I've had the iPad now for a month, and thought I would give some general impressions for those who have not yet been blessed with the addition of one to their family. People ask me how I like my iPad and the answer is always that I love all my children equally: the bio-kids and the silicon.
But how does it really fit into my life? Does it really fill that legendary niche betwixt the laptop and the smartphone? Read on and learn:
The iPad is more mobile than my laptop. It's got a bit of heft to it (surprisingly) but its 1.5 lbs is notably lighter than the 5.6 lbs my Macbook sports. This does make it easier to throw in the car to take to the bus stop while I wait for the school bus, or to take to the coffee shop, or even to sit on the couch with my wife while she watches reality TV. This portability has encouraged me to take it places and use it in times which would otherwise have been latent. In the past I might have used my iPhone in some of these settings, but the iPad is clearly the better choice when it's available. (A friend joked: "what the hell did people do with a free 90 seconds prior to 1998? Seriously, why didn't they all just kill themselves?") Also, in cramped environments, like an airline seat, the iPad will fit so so much better than a laptop that it's not even close. I may never travel with a laptop again.
It's fast, almost shockingly so. Apps open and close briskly and there is almost never a lag that is not network-induced. This also makes me less bothered by the temporary lack of multitasking. When I have to switch back and forth between apps, it's brisk enough that it's comparable to swapping windows. Network speeds are also not an issue. On my home network I get 5 Mpbs wi-fi. I held out for the 3G version and am glad I did. I don't use the 3G that often, as I travel infrequently and am usually in range of some hotspot, but when I want it I am glad it is there. AT&T's network performance is actually very good where I live and I have had no reason to complain about the connectivity. I got the cheapo data plan and have not made much of a dent towards my limit. Seriously, you could easily get the wi-fi only, save $130 and never really know the difference.
Battery life is also amazing. When they said ten hours, I think they may have understated the performance. I charge it every three or four days, which is unheard of for a gadget in my experience. It's been widely commented on elsewhere but it's also worth mentioning that the screen is bright and vivid and quite beautiful.
The iPad is durable -- Number One Son dropped it from a height of about three feet to a hardwood floor. It impacted on the corner and does not have as much as a scratch on it. The polished aluminum back is a bit slippery and I recommend a case of some sort. I got the Apple-branded case but I do not like it. It's got a great feature in that it props up the iPad for viewing and typing, but the quality feels a little cheap and the iPad is really difficult to get in and out. This matters because if you have a dock or keyboard you need to remove the iPad from its case in order to connect it. I have ordered a Dodo Case and am eagerly awaiting its delivery.
The on-screen keyboard is tolerable. I can type quickly in landscape configuration, and the auto-correct feature is amazing. The biggest problem is the space bar which I often miss resultingbinvweird typos like those. Auto-correct doesn't fix those. In portrait layout it's a two-finger hunt & peck. I splurged on the Apple Keyboard and am really happy I did. If I am going to do "real work" on the iPad I use the keyboard, and it is a thing of beauty. It's solid and has the same wonderful short-travel keys I have gotten used to from other Apple products and at the same time can charge the iPad. In fact, I keep the keyboard on a side bar in the living room, and put the iPad in it when not in use. It gets a charge and doubles as a really cool picture frame at the same time.
The built-in apps are spectacular, especially if you already own a mac. The integration between your mac apps and the iPad is amazing. The iCal schedule interface is the best I have ever come across in a mobile platform, and the contacts auto-update across my desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad. It's a thing of beauty. My Exhange calendar also is viewable on the iPad calendar, and I can subscribe to friends' published calendars to see what they are up to. The Mail app also works flawlessly for me. I generally leave the iPad on my nightstand and check mail first thing in the morning when I get up. All my photos are there (I just selected the ones I rated, the best of the 19,000 images in my iPhoto library) and all my music, videos and podcasts are there.
Safari also feels much better on the iPad than the iPhone. The bigger screen and faster rendering makes the browser feel more or less equivalent to a desktop, in a more portable package.
I've read a few e-books now and am happy with both the iBooks reader and the Amazon Kindle app. iBooks has a slightly nicer interface, including a dimming option for when I read in bed with my wife sleeping, but the Kindle store has a much much better selection.
As far as content consumption goes, iPad is king. Surfing, listening, reading, watching: they all rock. Content creation, however, is another matter.
As an email/note-taking/document creation platform it is good -- as long as you have a keyboard. I simply can't type fast enough to really create with the on-screen keyboard. So if I'm taking the iPad to a meeting or to actually get something done, I schlep along the keyboard as a necessary accessory. I've heard the Bluetooth keyboard is nice, but I haven't tried it: it does strike me as more portable. It's also weird to have a keyboard and no mouse. You're typing along and you want to select something and you reach for the mouse and belatedly realize that you need to reach upto the screen. After doing that half a dozen times you start to feel stupid. This is not the iPad's fault. But 20 years of habit is hard to break. The Apple Pages application is really nice. I would generally prefer to work in an environment I'm more familiar with, but I really appreciated the elegant touches and functionality that Apple put into Pages. I have not yet had occasion to try out the Keynote or Numbers apps.
As a blogging platform, it hasn't panned out (so far). There is only one iPad app which works with the blogger platform, and it underwhelms. It posts fine, and you can add photos (woo hoo) but the text editor is nonexistent and there is no html editing ability, meaning you can't add links. So it's basically useless. I've put up some posts through blogger's page on Safari but that also is painful. I assume and hope that this deficit will be remedied in time, but for now the iPad is not a viable blogging platform for me.
I'll post some more soon about the apps I have found essential so far. The bottom-line summary is that since I got the iPad -- a whole month -- I think I have touched my laptop twice. That's unprecedented for me. I am not sure the iPad will actually replace it, and definitely would not if I were a road warrior who needed to do serious creative work on the road. But if nothing else the iPad will defer replacements and upgrades to the laptop for quite a while I expect. The knock on the iPad has been that it's just a big iPhone that doesn't make calls; I think critics have the relationship backwards. An iPhone is just a crippled iPad that is able to make calls. The iPad is the flagship device in my family now and the iPhone is just the one we use when I can't get at my iPad. It may or may not be right for you, but for me and for our family the iPad has been a perfect fit.