Review: iPad

Posted by:
Date: Monday, April 5th, 2010, 04:19
Category: News, Review

By Michael DeWalt

Arrival and Unpacking:
At about 10 AM Saturday morning, Santa, otherwise known as the UPS guy, rang the doorbell. The anticipation was intense, but it’s here — the iPad has landed. To be more specific, an iPad Wi-Fi 64GB is now in hand. It took willpower not to just rip into the box, but I held back and took a few photos of the unveiling.

The picture above is the package as it was delivered. After the wait and all the hype it seemed…well…a little less grand than I’d envisioned.

Inside, the packaging was simple and efficient with recyclable cardboard packaging. All’s well so far.

Inside the box there’s not much – the iPad, a one page document that basically just points out what the buttons do, and underneath that rests the 10W power adapter and sync cable. That’s it. If you’re looking for ear buds, stop, they’re not included.

Before turning it on I decided to plug it in, just for good measure. As it turns out that was a waste of time, it was fully charged out of the box. For a size reference, it’s parked next to a MacBook Air.

First Impressions:
Mobility and weight are important as I spend about 30% of my time on the road, or more accurately, on airplanes. So, I was pleasantly surprised at how light it felt when I picked it up for the first time. It’s subjective I know, but to me it felt “light”. At a pound and a half it’s about half the weight of the MacBook Air, but a little more than double the weight of my first generation Kindle.

Durability is high on my list of desirable attributes, but, like all new expensive electronic gadgets, I’ll treat it like a newborn baby for the first week or two. I babied the Kindle for a while … but now it gets tossed around and travels without a cover. The iPad feels more substantial than the Kindle, and not just because it’s bigger. Apple knows how to build a device that not only looks great, but oozes quality.

The First Sync:
Before turning it on I plugged it into a Mac Pro and fired up iTunes. Make sure you’re using iTunes 9.1, you’ll need it to sync. Below are several screen shots that show registration and syncing. If you’ve ever set up an iPod or iPhone the process will be very familiar.




Using the iPad:
iPad navigation is almost identically to the iPod Touch and iPhone, and that’s not surprising since it uses the iPhone OS. It’s intuitive and easy to navigate.

Keyboard and Controls:
The touch screen keyboard is available in both portrait and landscape modes. If you have more than an ID and password to type you’ll appreciate the added size of the keyboard in landscape mode. Most people will find that it works just fine for a device like this. I found it to be accurate and relatively speedy, even with my chunky fingers. The keyboard makes a satisfying “click” through the speaker with each key press, though you can turn the click off if you want. Typing an email, note, or web address was absolutely no problem. However, if you’re a budding writer working on your novel, you probably don’t want to do it on an iPad unless you spring for the external keyboard.

In terms of buttons and switches, there aren’t many. It’s a super-slick package with the “Home” button near the dock port, an on/off button on the top, a button to lock out rotation, and a volume toggle. That’s it.

Battery Life:
After two days of significant use I think it’s safe to say that, in normal use the battery shouldn’t be a concern. The design theory seems to have been “use it all day on a full charge, plug it in before you go to bed, then do it all over again the next day.” I had it on for about six hours on Saturday and the indicator still said over 50%. Yes, I know that’s not as great as a Kindle, buy hey, so what. If I can go full out all day that’s fine, I don’t mind charging it overnight.

Web Browsing and Email:
If you’ve used Safari on a Mac, PC, or iPhone you’ll be right at home. You can open multiple windows and jump between them, just like the iPhone. During the initial set up and registration process I turned on the MobileMe sync and my email, contacts, calendar, and bookmarks all synced flawlessly. One piece of advice on bookmarks … using the bookmark bar really speeds browsing. The screen is big enough to give up a little real estate for it. In general, the web browsing experience is much more like using a laptop than an iPhone. However, as widely reported, Adobe Flash is a no-go. That makes many sites less rich and some downright unusable.

Mail was a pleasant surprise and for whatever reason, using my finger in place of the mouse seemed more “right” than with any other app, except maybe “Photos”. Mail layout is simple and intuitive. One problem though is printing … it doesn’t. Sure, you can pick up a third party app and get the job done, but there’s no built-in ability to print anything

In summary, Safari and Mail are easy and intuitive … except no Flash in Safari, less than perfect attachment options in Mail, and no printing ability.

