After the Hype
iPad launched with typical Apple fanfare. Now that it’s not the next big thing, it’s time for a second look to see if it’s still a big deal
From the Print Edition:
Adrien Brody, September/October 2010
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If your primary interest is reading electronic books, newspapers and magazines, Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony's Reader lines all start at less than $200 after recent price cuts. They are smaller and lighter than an iPad, though much more limited in function. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble actually offer free iPad apps that let you shop the same book collection as their dedicated devices, a major boon to iPad buyers who would otherwise be limited to the smaller selection in Apple's own iBook library.
The screen technology, though, is still a major point of differentiation. Books look great on an iPad screen, with sharp text, color illustrations and even a two-page horizontal display. Some complain that the backlit display tires your eyes, but dimming the iPad screen eases that. Still iPad's highly reflective surface makes it nearly impossible to use outdoors, where dedicated devices work perfectly.
For communication purposes, a large-screen smart phone will deliver practical versions of many iPad Internet-based activities, along with the must-have ability to make calls, in a single device. This is particularly true of Android-based phones-the sheer number of iPhone/iPad compatible applications is higher, but the Android market is well stocked, growing rapidly and more open than Apple's company-controlled selection.
I've taken the HTC EVO 4G for an extended test run, and while far from perfect, it highlights the potential of Android-powered devices. Web pages aren't as big and readable as on the iPad, but especially when you are holding the device horizontally, surfing is pleasing on the 4.7-inch touchscreen. The same goes for reading electronic books, and showing off photos works well (with the same kind of pinch-zoom capability you'll find on the iPad). Flash support wasn't available for the EVO when I reviewed it, but it's promised for the next revision of the operating system, which may well be available by the time you read this.
The EVO 4G battery life can't match the iPad, and games aren't as much fun on the small screen. The 4G online connection speed is much faster than the 3G iPad, but I can't swear to the practical effect since, as in most of the country, my area has no 4G coverage. Still, the EVO 4G is far more portable than the iPad, costs just $200 versus at least $500 and most importantly, replaces the phone I have to carry.
The other key comparison case is a netbook or ultraportable laptop computer. What's the difference between a "netbook" and a "laptop"? It's a fuzzy line, but basically a netbook is a small, inexpensive, low-power laptop. One of the best I've tried is the Toshiba Mini NB305, a Windows 7-powered netbook for about $350. It has a 10.1-inch screen, a comfortable keyboard, a capacious 250-gigabyte hard drive, myriad connectivity options, including USB and Ethernet, and a real-world battery life of about eight hours. For about a pound's more heft than the iPad, while investing $150 less, you have a typing-friendly device compatible with all the business software you need and nearly all your entertainment needs. The "nearly" caveat comes from video playback. While the NB305 is compatible with Flash, high-quality video streaming is too much to ask from the system's low-power processor.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t is another 10.1-inch netbook, but this time the screen is touch-sensitive, and what's more, can be pivoted around and folded down over the keyboard to work as a tablet. The screen size is nearly the same as the iPad, though lower-resolution, and offers the same type of finger-controlled navigation and pinch-directed zoom. The price is about $100 higher than the Toshiba netbook, and the hinged screen adds some bulk. Weight is about the same, but the battery is smaller.
For the sake of apples-to-Apples comparisons, we won't linger long over ultraportable laptops-the iPad starts at $499 and tops out at $829, the ultraportables laptops I feel good recommending run $1,600 and up. Still, you do get what you pay for with a premium laptop. The beautiful Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS, for example, weighs just 3 pounds complete with a 13.1-inch screen, a fast processor and DVD drive. It can run all your productivity software plus Web- and disc-based entertainment of all sorts. Given my choice of hitting the road with an iPad or the VAIO, it's no contest. In fact, my five-year-old Fujitsu Lifebook ultraportable, still chugging away with Windows XP and an antique microprocessor, is still a more useful device on the road than an iPad.
The Product vs. the Hype
At this point, Apple loyalists no doubt have branded me the worst kind of infidel. But the fact is, I'm not an iPad hater-I'm a hype hater. The iPad is an impressive piece of engineering, a fun device to own, with an easy user interface.
But contrary to so much I've read and heard, I don't believe it's the beginning of a new era in computing. It replaces nothing, except maybe possibly the most low-intensity laptop. It can't do anything not already possible without an iPad.
If you like what it does, and feel the price is reasonable based on your budget, by all means buy an iPad and enjoy it. But on the other hand, there is not a single substantial task you can't perform without one, and failing to send your cash to Cupertino will not leave you hopelessly behind the curve technologically.
The best use I've come up with to date for the iPad, based on months of hands-on use, is a digital marital aid. No, not that kind of marital aid. But if your spouse insists on watching something awful on television, you can still cozy up on the couch together, happily Web surfing or playing pinball on your iPad while "Wife Swap" or "Entertainment Tonight" unspools on the HDTV. I'm just not sure this adds up to "a truly magical and revolutionary product," as that other Steve insists.
Steve Morgenstern is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
Comments 2 comment(s)
Chris A — February 10, 2011 3:45am ET
Rick.firstname.lastname@example.org — April 11, 2012 10:14am ET
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