Apple iPad Review: The Tablet Revolution Begins

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Apple ships the iPad today with iPhone OS 3.2, a slightly overhauled version of the iPhone OS 3.1.3 that's available now for iPhone and iPod touch devices. It's the same operating system that you've grown to know on the iPhone, but with more pixels behind it and a faster processor running the show. In a sense, we like this approach. Any iPhone or iPod touch user will feel immediately familiar with the OS, and new users are generally able to "get it" within 10-15 minutes of toying around. It's a pretty simple OS to understand, particularly when you consider that only a single app can be run at a time (iPod functions notwithstanding).


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It ships with most of the same applications as existing iPhones, but a few changes are made. There's no built-in Weather app  and the Settings app is far more robust. There's also no "Phone" app, for obvious reasons. You can fit a grand total of six icons on the bottom now, and each "page" can hold four icons in a row and 5 in a column (from a vertical standpoint). It's really easy to get the hang of, but it doesn't offer much variety for existing iPhone users. The built-in on-screen keyboard is also tweaked somewhat, and it expands out when the iPad is flipped horizontally in order to create what's essentially a netbook-sized keyboard, and one that is extremely easy to type on (more on that soon).


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It's worth mentioning now that iPhone OS 4.0 has been let out of the bag, and we're expecting to learn more about what it can do this Thursday(4/7). For now, though, iPhone OS 3.2 is what you get, and we have to think that what's to come will remove some of our main software gripes. The biggest is the lack of true multi-tasking; it's impossible to stream music from Pandora, have an IM window open and surf in Safari in OS 3.2, though with this much CPU power, we're pretty sure it could handle all three at the same time. The fact is, the iPad's existing OS isn't very revolutionary or compelling at all; it's just a tweaked version of what's on the iPhone today. But iPhone OS 4.0 could be an entirely different beast, and we speak for all existing owners when we say that we're hoping for enhanced functionality and more freedom to really tax the 1GHz A4 chip that Apple chose to slot within.


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As for accessories, Apple is one of the kings, though most of them you'll have to pay for. The standard package includes the iPad, an AC power brick (with a USB socket on it), a USB-to-Dock Connector cable and a very small user guide (the full one is only available online as a giant PDF) with two Apple stickers. That's all the help you'll get from Apple. If you want to play video out onto a TV, there's an optional adapter for that. If you want to import photos directly from a camera or SD card, there's a $29 adapter bundle for that. Need protection? Apple sells a $40 case that doubles as a kickstand, but a million other accessory makers will probably offer superior solutions soon. Apple doesn't even include a set of token white earbuds, so private listeners will have to bring their own. The main accessory we recommend buying is a case, particularly one that covers the fragile metal edges well. We learned the hard way by bumping into a table's edge and finding two small indentions in our iPad--ouch.

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