iPad (Gen.1) review

This was originally written in March 2011, right after the iPad 2 released. I bought an original model on clearance, then returned it. Here’s why.

In daylight the screen is near worthless. If you’re wearing polarized sunglasses, it IS worthless. For lounging out by the pool, you’ll need to stick with dead trees.

I can’t believe people were campaigning for a 7″ form factor. This one is 9.7″ and it’s almost too small as-is. Jobs was right when he said a 7″ was too big to be a phone and too small to be a good tablet. That would have been a terrible idea and goes to show sometimes people say they want something, without realizing what that would really mean.

Landscape mode, the keyboard is GREAT! I can type like a fiend on this thing, but bear in mind that I hunt and peck anyway… Still, I am just as fast on this thing (and maybe faster due to excellent auto-correct) as on a conventional keyboard.

I think my biggest frustration with this thing is that I already own an iPhone 4. It has a higher resolution screen, 3G connection so I’m never without a web connection… If you’ve ever lost your internet connection and immediately declared your computer to now be worthless, you have an idea of how I feel going from the iPhone to a wifi-only iPad. (and yes, I realize how spoiled I am that I’m complaining about this)

On the other hand, having a screen this big is gorgeous! The sense of scale really does change things vs. running the same or equivalent app on my phone. People who say the iPad is just an overgrown iPod Touch are technically right on one level, but missing how magnificent the experience can be. The screen size truly does make things order of magnitude better.

This brings me to my other niggle, however. I’ve owned an iPhone since the 3G. I loved my upgrade to the 4 and the screen resolution was amazing. It was a constant bit of joy to watch my old chunky iOS apps get their newer, slicker icons and update to the beautiful graphics the new phone offered. Lest you think I digress, imagine my dismay over the way things are handled on the iPad. Unless you specifically get the “HD” or universal app, the iPad displays the app in a small window that approximates the size of an iPhone screen, regardless of the resolution. Old iPhone 3G or 3Gs apps display at the same physical size as iPhone 4. Isn’t this an instance of the fragmentation that we’re told Apple spares you vs. Android?

“HD”? Really?! It just irks me that everything is “HD” now. The iPhone 4 has FAR superior screen resolution. The screen on the iPad is nice, but calling it HD is a joke. It’s like calling every little thing “epic”, now. When everything is “epic” or “HD”, nothing is.

But that leads into developers and the App Store. Now, I think the App Store is great and that digital distribution is the way to go. Developers get a huge percentage of the consumer’s spent dollar and anyone who wants to gripe that Apple is evil or greedy needs to shut up and look at the conventional retail distribution model before they open their fool mouth. However, the App Store has one critical flaw. That is, the “critics” are the flaw. Reviews on the App Store are meaningless and often typed by troglodytes that seem barely able to operate the equipment on which they’re espousing their opinions. “This is the bomb!!!”, does not constitute a review. Tell me why. Give me high points and low points. Discuss the resolution or how snappy the response is, or how useful the app is. Because as cool as the iPad is as a piece of hardware, it’s worthless without good software.

An aside- stick with reviews from respected sites. Of course, this comes from the guy who’s still angry I wasted a dollar on the craptacular Doodle Jump, when it’s a mini game in the far superior Pocket God which costs the same. Here’s one instance where Nintendo’s Iwata is both right and wrong when he talks about value gaming, but now I AM digressing.

This is a magnificent device for viewing video and consuming media. With the right apps, I can envision this being a remarkable tool for creative media production. I desperately want ColorSplash and other iPhone photography editing apps on this device’s larger screen! (Also, the Constitution [U.S.] and Library of Congress Virtual Tour apps, as well as my bank.)

