The Apple iPad: Lightning Strikes Cupertino Again

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the point of a good science book? (“The Elements” is the most expensive app I’ve ever purchased, at $14.99, but if you think of it as an interactive book, rather than an app, it doesn’t seem like so much.)

Details

It’s easy to get lost in all of the iPad’s great software and content, but the device is also a physical machine, a thing that you have to hold onto and carry around. I can’t close a review of the iPad without sharing my impressions on a few of the hardware details.

Ergonomics. I won’t mince words: The iPad is surprisingly heavy. It’s so heavy that no one is going to want to hold it in one hand for very long. I’m sure Apple did what it could to hold the device’s weight down, but when you put together a big slab of glass, a big chunk of aluminum, and a big battery, you wind up with something that weighs 1.5 pounds. That’s noticeably heavier than a hardcover book or a Kindle reading device, and it can wear out your fingers pretty fast.

In practical terms, this means that if you intend to use the iPad for any length of time, you have to find a perch for it. I’ve been putting mine on the padded lap table that I bought years ago for my laptop. That works pretty well, except that I wind up bending my neck to stare down at the gadget. Don’t be surprised if reports start to surface over the next few weeks about “iPad neck” and “iPad pinky.”

Battery life. It’s long. So long that it’s a non-issue. After a full day of use, my iPad still has 25 percent of its juice left. You just need to charge it overnight, and you’re good to go. One warning, though: this thing takes a lot longer to charge up than an iPhone. In my tests it took about three hours to go from a 10 percent charge to 100 percent.

Wi-Fi versus 3G. The 3G version of the iPad won’t be out until late April. I’ve already ordered one, because the device is far less useful when it’s offline, and I know I will want to use it in places where there will be no guarantee of finding a Wi-Fi network. I’m also a map lover—someone called me a “cartogeek” this week—and I really want GPS capability, which is missing from the Wi-Fi iPads. But my guess is that most people will use their iPads either at home or at the office, where they will have network access, and that they’ll be happy with the Wi-Fi-only version.

So save yourself $129, not to mention the AT&T data charges, and go get one of the existing models. Unless, of course, you are so patient that you can wait for the next version of the iPad—which will undoubtedly be cheaper and lighter and even faster and may have a few of the features, such as a camera, that Apple left out of the first version. I won’t think any less of you if you wait. In fact, I will sort of envy you. It’s a hard life, being an alpha geek.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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