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Get a load of new iPad - call me Mr Sleek

Published:Saturday | January 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new iPad with a keyboard during an event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Rachel Metz, AP Technology Writer


After just an hour with an iPad, I came away with a preliminary verdict. Despite some flaws, this is one slick device.

Steve Jobs intrigued me in his slow, showman-like presentation Wednesday when he said the US$499-and-up iPad is "so much more intimate than a laptop and so much more capable than a smart phone." The comparison to an iPhone makes sense, given the minimalist silver-and-black style of the iPad.

The first thing I wanted to do when I held it was browse the Web and check out the iPad's on-screen keyboard. My favourite websites looked great on its crisp screen, which is 9.7 inches on the diagonal - while the iPhone is just 3.5 inches. When you hold the iPad with the wider side down, in landscape mode, it's nearly big enough for touch-typing - an improvement over the way that the iPhone's cramped keyboard sometimes causes errors.

As on the iPhone, the iPad's screen is extremely responsive to finger swipes and taps, which made it easy to scroll through websites like Facebook and select photos and articles I wanted to read on news sites.

It also seems like it would be a great way to read a book, curled up on my couch. The iPad comes with Apple's new iBook software, which opens up to reveal a realistic-looking wooden bookshelf stocked with all the titles in your e-book collection.

Click on a book cover, and the book will open. You can read one page at a time in portrait mode, or, turn the iPad to either side and it will show you two pages of text. The screen is sharp and the pages turn crisply, more like a real book than on electronic ink screens found on devices like the Kindle.

Like Inc did for its Kindle, Apple is rolling out its own online bookstore, iBookstore, that can be used to download books straight to the iPad.

I had fun checking out videos and photos on the iPad too. You can watch high-definition clips on YouTube, and they looked great magnified on the iPad's screen. It was simple to scroll through photos, and I could imagine enjoying sharing a slideshow with accompanying music piped out of the iPad's small built-in speakers.

A glance at the device's music player showed a simple-looking interface that was easy to navigate. I probably wouldn't use an iPad as my main music player - I'm guessing it wouldn't do well strapped to my arm during a run - but I would like to use it to listen to music while reading a book.

I quickly noticed some limitations, though. The iPad's operating software is based on that of the iPhone, so it, too, does not support Flash animation. This means you can't watch videos on some websites like Hulu - a big negative for something with such a pretty screen.

And the pretty screen can't make everything look great. Apple said that nearly any of the more than 140,000 applications available through its App Store will work on the iPad, and you can either view them in their original small size in the centre of the screen or magnified. I tried the magnified version on several apps and it was simply too pixelated to bear. This may get better soon, though, as Apple is releasing updated tools so software developers can build applications for the iPad.

If you want to use a keyboard with the iPad for, say, writing the next great American novel, you'll have to buy a special keyboard that doubles as a charging dock. (Apple announced this accessory but did not reveal its price or availability.)

Overall, though, I was impressed by the iPad in the short time we had together. I can't yet say if I'll be among the first in line to buy one, but I'm definitely looking forward to playing with it some more.

A version that includes 16 gigabytes of flash memory will cost US$499 when it comes out in March. Models with 32 gigabytes or 64 gigabytes will cost US$599 and US$699. These will go online in Wi-Fi hot spots only. For broader connectivity on AT&T's wireless network, Apple expects to start selling models in April that cost US$130 more.

iPad vs ...

Here is how it stacks up with other Internet-connected portable devices that consumers are already using:

  • ... laptop

    The iPad is easier to stash and carry than most laptops. The device weighs just 1.5lb, compared with a few pounds for the typical laptop. At a mere half-inch thick, the iPad is also thinner than most laptops, including Apple's super-thin Macbook Air. The entry-level iPad is less expensive than most full-fledged laptops and claims to have a longer battery life of 10 hours, compared with three to four hours for a typical full-size laptop.

    But with a maximum of 64 gigabytes of storage, the iPad can't hold as many photos, movies and songs as most laptops, which typically have hard drives that are several times that capacity. It doesn't come with a physical keyboard as laptops do, though Apple will sell an add-on dock with a keyboard.

  • ... netbook
  • As Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Wednesday, smaller laptops known as netbooks are "not better than a laptop at anything - they're just cheaper". They use less-powerful chips than regular laptops, and, as a result, they don't handle video or other processing-intensive tasks well. The iPad uses a new chip that is custom designed by Apple. Jobs says the chip is extremely fast.

    The iPad models that come with the ability to go online with AT&T's wireless network are more expensive than netbooks that can do that, as those netbooks are subsidised by wireless carriers. But unlike netbooks, the iPad doesn't require users to enter a long-term service contract with a carrier.

  • ... smartphones
  • Browsing the Web, watching video and reading books are more comfortable on a big iPad screen, which measures 9.7 inches diagonally, than a tiny smartphone screen - the iPhone's display, for instance, is 3.5 inches diagonally. However, while the iPad has a built-in microphone and could work with Internet-based phone services such as Skype, it's not a telephone. And it definitely doesn't fit in your pocket, the way Apple's iPhone does.

  • ... e-readers
  • Using the iPad's touch screen to buy books and start reading seems fast compared with the navigation required on Inc's Kindle, which you navigate by pushing physical buttons on the device because it has no touch screen. Book covers are displayed on a 'shelf' on the screen, and the reader software emulates the look of a paper book.

    But the iPad has a glossy screen, so it might not be as easy on the eyes as the Kindle and other e-readers, which generally sport electronic-ink technology. And it probably won't be as easy to read outdoors on the iPad.