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.

Apple Releases Safari 4.0.5 Update

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, March 11th, 2010, 16:34
Category: Software

safari_icon

Late Wednesday, Apple Safari 4.0.5, the latest version of the company’s web browser.

The new version, which which can be downloaded here, includes the following fixes and features:

- Performance improvements for Top Sites.
- Stability improvements for 3rd-party plug-ins.
- Stability improvements for websites with online forms and Scalable Vector Graphics.
- Fixes an issue that prevented Safari from changing settings on some Linksys routers.

The update can be located and installed via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature and requires Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, let us know in the comments.

Recent Study Finds Neither Adobe Flash, HTML5 Has Significant Performance Advantage

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, March 11th, 2010, 06:36
Category: News

As the war between Adobe Flash and HTML5 heats up, a recent comparison with numerous different browsers on both Mac and Windows produced wildly different results based on the operating system and browser, making neither a clear winner.

Per Streaming Learning Center, which conducted the study in response to recently alleged comments from Apple CEO Steve Jobs that reportedly called Flash a “CPU hog”, the test found that HTML5 is significantly more efficient than Flash on the Mac when running the Safari Web browser, those same advantages do not exist on other Mac browsers, or in Windows.

“It’s inaccurate to conclude that Flash is inherently inefficient,” author Jan Ozer wrote. “Rather, Flash is efficient on platforms where it can access hardware acceleration and less efficient where it can’t. With Flash Player 10.1, Flash has the opportunity for a true leap in video playback performance on all platforms that enable hardware acceleration.”

The report noted that Apple has not enabled the hooks to allow GPU-based acceleration for H.264 video decoding. Anand Lai Shimpi, founder of AnandTech, asserted “it’s up to Apple to expose the appropriate hooks to allow Adobe to (eventually) enable that functionality.”

Adobe’s update to Flash 10.1 on the Mac improved CPU efficiency within Safari by 5%, but the Web format still trails far behind HTML5 due to hardware acceleration. With Google Chrome, neither were particularly efficient, and Firefox saw slightly better performance than Chrome.

On Windows, Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t play HTML 5 content. But the Google Chrome browser in Windows played Flash 10.1 content with 58% more efficiency than HTML5.

HTML5 has yet to receive native support in Firefox or Internet Explorer, but the update from Flash 10 to Flash 10.1 improved CPU performance for the browsers by 73% and 35%, respectively. Flash 10.1 in Windows offers added hardware acceleration.

“When it comes to efficient video playback, the ability to access hardware acceleration is the single most important factor in the overall CPU load,” Streaming Learning Center noted. “On Windows, where Flash can access hardware acceleration, the CPU requirements drop to negligible levels.

“It seems reasonable to assume that if the Flash Player could access GPU-based hardware acceleration on the Mac (or iPod/iPhone/iPad), the difference between the CPU required for HTML5 playback and Flash playback would be very much narrowed, if not eliminated.”

Google added native YouTube support in January. The beta opt-in program is available only for browsers that support both HTML5 and H.264 video encoding.

Scrutiny over Flash has grown in recent months since Apple introduced its multimedia iPad device, which does not support the Web format from Adobe. Apple, instead, has placed its support behind HTML5.

Firefox Web Browser Unlikely to Come to iPhone, iPod Touch

Posted by:
Date: Wednesday, November 18th, 2009, 05:55
Category: iPhone, News

elfirefox

Representatives from Mozilla, the company responsible for Firefox, have announced that the web browser will not be coming to the iPhone. Responding to questions from ElectricPig.co.uk, Mozilla’s European president, Tristan Nitot, said that Firefox on the iPhone isn’t an option with Apple’s current restrictions on web browsers that would compete with Mobile Safari.

“The issue is more with Apple than with us because they control the App Store and because they refuse applications which compete with something that is already on the phone. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a version of Firefox running on the iPhone,” said Nitot.

Nitot also stated that Mozilla is so sure it isn’t going to happen that he said the foundation isn’t even looking in to making a version for just in case Apple changes their mind.

“We’re not investing time and energy in this direction because we’re pretty sure it would be blocked by Apple, so we’re better off using our time in terms of development to do things on open platforms”.

“[Firefox for mobile] is a modern browser with all the bells and whistles that you’ll find in your desktop browser so you need a powerful operating system such as Android or Maemo or Windows Mobile,” he said. “The list of operating systems we want to support in the mobile world is already pretty long – I guess BlackBerry would be one of the last in our priority list”

Firefox Mobile will be launching on Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, and Nokia Maemo tablets in December.

Apple Releases Safari 4.0.4 Update

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, November 12th, 2009, 05:33
Category: Software

safari_icon

Late Wednesday, Apple Safari 4.0.4, the latest version of the company’s web browser.

The new version, which which can be downloaded here, includes the following fixes and features:

- Improved JavaScript performance.
- Improved Full History Search performance for users with a large number of history items.
- Stability improvements for 3rd-party plug-ins, the search field and Yahoo! Mail.

The update can be located and installed via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature and requires Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback, let us know in the comments.

Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.6.2 Update

Posted by:
Date: Monday, November 9th, 2009, 14:14
Category: Software

snowleopard

Late Monday, Apple released its second maintenance update to its Mac OS X 10.6 (“Snow Leopard”) operating system. Mac OS X 10.6.2, a 473 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes for the following issues:

- An issue that might cause your system to logout unexpectedly.
- Graphics distortion in Safari Top Sites.
- An issue wherein Spotlight search results not showing Exchange contacts.
- A problem that prevented authenticating as an administrative user.
- Issues when using NTFS and WebDAV file servers.
- The reliability of menu extras.
- An issue with the 4-finger swipe gesture.
- An issue that causes Mail to quit unexpectedly when setting up an Exchange server.
- Address Book becoming unresponsive when editing.
- A problem adding images to contacts in Address Book.
- An issue that prevented opening files downloaded from the Internet.
- Safari plug-in reliability.
- General reliability improvements for iWork, iLife, Aperture, Final Cut Studio, MobileMe, and iDisk.
- An issue that caused data to be deleted when using a guest account.

