Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Not A Revolution: It's An Overhyped iPod Touch. The iPad 64GB Underwhelms.

The Good: Works well, Decent capacity, Better wi-fi range than iPod Touch.
The Bad: Functionally identical to an iPod Touch, Vastly more expensive than it is useful.
The Basics: A VASTLY overrated media player, the iPad is not a powerful computing device and not worth the money most will spend on it.

iPads are the big thing right now and there had been a lot of hype about them, a lot of people who are very excited by them. Virtually every website in the world right now is seeking to draw in business and viewers by offering an iPad and now that I’ve gotten mine, I think I’m ready to finally cut through the b.s. and say it like it is for common people:

The iPad is an overblown, over-expensive glorified iPod Touch (or iPhone) that is little more than a fancy media player. It is not a phenomenon or a cultural revolution and the truth that most people ought to know about this fancy media player is this: virtually any inexpensive laptop computer that is Windows-based will do everything an iPad does and more for a fraction of the price. The iPad is Apple’s attempt to bamboozle users into believing that they have finally offered an affordable laptop computer. The truth is, however, that Apple laptops (the MacBook series) are just as expensive as ever and the iPad is a product priced to fill the gap between the iPod Touch and the MacBooks. Functionally, however, the iPad is little more than an iPod Touch with a bigger screen to work in.

Last year, I found myself thrilled to back up (most of) my music collection onto a new-to-me product, the iPod Touch (check out my review of that by clicking here!). At the time, I was very disappointed that I could not fit my entire music collection onto the device and I could not put any of my digital download movies onto it (for space’s sake, as well as annoying working issues). The iPad, to be fair, has solved both of those problems. I now have a storage depot for both my entire music collection (and my partner’s) and I have about ten movies on the iPad and we still have 32 GB to spare. That means roughly 5000 songs in MP3 format and seven two hour movies and three additional hours (television) of information are stored on my 64 GB iPad and I still have four times the empty space than my iPod Touch had. That’s enough to get me excited. . .

. . . or it should have been. Looking for the iPad to be a permanent repository of digital information for me is as pointless as the iPod Touch was. First, like the iPod Touch, the iPad cannot be upgraded. Instead, once this is filled, I have to delete applications and files and then refill. There is no way to make the 64 GB iPad into a 128 GB iPad. One must rebuy the product and with a pricetag like this one ($1000) that’s very much not worth it.

Let’s talk basics: the iPad is just over 9 ½” tall, 7 ½” wide and ½” thick. It is heavier than I expected at right around 1 ½ pounds. The functional screen area of the iPad is just a little less than the overall dimensions, about 8 ½” x 6”. The only physical buttons are, as on the iPod Touch, the Power On button on top, the volume controls on the left side and the “Back/Home” button on the front.

Let’s talk even more basic. The iPad is not a computer in the strictest sense. The operating system is iTunes and when one gets the iPad one must download that from the Apple store (for free). For a detailed accounting of how that process goes, please check out my iPod Touch review. Why? Setting up the iPad is identical to setting up the iPod Touch because they run on exactly the same systems. If you click the “View Details” button on this review, you can get all of the technical specs on this device. A review ought to go beyond those numbers, but knowing them is useful, so check that out.

Like the iPod Touch, the iPad has a unique port at the bottom which allows it to plug into a USB port when connected with the unique cord that comes with the iPad. That connector is the umbilical cord that allows one to do anything with the iPad as it ends in a USB port. The iPad also comes with a pair of earbuds and there are built in speakers.

The iPad functions identically to the iPod Touch as well, which means that navigating is all done using the touch screen and the “back” button. Again, functionally, there is no difference between the iPad and the iPod Touch (which is why the current commercials boast “you already know how to use it"). The only advantage of the iPad is that when one is typing on it, the keyboard is more manageable to use because it is physically larger. Like the iPod Touch, when turned to the side, the image on the screen goes from a portrait to landscape orientation. This is nice when playing movies.

The iPad has a decent LED screen which plays videos in bright contrasting colors and, to be fair, movies look good on the iPad. They look as good as they can look on the small screen. The sound, however, is significantly more disappointing. Music I’ve played on the iPad has a more tinny quality to it through the speakers and strangely enough seems to lose some of the bass when I plug in the earbuds. A great example of the limited range of the iPad’s speakers is in the opening sequences to “The Dark Knight.” If one has seen that film, they know during the opening bank robbery sequence there is a high pitched whine which is the Joker’s theme. That noise is almost entirely inaudible on my iPad’s speakers.

I am not connected to a cell phone so the Bluetooth capability of the iPad is not something I was able to test.

However, I do surf the web a lot and the iPad is able to connect to any wi-fi source that is open (i.e. not locked by the admin). I’ve discovered new wi-fi sources in my neighborhood that my iPod Touch could not pick up, so the wi-fi capacity of this device is superior to the Touch, but a little less than the abilities of the MacBook Pro. Surfing the web is easy on Safari.

Also of note, the claim that the iPad’s battery lasts about ten hours is actually fairly close. When watching movies or surfing the web on my iPad, I’ve run out of juice at about nine hours fifteen minutes (it takes about two hours to recharge) and I was pretty impressed by that.

Why then, am I so down on the iPad? First, it does not play actual programs. The OS of the iPad cannot handle the big programs that a PC or MacBook can. As a result, the best one is offered are Applications. Applications (there are thousands of them) are mini-programs which are basically designed to serve one function (i.e. a calculator, a program that makes handwriting into typed words, etc.) and they do not function like actual programs, they are more trendy than spectacular. Most applications are simple enough that they can be uploaded and used on a cell phone. These are not graphic intensive, indispensible, heavy-calculation programs.

Second, many of the applications I run into are basically pointless timesavers. For example, when I went to the IMDB through Safari on my iPad, it offered me the IMDB Application. I downloaded it. It is not the whole IMDB on my iPad: it is essentially a bookmark which when I click on it on the main screen, brings me right to the IMDB. This might save about three seconds and it utterly worthless in my opinion. Many of the Applications are like that.

The result, then, is exactly what I thought at the beginning. The iPad is not worth the money. You can get more from superior products. This is expensive bait for those who want to steal from you. It might allow you to put movies in your purse, but there are laptops in the $350 range with bigger screens that allow you to do that and far, far, more.

For other computer-related reviews, please check out my takes on:
HP Laserjet 6P printer
ATP Flash Drive for breast cancer awareness


For other electronics and computer products, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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