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  • Yet Another iPad Story

    April 22nd, 2010

    Have you had quite enough reading all those write-ups about the iPad? Well, a friend and frequent guest on the tech radio show wrote me the other day that “iPad is so old news and beaten to death, don’t you think?”

    Well, it’s hard to say. If you own one, then you are busy learning the ropes and seeking out software to try. If you don’t have an iPad on your shopping list, you can turn the page. But if you’re like me, having just recently been exposed to one, then there is a whole lot to talk about, so let me begin.

    I received a review sample, the 64GB Wi-Fi model, just a few days ago from Apple. They provided a case, a USB power adapter and an accessory dock. I didn’t request the keyboard, because I wanted to evaluate its usefulness as a portable standalone device. Once you add an accessory keyboard and other components, that utility is sacrificed. You might as well brandish your note-book computer.

    My initial reaction is positive, but guarded. Yes, it does look, at first glance, like a grown up iPod touch. But the larger size is both a blessing and a curse, because you cannot hold it comfortably in one hand, and once you’re confined to both hands, you are forced to reconsider your work technique. I would also think this setup might present difficulties for someone who is handicapped, but no doubt there will be third-party accessories that help with accessibility issues.

    In any case, the typing experience is also something I had to rediscover. I type with the traditional two hands on a regular keyboard. Since I had no real BlackBerry face time prior to owning an iPhone, I never mastered the two-finger typing technique. I get by with one finger on my iPhone, but that approach can be extremely awkward on the iPad’s larger surface. Horizontally, touch typing actually works, though it’ll take time for me to grow flexible. Placed in a vertical position, with the foreshortened keyboard layout, I have tried both a single finger and two fingers, but yet haven’t worked out a routine that suits. I’ll give it time.

    Most of what you’ve heard about the iPhone OS and system responsiveness is true. It shuts down in seconds, starts up quite quickly, and all the apps and general functionality is near-instantaneous. So even though multitasking won’t come until the fall iPhone 4.0 update for the iPad, you don’t suffer much from its lack except for a few prescribed tasks, such as playing a Pandora stream in the background and so on and so forth.

    The Mail interface is not well thought out. If you are using several accounts, it defaults to the last message you read in an individual account, with the Inbox a click away. You want a standard overview, you have to backtrack to the window with the Accounts button on it, and click on Accounts to see them all. The Accounts view is the default scheme on the iPhone, and that’s a better solution; that is, until iPhone 4.0 comes along with the global Inbox feature and other enhancements.

    Now maybe there’s a Mail setup option somewhere that I’m overlooking, but the Settings panel didn’t reveal any, and the iPad, and Apple’s mobile devices in general, don’t sport any of those optional or secret features that you can somehow access if you observe a special technique. It’s not at all like the setup on a Mac or a PC.

    One of the reasons I have seriously considered an iPad is as an electronic reading devices, and here it excels. Apple’s iBooks software is simple, elegant, and makes reading your favorite books a joy to behold. I’ve already populated it with a few free titles to get a sense of the functionality, and I’m highly impressed.

    Some publishers, such as Time magazine, are getting into the act with separate retail apps for every issue, at approximately the cost of the print version. But I opted for the free USA Today iPad app, which provides a decent alternative to the mobile or standard site.

    In any case, I am the sort of person who prints copies of longer Web-based documents. I am trying to wean myself from that costly practice, and the iPad offers a load of promise. If I don’t have to regularly feed my printers with those expensive consumables, the cost of the iPad will be quickly covered

    One more note: Wi-Fi reception is decent enough. In the master bedroom, at the other side of our home, I usually get from two to three bars signal strength on the iPhone. With the iPad it ranges from one to three bars, but performance remains pretty good. As you may have read, some people have reported spotty signal strength in places where other wireless devices fare reasonably well. Assuming the iPad has essentially the same off-the-shelf Wi-Fi hardware as other mobile gadgets, maybe Apple could resolve the sensitivity issues with a firmware update, but I find its reception quite acceptable right now.

    Understand this is not a review so much as a set of preliminary observations. I’ll have lots more to say in the weeks to come in these columns and on the radio show, so stay tuned.

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