Apple iPad full review - Page 2

We also got a chance to play with an app making its debut on the iPad – iBooks. Combined with Apple’s new iBookstore, iBooks is Apple’s answer to the Kindle or any other ebook reader – you’ll be able to purchase and download books to the iPad and read them using the iBooks app. Book pages have a depth to them, with shadows that mimic the curve of pages protruding from the spine and more. The text was clear and the spacing between lines was wide enough that it seems like it will be comfortable for extended reading (although, for some reason, all the text was justified to stretch across the whole screen). There were also two buttons in the upper-right corner when reading a book. One brings up a menu that lets you increase or decrease the font size of your text as well as choose from several different display fonts. The other button, a Spotlight-like magnifying glass that’s theoretically meant for initiating search capabilities, wasn’t working on the units we tested. You navigate through pages by tapping on the left or right side of the screen, or can drag your finger as if turning a page on a real book to ‘flip’ from one page to the next.

We tried a few iPhone apps on the iPad, as well, and they worked just fine. You have two choices when running iPhone apps on the iPad: first, you can run them “actual size,” as a pixel-for-pixel match for the iPhone’s screen. In this mode, the iPad screen goes black, and the app runs in the center of the screen, surrounded by the image of a bezel that shows you where the iPhone screen border would be. To be honest, it’s a really weird experience, and it’s kind of a pain to have to reach all the way to the center of the iPad in order to tap.

If you prefer, you can tap the small 2X button in the bottom-right corner of the screen, at which point the iPad will double the size of the app. This scale-up basically doubles every pixel on the screen, so what you end up with is a somewhat chunky, blocky version of the iPhone app. And at iPad sizes, all the interface elements on iPhone apps are enormous. You start to feel like you actually are using an oversized novelty iPhone.

Neither approach is likely to be good for many uses other than gaming. Developers of iPhone apps will want to download that new software-development kit and get those iPad versions ready for the product’s release in late March.

All in all, the iPad impressed us with its speed and fluidity. Using Safari was a pleasure, not just because it was fast, but because the screen’s so big that it loads full-size web pages (as opposed to simplified, mobile-ready versions) like you’re used to seeing on a computer. Many of the other apps impressed us with their graphic richness and attention to detail. Yes, this product is still 60 days away from shipping to customers and we did find a few rough edges that we hope will be smoothed out, but overall we were impressed by just how deep and refined the iPad apps were.

Judge an iPad by its cover

During his presentation, Steve Jobs talked about three accessories that Apple was going to make available for the iPad: a charging dock, a dock/keyboard combo, and a protective case. At the back of the demo area, there was a row of Keyboard Docks – basically a modern Apple USB keyboard grafted onto the front of an iPad dock. Because of the size of the iPad, the combo doesn’t look as ridiculous as, say, an iPhone would connected to the same keyboard.

The $70 (UK price TBC) Keyboard Dock is an interesting beast. The location of the iPad’s dock-connector port means that you’ll have to dock it in portrait mode. The keyboard has no function keys, per se, but instead the top row is populated by keys that perform certain tasks on the iPad. There’s a Home key, which automatically takes you back to the home screen. Unfortunately, it’s placed in the same location as the Escape key on Mac keyboards, meaning that if you reflexively hit Escape on your Mac – to cancel out of a dialog box, for example – you are going to find yourself exiting to the home screen a bit more often than you’d like. The other keys are Spotlight (which takes you to the Spotlight screen), Brightness up and down, Slideshow, Keyboard (which, confusingly, appears to slide the virtual keyboard up and down), a set of music playback controls like those on Mac keyboards, and Lock (which locks your iPad).

The keyboard dock comes with control, option, and command keys as well – and yes, they do seem to work in various iPad apps. Presumably iPad app developers can bind keyboard shortcuts to certain actions, which will mean that keyboard power-users should be able to use keyboard shortcuts to perform some tasks that they might otherwise need to reach up to the iPad screen to perform. That’s good, because shifting between keyboard-typing mode and touchscreen-tapping mode is actually quite annoying. At the moment, using the iPad’s interface via the keyboard felt incomplete – certain interface elements were just not accessible using the keyboard –but as the device is still two months away from shipping, Apple still has time to work out the kinks.

While at the event, we confirmed with several Apple spokespeople that Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard will also work with the iPad. So if you’d prefer to use some other sort of stand or dock, but still type on your iPad, you’ll be able to.

Apple's iPad case

We also saw – and got to handle – some iPads housed in Apple’s own $40 (UK price TBC) iPad case. The case itself seemed like it was made out of vinyl with a soft-touch finish, and has cutouts to expose the various ports and buttons on the outside of the iPad. What’s cool about it is that the case is designed to not only protect the iPad, but also to prop it up in various ways to make the iPad easier to watch or use. Flip the front all the way around and you’ve got a stand that holds the iPad upright in landscape mode, so you can watch a movie, for example, without having to hold it for extended periods of time. Or tip it over and you end up with a wedge that elevates the back to make on-screen typing a tad more ergonomic. As nice a case as it is, we’ll wager that by the time the iPad ships, every iPod and iPhone accessory company you’ve heard of (and a hundred more you haven’t) will have created alternatives, many of them cheaper. (In fact, we’ve already seen several press releases from companies announcing upcoming iPad accessories including cases, so stay tuned.)

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