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Mjolnir

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Posts : 2467
Join date : 2010-10-09
Location : London, England

PostSubject: Apple's iPad   Tue Nov 02, 2010 8:17 am

When Steve Jobs pulled back the veil to reveal the iPad earlier this year, its fair to say that the public reaction ran a full spectrum. From the Apple faithful who screamed that it was the technological equivalent of the second coming, to those who thought it was a nifty gadget, to those who took one look and said “isn’t it just a big iPod touch”.



Now, I have to confess that I love Apple products. I have an iPod Touch and I have an iMac as my main computer, and yet at the iPad’s launch I sort of fell between the second and third categories above. Because I’d not yet had a chance to play with it, I did see it as being a big Touch, but I also saw the potential for Apple to make it more than that given the right software additions. I was sort of reserving judgement.



Now, some months later and with an iPad occupying space at home, I have come to appreciate the iPad. I have come to understand it as a tool, and more importantly I have to come grips with the way it will fit into my life.



Because that is really they key to the iPad. Its not a laptop, a notebook, an e-reader, or a big smart phone. Unlike the smartphone or the iPod touch or the desktop or the laptop, the iPad is a product which isn’t so much about what the machine does; instead its about what you can use the machine to do and how it fits in with your life. Its what you make it, a lifestyle accessory. Once you understand that, the thing makes a lot more sense.



In this review I will talk in turn about the things the iPad can do and how well it does them, but only because it’s the logical way to approach a review. The real strength in the iPad though comes in way in which it allows you to combine all of these things into one, and then makes doing them so much easier. But lets start with the basics.



The On-screen keypad and multi-touch screen



Obviously, unlike a laptop or netbook, the iPad doesn’t come with a physical keyboard. Instead, an on-screen keyboard appears as and when its needed, adjusting size depending on whether you hold the machine vertically or horizontally. Although I find the one on the Touch to be OK for short things, I have to confes to having my doubts about using a touch keyboard for anything of any length. However, I have to say I was wrong to doubt it. Once you become used to the spacing and allowing your fingers to skip across the keys, you can type at virtually normal speeds with the thing and it becomes very natural. I type emails, letters, and plenty of updates on this site, all using the keyboard. It works brilliantly.



Even better is Apple’s mastery of using multi-touch screen and incorporating them into their software. The iPad’s 10 inch screen is precise, intuitive, and so well used in their software that I actually miss its features when I am using the iMac. Scrolling, zooming, selecting text, carrying out functions in Pages and Numbers, the screen is so versatile, its brilliant to use.



In all, the iPad is a great bit of design. Its size is perfect for making the most of video and full screen browsing without becoming too heavy, and like all apple products its beautifully made.



iPad as a music iPod



As you might expect, the iPad does everything you’d expect your iPod to do from a musical standpoint. All the features of the iPod touch are present and correct including coverflow, playlists, genius playlists and groupings, searches, etc etc. Sound quality is every bit as good as any other iPod out there, and supplied headphones are the same as you’d get anywhere else. The external speaker is plenty good enough for personal use if that’s how you want to go, though it won’t replace docking to a dedicated speaker system or sound dock.



One nice feature of the iPad though is the way it handles buying new music. Unlike the scaled down version of iTunes used on the iPod devices, the iPad (when connected by wifi or 3G) presents you with the full desktop version of iTunes from which to make your purchases, which is a nice feature.



iPad as a video iPod



As above, it does everything you’d expect in terms of playing videos, and in terms of being able to buy then directly from iTunes, but the large excellent quality screen is a massive bonus here. Films look brilliant on it. Aspect ratios can be changed at the touch of a button, the screen adjusts when tilted, and colours have a clear crisp vibrancy. The iPad is a genuine option for watching movies on the go now in way the iPod touch isn’t really. Video is a real strength of the machine.



Youtube



If your downloaded videos aren’t enough, iPads come with Youtube built into the machine, including full search functions. Once again, the large screen here is a massive bonus.



iPad as an organiser



iPad comes as standard with the usual diary, contacts, notebook functions that you’d expect from any smartphone/laptop/netbook. But the genius is the way in which Apple has been able to make these things ridiculously easy to use. Its literally see something, click on it with a finger, complete a box. And its not a case that the software has been dumbed down, its just been made easier, and that’s exactly what we all want our computers to be.



iPad as an email system



IPad is configured out of the box to work immediately with the most popular email systems (Gmail etc) and with literally a few clicks and the entry of your account details email is up and running. It takes barely a minute more to get any more obscure third party systems working. The mail application is very neatly designed, offers you all the functionality you could want (even allowing you to work on multiple email accounts and inboxes from different sources at the same time) and includes the ability to read attachments sent in just about every major format going (include Microsoft documents, PDFs, etc). Its really like using the mail applications from the desktop, except that the unnecessary stuff has been stripped out and simplified.



iPad as a digital photo viewer



The iPad is an excellent digital photo-viewer and frame. As well as the large screen showing your photos in all their glory, iPad works with information you have on the photos to store and organise them exactly the way you want. It then allows you to play them back as slideshows, even when the thing is on standby. Put the iPad in a dock, or just leave it out and running, and you have a superb digital photo frame.



