Apple iPad Review: Full Test

In-depth first UK review of Apple's tablet

Image 1 of 4 iPad with Amazon Kindle app
iPad with Amazon Kindle app
Image 2 of 4 Apple iPad main menu
Apple iPad main menu
Image 3 of 4 Apple iPad Marvel Comic
Apple iPad Marvel Comics app
Image 4 of 4 Apple iPad iTunes Store
Apple iPad iTunes Store

Is Apple's tablet innovation an early contender for gadget of the year?

So, the iPad, the latest and talked-about gadget from Apple is finally available on pre-order, arriving on May 28th. It’s been talked of, hyped and critiqued by millions before it’s even hit the shops, reaching the top spot in the T3 Hot 100. It’s bemused many as to where it will fit into their lives. But before you get stuck into our review, consider these questions: how many people do you know that are still confused by computers, and what do you think the majority of the population actually use a computer for?

The most widely used phrase when seeing the iPad for the first time is, “It’s just a big iPod Touch.” And yes it is, but as well as being super-sized, it’s also super-charged.

View our iPad gallery here

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Apple’s new 1GHz A4 processor allows apps, multimedia and screen transitions to fly. Playing back a HD episode of Doctor Who, downloaded from iTunes, motion is fast, without judder and free of lag or distortion when rotating the screen. With its superb, LED-backlit, richly coloured screen, it’s a slicker, quicker experience than the iPod Touch or iPhone. It feels like a computer, not a phone or PMP.

Apple iPad: Weighty issues

Following the “it’s a big Touch” comment, the most widely used phrase on actually picking up the iPad is, “Ooh, it’s heavier than I expected.” This is also undeniable. At 680g, it’s lighter than any netbook on the market, but it does have a certain heft. We managed half-hour bursts without wanting to use it flat, but put it this way: the first company to make a decent stand or other support for the iPad is going to do a roaring trade…

Reading books, papers and magazines on the iPad is an enjoyable experience. The brightness and colour of the screen can be adjusted to suit your preference, and it’s definitely easier on the eyes than we initially feared. Although in direct sunlight, it’s nigh-on impossible to read anything, so don’t think about taking it to the beach.

Apple iPad: The virtual keyboard

Typing on the iPad is better than expected – in fact this entire review was written on it. Lie the device flat, rotate the screen to landscape and you’ll be able to rattle off text very quickly. Portrait orientation, one-finger pecking while holding the iPad is also workable, although this is an occasion when the iPad’s weight does work against it. The excellent auto-correct helps with mistyped prose but anyone wanting to create lengthy documents in Pages or Microsoft Word, when it arrives, will be better off investing in a keyboard and stand.

Battery life is very impressive. We used it heavily – video playback, web-browsing, music – for 11 hours straight before it gave up the ghost and needed a recharge. This compares well to netbooks and trounces any mobile phone we can think of, though a full recharge does take almost four hours.

We haven’t experienced any problems with Wi-Fi and it’s 802.11n, so considerably faster than the iPhone. The combination of N-powered speed and touchscreen slickness means browsing the internet is a brilliant experience despite the absence of Flash.

Apple iPad: Likes and dislikes

Little things we like: a rotation lock switch, a photo slideshow button on the start screen, speedy Google Maps processing and instant-on computing. Annoyances? No support for iTunes LP, inability to drag and drop photos and apps and no multi-tasking, although now that’s come to the iPhone with OS 4.0 it can surely only be a matter of time.
So, should you buy one or not?

The screen’s poor performance outdoors and the fact that the Wi-Fi-only model has been released first make it pretty clear Apple sees the iPad as a home device, but we’re not sure most users will be satisfied with that. The 3G model would be what we’d recommend.

Apple iPad: Who will buy it?

What most people use computers for is to communicate, browse the web and view photos, videos and literature. The iPad lets anyone – you, your kids, your mum and dad – do all that. It's incredibly easy to use and the size, heft and quality that set it apart from the netbooks, smartphones and PMPs it superficially resembles. At £430 for 16GB, £500 for 32Gb and £600 for 64GB, the larger capacity versions (in particular) are pricier than we thought, but consider the cost of a netbook and it seems fairly reasonable.

In our opinion, Apple hasn’t just created the first home tablet worth having. It’s actually redefined computing, boiling it down to essentials and making it accessible for everyone, and it will be really interesting to see how the Dell Mini 5 and HP Slate compare. Now let’s have the 3G one…

NOTE:

Following Apple's iOS 4.2 update, we have amended our iPad score from 4 stars to 5 stars.

Read the reasons in our Apple iPad review: iOS 4.2 update. By adding multitasking, folders, Game Centre and Airplay, the iPad is better than ever. As some manufacturers efforts have shown us, it's really hard to get a tablet right, but Apple have suceeded.

Link: Apple