The excellent iPad is a sleek media player and a highly functional tablet computer, but there's room for improvement
As befits a minimalist device, there's not much more to say about the hardware itself. The homegrown Apple A4 processor can handle anything I've tried so far without any significant delays or hiccups, and the graphics capabilities are substantial -- graphics-intensive games like Real Racing HD are rendered exceptionally well and quite smoothly. The headphone jack is at the top of the device, which seems a little odd at first, but when you realize that there really isn't a "top" per se, it doesn't really matter. The built-in speakers adorn the bottom and are surprisingly loud and responsive given their tiny size.
But it's certainly not all wine and roses. There are some significant downsides to the iPad. First off, the device attracts fingerprints like mad. After only a few minutes of use, the screen is completely covered in them. If you're at all obsessive over fingerprints on your touchscreen devices, this will drive you nuts. Hopefully, the use of a screen protector can minimize this -- and given the glare problems in some lighting conditions, an anti-glare screen protector might as well be considered a mandatory accessory.
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Also, it's somehow awkward to carry the device. Without a cover over the screen, the iPad is just about impossible to carry in one hand without either touching the screen or looking like a waiter. I normally don't like cases that add a cover to portable electronics like cell phones (including the iPhone), but I might make an exception for the iPad. The thought of carrying it like a book in one hand and inadvertently scratching it on a rivet of my jeans or a belt buckle is worrisome.
The iPad's smooth and easy setup
Setting up an iPad is very simple: Plug it into a Mac or PC running iTunes. Once it's detected, a registration function runs and sets it up. From there, it's just a matter of syncing whatever media you like to the device. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, their applications will be automatically transferred to the iPad. The rest of the sync process is identical to other Apple mobile devices, with the addition of the Books section for e-books. iTunes also handles syncing of email accounts, so within minutes everything I needed was on the iPad and I was ready to go.
I did some testing with Microsoft Exchange email accounts, and like the iPhone, the iPad had no trouble connecting to an Exchange Server 2003 instance. It's not clear yet whether Apple's enterprise deployment facilities for the iPad match those for the iPhone, but since the devices run essentially the same core operating system, I would be surprised if they don't. My preliminary testing shows that a configuration profile generated by the latest version (2.2) of Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility will import into an iPad, but the scope of this support has yet to be fully determined. Supporting items such as remote wipe and corporate policies is fairly mandatory for a device like this, so I would hope it's all there.
Also as with the iPhone, VPN connections are supported using the same basic connection profiles. If you have successfully connected an iPhone to your corporate VPN, you shouldn't have any problems connecting with an iPad.
iPad apps, apps, and more apps
The big apps available for the iPad are Apple's Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentation app. These are not analogs of their Mac OS X counterparts; they've been completely re-engineered for the iPad. It takes some time to figure out their minimalist interfaces, but once you grok their layouts, they are quite usable. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote can import Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats, respectively, but only Pages can save Microsoft-formatted documents. In addition to their native formats, each can also export PDF versions. At $9.99 per app, the suite costs less than $30.
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