Here comes TechEye's appallingly late iPad review

About a year on from the iPad’s original release and TechEye is late off the mark. We’ve finally, finally, finally had a chance to play at length on Apple’s shiny luxury gizmo. Everything you need to know about the iPad is out there online already, and chances are if you’re any sort of news punter you’ve read opinions on the thing, mostly fawning. We won’t be able to tell you anything new, but – biting the bullet – we have to admit that we like it. 

First impressions are of a speedy user interface which will be familiar to anyone who has played with an iPhone and very cool innards which quickly figure out whichever way you’re holding it. The 64GB Wi-Fi model feels weighty in a nice way – lighter than a netbook but heavy enough to make it feel like a real product. Whether you’re aware of the Bill of Materials or not the product is designed to handle expensively. Unlike the unwieldy netbook which finds itself in a laptop bag along with other assorted bits and pieces like cables and hastily folded scraps of paper, you feel almost hesitant to take it anywhere without a case.  

The panel sitting at the front is clear, bright. pleasing and the prospect of cracking it is terrifying. Crispier than Gary Linnekar’s heavily comp’d crisp cupboards and the kind of quality that is giving rivals and netbook manufacturers the shakes. 

The design is superb but then that’s what Apple is known for – branding products in an appealing way to the average consumer. And beyond anything we have to suggest that this is the only market, save a few professional graphic artists or similar, that will truly benefit from an iPad. Even then the benefits are unclear.

There was a recent survey that suggested your average computer user is a couch potato. Tweeting and Facebook use shoots up when in front of the telly, casual surfing is king. This is where the iPad really shines. Rather than sitting at a computer and craning your neck to see Simon Cowell bellow approval or denial on the X Factor you’ve got something sitting in your lap that you can easily dip in and out of, during the ad breaks or otherwise.

The iPad is the new coffee table book and a true laptop rolled into one. As in you can put it on your lap. 

What can you do with it? At the same time, a lot and not much. It really depends what capacity you need mobile computing for. If it’s in any traditional professional role, forget about it. There are keyboards you can buy for the iPad, as well as portable speakers, which as far as we’re concerned defeats the purpose of a tablet computer.

Writing an article on this thing would be an utter nightmare: the iOS auto-correct is notoriously unintentionally funny or it’s downright terrible. Navigating back to a typo is painful without backspacing your way through: bad for copy editing. Office tools on the device aren’t great. 

Pulling the thing from your coffee table and starting up Google Earth is swift and frankly very cool.

There’s a lot of software you can show off to friends that is impressive. Instant stand-out apps include Shazam, already available on a multitude of different kit, which can understand and track down whichever song happens to be on. Virtuoso is the piano app you see in all of the iPad adverts – one of the “iPad is” bits between “magical” and something else – that while incredibly simple, the addition of a clear screen and touch turns it into a fun toy to screw around with. Shopping is made easier – clear winners being the eBay and Rightmove applications – transforming clunky web pages into an intuitive and fun way to browse and buy, or more accurately, consume, consume, consume. 

Meanwhile there are apps like Soundrop and Beatwave that let you tinker around with sound and visuals at once. Again they’re fantastic to show off your shiny new toy but they’re essentially pointless. Something that goes against the grain is Amplitube which has received rave reviews from musicians – hook your guitar up with the iPad and you have a powerful mixing desk on a touch screen. 

Sketchbook Pro, for a miserly amount, will let you draw on your fancy rectangle.

As for reading and the future of publishing: magazines are much the same as their physical, older brothers but with high definition screens and embeddable videos. The Times, which has most of its eggs in the iPad basket, is not revolutionising journalism with a digital focus. Actually, contrary to other apps, reading a newspaper feels clumsier than turning pages. The bonus is with applications like The Guardian’s Eyewitness, which brings you a stunning slice of HD photojournalism every day. 

For workers who need to access content on their PC, LogMeIn Pro helps you connect remotely: but the application’s popularity goes further to prove that the iPad is an intermediary, more of a remote control than a production engine: great for email but not for work. That’s TechEye’s official position on the first generation iBad – UK councillors skavving the device as a laptop replacement beware. 

So far, so fun. As the IT industry at least in the consumer space moves towards connectivity it appears the tablet PC could be the missing link between devices – not quite a smartphone and not quite a computer, instead straddling the line between the two. Mostly useless but engaging anyway. 

In the month I have been toying with mine it has got a lot of use. And I mean a lot. Where and how it got used is a different matter: ad breaks on the TV means having a quick go on Fruit Ninja HD and, yes, Angry Birds. Games actually lend themselves very well to touchscreen tablets – the reemergence of the point and click adventure game being a case in point. A remixed Broken Sword and Monkey Island are popular on the slate because you can touch and it works. Not cumbersome at all.

It’s very hard to justify the £700.00 price tag for something that is steamrolling into homes across the world as, essentially, a vehicle for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It is also hard to predict where tablets are going from here. We are aware that the iPad 2 is looming somewhere on the horizon and it’ll probably go that extra mile, meaning you can do more, none of it particularly useful. Every consumer electronics manufacturer wants you to buy their tablet and we’ll bet they’ll get their way for a time.

Anecdotally it is a popular device among friends. You show it off and they want to hog it. TechEye found itself lazing about one evening, iPad in tow, casually sweeping between the different pages with small finger swipes because it’s tactile, not really doing anything: only just about more active than rotting in front of Countdown. 

What is fantastic is that it is easy to use and we suspect the other tablets that follow will take a similar route, encouragingly simple designs and for the layman, less technological options to toy with but more toys with more options. This is the tablet’s key strength and weakness. They are simple and there are developers building interesting out-of-the-box content, as well as creative professionals doing the same for advertising or otherwise. You can pull up a Google search in seconds but for the day-to-day you can’t do much more, yet, than the basics.

We can see it having a use in the educational space and we’ve heard kids love it too. The colourful nature of using the iPad, we’re told by a former professional in the industry, means it would be perfect for adult classes for those with learning difficulties – and it probably has a space in music and art therapy as well.

The iPad hypnotises you into thinking it’s better than it is by its nature.

Tablet computing so far seems to be the realm of the bored, ADHD electronics that demand and deliver quick fixes when you need them. The novelty still hasn’t worn off and we definitely want to keep it.

We’re just not sure why. 

*EyeSee Many thanks to Expansys which flogs iPad deals along with stuff such as high end laptops and pre-emptively sells the Motorola Xoom in the UK