Apple’s iPad lands in Canada

It seems like only people living under a rock for the past few months do not know about the Apple iPad. Everywhere I go with mine, people ask “oh, is that an iPad?”, or simply remark “So that’s the new iPad”.  Apple must be delighted to have such high product recognition for this new device.

I’m one of the 2 million that has purchased an iPad within the first two months.  This is my story, and a brief review of the product.

The story

Being located in Canada, I got to watch the spectacle unfold south of the border, while remaining sceptical of the product’s usefulness. I firmly intended not to buy one. And instead (so I thought), I decided to buy a Kobo eReader instead (and wrote a post about it).  But after a half-hour spent with a friend’s imported iPad, I changed my mind and decided to take a closer look.  I reasoned that for the price of a 10% restocking fee, I could simply return it after a month.

I pre-ordered a basic 16GB WiFi iPad, but cancelled my order when I learned that retail stores would have them before my order even shipped.  And so I got up real early on Friday May 28th and got myself down to the Calgary Apple store to line up for the iPad launch.  Now, for any you that haven’t done this kind of thing yet, I have to say that an Apple product launch is now part of our world culture, and you’ve got to experience it at least once for yourself.  Sure, it’s all theatre, but still, it’s entertaining.  And besides, Apple put on a class act by contracting the local Starbucks to keep all those of us in line well plied with free coffee and bakery goods.   When the 8:00 opening time neared, there was the obligatory appearance of all 50 of the store’s employees at once, all cheering and waving… and getting filmed by local TV media.

line-up at 5:45

Queue outside Calgary Apple Store at 5:45 on Friday.

Once in the store, I decided to upgrade to the 32GB WiFi version, thanks to a generous donation of cash from the woman behind me in line who wanted 3 units but was only allowed to buy 2.  I helped her out, and she helped me out.

When I got home and plugged the iPad into my MacBook Pro, the first thing iTunes did was offer to let me set it up from a restore of my iPod Touch. Nice! That meant that instantly the unit was populated with all my favourite apps and all my data.  Apple sure makes it easy to transition.

The product

Now I’ve had the product four days, and have used it virtually exclusively for all my computing needs. In fact, I’m posting this from my iPad, with the aid of my Apple bluetooth wireless keyboard. More on that in a bit. Here are my thoughts on the iPad.

the line-up at 7:00

By 7:30 the crowd had grown substantially.

