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Hands-on with Dave Troy's iPad

Hands-on with Dave Troy's iPad

Tech entrepreneur and Google-Fiber-for-Baltimore volunteer Dave Troy (left) was among the first to get an iPad on Saturday. He shares with BaltTech his thoughts on the new device. Feel free to share your thoughts of the iPad in the comments below.

This morning (Saturday) I bicycled to the Annapolis Mall Apple Store with my wife to pick up the iPad I had reserved a few days ago (16GB, WiFi-only, $499.00). Predictably the lines were long and people were excited; at 9:00 the giddy staffers were working the crowd into a frenzy of applause, which seemed a bit much for the occasion. We're at the mall; it's 9am — just sell us the dang gadget.

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The sales process was handled efficiently; I was given ample opportunity to play with the device before completing my purchase (foreplay?) and I must say that first impressions of iPad are breathtaking. The thing is flat-out beautiful. Sure, it's like a giant iPod Touch, but it feels just-right and very different all at the same time. Everything seems new again, and that comes from an obsessive attention to detail: the way the page curls work in the iBooks reader app, the multiple modes of use for portrait and landscape orientations, the way it sits in your hands, and the devastating speed of the thing. It has been said it seems about 50% faster than the iPhone 3GS; that's about right.

I challenge anyone to use iPad and not come away thinking two things: 1) I want one, and 2) everything else seems obsolete. It is that good; it's the perfect machine for browsing content, exploring interesting apps, keeping in the kitchen or by the bed, and generally just using for whatever you might be doing casually. Contrary to some early speculation, it is perfectly suited for writing and taking notes, especially in the landscape orientation.

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I wrote this review on the iPad and save a few minor annoyances was almost entirely unconscious of the on-screen keyboard. The only nit might be the requirement to switch keyboard modes to access numbers and some punctuation, but you do get used to it. (A keyboard accessory is available for folks with that need.)

The email app is easy to setup, just as on the iPhone, and is a joy to use. Web browsing is fast and seamless, and HTML5 videos are awesome; they appear in-place in a web page and a simple spread of the fingers floats them into full-screen mode. It is simple, intuitive and fun. Browsing on a standard PC or Mac will seem dull once you have had a little time with the iPad. And so far I have not missed Flash once.

I could go on waxing poetic about its virtues, but you will find a lot of that in every review. While I do not consider myself a fanboy Apple user, I do tend to think they have gotten many design details right lately and that the iPad is going to be a big deal, primarily because it advances us past the 25-year old mouse-plus-keyboard paradigm that Apple popularized with the Macintosh.

But the device does have weaknesses: the glass face of the device is doomed. I have seen plenty of people with shattered iPhone and iPod touch displays, and it is just a matter of time until you see your first shattered iPad. Its sheer surface area makes it much more susceptible to damage, and the thin rubberized $39 case that Apple sells as an option seems too little to protect it in a 3-foot drop to the pavement. But all electronics are vulnerable; you will just want to think a little bit about how you handle iPad. Its light-but-heavy 1.5 pounds are going to find you using two hands more often than not.

The screen shows every fingerprint and will need frequent cleaning, but it doesn't get in the way of overall usage. The iTunes syncing environment, familiar from the iPod and iPhone, is just as wonky as ever, and it took my Mac a few minutes to get fully comfortable with my iPad (which I have named "Spud") and to get properly synced. I pushed some songs and photos from my machine and found it to work as expected.

Hands-on with Dave Troy's iPad

Consuming content on the device, either by Safari or the iTunes, App Store, or iBooks apps works pretty well. I would expect that over time the reliance on iTunes-USB syncing will be phased out in favor of an iPad-plus-Cloud computing experience. Apple is currently building a datacenter in North Carolina to meet a large anticipated demand for cloud infrastructure.

I wanted to try downloading third-party ePub and PDF-format e-books for use in the iBooks application but was unable to do so, despite lots of discussion online that Apple supports the open ePub format. However iBooks does make available a large selection of free, public-domain titles from Project Gutenberg, which can help you seed your library.

The Kindle app also works well, but iBooks is much prettier. I would expect the next version of the Kindle app to be better suited for use on the iPad. Speaking of apps, there are a good number of iPad-optimized apps, and it does run existing iPhone apps just fine — though that experience (running a small-screen app on a big-screen device, either small or enlarged with pixellation) leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it has an impressive library of software out of the box.

I was particularly impressed with the iPad WeatherBug app — this thing just shines with any kind of map — and the National Geographic world atlas map will be great for my kids. I downloaded the (quite beautiful) Truphone VOIP app and was able to make a voice call right away. Long term, this functionality could cheaply offset some of your cellphone monthly minutes.

I used Apple's Pages app to compose this review ($9.99, part of its iWork suite) and it is beautiful and functional, perfect for nearly anyone's writing needs. The battery seems unstoppable. I have been using it for several hours and it shows no real sign of depletion. If they can get this chipset into the iPhone (bet on it) it will be a game-changer there as well.

This is the perfect device for use on an airplane — better than the tiny, anemic MacBook Air, and enough battery to power you through a LA to London flight.

Paola Antonelli, curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has said that great design is what happens when someone creates something that the world didn't know it needed. The iPad is that thing.

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Left unchecked, we would have ridden our clunky mice and keyboards into the 25th century; thank goodness Apple had the vision to come along and try something new. The iPad may not be perfect, but it certainly fills a need — and comes pretty darn close.

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