While I used to be a big gamer back in the day, apart from the odd round or two of Wii Tennis, I don't really play games any more. The iPad has changed all that. Because it's the sort of device I can just pick up and fiddle with while I'm in front of the TV, I've found my attentions regularly wandering away from the latest episode of Dr Who towards delightful little time-wasters like like Angry Birds and Plants Vs Zombies.
iPad games do cost more than their iPhone equivalents, but they offer better graphics and more features.
Here's my prediction: the iPad is going to force a lot of people to revaluate Apple as a gaming company. But that's the thing about the device. It is, if you'll excuse the term, a blank slate. Installing a new app can change the functionality of the iPad entirely. One minute it's a games console, the next it's an ebook reader and the next it's for email.
There's been a lot of talk (mainly from Apple, it has to be said) about the iPad creating a whole new category of computing. The more I warmed to the device, the more I realised that Apple really has achieved it.
With just half the month gone, I already feel like this is the direction home computing is going to go in. In fact, once I got back to my MacBook using a real keyboard suddenly felt oddly old-fashioned, even quaint!
That's not to say that the iPad is the ultimate home computer. In use I found I naturally tended to use my MacBook for any work-related projects I had to do from home and the iPad for all the fun stuff. I don't really foresee this division changing when the iPhone OS 4 software update comes out later this year and adds multitasking functionality either.
A train trip to London provided the perfect opportunity to test the iPad in the wild. To be honest, I felt really self-conscious getting on a train with one and using it in public. As expected, it did attract people's attention, with lots of folks approaching me and wanting to look at it and have a go. This interest will obviously die down as people get used to iPads, but it further confirmed my suspicions that the iPad is better enjoyed in private, at least for now.
The iPad comes in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G versions. If you can afford it I'd definitely recommend going with the Wi-Fi + 3G version, because when I didn't have access to the internet on the iPad I found I really missed it.
One money-saving solution I tried was the MiFi mobile broadband device from 3 mobile. This handy little battery-powered box slips into your pocket, connects to 3's 3G network and creates a mini Wi-Fi hotspot that you carry around with you. You can then connect your iPad to this network as you would with any Wi-Fi hotspot.
This proved to be an effective solution – it works on a pay-as-you-go basis, and also saved £100 on the initial iPad purchase price. When it had a 3G signal, it worked perfectly; the downside is that it's 3G or nothing, so if there's no 3G coverage in the area, tough luck – there's no GPRS or EDGE to fill the gaps.
Also, the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G features GPS ability, which is useful for some apps and recording metadata for photos. The final thing to note is that while the MiFi works on a pay-as-you-go basis, once you start using a purchased data bundle it times-out after 30 days, even if you've not used all your data. Also, the utility it provides to change the SSID and password only works in Windows; luckily I've got Windows on a partition on my MacBook, but this is still a letdown from a Mac perspective.
Despite the gorgeous Multi-Touch display, I'm beginning to think that the iPad's real killer feature is its battery life. This thing just doesn't give up!
I suspect Apple's A4 processor might have some special features that make it particularly efficient at displaying video, because in tests that involved playing the same video over and over, I managed to get over 14 hours of playback!
However, if I started doing anything else, such as playing games, I didn't get the same incredible level of performance. But it still lasted a long, long time – which is a good job because it's very slow to charge. I found it I was best off leaving it to recharge overnight every few days.
After a month of pretty serious full-time use, the conclusion I've come to is that the iPad is ultimately designed for lounging on the sofa with. Because it's pretty much instant-on, it's perfect for looking up the name of the actor in the film you're watching, or quickly checking Twitter or Facebook. (Or doing just one more level of Angry Birds.)
You don't need a physical keyboard either, because the on-screen counterpart is perfectly usable – it has the same auto-correct technology as the the iPhone, but it has the space to make the keys much bigger, so your typing tends to be more accurate anyway.
Having said that, if you're typing a long article you'll get tired of the virtual keyboard, but for shorter things it's perfect; email on the iPad works really well because of this.
My first month with the iPad has been a pretty trouble-free, thrill-packed ride. I'm completely converted. Just as we were sending this issue to press Apple announced UK pricing, which starts at £429 for the 16GB version. This will undoubtedly put some people off, but I have to say, the iPad has replaced my MacBook as my main device for things like web browsing and email, it really is that good.
iBooks is great too, and while I still love the feel of paper books, I can see myself getting through quite a few titles on my new digital companion.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can buy an iPad as a replacement for a notebook. Think of it as a peripheral, rather than a computer – it's better at consuming media than creating it. And if you're reading this on an iPad already, then I hope you're enjoying it as much as I am.
You really need to hold the iPad in your hands and use it to get a feel for what a wonderful device it is – so take a trip to your local Apple retailer as soon as you can!
First published in MacFormat Issue 222
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