Pros of the iPad

  • very fast response of the screen, e.g. in rotation.   Seriously, this thing is way faster than the iPhone 3GS, the iPod Touch, or even my Nexus One smartphone.  It feels very snappy
  • very simple operation (like a large iPod Touch). You can give one of these to your grandmother and she’ll be able to use it.
  • excellent for viewing photos, movies. Zooming in and out is fast, and the hi-res screen is a delight to look at
  • browsing. Dare I say it, browsing on a smartphone, even one like the Nexus One with its 800×480 screen, is a cruel hoax compared to the iPad.  Yes, you can browse on a small screen if you have to, and I’ve had to enough times to be happy to have that capability if I need it, but from here in I’ll be using the iPad whenever I can instead of my smartphone.
  • reading emails. I quite like the built-in Mail app. In landscape format, it presents a layout this is pleasing and effective to use. It’s easy to jump between different accounts, file emails in folders, compose and save drafts – in short, most of the tasks you’d be doing with a desktop app.
  • on-screen keyboard.  I was surprised to see how effective I could be using the on-screen keyboard (OSK). Sure, my ten-finger typing speed was slowed a bit, but I’m still easily typing at more than half my speed on a physical keyboard, which is more than I can say for the OSK on my Android phone or my iPod Touch.
  • permits use of bluetooth wireless keyboards. When I first heard about the iPad, I wondered if it would support the use of bluetooth keyboards. I mean, Apple’s been making a very nice bluetooth keyboard for years, and yet they crippled the iPhone (and 3rd-gen bluetooth-equipped iPod Touch) by not allowing the use of their external keyboards.  With the iPad (and apparently, with the upcoming iPhone 4) they’ve relented.  Still, I didn’t use my bluetooth keyboard for several days, and found the OSK an acceptable substitute for on-the-go text input. For more lengthy writing, like this post, you’ll find you’re far more productive using the bluetooth keyboard.
  • can upload pics from cameras via USB or SD card. Okay, so the iPad doesn’t have a camera. Big deal – book-sized cameras went out of fashion at the turn of the last century. So just use your regular SD-card equipped digital camera to take pictures, then transfer them into your iPad using the external SD card adapter or the external USB-slot adapter and a cable to your camera.
  • if jailbroken, can also connect USB hard drives. I’ve read that if you jailbreak your iPad, you can attach virtually any USB-equipped device, from keyboards to hard drives.  I haven’t tested this yet.
  • Tethering support.  I didn’t buy the cellular-equipped version of the iPad for one reason: I already have a cellphone with a data plan. Why pay for another?  Instead, I fire up the Wireless Tether for Root app on my Nexus One, and tether my iPad to it. Presto, instant internet access.  My tethering app allows me to set the transmit power on my phone’s WiFi card to as low as 3mW, so it doesn’t drain the battery.   My thinking has been that most times I’m using the iPad, I will be sitting down, e.g. in a coffee shop, and there will likely be free wireless internet available. For those rare occasions that isn’t so, my cellphone comes to the rescue.
  • Compact size.  Sure, the iPad has a 10″ screen so it’s not pocketable, but it’s still very portable and quite light compared to a notebook.  Since I use my bicycle daily for transportation, I’m much happier toting around an iPad instead of a notebook, for reasons of both space and weight. And, should I have a bike accident, the damaged iPad will be much cheaper to replace than a notebook!

Cons of the iPad

  • no front-side camera.  While taking pictures with the iPad isn’t a high priority for me, the fact that I can make Skype calls with the device means that I’d like to have a front-side webcam on it so that I can have video conversations with friends and family.  For the time being, I’ll have to stick to my MacBook Pro for this task… though I have tried the Skype app on the iPad for voice calls and it does quite well.
  • no way to save attachments (e.g. images) and then use those images in a blog post.  I tried to create a post on another blog I manage; I was able to copy text from a submitter’s email to me, then create a post. But, I was unable to save a logo image attached to that email and then include the image in the post.  Perhaps this capability will appear in a future software revision, or in jailbroken iPads, but for now you should recognize that the iPad just isn’t as full-featured as a full notebook.
  • WiFi performance is mediocre at best. There have been many problems in this area, probably related to the iPad’s aggressive power management that makes possible the 10-hour battery life. If you check the iPad forum, you’ll see that the forum topic on “Weak Wifi” has already had over 130,000 views.  This makes the issue far from the isolated problem that Apple claims it to be.  Now, much of the time I have no issue with WiFi connections, but occasionally the signal strength will drop to nearly nil for no apparent reason, or I’ll be disconnected and be unable to reconnect. Usually, simply turning off WiFi and then turning back it on will resolve the problem.   Apple engineers are aware of the problem (one already contacted me) and are working to identify the conditions that cause it (and presumably then fix it).
  • too heavy to use as a hand-held ebook reader. Coming back to my post on the Kobo eReader, the iPad is three times as heavy as the Kobo.  That makes holding in one hand kind of tiring after a while.
  • fonts too ugly to use as an ebook reader.  This comment relates only to the use of the Stanza app for reading free .epub texts.  There is as of yet no iPad version of the Stanza app, so you’re stuck using the pixel-doubled version of the iPhone app… which is too ugly for me to tolerate.  I’ll stick with my Kobo eReader for reading .epub documents until Stanza is upgraded.

