Apple iPad exclusive: first SA review - TechCentral

Apple iPad exclusive: first SA review

Talk Radio 702's Aki Anastasiou showing off the Apple iPad

Talk Radio 702's Aki Anastasiou showing off the Apple iPad

When Pretoria sports coach Rainier Vermaak e-mailed Aki Anastasiou from New York on Saturday, the Talk Radio 702 technology correspondent could scarcely believe his luck.

Vermaak was standing in a queue to buy an iPad at Apple’s flagship store in Manhattan and he wanted to know if he should bring back an extra one in his suitcase for Anastasiou.

Of course, the radio personality — known for his technology show and traffic reports on 702 —  jumped at the opportunity and, on Monday morning, met Vermaak at OR Tambo International airport to take delivery of Apple’s latest creation.

TechCentral has been lucky enough to be the first SA publication to get an in-depth look at the iPad. Our first reaction upon picking it up: it’s more impressive close up than in the pictures. Like anything Apple does, the iPad exudes design style.

But is it any good?

If you watched Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s keynote in January, you’ll already have a good idea what the machine can do. What impressed us at first touch, though, was its size — it’s bigger than it looks in the pictures and the videos. And its lightning-fast performance is impressive. Unlike earlier iPhones, the iPad is fast and responsive.

Yes, it is basically a giant iPhone or iPod Touch — it even runs applications written for these devices — but the added screen real estate (9,7 inches over the iPhone’s 3,5 inches) makes this a different beast entirely. The applications prove that — they are just so much more immersive on the large, LED screen.

Anastasiou’s favourite app is Marvel Comics, which lets you browse through and purchase thousands of recent and classic comics, going back decades. “It’ll get kids reading comics again,” he says.

“The iPad will change how we consume media,” Anastasiou adds. “Imagine if Disney were to develop an app that would allow you to download all the classic Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons!”

Movies look gorgeous on the high-resolution screen. And audio quality is surprisingly good. Of course, there’s also a 3,5mm audio jack so you can plug in external speakers or headphones.

So, it’s great at multimedia. But is the iPad suitable for reading books, especially for long stretches at a time?

We didn’t have enough time to try this out, but we like the fact that you can dim the backlight from within the e-book reader application.

E-books look superb on the screen, and the way you flip through pages with the swipe of your finger mimics the feel of a paper book. Flip the device to landscape mode, and it automatically gives you a two-page view.

We predict Amazon, which develops the e-ink-based Kindle (which is supposedly easier on the eyes), is going to face a serious battle in the e-book market from Apple, especially from people who don’t consume vast numbers of books. The Kindle’s software looks prehistoric next to the iPad’s e-book reader. It really is sexy.

There are plenty of nifty apps available designed specifically for the iPad’s larger screen. Some of Anastasiou’s favourites include TweetDeck (a Twitter client) and the news apps from The New York Times and the BBC.

Though iPhone apps can be installed on the iPad, we found that when they are scaled to fill the iPad’s bigger screen, they become badly pixellated. This problem should go away fairly quickly, though, as app developers begin to rejig their iPhone software to take advantage of the iPad’s bigger screen.

Anastasiou says the two biggest drawbacks of the iPad are the fact that the screen quickly becomes smudged with fingerprints and that the device can’t be charged from some older computers via USB when it’s powered on — users of newer PCs and Macs shouldn’t have this problem.

But Anastasiou admits these are not major drawbacks and that the iPad is a well-designed product.

Though he hasn’t had the opportunity to test it extensively, Anastasiou says the iPad’s battery appears to deliver about 10 hours of use with Wi-Fi switched on, in line with Apple’s claims.

In summary, then, Apple has hit the nail on the head once again, delivering a superb product. It’s a fantastic device that genuinely lives up to the pre-launch hype.

SA Apple distributor Core says it has no word yet on local availability. But at US$499 (R3 600 excluding taxes) for the 16GB, non-3G version, we think a lot of South Africans will be importing the devices or picking them up when they next travel abroad.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

21 Comments

  1. Actually Apple have made adapters available for USB charging, SD card connection and data-sharing via USB. Of course these are accessories see Apple link http://www.apple.com/ipad/specs/ at the bottom of the page for these. I don’t like that I should buy them as extras whereas Apple should have included at least a USB port, but hey, that’s Jobs for you!

  2. How is this a review if you only mention one or two pros? What about the cons to give a more balanced view of the product?

    A few obvious cons of the iPad that at least deserve to be mentioned:

    * It’s running on the iPhone operating system, no OS X. Among other things, this means no multitasking! Since it’s based on the iPhone OS it means you can only use the Safari browser (so you can only view a google doc, not create one).
    * No Flash, sure HTML5 is the reason but HTML5 is still a long way off from being universally used
    * The battery is built in, which means you have a real problem if the battery packs up.
    * No camera. So no Skype, no taking photos on the go.
    * No phone calls
    * No USB storage support

    So it clearly does not replace a laptop or an iPhone for that matter, so is it just a large iPod Touch? Or cool e-reader? I have a hard time figuring out where this product is supposed to fit in. Typing emails on that virtual keyboard will take ages.

