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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 27, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Apple iPad: Hands-on first impressions

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SAN FRANCISCO — After spending some time with the long-awaited Apple iPad, I see why it starts at $499.

At that price it seems like a very nice accessory for a wired home, where it would become a shared Web kiosk and media browsing device, tapping into the home’s wireless network.

Instead of waiting to use a shared computer to check e-mail, you could just grab the iPad. Especially one that’s docked with the $69 accessory keyboard, taking the place of iPods that a lot of people keep on the kitchen counter.

It’s also the perfect iPod for middle-aged consumers who may squint at previous iPods’ small screens and have trouble with their small buttons and controls.

The device looks and feels just like a big iPod Touch. It’s solid and smooth, but the bigger expanse of screen had me wondering how well the device would resist being sat upon and dropped off of sofas, where it’s probably going to get most of its use.

The iPad also has a little bit of that “too light to be true” feeling of the MacBook Air — as though you’re holding a piece of glass supported by a few wafers of metal and plastic. The iPhone seems sturdy in comparison.

Younger buyers with an iPhone may wonder what all the fuss is about, and it’s not going to be a must-have device for anyone happy with their iPhone, iPod touch or laptop.

Flicking through photo galleries is fun and pictures look great on the device, although it’s pretty similar to the photo handling applications that come with touchscreen PCs.

Controlling iTunes is nice on the device — so nice I think it’s going to hurt sales of touchscreen media control systems like the Sonos and Logitech’s Duet system. The iPad can function like a remote control for computers running iTunes in the home, but you can’t stream media directly from the device. There are no connectors for plugging one to a TV, although Apple’s offering a VGA adapter intended mostly for business uses, such as making presentations.

Books on the device are pretty to look at and have a high-def, glistening feel. Pages of text are about the size of a mid-size paperback and it’s a breeze to slide your finger across the screen to turn them.

I didn’t have time to immerse myself in a book — there were 20 devices in a room with 250 journalists and analysts at a time jostling to try one — but I wonder if the books are too bright and crisp to comfortably read for a long period of time. The bookshelf interface seemed awfully similar to the Library application built by Seattle’s Delicious Monster software company.

Games were a little underwhelming, but it could be a nice device for casual and social games like “Bejeweled” or digital Scrabble.

Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed” iPhone game looks great when enlarged on the iPad. It has sensitive enough accelerometers to control the racing game by tilting the device, but if I was at home I’d put down the iPad and play the game on a console connected to a TV.

Newspapers on the device are nicer than on a phone or Kindle but pretty similar to how they appear on a computer. The demo units I saw only had papers’ Web pages and not the special iPad versions that the New York Times and others are developing.

The killer iPad application for newspapers may be their puzzle pages. Crosswords, Sudoku and the Jumble will work great on the touchscreen device, especially if they could be zoomed to a larger size for the middle-aged readers thrilled to have an iPod they can use without reading glasses.

Comments | Topics: Apple, apple, iPad

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