Well, weren't you a good boy and/or girl this year! That iPad's going to be your favorite new toy no matter what, but here's how to squeeze the most out of it from day one.
I'll assume you've successfully removed the iPad from its box, yes? Good. You're a natural! Now trot on over to your computer and plug it in with that fancy 30-pin connector (also, don't lose that connector—it's proprietary to Apple).
Once you're hooked up, iTunes will walk you through the registration process. It's pretty intuitive! But in case you're not one to intuit, you can check out our original iPad set-up guide.
Getting In Sync
Okay okay, so now here comes the first remotely tricky part. You'll be given the option to sync up alllll of the apps and media you've got stashed away in iTunes. And this is where a little selectivity is going to be helpful.
So. If you don't already own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you can skip this part. If you do own one or both of those things, you're going to want to pare down the apps you've collected. That's partly because not all of your apps are ideally situated to the iPad's larger display, and partly because you're going to want to save room for the ones that are.
Fortunately, iTunes does a lot of the work for you. Apps are already segmented between "universal" apps (that work for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) and apps that are designed specifically for the iPhone. Which means: go ahead and sync all of the universal apps you already have, then either track down the iPad equivalents of the iPhone apps you love, or stick with the iPhone version and settle for some wonkiness.
You'll also be given the choice to sync music, video, and photos. Again, be selective!
The Apps You Need Right Now
Okay, okay, here's the fun part: where you get to trick out your tablet with the apps that make you a Grade A iPad Ninja. We keep constant track of the most essential iPad apps here, but think of the following as the most most essential:
Netflix streaming. On the iPad. It doesn't really get much better than that, assuming you've got a Netflix account (which by now, honestly, shouldn't you?). [Free]
Sure, Apple's iBooks app is fine. But with Kindle you can read your ebooks across your iPad, iPhone, laptop, and actual Kindle. It's the best, most versatile way to turn your iPad into a portable library. [Free]
The Grey Lady looks great on the iPad's color screen. There's tons of free content for now, so grab it before it disappears behind a paywall. [Free]
See something on the web you want to save for reading later? Instapaper it, and you'll have a huge cache of perfectly formatted iPad content. [$5]
Even if you're the type of person who just says they want to cook but doesn't do any actual cooking, Epicurious is a must-have. It's a huge, easily navigable recipe database, with the all the requisite mouth-watering pictures [Free]
Social media! RSS feeds! All wrapped up in a very pretty package. Flipboard turns your Facebook and Twitter updates—and a host of other content—into the only iPad magazine you may ever need. [Free]
Of course, you may also just want your Twitter pure and simple, in which case you can't do much better than the Twitter for iPad [Free]
Words With Friends HD
Pseudo-Scrabble ends up being even better than real Scrabble, mostly because your friends have already downloaded this version. [$1 (sale price)]
Just in case you wanted to use your iPad to do some actual, uh, work, you can't do much better than Elements for a text editor. Bonus: files are stored in your Dropbox folder, so you can access them anywhere. [$5]
Totally original, amazing 3D graphics, an epic storyline: this is the iOS game to own right now. So go get it. [$6]
The whole point of the iPad is that it's portable—which also means it's more liable to get nicked, splashed, dropped, and dinged. Fortunately, you've got near limitless case options that range from stylish to sturdy to kickstand. Here are a few recommendations to fit your own personal style.
Don't get me wrong—it was great of them to get you that iPad. But no tablet is an island, and you'll want to pick up these iPad peripherals lickety-split.
Apple iPad Keyboard Dock
3-in-1 iPad Camera Connection Kit
Forget Apple's official iPad camera connector, with its separate USB and SD card slots. This little guy lets you transfer files via USB, SD, and microSD all in one dongle. [MIC Gadget, $30 (preorder)]
Twelve South iPad Compass Stand
That should just about do it! You've got your apps, your case, and your gear, and you're pretty much good to go. If you want to explore your iPad a little further, check out our 11 tips and tricks, our guide to accessing your whole computer from an iPad, and our ultimate jailbreaking guide. Most of all, enjoy your shiny new gadget, and Merry Christmas!