Dubai: One of the hardest things about reviewing the Apple iPad was getting my friends and colleagues to put it down long enough for me to actually use it.
Everyone wanted to see, and in general, they all want to know the same thing: Should I get one?
Answering that is tricky. If you're looking for a device that combines the iPod, the Kindle, a netbook and a hand-held gaming device into a single gadget, you'll probably love the iPad. I did.
However, if you're looking for a replacement for your laptop computer, keep on shopping.
Thanks to the folks at Plug-Ins Electronics, who lent us an iPad for testing, we'll go over some of the best and worst things about it to give you a better idea of what this device is all about.
At first glance
You've heard this before, but it's still the best way to describe the iPad: it's a giant iPhone (minus the actual phone). It's roughly the size of a hardbound book, which makes using it easy to the eyes, and only 13 centimetres thick, which makes it easy to hold. The device is a little heavy. It doesn't mean that it's too heavy, but if you're holding the device with one hand, you'll want to keep a good grip on it.
Before we even get into using the iPad, there are a few things you'll need to know.
First, make sure you have a converter for American electrical plugs. All the iPads available in the UAE were originally meant for the American market, so they don't have European or UK plugs. This won't be a problem for most people, but I forgot about this and had to wait until I got home to charge it since I didn't have a converter at the office.
Second, you're going to need wireless internet access at home. It's probably safe to assume that if you're buying the iPad, you probably have a wireless network installed, but there are bound to be a few who don't. You're in for a nasty shock if you don't have one, since there is no way to physically plug the device into a network and most of the best features of the iPad, including most of the apps, require internet access. If you're hoping to stay connected at all times, you might want to consider waiting for the 3G version of the iPad, which is expected to be released sometime during the summer.
Finally, make sure you have some content on the device. Don't expect to be able to get it directly through the device's wireless connection unless you have an iTunes account. There is no iTunes "store" in the Middle East, and buying media from iTunes in the US and the UK requires a credit card issued in those countries.
The iPad come with a couple of programmes already installed, such as iTunes and the Safari web browser, but most of what the iPad does is based on Apps, small applications that can be downloaded from Apple's App Store.
There is a lot of good news to report about the apps. You can buy them with a UAE-based credit card although a large number of them are free. The apps you bought for your iPhone will more than likely work on your iPad, and there are even apps designed specifically for the UAE, including one on UAE laws, a Starbucks locator and a DEWA app, so you can pay your utility bills online.
After about five minutes, I had downloaded the iBook, Kindle and Associated Press apps, all for free. I even found a chess game that routinely kicked my butt free of charge.
There are, however, some issues.
Not all of the apps work outside of the United States. I downloaded the American Broadcasting Company's (ABC) app, which promised to give me the latest TV shows. However, when ABC noticed that I was not in the US, I received an error message telling that I couldn't view their content. I also had problems with the PriceGrabber app, which is supposed to offer locality-based comparison shopping, and the Marvel app, which directs users to local stores that sell Marvel publications. All of these apps were free, but I could easily see someone paying for an app that gave them the same problem.
Also, for every good apps one Apple's store, there are a couple of rip-offs. A typical example of this is the FreeBird app, which sold for .99 cents. It does nothing but display a hand holding a cigarette lighter. The joke wasn't worth the price.
As an avid reader, the one thing I was looking forward to was the ability to use the iPad's iBook and Kindle apps. Both applications work similarly. After purchasing and downloading your favourite book, you can then read it by "flipping" the page with your finger. While I've read a few reviews that gave preference to one or the other, I found that once I began reading, I quickly forget which app I was using. The users experience here is so good that even a friend who said she prefers "paper" started to hog the device so she could finish the book I downloaded.
Be careful though. The iBook store supports 1-click shopping and all sales are final. I become the surprised owner of "The Complete Idiots Guide To Zombies." After losing $12.99 (Dh47.70) because I clicked the wrong button, I felt the title fit.
For a really innovative read, check out the Marvel comics apps. The images are amazing, and the app will let you zoom in and out of panels to see all the details of the comic.
However, most of the content from Marvel is a couple of years old (at least).
I didn't get into the games that much, but one in particular caught my attention. The goal of the game was to guide a metal ball through a wooden maze that contained holes and other obstacles. You move the ball by tilting to iPad in the direction you want to move. The concept is centuries old, but the game play was incredibly realistic. When the ball hit the wall, a small vibration and sound makes it feel as if you were playing with a real metal ball in a real wooden maze. Now, take this technology and apply it too driving games and first-person shooters. I'm not surprised that games are some of the hottest selling apps for the iPad.
There is no way to understand this. The battery life on the iPad is great. I've drained Android-based phones down in six hours times, but even with hard-core internet and video usage, the iPad lasted 12 hours and could probably have gone longer.
The rest of it
OK, the e-reader and games are great, but what about the rest of it? It's good, but it's not mind blowing. The Safari web browsers lets you surf the web, provided you avoid anything that requires Adobe Flash player, which the iPad doesn't support. This is a giant iPod, so you can certainly watch your movies, albeit on a much bigger screen with relatively good speakers that are built into the bottom. However, while I enjoyed the iPad immensely, there were a few problems. They weren't deal breakers, but they could get annoying.
First is the screen. It's bigger than an iPod, which is great for viewing, but after only a few minutes of use, the screen gets covered in finger prints. You can wipe them off easily enough, but they'll just be back after a few more minutes. Also, because the screen reflects, it gets harder and harder to see in bright light. Outdoors, the iPad is virtually useless. You can forget about reading a book on the beach.
The next issue is the digital keyboard. It's ok if you're typing an email, but anything longer and you'll be going nuts. Due to the bigger screen, the keyboard too is larger; too large to type with your thumbs. However, the back of the iPad is rounded, so you can't lay it flat to type with two hand. I often found myself holding it with one hand and typing with the other, which wasn't very efficient. There are a number of peripherals coming out for the iPad, including a keyboard with a built-in stand, but if I'm going down that road, I'll just buy a laptop.