Apple touts the newly-released iPad as a "magical and revolutionary device." How much of that revolutionary magic was applied towards the gaming side of the spectrum?
If you're interested in the iPad as a video/MP3 player, eBooks reader, web-surfing, email-fetching device, then this might not be the review you are looking for. We aren't going to complain about lack of input ports. We're not going to talk about Flash support, or multi-tasking, or the lack of a built-in camera. We're reviewing the iPad as a gaming device, pure and simple. What does Apple's shiny new thing bring to the gaming table?
Please read the entire review before making your incredibly witty paperweight joke.
The Screen Is So Pretty: Playing a game on the iPad's beautiful screen reminds me of the first time I powered on my original PlayStation Portable; I never knew a display device could be so pretty. Even as I write this I keep poking at it, launching games, hitting the home button, launching other games. There's just something about the display on this that makes any game look like it's running on a device custom made just for that title. In other words, it makes games look really good.
Quite Responsive: Time will tell if the iPad holds up to wear and tear as poorly as my iPhone has, but for now, on day one, the touch screen and accelerometer controls are impressively responsive. Games register multiple touches without missing a beat, and titles that require tilting seem to function better on the iPad than they ever did on the iPhone. I suspect the accelerometer functions might seem more responsive due to the added weight in your hands, but whatever the case, they're enjoyable to work with.
Very Multiplayer Friendly: Where else can you get split-screen multiplayer on a more or less handheld device? Hell, single-screen multiplayer for that matter? If there's one thing the iPad does better than the Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and iPhone, it's allowing more than one player to interact with a game on a single unit. I can race my friends in Mirror's Edge on the same screen. I can play a Super Monkey Ball mini-game with four players at once, without needing four copies of the game or four iPads. This is the iPad's shining gaming achievement.
Publisher Support: Publisher support can make or break a gaming platform. As of today, Electronic Arts, 2K Games, Activision, Capcom, and yes, even Sega have contributed top-notch titles to the iPad's launch library. These aren't companies that move onto a new platform lightly, so we should expect more from them as the iPad ages. On top of big-name publishers, countless indie developers have hoped on board as well. The ease of publishing a game to the iPhone and iPad may result in a large pile of crap to wade through, but the gems in the pile are getting more plentiful every day.
Hi-Def Meets Low-Fi: Apple is trying to sell the iPad as this magical media device, perfect for games, music, and movies, yet it is incapable of producing stereo sound without attaching speakers or headphones? That's ridiculous. This is supposed to bridge the gap between what, smartphones and laptop computers? Could we move a bit closer to the laptop side of the bridge sound-wise? My laptop has stereo speakers, and incidentally costs less. Sure it's 15 pounds heavier, but mmm, stereo.
The Damn Home Button: There is one face button on the iPad, located on the bottom of the device, if held vertically. Held horizontally, it's on the left or right side, which also happens to be where your fingers are while playing many games. Hitting it closes the game you are playing, causing you to shout obscenities while neighbor children are playing outside your open window. Perhaps future iterations will include a slide that locks that button, to keep gamers from hitting it a dozen times during the course of one day.
Hard To Hold: Holding the iPad for any extended period of time without propping it on something or resting it on a table causes my arms to hurt. This might not be an issue to folks using the device's less-interactive features, but many of the games for the iPad require you hold on to both sides and interact with your fingers, especially those titles that utilize virtual sticks and buttons. That, and it really doesn't feel all that comfortable in your hands to begin with. An iPhone or iPod Touch fits in your palm neatly. The iPad, with its stylish brushed metal back, really doesn't have any real grip to it. Ergonomically it's a nightmare. You say that's what cases and holders are for? Fine, ship it with a case included. Otherwise I am allowed to bitch.
The iPad is a step in the right direction for Apple from a gaming perspective, but it's a pricey step that's far from perfection. The problems I have with the device are easily remedied, and knowing the iPad's manufacturer as well as we do, will likely be fixed in later iterations of the hardware.
So you have a choice. Pay full price for Apple juice, which is delicious and nutritious but relatively simple, or give the iPad some time to ferment into the rich, intoxicating Apple cider it has the potential to become.
The iPad was designed, manufactured, and distributed by Apple on April 3. Retails for $499 to $829 USD. Personally purchased the 16GB WiFi version. Played 24 different games on the device for varying periods of time throughout launch day. Stuck device down my pants. Have yet to use it in the bathroom.