Conclusions

I am finding the iPad to fill a void I didn’t expect to be so large: the gap between my smartphone and my notebook.  I honestly expected that the device would be largely a novelty, and that I might soon go back to either of those other devices.  Instead, I’m finding that it’s my use of the cellphone that will likely be most affected, since it will stay in my pocket on more occasions now that I have the iPad.  It’s all about the screen real estate, baby! Nevertheless, my notebook has no reason to be envious, since it’s still my go-to machine when I need to be fully productive.

I hope this mini-review has been helpful. What are your thoughts after having used the iPad?

midtoad

I've been experimenting with mobile devices since 1992 when I bought a Sharp PC-3100. In more recent years I've had devices running Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Android and iPhone OS. I'm a mechanical engineer working for a software company, and a software hacker on the side (mostly Python, and Android). I also like playing with GPS, riding my bicycle every day of the year, and flying unpowered aircraft when I can - so long as it doesn't interfere with my skiing! I've known your host Zac for over 10 years, but please don't hold that against me.

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3 Responses

  1. zac says:

    I’ve finally laid hands upon the mystical iPad for a short in-store trial and I have to agree with you on the speed issue… it’s far faster than I had expected and puts my iPhone 3GS to shame. I’m hoping that Apple’s new in-house mobile processor which debuted in the iPad makes its way down to the new iPhone we’re all expecting next week. While the screen real estate is important, for me speed of operation and multitasking are at the top of the list.

  2. midtoad says:

    Email comments from my colleague Adam Hough after reading the above review:

    – Screen is lovely, but shows grease like no one’s business
    – I have to buy most apps all over again to get the proper iPad resolution?
    – It’s not great as a shared device due to the iTunes syncing; we’ve been having some issues putting apps on the box and inadvertently re-buying them if we weren’t paying enough attention to which iTunes account was logged in. Not even tried shared video or music.
    – I’d actually say it’s worth the extra cost for the 3G data. We used it extensively while driving out to and in Banff this weekend (the hotel wifi was horrible.)
    – It works fine for reading in bed if you prop it against the headboard (which I can do but my wife can’t.) Not so good for reading while holding it above your head due to the weight. 
    – iBooks app still isn’t satisfactory compared to paper. Maybe I am a luddite after all.
    – The maps app works so much better than the iTunes for manual navigating due to the extra screen real estate. Assuming you have the 3G coverage, it removes the urge for a paper map entirely.
    – Streaming video using StreamToMe works really well on a local LAN, pretty well over the internet and acceptably via 3G. Each step down reduces quality.
    – Having an iPhone and iPad works well if you’re doing something on one and need to do something else but don’t want to leave the app. Since I already have the former it’s an inexpensive multitasking solution for the latter 🙂
    – Scaled apps work but don’t look all that good.
    – New calendar app looks really nice but mail app still doesn’t allow accepting emailed invitations (maybe iPhone OS4 in a couple of months will address this?)
    – Mail app otherwise is much nicer than the iPhone version.
    – Safari finally feels fast (compared to my 3G version…)
    – Battery life is pretty good. Only one USB port on my 2009 MacBook Pro seems to have the necessary juice to recharge it.
    – Speaker is loud enough to use but tinny. I suspect that 99% of the time it’ll be a headphone unit, much like the iPhone.
    – I had no problems with the WiFi disconnecting.
    – Some apps seem to have problems with rotating the screen 180% which is annoying as otherwise the unit is orientation agnostic.
    – Some apps seem to have problems with rotating the screen 180% which is annoying as otherwise the unit is orientation agnostic.
    – Onscreen keyboard works well for me but I wouldn’t want to use it extensively. I don’t have a portable BT keyboard to test data entry that way; should have bought a foldable one for my old Palm when they were common…

  3. midtoad says:

    Correction: you can save images by long-pressing on them. What you can’t do is use a web app (e.g. drupal) to access your iPad’s file system to attach your saved image to a post.

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