Media – Video and Music:
Media is where the iPad really shines. Movies look stunning – a rich crisp screen and plenty of processor power for smooth playback. A few of my recent Blu-ray movie purchases have included digital copies (Zombieland and Sherlock Holmes), and they not only look great, they have chapters with thumbnails … like movies downloaded from the iTunes Movie Store. Music Videos and TV shows look great as well. Movie and TV downloads from the iTunes store worked fine and transferred to my Mac Pro when I synced the iPad.

Since the iPad is essentially a mobile device you’ll often be around other people when you use it – on the train, airplanes, in the library, waiting rooms, airports, etc. So, you’ll probably use ear buds or headphones to listen. That said, the built-in speaker develops enough volume that it’s a usable option. If I’m in a hotel room and want to watch a TV show or movie I’d be happy to prop it up and jack up the speaker volume. It’s not what you’d call hi-fi quality, but it’s definitely usable.

Using the iPod app was easy. In particular, I like the “Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, Composers” bar at the bottom of the screen which makes it easy to browse your music collection. One minor complaint though, when you browse by genre you get a list of all the songs in that genre. It would have been better to group them by artist or album within genre.

Once you get a song playing you get album artwork filling the screen, and it looks great. While you’re playing music can hit the home button, fire up a different app, and music will continue to play while you’re checking email or playing a killer game of solitaire.

Photo Browsing:
The Photo app syncs with either your iPhoto library or a folder of pictures. If you sync with iPhoto you can do it all or just the albums, events or faces you want. I synced about 2,000 photos in two dozen albums and it all worked fine.

Viewing your pictures couldn’t be easier. When you open the Photo app it shows your albums as stacks of photos. Tap one and thumbnails appear. Tap a thumbnail and the picture opens. You can flick through the pictures like on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

You can zoom and shrink with the pinch and expand gesture, you can run a slideshow, email pictures, and copy pictures. There aren’t any editing tools built in, but hey, this is a viewer and a darned good one.

iBooks and the Bookstore … and the Kindle App:
I’m a big fan of the Kindle. I’ve downloaded and read about 50 books on my first generation Kindle. Sure it has its quirks, but it’s been a great reader. I’m giving to my daughter.

The Kindle app for the iPad is a better experience than reading Kindle books on the Kindle itself. The books in your Kindle library show up with colorful covers, it’s fast, and the screen is crisp and easy to read. With the Kindle app I was able to log into my account, select the books I wanted moved to the iPad, and I ordered a new book (from the Amazon Website). All in all it was easy to get all of my current Kindle content on the iPad.

The iBooks app is excellent. You can read one page at a time in portrait mode or two pages at a time in landscape. You can go to the table of contents and jump to a chapter, you can change the font and font size. With illustrations and photos in color and the bigger screen this will definitely be a platform for textbooks. What’s currently missing though, is an ability to annotate and highlight.

The bookstore has over 50,000 titles at introduction, but is way behind Amazon. I’m sure Apple’s store will increase, and that’ll be great, but the iPad isn’t closed. If I can’t find what I want I can always shop the Kindle store and use the Kindle app.

A lot’s been written about the E ink screen versus the iPad’s LED-backlit glossy screen. Yes, if you want to read in the bright sunshine the LED screen will be a problem. That said, I’ve never found myself reading that way. For me the problem has been just the opposite. I frequently read in low light situations… in bed and on a dim evening flight. I think the bright screen will be just fine. I’ve done three separate one-hour book-reading sessions so far and not experienced any noticeable eye strain. It is heavier though, and I find myself changing hands often.

Bottom line… it’s a good book reader and my daughter will be the proud owner of a used Kindle.

Using the iPad for business – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote:
So far so good … the iPad is great for movies, music, and books, and it’s a decent platform for browsing the web and using email. Unfortunately, it falls a bit short as a business tool.

What I wanted to see was relatively modest:
1. Ability to read and write Microsoft Office formats,
2. Reasonable formatting compatibility,
3. Ease of use … the ability to modify existing documents and create relatively basic documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the go, and
4. Conveniently get files on and off the iPad to share.

So, how does it perform? It’s easy to create new documents, spreadsheets, and presentations – much easier and more usable than I expected. There are several built in templates that make it easy to get quick professional looking work done.

It’ll read Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats, and in my tests it did a decent (but not perfect) job of formatting. It’ll also save your word processing documents in Microsoft Word format. What it absolutely does not do is save in Excel and PowerPoint formats. That’s a problem for me. When I’m on the road I mostly read and review material that’s emailed to me, but once in a while I need to edit or create a spreadsheet or presentation and send it back to the office. Yes, you can email it as a PDF or iWork format … but I work in a Windows world and Microsoft Office compatibility is a must. This is a serious flaw in Numbers and Keynote and it’ll need to be addressed either by Apple or an easy to use third party app.

