Hands on with the iPad: First impressions

We took possession of an iPad Thursday morning, and for the last few hours we’ve been poring over it, taking photos and screen shots, trying out accessories, and tapping through every app on the device. There's been a lot of interest from the creative community in the iPad as a digital sketchbook -- as evidenced by two of the first iPad-specific apps launched being precisedly that: Adobe Ideas and an iPad version of Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro.

But first we'll take an overall look at the iPad. We’ve got a long way to go and a whole lot of questions to answer. But here’s a quick take with some initial thoughts on this new device.

Meet the iPad

First, the screen: It’s big and bright, with vibrant colors that can really take your breath away. When we launched the third-party Epicurious app, the bright red splash screen was shocking; the colors on the in-beta Marvel Comics app were similarly impressive. The iPad’s screen doesn’t feel like a laptop screen ripped away from its keyboard; it definitely feels more like a big iPhone screen. In a good way.

Email on the iPad

People who say the iPad is dumb because it’s just a big iPhone are missing the point—that expanded real estate changes everything. Instead of having to go the iPhone route and cram everything into a series of back-and-forth, drill-down-then-pull-back-up screen stacks, iPad apps have room to breathe. Many of them display a split-view in landscape mode, with content on the right and an index of items in a column on the left.

The new “popover” interface convention and added items on toolbars increase functionality in a way that wouldn’t have made sense—and wouldn’t have fit—on an iPhone or iPod touch.

The device itself feels really fast. There are no delays when panning and zooming, even though you’re moving around lots more pixels than on the iPhone or iPod touch. Running Safari is a real joy, because you can pan and zoom with ease.

Accessorizing the iPad

It’s hard to say what it will be like to use the device for an extended period of time, since we’ve only had it a few hours and have been passing it back and forth a bit. What I’ve picked up so far is that getting the iPad in the right position for watching a movie or typing is key, and it might mean that having a case for your iPad will be far more critical than having an iPhone case.

For example, a case can give your iPad a slight incline in your lap so that it’s a bit easier for you to see and to type on. On a table, too, a little bit of an incline—or a dock!—helps a lot.

Attaching the iPad to Apple’s Keyboard Dock proved that you can type at full speed and the Notes app won’t bat an eye. The Keyboard Dock is surprisingly heavy—presumably because it needs to counterbalance the iPad so it doesn’t fall over!

Pairing the iPad to a Bluetooth keyboard was also easy. We tried the Apple Wireless Keyboard as well as a MacAlly Bluetooth keyboard; both paired immediately and were just as responsive as the Keyboard Dock (although they’re missing the iPad-specific special-function keys of the Keyboard Dock; we’ll get into that more in an upcoming article on iPad accessories).

Once again, though, you need to make sure your iPad’s on an incline somewhere or you won’t be able to see what you’re typing. iPad cases, mounts, and the like are going to be a huge market.

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