Hands On With Apple's iPad, Everything But The Games

After burning through most of the games Apple deemed playable on its new iPad tablet computer, I ventured into the off-topic portions of the device. As an iPhone and MacBook owner, would I find the need for something in between?

That I'm still pondering. The minimum $499 entry fee is daunting, even for someone who hardly blanched at spending more than that on a first-generation iPhone.

But the iPad is, at the very least, solidly built and beautiful to behold, slightly heavier than I expected. The stark design and big, brightly lit screen offer the viewer something more visually striking than the pocket sized iPhone/iPod Touch. The redesigned core apps, like Mail, iTunes, YouTube Videos and Maps really take advantage of that expanded screen real estate.

And, yes, it is fast. Apple's 1 GHz A4 processor may not give one the impression of blazing clockspeeds, but navigating the iPad interface, jumping in and out of apps and browsing multimedia was speedy. No lag. Shame then that there's no multi-tasking.

It's also a shame that there's no camera, something I would expect to see in the next iteration of the iPad. That lack of one (or more) cameras will limit some of the app support for the iPod Touch XL, but likely a small number of the 140,000 apps Apple boasts in the iTunes App Store.

As Apple head honcho Steve Jobs noted during his talk, the regular iPhone user will be very familiar with the iPad's interface, minus a few quirks. One is that, with all that extra space, native iPad apps like YouTube Videos and Maps get a bit more complicated. Searching for locations on the iPhone feels intuitive; doing the same on the iPad will take some reconditioning.

More straightforward apps, like watching movies downloaded through iTunes, managing e-mail, calendars and adjusting settings do a damn good job of offering a lot more visual information onscreen at once.

Another quirk is the software keyboard, which does not "fix" the iPhone's keyboard woes simply by being bigger. I was still hunting and pecking, seemingly at a slower pace than on an iPhone, and making plenty of mistakes. The most frustrating change was the placement of the delete button. I've become accustomed to its placement on the iPhone, just to the right of the "M" key. The delete button is now situated in the upper right, the SHIFT key in its place, like a standard keyboard.

Of course, there's always this option.

Hands On With Apple's iPad, Everything But The Games

The keyboard/dock accessory works just like a mini Apple keyboard does, letting iPad users bypass the need for onscreen typing. The implementation of the keyboard is fine, with a handful of function row keys dedicated to iPad buttons like the Home button, Search and Photos.

Much was made of the iPad's iWork suite of apps (Numbers, Pages, Keynote), a trio that I didn't test during my hands-on time. But I did get a chance to take the iBooks browser and shop for a spin, which rendered fake book pages beautifully, making customization of the page display simple.

While the iPad looks like a solid, shiny piece of technology right now, something new to covet and throw hundreds of dollars at, it hasn't yet made a third pillar convert out of me. The device is zippy and well built, improving many of the iPhone's better first party apps. Apple still has a few kinks to work out, a few interface improvements to make, but it's worth keeping an eye on.