Another problem is the ability to get work to and from your iPad. There are two options, email or syncing with iTunes on your computer. That’s a real pain. A USB port would have been good. 95% of the time I’ll be able to travel with the iPad and leave my laptop and Kindle at home… but better integration with MS Office and a USB port would have really sealed the deal.

The Bottom Line:
The iPad is without a doubt a ground breaking device, is crazy good at what it does best, but has its flaws, particularly as a business tool.

Pros – Instant on (no time consuming boot up), large vibrant screen for such a portable device, great battery life, good web and email experience, great video & music player, usable built in speaker, very good book reader (including my already purchased Kindle library), great build quality, and large and growing selection of apps.

Cons – Only partially file compatibility with Microsoft Office, limited ability to get files on and off, limited ability to add multiple attachments to email, and no built in ability to print. Also, the glossy screen looks fantastic, but is highly prone to smudgy fingerprints.

Debatable – The on screen keyboard is good, but it’s still not like a real keyboard. Love for the keyboard will likely be inversely proportional to the amount of typing being done.

Summary:
After a few days of heavy use and review am I happy I bought an iPad? Absolutely. For at least the next three months I’ll be an early adopting geek rock star. It’ll be the focus of attention at meetings when I pop it out to take notes, people will stop and stare when I’m reading an ibook on the train, and all the people watching movies on their Nano at 35,000 feet will bow down in awe. So, yes, I’m very happy with it. However, it wants to be connected at all times. I’m already feeling a need for 3G.

iPad Launch Day Roundup

Posted by:
Date: Saturday, April 3rd, 2010, 06:11
Category: iPad, News, Pictures

Ok, just got back from the iPad launch at the Apple Store in Arlington, Virginia, so bear with me here:

Coming up on the line, you heard cheering from about half a block away. With dozens of blue-shirted Apple employees running about, handing out coffee and water and high-fiving each other and customers, they’ve adopted something of a Wal-Mart employee rally mentality.

Not a bad thing, but a little weird…

Apple Store employees do a victory lap in advance.

Coming up on the line, there were about 75 people in a line to each side of the front door, the lines being divided into those with reservations and those without reservations who were hoping to snag a unit. Apple employees continued high-fiving customers before retreating into the store where their pep rally continued behind closed doors.

“For me it’s something new. The interface has changed enough for me not to say it’s the same thing. I love the fact that Netflix plays on it,” said an attendee at the head of the reservation line who identified himself as a former Apple employee named “Elon”. “It’s a device that lets you touch things and I like to touch things,” he joked.

Elon waiting in line for the Apple’s iPad.

“I do agree Flash does bog down my system, a lot of the naysayers it’s 95% of the web. I do fine with my videos and I don’t have to worry about Netflix. For someone who likes to play games, then yes, Flash will probably be a bummer.”

He then went on to comment that he’d arrived at the store around midnight the night before and was planning to buy the iPad, hop on the Metro, go home, sync it to iTunes and get to work on it.

Others were there for less direct reasons. Angela Lucas of Arlington, Virginia, snagged the top spot in the reserve line to buy an iPad for her husband’s birthday in two days’ time. “He wants to be the first among his friends to have it,” she said, smiling.

Tom Bridge, a local resident and owner of welovedc.com, seemed more excited about the iPad’s potential than anything else.

“I do have some hesitations, I’m not wild about the closed off development platform but I do know that there are a lot of awesome apps on day one and that people will find a way to make this work,” said Bridge, who then cited that he was looking forward to finding ways to blend the iPad with his business functions.

Upon the opening of the Apple Store’s doors, the staff eased the crowd in, limiting the number of people in the store, where almost all of the displays had been switched over to iPad demo units. Unlike the iPhone launches, customers were able to purchase their iPads quickly without any registration concerns and could either buy the iPad and leave or do an initial sync to iTunes in order to set the device up.

First out the door was Brad Gardner, a Washington, D.C. resident who was promptly swamped by interviewers and seemed more intent on getting home and setting the iPad up:

A few customers later, the ever-helpful Dominic Gohla exited the store and was happy to unpack the iPad for the cameras. Gohla had coordinated an arrival from Germany to pick up a reserved iPad and sat down in a nearby Starbucks to hop on the AT&T wireless network to offer the following demo and interview to a German web site (in German, so if any of you have a friend that knows German, yank them over to translate – I’ll be slamming my head against the desk):


Perhaps one of the coolest moments of the morning, Dominic demoed Apple’s new iBooks app with the complimentary copy of “Winnie The Pooh” that arrives with the program. The word “smooth” is applicable here and the pages not only turn easily, but can be grabbed and slowly turned from any portion of the page. Nice touch.

