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Apple's iPad: Pros, cons, and toss-ups

Consumer Reports News: January 27, 2010 08:28 PM

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We had a chance to take a first-hand look at the new iPad after this morning's announcement and give some thought to the pros and cons of the new tablet device. Here's a little context.

Pros:

The iPad does just about everything entertainment, from games to video, from books to music. Sure, the iPod Touch serves many of those functions, but the iPad's 9.7-inch screen provides considerably more real estate for watching movies, looking at photos, and playing games. It's just a half-inch thin and weighs just 1.5 pounds.

The price is a lot more appealing than anyone anticipated. If you were following pre-launch coverage of the iPad, you probably read that it was going to cost $1,000. So the $499 price tag for the low-end model was a pleasant surprise.

Speaking of price, the data plan is a great deal. Netbook users with a data plan are paying $60 for 5GB per month plans. The iPad's plan gives you a choice between $14.99 per month for 250GB and $29.99 for unlimited data.

The iPad will lead to development of new uses for touch technology. It's a lot more intuitive to play games using your hands than a mouse or other device. Among the programs demonstrated at this morning's launch were games that let you turn locks with finger motions, or target bad guys by pointing at them with your finger. The bottom line is, just about everything the iPad does happens with taps, swipes, and other multitouch gestures, and it's likely that new multitouch gestures will develop as apps come out for the iPad. For example, the iPad version of Apple's iWorks' presentation program lets you move slides around in a slideshow by touching the first slide with one finger and tapping the other slides until you have a pile that you can move with one swipe.

Cons:

You can't multitask. Although the iPad has a number of productivity applications, including e-mail, calendar, and iWorks, it really doesn't function as a computer. You can't have a browser window open at the same time you're typing a document or working on a spreadsheet. That said, the iPad isn't positioned as a computer, so if you want to productivity, stick to a laptop.

There's no webcam. We didn't see a webcam in our time playing with the iPad. That's a feature we'd like to see in the next version.

iTunes' limitations could get in the way. The iTunes universe is a restrictive one that doesn't support a lot of music formats. But of course no one expects Apple to abandon its music-purchase model at this stage of the game. Let's hope Apple's new iBookstore isn't similarly restrictive.

Toss-ups.

It's not clear how reading on the iPad will stack up against reading on the Kindle. The two readers use different "ink" technologies. Text looked pretty crisp to the untrained eye when we used a sample iPad under the watchful eye of an Apple representative today, but for a definitive assessment we'll have to see how the iPad fares in our tests.

Why only AT&T? The data plans are a bargain, relatively speaking, but will AT&T be able to handle the bandwidth demands of millions more web surfers and game players? Time will tell.

Battery life is key. Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed the iPad will get 10 hours' battery life, but does that mean 10 demanding hours of gameplay and video-viewing? Apple's laptops generally come pretty close to their battery-life claims. We'll be testing the iPad to see if it follows suit.

During his presentation Jobs asked if there's room in the market for a "third device," something that you'll want in addition to your laptop and smart phone. There's enough to distinguish the iPad from laptops. It's more portable and is without a cumbersome keyboard. There's enough to distinguish it from smart phones, not least of which is its larger screen. But if you already pay for a data plan for a smart phone or netbook, are you ready to plop down at least another $499 (or up to $829) for a "third device," plus maybe another monthly 3G data plan? Weigh in below.

–Donna Tapellini

   

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