPad Back

I really like the tactile experience of holding the iPad. It’s quite light at just a pound and a half and very thin. The brushed aluminum case doesn’t heat up or vibrate when you’re playing, unlike my laptop. It also features a ‘hold’ button to lock the screen in one position; horizontal or vertical. (Being someone who doesn’t read the manual before jumping in, I couldn’t figure out why the screen wouldn’t rotate until I read some tips on Mashable this morning. Oops!)

13 inch MBP vs iPad

I sometimes have a hard time with spatial relationships when just reading dimensions or measurements. Compared to my 13″ MacBook Pro, the iPad is tiny. Almost two iPads could sit side by side on top of the MBP. I’m pleased. It’s a good size to actually carry in my purse, and the features let me do my most common computer-related tasks; playing games, organizing photos, watching movies, working on the internet.

As a test, I downloaded the WordPress app to blog this entry from the iPad. Knowing that multitasking is not currently supported on any iPhone or iPad, I first loaded my photos into iPhoto on the mac, just like always, and then synced them over to the iPad.

I typed probably half of this entry in the WordPress app. The on-screen keyboard does take some getting used to. I’m a die-hard QWERTY user, and type quite fast. Instead of a full keyboard, Apple has split it up into several screens. Letters are on the main screen, and you have a second choice for numbers/symbols, with some additional options within each panel. Because you have to hit several keys to type a comma, for example, my pace of typing was quite a bit slower than normal.

It took me a while to remember that the auto-correct functionality on the iPhone/iPad is quite advanced, and I didn’t need to actually pick characters like the apostrophe, for example. Auto-correct fixed my typing correctly nine times out of ten.

I also noticed that I sped up quite a bit as I typed. Clearly, the iPad is never going to replace my macbook for heavy typing tasks, but it’s worlds above the typing experience on my iPod Touch. I could actually blog on the iPad. I could write long emails. I just probably wouldn’t choose to write code…or complex knitting patterns where auto-correct would be the bane of my existence.

What didn’t end up working so well was the photo integration. Something in the WordPress app crashed when I tried to select and position a photo from my iPhoto library. I lost a few paragraphs of work and quickly decided to switch back to the MacBook Pro in the interests of time. (We’re headed off to Easter mass shortly.)

Is the iPad a game changer? We’ll see. I really really really like the experience of using it. It’s more collaborative than the iPod Touch / iPhone. Sandra and I played a long game of Catan yesterday and into the evening. While we could have done that on the Touch as well, the larger screen allowed the tablet to lay flat on the couch between us, letting us both clearly see the gameplay.

Today I’m going to show Dad some photos on the iPad when we get to the hospital. I tried this before with the Touch, but the screen was too small to show him some of the details I’d like.

And the book functionality. I’m most excited about using it for cookbooks. Too often, I can’t remember where I’d seen one recipe or another. The ability to actually search within a book is priceless for things like this.

We’ll see where things go. Right now, the iPad app store has only dozens of iPad specific HD apps. (iPhone apps work fine, but are at a much lower resolution and need to be magnified.) iPad apps also tend to be pricier; with most ranging from $4.99 to $9.99 and up, and fewer non-corporate free apps. I expect both these points to change a bit over time. While I’d gladly pay more for a more rich application for the iPad, I want more choice in apps! It’s been out for a day now, and I know that’s coming once developers have had more time to work with the SDK.

From my perspective, I’d love to develop an app for my patterns. The experience of knitting from an iPad pattern would be outstanding; search, zoom, full big color photographs and illustrations, links to definitions and tutorials.

Anyhow, I’m pleased. Like many users, I’m not sure exactly what I’ll end up using it for most often, but I can see so many possibilities. And more than anything, it’s totally fun to use.

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