Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
'Magical' iPad? Despite the hype, the answer is 'yes'
Nov. 7, 2010
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The
When Steve Jobs, the guru of Apple, unveiled the iPad earlier this
year, some members of the press ridiculed him for calling the iPad "magical."
No doubt Steve does exaggerate now and then, but this time his description was spot-on. After working and
playing with the iPad for a few weeks, I'm simply blown away by the magazine-size device.
The iPad is unlike anything I've ever used or owned. It's not a computer. But you could also say it IS a
computer, but not just a computer. That's how hard it is to describe.
Let me try again. The iPad is an electronic tablet, small enough to hide under a standard sheet of typing
paper. It does e-mail, Web browsing, photo and video viewing, GPS-style direction finding, music playing, word processing (from
simple note taking to desktop publishing) and literally thousands of other operations. The keyboard appears on the screen when
you need it, in two sizes -- a smallish keyboard when you hold the tablet vertically and a larger one when you hold it
Like magi ... I mean like a clever assistant, the iPad switches its orientation depending on how you hold
it. Everything on the screen rotates if you rotate the tablet. You don't use a mouse or stylus. Instead, you tap or swipe your
finger to do various things on the screen. Multi-finger taps and swipes make the user interface quite sophisticated.
The model I bought uses any available wi-fi connection, such as the one I have at home, for Internet and
network access. A more expensive model adds mobile broadband access, giving you a choice of wi-fi or broadband. Wi-fi connections
usually are free; broadband data costs $15 a month on up, depending on how much you use it, from AT&T. (You can also pay monthly
for a broadband mobile device that creates a wi-fi hotspot the iPad can use.)
Because I'm a photographer and need a lot of storage, I bought the 64 GB iPad. It lists for $699. The 32 GB
version costs $100 less, and the 16 GB model is $100 less than that. Versions with mobile broadband
connectivity cost $130 more across the models, plus data charges every month. (The wi-fi-only model will end up much cheaper over the long run.)
I got a discount of 7 percent by choosing a refurbished iPad from the online Apple store. Refurbished items
are nearly new and are cleaned, checked and given new packaging and new software. Best of all, they have new warranties and are
shipped free. Apple is the only source of refurbished products with new warranties, but you can buy an iPad from many online discounters, including Amazon, and from big-box stores
such as Walmart.
The first thing you'll notice when you open the box the iPad comes in is how thin it is. I've purchased
razor blades that were thicker. (Sorry. Must be that "magical" quality affecting my brain.) A typical National Geographic magazine is usually a little thicker than the iPad. The
second thing, as soon as you turn it on, is how bright and clear (and
just plain gorgeous) the display is. For on-the-go photo viewing, the
iPad is in a class by itself.
I found the two keyboards surprisingly easy to use, whether I was hunting and pecking or typing with my
hands in the required positions. But I made life easier by ordering Apple's dock-plus-external-keyboard, which holds the iPad
vertically a few inches off the desk and lets me type on a regular keyboard attached to the dock. It costs $69. I also bought Apple's camera connection kit, which allows the connection of a USB cable (from a camera -- that's
all it works with so far) or an SD memory card. The SD card can
contain photos or videos, and is an easy way to dump many gigabytes of
entertainment into an iPad in a hurry.
The iPad has a built-in spell checker that works with all apps. The mail app worked well. With the external
keyboard, I could handle mail almost as efficiently as I do on my big laptop. For word processing, I bought Apple's $10 Pages desktop-publishing app, which can handle
everything from simple documents to fully illustrated brochures. The
included Web browser, Safari, worked well and was lightning fast.
Next week: Apple's incredible App Store, where you can choose from 37,000
apps -- many of them free.