    It does look good so perhaps it’s just a fun gadget and not much more?

  3. @Peter: These are our first impressions, based on an hour of playing with the device. We’ll publish a more detailed review once we’ve had a chance to put the device through its paces. First impressions, though: Apple’s done it again!

  4. Big fan of the site, but this article was a waste of time, almost seems that the only aim was to get “iPad”, “exclusive” and “review” in the title and then regurgitate a bunch of random facts.

    A bit disappointing, we’ve come to expect more of Techcentral.

  5. This is a strange article;not really a review, just a first impression really, dissapointing Techcentral. Looks like you guys got caught up in the moment…
    I think the title of the article should be changed to reflect the lack of a true review.

    Another thing, I recall Aki a few months ago on his blog writing a lengthy, stinging piece on why the world doesn’t need/want a tablet from Apple, has he changed his mind after buying the product?

  6. I kindof enjoyed this article. If you want to get a proper review wait for Ars Technica’s review (hoping it will be here tomorow).

    What idiots you are for thinking they would have a proper review so soon. pff.

  7. I bought the iPad for a very specific application, related to rugby coaching and the use of technology in that field.

    My opinion is that the device is great for consuming media, sitting back in my comfy chair, reading books downloaded from Amazon @ $10, watching pics of my trip, listening to music, reading my e-mails and NY Times, watching videos and loving the media that I download from iTunes University.

    The screen is special, the battery lasts in excess of 10 hours with normal use, typing on the virtual keyboard is easy to get used to.

    Had lunch at a restaurant today and the portability and functionality was awesome, not having to pull out the netbook/Macbook to get some work done.

    Will be nice to download the iWork apps.

    And it definitely is a fun gadget. But that is a great thing.

    And I am sure Jobs have a usb port, camera and other goodies planned for iPad 2.0….

  8. Interesting thoughts. The price will regretfully keep most Saffers from making this their next gadget purchase.

  9. “First-generation Apple products are for suckers. Only lemmings with no self-control and excessive disposable income buy first generation Apple products, especially in a new gadget category. When they do, they pay the double the price for immature hardware and software” – Gina Tripani, Fastcompany.com

  10. Natassia de Villiers on

    Thanks Duncan, given the amount of time you had with the iPad- I personally think the article was sufficiently informative. For those complaining about the content- this is only the start of a techno-revolution. Give Duncan and his team the time of day – they could have opted not to write anything and left you uninformed.

  11. Called iStore in joburg, they are so clueless about availability, just kept saying “we dnt know, we not sure, we dnt know…”
    Disappointing as this was announced months ago, surely a call to Apple on SA’s behalf wouldv shed some light 🙁
    Getting a friend to bring me one back from NYC too

  12. Give the guys a break – this was fine for an early review. I look forward to the indepth review.

  13. Since South Africa only gets things last, I think it is a good thing, let the Americans try it out and selected South Africans, we read the reviews after extensive study, then wait for the next iPad, with improvements, then we should buy them.

  14. This article is very low on objectivity – if there wasn’t enough time to test it all out – just run the specs and show a picture.

    Within hours of the Ipad being launched apple’s page was flooded with WIFI singal issues and the annoying factor that you need to plug it into a computer running Itunes in order to activate.

    Making it less of a stand alone unit and more of a detachable screen that you can use on the move and then dock back at base…..

    A bit redundant for that price if you ask me.

  15. @abi

    According to reports, the WiFi signal issues affect only around 2% of iPad buyers. It’s an issue that needs to be fixed, sure, but hardly a deal killer. Most likely it’s a single manufacturing batch that was affected by some mistake at the factory and the affected devices will be replaced. This would only be a significant issue if it affected all iPads and there was no indication that it could ever be fixed.

    The initial sync with iTunes is hardly a great hardship. Once you’re done with that you can use the iPad on its own for as long as you like, docking it to your computer only to get new software updates every once in a while. With that said, Apple clearly envisions the iPad as a focused computer designed to do certain things very well and piggyback off your main PC and not as a replacement for a laptop.

    @Peter
    “* It’s running on the iPhone operating system, no OS X. Among other things, this means no multitasking! Since it’s based on the iPhone OS it means you can only use the Safari browser (so you can only view a google doc, not create one).”

