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Written on an iPad

Earlier today, I made the mistake of taking the iPad to class as my means of taking notes. I also decided that I would write my first entry of experiences with the actual iPad on the device itself. Until you have spent some time trying to do any kind of serious text entry on the device, you will remain with the romanticized idea that perhaps it is as well-thought-out as the devices it inherits so much from.

The truth is that, at first, the device itself appears to be worth all the hype. The bevel surrounding the screen is not the thick and useless thing that many people seem to think. Rather, it is just the right size to hold the device and to not accidentally touch the area of the screen that has the actual application on it. The device does seems a bit weighty, but it’s made out of metal and not the more typical cheap plastic used in today’s electronics. The speakers are excellent and much louder than you would expect of a device this size. While I do not think that the screen holds up to Apple’s claims to be significantly better than a usual LCD, it is certainly sharp and clear. The viewing angle is a bit better than usual, but the screen is most bright when viewed from straight-on.

The iPad does not just look like a big iPod, but it works like one. This is sometimes a good thing and, sometimes, not so much.

For ease of use, the interface is definitely consistent and familiar. For a device of this size, however, it is far from useful as any kind of a computer replacement. The single-tasking of the operating system is very apparent, with no easy way to “switch” between running “tasks”. For example, if I want to check my email while writing this, I press the button to go back to the main screen, and from there, I can choose an application to open. Although it seems that when clicking on the pages icon that I’ll resume where I was, and the same is true with the web browser, it is soon apparent that this is not because of multitasking.

The applications are designed to appear to go back to where you were working, but glitches like the keyboard disappearing and Gmail immediately going to work to refresh my inbox make it a more cumbersome task than it might otherwise be. All in all, though, I was impressed at how well the device seemed to work – until I tried to be productive in it, by writing this entry.

The keyboard, at first look, is a very simple qwerty board that almost perfectly replicates that of the iPhone type devices. Cool, right? If you’ve used these devices, the keyboard is great, allowing it to be used while held up and pressed with the thumbs. Unfortunately, the keyboard, when used in portrait mode, is small enough that the space bar is conveniently in the area of the least sensitivity. Turning to landscape mode, the keys are larger than those on either my sub-notebook or my netbook. So, unfortunately, you encounter the problem of “Well, how do I type on this thing?” Eventually, I found that hunt-and-peck is still the best method – even when the keyboard takes up nearly half the screen.

I quickly discovered that when it came to productivity, the keyboard was good for a fast reply, but not for extended typing. I developed my own new way to type, and while I was soon comfortable in that area (albeit at a much slower rate than usual), the real hinderance to productivity on the iPad is really the applications.

The iPad does not come with any productivity applications, and the individual ones from Apple cost $9.99 each. The library set me up with Pages, the word processor, for the week, and I am using it to type this review. It was roughly 40 megabytes to install, and while it can apparently read and write multiple document formats, it hardly feels like a word processor. In landscape mode, none of the buttons are available, so I can not even get to features such as bold and italic. I can get to the buttons by switching to portrait mode (with the much smaller keyboard), but I have to pay much more attention to the keyboard. For sure, touch-typing is a thing of the past!

You can style a document reasonably well: changing fonts, adding images and modifying margins, but none are at your fingertips. The Pages application feels like it would be just as at home on the iPod, letting only bold, italic, underline, and justification buttons be one-touch available. Everything else is hidden around in some menu or another, and it takes some definite poking to find them.

So, as my first day with the device draws to a close, I already have a familiarity with it. Though I will see how the week progresses, right now, it still feels like just an over-sized iPod.