The Official VAR Guy iPad Review

Now that I've been living with my Apple iPad for a week, it's time for a hands-on review from yours truly. Here's what the iPad is -- and isn't -- based on my first-hand experiences. When the iPad was first announced, I had honestly planned on selling my MacBook and replacing it with an iPad.

Dave Courbanou

April 12, 2010

7 Min Read
The Official VAR Guy iPad Review

Now that I’ve been living with my Apple iPad for a week, it’s time for a hands-on review from yours truly. Here’s what the iPad is — and isn’t — based on my first-hand experiences. When the iPad was first announced, I had honestly planned on selling my MacBook and replacing it with an iPad. But when I finally broke down a bought an iPad without actually selling my MacBook, I realized that the iPad does a lot of things, but not everything. And in that respect, I’m glad I kept my MacBook. Here are my initial reactions to the iPad.

In lieu of a “good bad” review I figured it would be more useful to tell you what the iPad is and isn’t. So…

What it isn’t….

It’s not a laptop, or a netbook, or a replacement for any single one of your computer gadgets. Like Steve Jobs said, it’s somewhere between an iPhone and your computer, and it does that really well.

Even though iPhone 4 has been announced with multitasking, the true side-by-side nature of what a lot of business-world work requires is what keeps the iPad from performing like a traditional desktop computer or netbook. And even with the ability to swap between applications, there will still never be that true sense of comparing documents, or having e-mail next to your web browser, or a spreadsheet next to a text document. (At least, for now…who knows what will come…)

For me, I can’t have my blogging window open next to my e-mail, with Skype running in the background for collaboration. So, clearly the iPad isn’t 100% the blogging machine I need it to be.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful for work.

See, I can publish to using the WordPress blogging application. I can even write the whole thing in iPad’s Pages, too (like I am right now), and then copy paste it into the WordPress app. Click “publish” and I’m done. And no one would argue that it’s not easy to type with the the bluetooth keyboard. Plus, I can check and answer my e-mails as they come in and sign onto Skype when needed to take a conference call. The only caveat is that I just can’t do it all at once, and sometimes that’s okay, but a majority of the time it’s not.

But here’s where the iPad would flourish for working. The iWork Suite for the iPad is actually great for editing documents on the fly, and putting together multi-media presentations (a-la Keynote). It’s awesome at getting you information fast, and easy, and more readable than that dinky iPhone. It makes all those productivity apps you already have on your hand-held devices usable, because we all have to admit — the screen on our phone is just too damn small to do any real work.

So that being said, the iPad’s productivity rating sits not at the low iPhone end of “checking my e-mail, flight time and tweets” nor at the opposite end of the spectrum for “a marathon of blogging and collaboration” but rather fits snugly in the “catching up on work throughout the day” which includes banging out a quick blog draft and answering the most important e-mails.

And when you need a dedicated app to do a singular dedicated task, and do it phenomenally well, look no further than the iPad. Citrix has unleashed their virtualization app, and even Cisco has launched a WebEx app. I encourage any developer out there to find what it is you need to do mobile, and apply your developer and programming skills to making that bulky windows mobile handheld a thing of the past, and the iPad your new mobile work station.

What is it….

It’s the most comfortable intimate replacement for your late-night browsing sessions. It’s your new e-book reader in the dark, it’s your music player, your new gaming console, and your new best friend. Anytime you used an iPhone and went “This would be great if the screen was just bigger” the iPad answers the call ten-fold.

Quite beautifully, the iPad melts away in your lap while you’re web browsing. Under the covers, in a chair, on the couch in front of the TV, there’s really no place the iPad doesn’t want to be, nor a place you’d want to be away from it.

The virtual keyboard horizontally lets you quite quickly use about 3 fingers on each hand to quickly bang out messages. Use it vertically, and any QWERTY thumb-wielder from iPhones to Droids can easily type just as fast as they can text. Responding to your favorite web forum of posting comments on a site are so much more comfortable. No longer will you ‘bookmark’ a site for viewing later because it looks squashed on the screen. Any embedded YouTube videos you encounter actually play IN the browser like they’re supposed to, instead of popping you out to the YouTube app.

The iPad’s screen is only 1024×768 but the DPI and quality of the screen makes it feel like you’re holding a screen with nearly twice the resolution, if not more. The tiniest text is always readable.

As far as games go, I coughed up $9.99 for NOVA, which is a first-person shooter type game, akin to Halo. With the iPad screen so big and wide, your thumbs have plenty of room for ‘touch screen’ controls, and in 5 minutes, I nearly felt like I was playing using an XBox or Playstation controller.

And books. I can’t say enough about books and e-publications. Even though Apple’s iBooks is charming in it’s “page” turning interface, Amazon’s Kindle application feels more comfortable on the iPad. And reading is a breeze. If you’re the type with PDF magazine subscriptions, don’t fret. Even though the iPad doesn’t have a built-in PDF reader, the 2nd most popular paid application after Apple’s Pages is GoodReader which for a mere 99 cents, completes the iPad and makes loading your PDFs on the iPad easy through iTunes. Drag and drop. (I’ve been reading The Economist and MacWorld.) If you’re into comics, don’t fear — I’d recommend downloading the Marvel app if you’re into buying comics, and if you’ve already loaded up your computer with JPEGs of your favorite comic books, simply create “albums” in iPhoto (make sure the pages / images are in order) and synch it to your iPad. Instant comic book reader.

Here’s my only true complaint: Apps. Good ones you need to pay for. And you need to pay a pretty penny, too. For some reason, most iPhone developers figured that if you paid $2-5 dollars for their quality app, you’d have no problem coughing up $9.99 for the iPad HD / XL / Enhanced version. And sometimes, they’re right. There’s a few instances where the iPad app is way better than the iPhone version and it feels so right. But far too many developers look like they took February and March off to not update their app, but rather bump up the resolution of the graphics. That neither takes advantage of the new technology nor makes it worth twice as much. And that’s depressing.

Make sure you read user comments before buying iPad versions of any app. See what people have said, and then decide if it’s worth buying.

Still, that being said, the iPad is a week old, and I suspect that many new developers will enter the arena with better apps than initially conceived. Screen size changes the way you solve a problem, and I’d guess there’s a fair amount of people out there in who have gone “I have a great idea for an app, it’d just need a bigger screen.” The good apps, they’re coming, I’m sure. But the iPad app store still feels like it’s in it’s infancy.

Of course you can always fall back on your iPhone apps. Just let me know how long you can take the fuzziness on your big gorgeous screen.

Bottom line; Is it worth $499? Yeah, you betcha.

Is it worth getting now? I certainly believe so.

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