Other fixes include improved video playback, fixes for performance on certain Nvidia graphics cards and assorted security updates.

As always, the update can be snagged and installed via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature.

The update requires Mac OS X 10.6 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new update and noticed anything, positive or negative, please let us know in the comments.

Apple Releases Third Beta Build of Mac OS X 10.6.2 Update to Developers

Posted by:
Date: Monday, October 19th, 2009, 04:38
Category: Software

snowleopard

Over the weekend, Apple sent its third beta release of the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.6.2 update with fixes for QuickTime, iChat, and a widely reported guest account glitch that could delete user data to its developer community.

Per AppleInsider, sources familiar with build 10C527f said the latest update has only one known issue, and has a number of fixes in 13 different focus areas. It also reportedly provides reliability improvements for iWork, iLife, Aperture, Final Cut Studio, MobileMe, iDisk, and Safari plug-ins.

The update also reportedly fixes a glitch that could delete user data. This issue is triggered by logging in and out of a guest account on a Snow Leopard machine. Upon logging back in to their regular account, some users may find that it has been wiped of all data. Apple acknowledged the issue earlier this week and has stated that the company is working on a fix.

The latest build allegedly provides a number of GraphicsDrivers fixes, including resolutions for crashes with OpenCL, a screen flickering issue, and stuttering while playing 1080p content with QuickTime Player X.

The update is also said to resolve an issue that did not allow some QuickTime movies to play in QuickTime Player X.

A handful of iMovie-related issues were also addressed, including color shift issues and a crash that occurred when looping previews of titles in the skimming palette.

The update is currently a 483.5 megabyte file, and is the third beta release in less than two weeks. The previous build of Mac OS X 10.6.2 was provided to developers on Oct. 9. The last build addressed nearly 150 general focus areas covering a wide range.

Some Snow Leopard Users Complain of Spontaneous Logouts

Posted by:
Date: Monday, September 28th, 2009, 05:31
Category: Software

snowleopard

If Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) is behaving strangely for you, you’re not alone. Per CNET, a number of users have reported that Mac OS X 10.6 (as well as 10.6.1) will spontaneously log out of their account in the middle of using applications. The issue does not appear to be related to specific applications running as users have reported it happening while using Excel, Word, Safari, Photoshop, and Filemaker Pro among others. Most guesses have the problem related to Rosetta running on the new operating system, though an official fix has yet to be reported.

Over on the Apple Support Discussions, forum poster “Stu Baker” writes:
“I am having spontaneous logouts while I am in Snow Leopard. This is happening a couple times a day and it is very annoying. When it logs out it instantly goes to a blue screen and then the login screen appears. When I log back in all my apps have quit and it is like I am logging in for the first time. I did have this happen in Leopard too, but very rarely.”

One forum poster suggested a complete erase and install of Snow Leopard. If you’re going to attempt this, make sure you have all your data backed up to a safe location, if not a Time Machine archive on an external disk to make setup that much easier after the OS is installed.

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

Apple Releases iPhone OS 3.0.1 to Close SMS-Based Security Hole

Posted by:
Date: Friday, July 31st, 2009, 10:29
Category: iPhone

3gs.jpg

Responding to a dangerous security exploit unveiled this week, Apple released an update to its iPhone operating system Thursday to patch the security hole.

iPhone OS has just become available for the iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS handsets. The update is between 230 and 300 megabytes and appears to exclusively fix the reported SMS exploit.

According to AppleInsider, security researcher Charlie Miller, co-author of The Mac Hacker’s Handbook, demonstrated the hack Thursday at the Black Hat 2009 conference in Las Vegas. The attack takes advantage of a vulnerability in the phone’s short messaging service, or SMS, feature, allowing an outside party into the phone’s root access without the owner’s knowledge.

The exploit takes advantage of the fact that SMS can send binary code to a phone which is then automatically processed without user interaction, and can be compiled from multiple messages, allowing larger programs to be sent to a phone. The exploit supposedly exposes the iPhone completely, allowing access to the camera, dialer, messaging and Safari. It occurs regardless of hardware revision or which version of the iPhone OS is running.

The technique involves sending only one unusual text character or else a series of “invisible” messages that confuse the phone and open the door to attack. Given that users won’t know which messages to block in advance, there’s little iPhone owners can do but to shut off the phone immediately if they suspect they’re at risk. Once exploited, the trick could also be used to make an iPhone send additional messages of its own, thereby spreading the problem.

To install the new iPhone OS firmware, simply connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC, open iTunes, select the iPhone in the device window and tell it to check for an update. The process will complete on its own.

If you’ve tried the new firmware, let us know what you make of it in the comments or forums.

Apple Releases Safari 4.0.2 Update

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, July 9th, 2009, 03:26
Category: Software

safari_icon

On Wednesday, Apple released an update to the Safari 4 browser.

The Safari 4.0.2 Update is recommended for all Safari users and improves the stability of the Nitro JavaScript engine and includes the latest compatibility and security fixes.

Safari 4.0.2 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run and can be downloaded via the Software Update control panel on your Mac.