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The iPad Report Card

By Paul O'Reilly

The iPad is here and first indications are that it got off to a great start, with Apple selling over 300,000 units across the U.S. last Saturday, its first day of availability. In a weekend press release, Apple claimed iPad owners downloaded over a million applications from its App Store and more than 250,000 electronic books.

But it's still hard to get a consistent read on the iPad. Reviewers are decidedly mixed when it comes to Steve Jobs' claim that it's a "game changer", and emerging reports of poor Wi-Fi connectivity by some iPad owners have done nothing to alter opinions that it's a device waiting for improvement.

So, after five days of use, what do people like about the iPad and in which areas does it disappoint? Here is The Online Mom's early report card:

4 – exceeds expectations
First and foremost, the iPad is a fabulous on-the-go media player and entertainment system. If you're into anytime, anywhere movies, photos, games and apps, then the iPad is definitely for you. Its 10-inch screen is ideal for two people to watch at the same time and generates none of the eye-fatigue you get watching movies on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Plus, the battery life (10 hours+) makes it ideal for long trips and plane rides.

The iPad also represents a serious challenge to the burgeoning e-reader market. Not only can you download Apple's iBook e-reader app, but you can also access Kindle's app for the iPad, with Barnes & Noble and others sure to follow. The iPad's widescreen format allows you to view two pages at a time and the page-turning touchscreen software is a joy to use.

3 – meets expectations   

There is a lot about the iPad that meets expectations but doesn't exactly blow you away. Some people have raved about its e-mail handling, but there's nothing here that a netbook or regular laptop can't do.

The iPad was never touted as an office or productivity tool but a number of users have found that it performs basic work functions surprisingly well, with the on-screen keyboard proving to be responsive and easy-to-use.

However, one drawback for those with work on their minds is the lack of multitasking functionality (see below). Plus, consumers need to know that it doesn't come pre-loaded with any office programs. Pages, Numbers and Keynote (the Mac equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint) can be downloaded for $9.99 each.

2 – below expectations    

Surprisingly, there have been a number of complaints about the iPad's screen. Not about the size and picture quality, which are exceptional, but about the glare and difficulty of viewing the screen in any kind of sunlight. For a device that's main attraction is its portability, this is a serious drawback.

Consumers and reviewers have also complained about the fingerprint problem that inevitably comes with a mouse-free, touchscreen-only device. If you are looking at the screen in poor light or watching a dark background, the iPad's surface is a sea of smudges and requires constant cleaning.

The lack of any multitasking ability is also a drawback. If you want to look at photos or play a game, then you no longer have access to the browser or any other applications. It's also impossible to say, stream music and read an e-book, something that the cheapest netbook will effortlessly allow. This multitasking problem is likely to be resolved with future releases of the operating software but, for now, it's a big issue.

There is also clearly some buyers' remorse from those customers that have stumped up $500+ for the current Wi-Fi-only model, only to find that they cannot access the Internet outside their own home or office. That has a huge knock-on effect, disabling essential on-the-go functions like Maps and Weather.

1 – far below expectations

Although consumers were well aware in advance that the iPad came without certain basic applications – phone, camera, ability to play Flash video – their absence still disappoints. If any device was perfect for video conferencing, it would be the iPad.

Similarly, the stand-alone nature of the iPad is more than frustrating. There are no USB ports, so it's impossible to sync the device with a camera, printer, memory stick, disc drive or any other kind of peripheral.
One other factor that has to be taken into consideration is price. Although $499 as a starting point seems reasonable, that's just for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model. The 64GB 3G model, which will be available later this month, comes in at a whopping $829, before the cost of a data plan. Compare that to Acer's state-of-the-art  Aspire One 532h 250GB netbook, which retails for just $350.

There's no doubt that the iPad's price will come down – the original iPhone cost $600 and now sells for as little as $199 – and the functionality will improve as Apple closely monitors customer feedback. But for now, the iPad's overall evaluation falls somewhere between a 2 and a 3, with a generous marker awarding the higher grade!

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