Prior to heading out, an attendee who identified himself as “Simon” perhaps summed up the hopes of the line the best. “This is a traveler’s dream device. I can take it on a flight and never get bored again,” he said. Simon then went on to offer that in spite of the lack of native Adobe Flash support for the device, he was reassured in that a lot of the big media companies seem to be turning around and supporting the HTML5 standard.

From a personal perspective, there’s a lot to be impressed with. The iPad is light, speedy, the screen is everything the user could ever want, the interface is responsive and the accelerometer seems to be working overtime, happily shipping between vertical and landscape views with only a slight turn of the tablet.

We’ll have a full review up in about a week’s time, but for the time being, this is definitely something cool and Apple seems to have taken its time to create a unique product that could, in fact, blow its tablet competition out of the water.

ABC, CBS to have iPad-compatible content ready for iPad launch

Posted by:
Date: Friday, April 2nd, 2010, 03:11
Category: News

Per a Wall Street Journal report, the ABC and CBS television networks are ready to offer iPad-compatible content prepared in time for the device’s launch on Saturday.

Both CBS and Walt Disney’s ABC have planned for episodes of their TV shows to be viewable on Apple’s forthcoming iPad in time for its Saturday launch. Streaming episodes of TV shows will be available from CBS via its Web site, while ABC will offer a downloadable iPad application from the App Store.

While the initial offerings are expected to be limited at first, both networks plan to have identical content available both for the iPad and on their Web sites.

“Putting streaming video on the iPad would sidestep Apple’s iTunes content store, where Apple has been trying to juice anemic sales of TV episodes in advance of the iPad launch,” the report said. “So far, several media companies have rejected Apple’s push to lower the price for downloading shows from iTunes to 99 cents each, according to people familiar with the talks.”

Last week, it was revealed that Apple was testing HTML5 streaming video on an iPad-specific version of its Web site. Apple’s lack of support for Adobe Flash on its iPhone OS devices has forced networks like CBS and ABC to seek alternatives for their streaming solutions.

Apple is also looking to offer TV episodes for 99 cents from major networks, though the Journal reported Thursday that it is unknown whether any network will agree to that pricing by the Saturday launch. Episodes of TV shows typically retail for US$1.99 or US$2.99.

Apple releases iTunes 9.1 Update

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Date: Wednesday, March 31st, 2010, 04:27
Category: Software

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Late Tuesday, Apple released iTunes 9.1, the latest version of its multimedia/jukebox application for Mac OS X. The new version, an 93.6 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

- Sync with iPad to enjoy your favorite music, movies, TV shows, books and more on the go.
- Organize and sync books you’ve downloaded from iBooks on iPad or added to your iTunes library.
- Rename, rearrange, or remove Genius Mixes.

iTunes 9.1 is available via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run.

Syncing Issues Cited Between iPhone OS 3.x and iTunes 9.x

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Date: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010, 05:59
Category: iPhone, News, Software

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As useful and convenient as iPhones and iTunes tend to be, there may be some serious issues left to resolve.

Per reader Martin Joyce, a number of users have been experiencing syncing issues between their iPod and iPhone handsets running iPhone OS 3.x and iTunes 9.x. The issue, which is being discussed at length over at the Apple Discussion Boards, cites that the most common issue is that of there being no content on the iPhone or iPod handset after a sync. The discussion has yet to conclude with Apple publicly acknowledging the issue in any way, shape or form.

If anyone has seen this on their end or has heard of a possible forthcoming fix from Apple, please let us know.

Apple Improves 27″ iMac Ship Time, Raises Cap on 3G Downloads

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Date: Friday, February 19th, 2010, 05:33
Category: iMac, iPhone, News

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Following Apple’s recent troubles with its 27″ iMac and a wait time of up to three weeks, AppleInsider is reporting that the company has dropped the ship time to five to seven days, suggesting that the company has managed to address the video issues that haunted the desktops. The change applies to both the Core 2 Duo and Core i5 powered versions of the computer.

Early adopters of the big-screen iMac have seen a number of hardware issues pertaining to the screen, with reports of flickering and yellow discoloration. The company released two software updates to fix the issues, and also reportedly offered some customers a 15 percent refund for their troubles.

