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Friday, 4 June 2010

iVerdict (Initial)

Of course I got suckered into wanting to try it. It’s practically in my job description. The lemming-like draw of new technology pulled me in as certainly as if I’d been a big dumb ox on the end of a rope. Which may be more or less accurate. It had me there in PC World on Sunday, standing next to all the other meat-bags pawing the display setup of eight iPads.

Canterbury being a reasonably posh sort of area, it was replete with those with the fiscal means to make a purchase but who are also liable to produce comments like “yah, it’s terribly clever.” This being a combo PC World & Currys, I had a momentary inspiration to shut the yahoo’s head in a tumble dryer door – far more stylistic variety than a simple netbook-to-the-back-of-the-head, surely? – but driven beyond endurance, there I was, exiting the door pdq with a plain brown box under my arm. Hey I don’t care what chemicals were used in making the shit kicking battery man but I can tell you this packaging saves planets.

Of course, an iPad costs a couple of quid at the moment, so I also had the sort of look on my face which, when I’ve used the credit card in a certain way, reminds me of how our family dog used to look when it had buried unspecified food matters under a cushion on the sofa. Frankly, it’s lucky I didn’t have a tail to wag or I would have been leaving myself with bruises all over my legs as the missus welcomed me back in the house with a cheery “Sunday lunch is ready.” Anyway, I digress. The three day impression from a user of yer actual iPad follows;

I went for the mid-range 32gb wi-fi with no 3g as I have a laptop and see it as pretty unlikely I’ll be travelling with this. If I do, the places I go usually have wi-fi and I have a BT Openzone account. I really don’t think the form factor is a good surf-on-the-train-while-on-3g contender – resting it on a seat back in front or on closed legs on a train, I ain’t seeing.

Well, you say, it’s a big iPhone or more particularly an iTouch (i.e. without the phone for those of you reading in from unfamiliar places) innit? Well, yes it is Watson, but in fact it’s less than that. It is a big iTouch without a few handy favourites missing and some “ugh” moments. For instance, there’s no clock / multi-alarm app because some of the world’s reputedly most brilliant designers were flummoxed at making a representation of a time piece. Onna screen. That girl with the clown that used to greet your eager correspondent on the BBC test card had her shit more sorted than this lot. There’s a couple of other regular apps missing too. No doubt, these will all come in due course but since this thing was planned from before the iPhone according to Steve Jobs yesterday, it’s not as if time was really the issue was it?

Then there’s some genuinely ‘ugh’ moments when you cheerfully port your existing iPod / iTouch apps across to it. Actually, quick aside here - now listen, I know it’s not actually called an iTouch but an ‘iPod Touch’ but I know what I’m talking about and you know what I’m talking about and therefore in these straitened times, I’ve gone for the economically efficient term. What’s that you say – you feel there’s some points of debate that could be profitably be worked through on this issue? Certainly and but of course. Let’s go and discuss it over here. Have you seen my new tumble dryer by the way? Do have a closer look…

When you use an application from your iPrevious (other than if it has been specifically reworked to work at the iPad’s native resolution), it appears on screen at the same resolution as on your original little handheld machine and occupies not a lot of the much bigger screen. There is therefore a ‘2x’ button on screen in the lower right that simply doubles up the size of the image. It’s as horrible as you would expect. That nice little neat app on your iPast with its crisp fonts and pics now blows up to twice the size and suffers from jaggies and blurring. Now, again, with early adoption of new devices, to be fair one has to anticipate a couple of issues like this. If you’re going to see the first dog out of the traps at the new greyhound stadium, don’t be particularly surprised if some of the stands aren’t quite finished, you can’t get a decent burger until September and the rabbit’s head flies off half way 'round the fourth. But aesthetically, these legacy apps are between meh and pretty damn horrible to look at. Bottom line – get on with it, application people.

Talking of aesthetics, it has to be that way I guess, to hide electronics, but the bezel is really quite large compared to the proportions on an iThing. This can’t have made the designers happy when they value beauteous design so highly. “Bad bezel, man!” you can imagine them moan over a chocafrappamochalatte in their wing-backed chairs. Indeed it is a big assed bezel, even if for us more geographically challenged types here in blighty, “Big Assed Bezel” is a phenomenon more likely to be encountered in a swingers’ club in Wrothram. But hey ho, why are you looking at the edge of the thing anyway?

Applications – other; Very very familiar because they are for iOther and suffer from the 2x horribleness aforementioned. A saving grace is the particularly lovely and fantastically designed Xe The Elements which is just beautiful and shows what good design and the intuitive use of touchscreen could really do for this machine. Using this, I had several ‘Star Trek’ type moments when I genuinely felt I was using something amazing. It felt generationally different but maybe that’s novelty. Also using maps is a qualitatively different experience. There is something very lovely about using Google World by, again, the use of a touch screen interface that rests on your lap casually.

Books – the screen is lovely but e-ink ain’t gonna be troubled any time soon. The Sony Reader has no challenges here if you have one. The book store looks pretty sparsely populated right now and existing experience of course is weak for UK eStores in general. Fortunately, you can at least access a number of rival formats. I’m going to the States soon – I must stock up.

Movies – I bought the very cheap Air Video application which will stream movies from your home pc or mac over wifi, doing on-the-fly conversion on your (reasonably fast) home machine. An excellent app. The screen is lovely for movies and streaming a movie to watch with headphones plugged for kids / me when people are watching crap tv is excellent.

So some good apps, as well as the bad. When you boil it all down, there are two things that the iPad really currently excels at. One, the using touch as a method of control on a high rez, relatively big screen. It is a different level of experience from using an iPhone or Touch when you can work with things at this size. Maybe this will lose its novelty but I don’t think so – it’s just a better way of doing things for *certain* applications and for surfing. There is something basically very satisfying about being on a web page with a lot of links and reaching out and touching the one that you want to go to or whipping over maps and zooming in and out. Yes, you can do this on the iPhone etc but here, size really does matter and makes for a qualitatively different experience.

But more than that, and really for me this is the best thing about it; It is a sofa-surfer par excellence. I absolutely have no doubt that I will never again come home and log onto my pc to read my email / facebook or pull out my laptop to do the same when the iPad is around. The iPad is, of course, an instant boot and coming home and cuddling up on the sofa with James who is watching telly or reading and doing that is very pleasant. It’s a brilliant pick-up-and-surf type machine if the rest of the family is watching tv too. I wouldn’t want to do hours of surfing or typing on it, although the onscreen keyboard at this size really does allow multi-finger typing with a pretty low error rate. Weight, I was somewhat concerned with picking it up in the store but at home it’s no issue. Battery life also appears very good. There’s no heat from it at all and even though the machine is new, hours of surfing was putting a very slow drain on the battery. Screen gets smudgey with fingerprints of course but seems not as bad as on my iTouch and you shouldn’t be eating all them chips anyway. Apparently.

So for a quick pick up and insta-surf with a very satisfying interaction method, it really is good. And in that respect it has delivered the biggest benefit of them all – that fact that the lady wife now uses the iPad exclusively and does not go on my pc ever. At all. And *that*, I put it to you, is an inarguable piece of world class greatness worth the entry price alone.

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