    Technically, the iPhone OS, being a slimmed down version of OS X, is capable of multitasking. Safari, Mail and the iPod app already do it. It has been disabled for third-party apps because in order to get the interface snappiness and battery life of the iPhone and iPad and to maximise the life of the installed flash memory, Apple has to make certain technical compromises. For one, there’s no virtual memory swap file. Rumours suggest that tonight’s iPhone OS 4.0 announcement might introduce a solution for all this though.

    “* No Flash, sure HTML5 is the reason but HTML5 is still a long way off from being universally used”

    On OS X, Flash is a performance hog that regularly pins one of my cores to 100% and uses a chunk of memory. On a resource-limited platform like the iPhone or iPad it would kill performance and destroy the battery life. Safari is already operating at the edge of the device’s hardware limitations. And as more sites move to show both HTML5 and Flash video (Hulu remains the last major holdout, but has announced plans to do the same), the need for Flash to view videos is quickly diminishing.

    “* The battery is built in, which means you have a real problem if the battery packs up.”

    If you look at the iFixit teardown of the iPad, you can see that nearly all the internal space is taken up by two massive batteries. There is no way Apple would have been able to shove that much capacity in if they had to make the batteries removable as well. And to be fair, Apple has a fairly simple replacement process where you can take your iPad in to any Apple service centre and get it done for $99, which isn’t an unreasonable price.

    “* No camera. So no Skype, no taking photos on the go.”
    True, the lack of a front-facing camera is an inexplicable exclusion. That said, I’m not sure you’d want to be taking photos on the go with the iPad in any case, since it’s not exactly feather light. Similarly, I don’t use my laptop’s camera for anything but Skype.

    “* No phone calls”
    You could use Skype and the built in microphone for phone calls if you wanted. This gives you the same phone calling capability as your average laptop.

    “* No USB storage support”
    I’m not sure this would make much sense without an exposed file system on the device, and Apple is obviously trying to move away from the concept of an exposed file system. With that said, there are apps like Air Sharing which allow you to transfer files over WiFi to the device which then sit in Air Sharing’s application space.

    “So it clearly does not replace a laptop or an iPhone for that matter, so is it just a large iPod Touch? Or cool e-reader? I have a hard time figuring out where this product is supposed to fit in. Typing emails on that virtual keyboard will take ages.”

    It’s none of the above. It’s a computing appliance, specifically optimised for casually browsing the net, viewing your emails and responding briefly to some of them, playing games, reading ebooks, watching movies and using apps in a form factor that’s small and light enough to be convenient for carrying and using pretty much anywhere. It appears to feel far nicer and more natural to sit on the couch and read PDFs and browse the net using the iPad with multitouch than it does doing the same on your computer. It’s also well suited to being propped up in the kitchen so you can look at recipes, or taking with on a plane trip rather than a heavier laptop. In short, it’s designed to provide a better experience for doing the things most people do on their computers.

    Whether they’ve succeeded at doing that is anybody’s guess. But I have to admit, I would really like one of these for reading technical documents and specs.

  16. I feel like a spoilt brat, I want one. I guess the quickest way is to get a paypal account link it to your fnb account, since theyre the only bank that supports it, order online and get it shipped to you. Great review I want one.

  17. I was in a Boston suburban Apple store three hours after it opened on release day,and the frenzy was over,with plenty stock on hand.
    Needless to say,I walked out with a 32GB unit.
    A few hours later I was sending mail from from my seat in the back of a WiFi equipped aircraft on my way to Florida,while Pink Floyd were singing to me.
    An hour later I was watching the Space Shuttle countdown live.
    Later I watched a movie.
    BBC news kept me up to date with the world.
    I bought a book or two.
    I listened to Pandora Radio.
    I was guided on a the best walking route to a good restaurant after having had it’s virtual menu in my hand.
    Expedia kept me up to date with my travel arrangements.
    WHAT IS NOT TO LIKE?
    This device will be anything that you want it to be,I am Very Very impressed.

  18. I’m really hoping the HP Slate lives up to what I read in the press, I have to have one of these toys, and don’t want to settle for the iPad. With Windows 7 and proper connectivity via HDMI for high-res monitors and USB for keyboards, plus the fact you can choose any consumer travel Bluetooth Keyboard/Mouse you want, this could easily become a laptop replacement. I still see the iPad as a toy/media device, whereas the HP slate will be taking the form factor into a position you can actually get useful stuff done on it. Well, here’s hoping that HP don’t totally cock it up!

  19. With a claimed 5 hour battery life and a normal TFT screen, as against the iPad’s proven 10-11 hour battery life and E-IPS screen, I doubt the HP Slate is going to be much of a competitor, to be honest.

  20. Nice article TC. I am sure you will provide a more in-depth review in time.

    If people are expecting to get an iPad to replace something they are being short sighted.

    It is not a phone, nor a computer but a tablet with more than enough applications, technology and apple savvy to kill competitors and provide value for what it is.

    And what it is, I feel is often being misunderstood by the public.

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