What’s more, if you download any of the photo-editing applications (of which there are hundreds) you can even edit the photos right on the Pad.



iPad as a Map



Googlemaps comes built into the iPad as standard, and really comes into its own on the large screen. Finding places, planning routes, getting directions, they are all brilliant on the larger machine. Also really handy is the ability to link Google Maps directly into Mail, so you can email any maps you find.



iPad as a Web Browser



iPad comes with Apple’s Safari web-browser built in as standard. Unlike the versions appearing on the iPods, this version of Safari is fully functioned, meaning you don’t get the mobile versions of the websites, instead you get the full-fat versions. This is great for stuff like Facebook or BBC iPlayer as it means you can enjoy the full experience.



The one fly in the ointment here is the absence of a Flash Player on the iPad. On some sites this does compromise the iPad as a web browser and dent the experience. However, its not as big an issue as some would like you to believe in all honesty, and again its about where the iPad fits into your life. Find the site you want on the iPad whilst out and about doing things, bookmark it, and view the flash content later on the iMac if you really need to.



So those are the standard functions, but as with the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad is about the apps, and this is where it becomes about making the machine what you want it to be. These are some of the things I do with mine and how good it is at doing it.



iPad as an e-reader



The iPad works as a book reader with both Apple’s iBooks application, or with Amazon’s Kindle system. Both are free downloads from the App store (which has its own icon on the main page on the Pad) and allow you to buy books with a few simple clicks.



iBooks allows you to do more with the book once downloaded, like adjust fonts and layout as you read, but it has a smaller range of books than Amazon. Kindle has the better range, and tends to get books first, but has fewer options for messing around with them once downloaded. I thinks its worth having both.



The iPad doesn’t have a backlit screen in the same way that an actual Amazon kindle has (as Amazon have been keen to point out) so its true that in direct sunlight it may be harder to read than a dedicated device, but then I don’t spend all day sitting by a pool in Florida. I read at home or on the train, and there it works perfectly.



iPad to Work



This was really the big thing for me as far as that comment at the start about “potential” was concerned. I felt Apple needed to make an office suite available for the iPad before it was of use to me, and that’s exactly what they have done. iPad versions of Pages (Apple’s Word) Numbers (Excel) and Keynote (PowerPoint) are all available from the App store. Now, I happen to think the desktop versions of these are all better than Microsoft’s software anyway, but the iPad versions are a stroke of brilliance. Once again Apple hasn’t just given you a paired down “mobile” version. Instead they have thought about what you’d want the software to do, why, and just an importantly how. They have provided a feature packed version of each which allows you to create fantastic, lively, detailed, and visually excellent documents. They’ve even included lots of templates to help you. They also included all the features you’d regularly use on the desktop, but linked them all to simplified commands on the multi-touch screen. Want to resize a picture – tap on it with two fingers and then pinch, pull apart, rotate, or do what you like. Want to highlight text, then swipe a finger across. Its sheer brilliance. Plus, its all integrated into Mail, so you can email your documents straight after writing them.



I should mention here that you can buy an external keyboard dock if you want to do long documents, or use a blue-tooth one if you prefer. But the office suit really makes the iPad a viable business tool.



iPad as a sketch book



Because of the iPad’s size and touch screen precision, it makes a fantastic digital sketch book. Any number of art apps are available, but for me, Brushes has been the way to go. I like to sketch, but I rarely have the time or inclination to get all my drawing stuff out of the cupboards and set it all up. With the iPad, I don’t have to. Its all there. I simply click on the app, and start drawing, mixing colours and tones and building the picture up like a true painting. It’s a fantastic way to get involved in art. Whether you want to draw serious pictures or use it to do a simple illustrative diagram, it’s a great feature.



iPad as a games machine



Obviously the iPhones and iPods run games, but they are taken to another level on the iPad. Games run on the full screen in great detail, making use of both the touch screen and the accelerometer for control methods. Graphical quality is excellent for a mobile device and it runs some seriously comprehensive games. There are thousands on the App store of course, so everyone can find something they like.



Other Apps



Apps are, as I’ve said, the making of the machine. Do you need language phrase books, recipe books, dictionaries and thesauruses, news feeds, the works of Shakespeare, online shopping or ticket booking, etc etc. Its all there and available, and again its what I said about making the machine yours. You need to see where it fits into your life.



SO IN SUMMARY



For me, the iPad was never about replacing my iMac desktop. It was about supplementing it as an additional device. Something I could pick up emails on quickly, surf the net with whilst I had the TV on, watch a movie on whilst travelling for business, and just kill time with. Now, I could have done that on an Macbook or other laptop I suppose, but again with the iPad its about making that experience much more accessible, and for me here was the other reason I went down the iPad route.



I wanted to get my parents into using computers. My Mum had a laptop but was a bit intimidated by it. She’s not from a generation that made much use of computers. Neither is my Dad, who never touched the laptop all the time my Mum had one. He’d not know how to turn on my iMac. Mum used her laptop rarely, because it seemed like an event to her to have to “Get the Laptop out”



And yet on the iPad, its entirely different. The thing is left sitting around like you would a book. It’s the work of a second to grab it and start doing something with it. As a result, both are sending and receiving emails, surfing the internet, looking up stuff on Googlemaps and Google earth, and buying stuff online. Its because it doesn’t feel like using a computer. You use your fingers. You point and press on buttons, and they can relate to that in a way they never will with mice and keyboards. They can do it whilst they are doing other things as well.



In other words, rather than them having to work out how to fit to a laptop, the iPad fits into their lives. That’s where we came in.



And that’s why the iPad is a work of genius.
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