Let me start this review off with a bit of a disclaimer. I am not an Apple 'convert'. I've never owned a Mac or an iPhone, use an iPod only occasionally when exercising, and am in most things a very happy, PC/Windows-oriented kind of guy. I say that for this reason ... I don't have the compulsion of an early adopter for the iPad or any other product.
I was a little wary of the iPad at first. Skeptical would probably be the best word for it. I didn't see how it would do anything different than my iPod, other than let me surf the Web (which I can do on a laptop), watch movies on a larger screen (which, again, I can do on a laptop), or download apps which my non-iPhone self has never been able to access. What first got me interested in it was the iBooks application. An avid e-book reader, I own three Amazon Kindles and the thought of being able to read books in color was extremely attractive. Even so, as someone who has bought several hundred books for my Kindle(s), I wasn't anxious to have to start over on a new device. The Kindle app for the iPad is part of what clinched the deal. Knowing I could read all of my books on this new device helped turn me from a skeptic into a mildly interested-but-still-on-the-fence observer of the iPad's launch.
What finally put me over the edge was Verizon. Say whaaa? That's right. I didn't say AT&T. Verizon. I wasn't keen on an iPad that could only be used in a WiFi hotspot, or one that I'd have to pay AT&T for the privilege of using what is, in this part of the country at least, a very spotty 3G network. And then I saw an advertisement by Verizon. They were touting their MiFi 2200 as an alternative to a 3G iPad. Now I have a MiFi 2200, provided with an unlimited data plan through work. It not only functions as an air card, but also establishes a mobile 3G wireless network for up to 5 devices anywhere I have the little sucker turned on. So I could buy a much cheaper WiFi-version iPad, and use it with a vastly superior 3G network on an unlimited data plan for which I pay absolutely nothing? SOLD!
The iPad bug had finally bit me, and I did some frantic searching around last Thursday to find a store that had any in stock. The nearest Best Buy, in Chattanooga, was a no-go. Completely sold out. So I called the Mac Authority, a speciality store also in Chattanooga (about 30 miles from where I live), which is about as close to an Apple Store as we get in these parts. I was angling for a 16GB model. Did they have any in? Yes, they had iPads ... but only the 32GB and 64GB models. 'Well,' I reasoned in my head, 'I could buy a 64GB WiFi iPad which I'd be able to use anywhere Verizon has coverage, and still come out cheaper than if I waited for a 3G model.' So I braved the drive down I-75 in rush hour traffic to snatch one up before they sold out.
And the verdict after having had five days to use it? Sure, the iPad does things I can do on another device, such as read e-books, surf the Web, listen to music, watch videos, etc. What makes it different is how well it does those things. There is something a lot of reviews have touched on that I don't think can be stressed enough: the tactile experience is what makes the iPad. There is something so fulfilling and more personal about using your hands to navigate through a computer interface than by a mouse. This, my friends, is the future of computers. Mark it down. Although much about the iPad may have been done before on the iPhone, it is no less revolutionary for applying these principles to a tablet-sized computer. I find a smile of satisfaction tugging at the corners of my lips simply from turning it on.
On to specifics, the iBooks reader is, in my opinion, vastly superior to the Kindle or Nook. Again, there is a tactile experience in being able to actually turn the pages. But more than that, there is the intersection of so many e-publishing mediums accessible through this device (like the Kindle App!). In some respect, the iPad, for me, is about consolidation. Why lug around a laptop for surfing the Web if I can do much of it through the iPad? Why tote a Kindle when I can surf the Web AND read books AND watch movies AND play games on one single device, and one which allows me the variety of being able to get my movies from both iTunes and Netflix, and my e-books from both iBooks and Amazon?
Which brings me to my next point: video. Watching movies on the iPad is a delight. I immediately downloaded the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (now available for a rather cheap $19.99 on iTunes!), knowing that if I ever needed to kill some time, there are few things better than Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Tolkien classics. The colors were bright and clear, the resolution crisp, the sound much better than I was expecting out of the tiny speakers on the iPad. Being able to get shows and movies through my Netflix account, the ABC Player, and other apps only sweetens the deal.
For anyone else who uses Verizon, I cannot recommend the MiFi 2200 enough as an alternative to a 3G iPad. I spent part of yesterday afternoon just driving out well off of the beaten path into some mountains and valleys which dot this part of the country, and although there were a few places I lost Verizon, it was few and far between, and anywhere where I had a signal, it was as good if not a little faster than I can manage on my laptop with the same device.
And then there's gaming. I'm what you'd call a casual gamer. I don't spend hours upon hours on Mountain Dew-fueled WoW binges. I prefer to play a game for a few minutes here and there to pass the time. The games for the iPad, by and large, are perfect for that approach. Games like WarpGate, Dungeon Hunter, CastleCraft, We Rule, and Godfinger are ideal for spending a few minutes or a few hours, however much or little time you have, in a first rate diversion. I've been extremely impressed by the graphics, especially in WarpGate and Dungeon Hunter. They rival what something like the Nintendo DS is capable of, and manage it, again, with the immense satisfaction of a tactile experience. Controls are easy, fluid, and intuitive. Even in the heat of 'battle' situations, it never feels clunky or awkward. That's not an easy thing to manage for any game, much less one with no joystick or game pad or any other control mechanism other than what you find on the same screen your game is displayed upon.
So yes, it's safe to say I am now an enthusiastic iPad user. When I wake up every morning, the first thing I do is fire up the BBC News or USA Today apps to check up on the latest news. The last thing I do before going to bed at night is spend a few leisurely minutes with a good video or book. The iPad is already a lifestyle device, for me, one that I find 'useful' in a way that a laptop or desktop PC, or even a netbook, just can't match. Some of the enthusiasm may wear off after a few months, but at this point, I doubt it.
For what I need out of a computer, video player, ebook reader, and gaming platform, the iPad supplies my needs and has managed to exceed my expectations. I think Apple would be wise to enlist the musical assistance of Samantha Fox in their next TV ads. Cutting out the naughty bits (most of the song, really), her song, 'Touch Me' would be perfect for the iPad! In so many ways, it's singing loud and clear, "Touch me! Touch me now!".