My friend Tony Brown of the Armed Ape podcast boils his reviews down to some very simple questions, one of which is the money shot: what is it designed to do and how well does it do it? And that’s kind of the rub with this thing. What IS it designed to do? With the right apps and software, this could ALMOST be a laptop replacement. I kid you not, it’s like a ritzy net book. It’s more expensive than your average netbook, but more classy. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is “pretentious”, except I don’t mean for it to have any negative connotation. Since I can’t really be Iron Man, this is the closest I can get to the netbook Tony Stark would use. The construction is substantial and not cheap or chintzy feeling at all- I’m working with something of consequence and I like that. The re-thinking of how the tablet works (as opposed to the abominations that have been Windows based tablets) make this thing usable and a real joy. Apps are creative, and as such it seems to reduce the barriers between man and machine one more layer. When you’re in an app, it simply IS and you simply DO. It’s pretty cool, and you may have to experience it to understand what I’m saying. Apple got that much very, VERY right.

It’s a great e-reader. It’s great for watching movies or tv. It’s great for playing games. Apps written for it are amazing. Oddly enough, it is a god-awful iPod. I love using my iPod or iPhone to listen to podcasts and music while I’m running or at the gym, but this thing is just too big to be a good iPod and the album art it displays looks fuzzy due to the resolution of the pictures on the large screen. Still, while I wouldn’t want to use an iPad as an iPod (getting very tired of typing iEverything), it is one of those functions I don’t think they should remove but desperately need to fix. All it’s really good for right now is playing music in the background while you do something else. But then, maybe that’s it’s perfect function.

So who’s it for? I kid you not, I think this thing is for enterprise. You want something tough, well built, professional and attractive looking, crazy long battery life (especially compared to the competition), capable of doing real work, small and light for packing in carry-on luggage, but capable of giving presentations to clients (now with iPad 2 and HDMI adaptor kits)… The iPad gives you all that, plus calendar, contacts, email… This is a device for the mobile professional. That’s just my non-professional traveler opinion, but I promise you if I were the jet setter type, whisking across country for all manner of meetings and staying in hotel rooms across America, this thing would be my constant companion.

So what are the limiting factors here?

First, the dependence upon iTunes. With the phone, it made sense to me because my phone is super cool, but I’ve never really thought of it as a computer unto itself. The iPad makes me “think different”, to borrow the phrase, about what a computer should be. Being required to tether this device to my home computer seems a crime, and makes me take it slightly less seriously.

Second, if you already have an iPhone, you’re in for a data dilemma. I admitted it earlier and I’ll say so again, I’ve become spoiled by having data at my fingertips whenever I desire. Not having the 3G connection on this iPad makes me sad. But, I’m already paying for data on my phone… And apparently my carrier thinks I should pay an additional $20 a month for tethering… So, they want me to pay again for data access I’m already paying for. I’m not interested in jailbreaking, but my carrier’s arcane data policies might just change my mind, since I’m still kicking myself for getting talked into 2GB a month instead of unlimited right before the Netflix app hit the scene. If I’ve ever felt like kicking my carrier where it hurt, their demand for even more money to get an iPad anywhere access would be the trigger.

Third, and finally, I don’t want to re-purchase apps that I already have on my phone for the iPad, but the iPhone versions on the larger screen are displayed horribly. (Notable exception, Final Fantasy still looks beautiful, even when zoomed in.) I’m willing to pay good money for good apps (curse you, Doodle Jump!), but buying an app twice just hurts. Especially when I’ve already purchased Plants vs. Zombies three times on different platforms. It would be all kinds of slick if apps were simply universal from here on out, and I doubt I’ll purchase many more if they’re not.

So is this thing as magical as Steve Jobs or Jony Ives have said? Well, yes, but slightly less so if you already have a laptop or iPhone 4 or both. The iPad becomes the coolest thing ever that you don’t really need. A very expensive piece of gizmology that I’m struggling to justify spending the money on it that I did. (And I got a clearance 1st generation refurb. Almost $200 off and only now do I think it’s fairly priced.) If I owned desktop computer instead of laptop, or hadn’t already spent the money I have on iPhone-only apps I would likely be far more enamored of it. And I’m an Apple fan; the fact that I don’t want to keep this is shocking to me. It’s not a bad device by any means, and I do think it’s worth the cost because of the quality of the product. But my computers and my phone leave the iPad as a piece of magic in search of a niche because I’ve already got it covered. I’ll still own one someday, just not now. This one’s going back, and I’ll use the money to put a lift kit on my Jeep or something.

But not before typing this entire review in the Notes app on the iPad.

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