Supplies of the 27-inch iMac have been constrained for months, with Apple in December even apologizing for delays, citing considerable demand form consumers. When it first launched in October, the new iMac was the best-selling desktop machine for the month. The 21.5″ iMac came in first place, while the 27-inch iMac took third in overall sales.

In other news, Apple quietly doubled the download limit for files from the iPhone App Store and iTunes via 3G. Users can now download files up to 20MB in size from a wireless carrier’s data network. The previous cap was 10MB for “over the air” downloads.

In addition to applications, the new limit also applies to multimedia files, such as podcasts available through iTunes. The update expands beyond AT&T in the U.S., with international reports stating the 10MB cap has also been lifted.

If you’ve played around with the new limit, let us know.

Apple Set to Offer Fairplay DRM Access to Book Publishers

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Date: Tuesday, February 16th, 2010, 04:19
Category: iPad, News

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Digital Rights Management software has never been universally popular, though Apple is offering publishers a crack at it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Apple will use the DRM to prevent piracy of titles sold on the multimedia device. Apple abandoned restrictive DRM for music titles last year when it removed FairPlay from the iTunes Music Store.

FairPlay restricted the number of devices that could have access to purchased content. Its use was the subject of great debate and criticism until Apple removed it in 2009.

While the content of the iTunes Music Store is currently DRM-free, Apple still uses the technology for movies and TV shows purchased through iTunes. Now, similar restrictions could reportedly be extended to some e-books sold for the iPad, though the article suggested publishers will have a choice.

“The majority of publishers are expected to embrace FairPlay, along with other copy protection software such as Adobe’s Content Server 4, as a means to squelch incipient book piracy as the e-book market begins to take off.”

When it introduced the iPad last month, Apple highlighted five major publishers that will offer content for the device. The iBooks application includes the iBookstore, where bestsellers are expected to be priced between US$12.99 and US$14.99.

The price range has been the subject of debate for publishers, who were previously unhappy with the standard US$9.99 price for new hardcover bestsellers sold on the Amazon Kindle e-reader. Amazon has reluctantly agreed to publisher demands and is expected to offer higher e-book prices with the release of the iPad in March.

Logitech Releases Control Center 3.2 Update

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Date: Saturday, February 13th, 2010, 04:20
Category: Software

Late Friday, Logitech released version 3.2 of its Control Center software. The update, a 17.9 megabyte download (via VersionTracker), offers the following fixes and changes for the driver software:

- Back and Forward have been added to the list of actions that can be assigned to mouse buttons. These actions are supported in web browsers, Finder, iCal, iTunes and iPhoto.

- A warning will appear when the SteerMouse application is detected. When SteerMouse is installed, LCC will not be able to detect most Logitech mice and keyboards, as OS X does not allow devices to be controlled by more than one driver at a time.

Control Center 3.2 is available for free and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run.

Some Users Cite Erratic Battery Life, Syncing Issues Following iPhone OS 3.1.3 Update

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Date: Wednesday, February 10th, 2010, 08:40
Category: iPhone, News

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Despite Apple’s best intentions, the iPhone OS 3.1.3 firmware update may not have gone as well as the company would have liked.

Per iPodNN, a number of users over on the Apple Discussion Board have reported that issues such as erratic battery life have emerged.

In certain cases, the unit’s battery meter may potentially swing wildly, for instance going from 25 to 7 to 10 percent, then jumping back up to 24%.

Worst-case scenarios may see phones losing hours of power, and even running unusually hot. The v3.1.3 firmware was in part meant to correct battery meter trouble on the iPhone 3GS.

Another major problem involves iTunes playlists, which in some cases are failing to sync properly with the iPod touch. While files will copy over properly, playlists may be empty or simply absent. The glitch is believed to affect only smart playlists, and potentially only those with multiple criteria. Temporary workarounds may include reducing criteria to a single field, and/or deleting and remaking previous playlists.

Apple has yet to formally address or fix either of the cited errors.

If you’ve seen this issue on your end, please let us know.

Apple Releases iTunes 9.0.3 Update

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Date: Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010, 05:16
Category: News

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Late Monday, Apple released iTunes 9.0.3, the latest version of its multimedia/jukebox application for Mac OS X. The new version, an 90.8 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

- iTunes no longer ignores your “Remember password for purchases” setting.
- Addresses problems with syncing some Smart Playlists and Podcasts with iPod.
- Resolves a problem recognizing when iPod is connected.
- Addresses issues that affect stability and performance.

iTunes 9.0.3 is available via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run.