Apple iPad Review: The Tablet Revolution Begins

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Pre-Installed Applications

As we mentioned a little earlier in the review, Apple's iPad ships with iPhone OS 3.2. This OS includes only a handful of applications from the start, which we'll touch on more here. These are important for two reasons: one, you cannot remove them from your iPad. They're on the screen whether you like them or not. So it's obviously better if they work well and you do indeed like them. The second is that Apple has been fairly strict about passing apps through the App Store that "replicate" the functionality in any of the built-in apps. Of course, a few Weather apps have slid through even though a "Weather app" ships on iPhones (but curiously not on the iPad), but this rule is why Opera is having such an impossible time getting Opera for iPhone approved and listed on the App Store.

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We're saving Safari (easily the most instrumental integrated app) for a dedicated piece later in the review (as well as Mail, the second most important), but we'll start with the newly tweaked Calendar app. On the surface, this app looks exactly like the iPhone version, but once you mash the icon, you're presented with something totally new and different. Rather than getting a small, bunched up view of your day, week or month, the iPad calendar opens up much like a book or day planner, with your detailed list of appointments on the left and an "all-day" view on the right. Icons up top allow you to switch from day view to week, month or list view, and a scrolling bar across the bottom lets you move from one day to the next or back/forward a month. It's a cinch to Sync with your Mac calendar app through iTunes, or you can sync with your Google calendars by creating an Exchange account. We tested both, and both worked well. Though, we were forced to use a quirky workaround with Gcals in order to add more than one; we suspect Google is on the case and will have this fixed in a jiffy, as the iPhone can already add/sync multiple Gcals within the phone's Calendar app.

Onto Photos. This app is another one that's much improved from the iPhone version. In fact, it looks a lot more like the Mac desktop version of iPhoto, showing images by Album, Person or Place, and enabling users to expand stacks of pictures with a multi-touch gesture and flick through them easily. There's also a very slick Slideshow function that uses a gorgeous Origami transition that we haven't seen replicated elsewhere. This could definitely double as a digital photo frame if you needed it to thanks to the fantastic slideshow options.

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The iPod app is a no-brainer for Apple to include, but rather than shoehorn the iPhone/iPod touch version in, Apple did a number on this one to make better use of the extra screen space. As with Photos, this iPod app looks a lot like the Mac desktop version of iTunes, but without the lag associated with that variant. There's new ways to sort (Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres and Composers), and there's more ways to view album art now. You can also easily see your library and playlists on the left-hand side, and Genius mixes are just a finger tap away. For those unfamiliar with Genius, it intelligently chooses playlists to best fit your listening habits, and in practice, it works really well. This version of the iPod app also supports Sound Check, so your songs have a constant volume throughout, and it's also the lone app that can run in the background while something else is being done.

Now, for the built-in apps with less importance. Contacts is here only to have names, addresses and e-mail addresses on file; there's little need for phone numbers (except for reference) given that no phone functionality is included, but Apple spruced up the app anyway. It now features a 2-page view with an alphabetical list of your contacts on the left and the individual you've selected (along with all of their information) on the right. Unfortunately, you cannot swipe or turn the page with just a multi-touch gesture, and we had this same complaint with the Calendar app. Why can we swipe pages in iBooks, yet we can't on Contacts and Calendar?

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Notes is the basic Word processor (if you'd even call it that) built-in to the iPad, and without it, you'd be forced to shell out money for a paid app to accomplish the same thing. This looks mostly like the iPhone version, but a new list of notes now appears on the left side thanks to the additional screen space. Maps is also familiar, but we found it to work so much better than the iPhone 3G version; even with only Wi-Fi and no A-GPS, our location was picked up within seconds and all of the zoom in/out action was perfectly smooth. No more stuttering when zooming; the iPad is plenty powerful to handle it. It looks gorgeous, and we only wish the Google Maps Navigation turn-by-turn that's available on Android were also available here.

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Videos is a new dedicated hub for purchased movies and TV shows, presumably separate from the iPod app because Apple expects this tablet to be used frequently for media viewing. It's well laid out, and while plain, it definitely gets the job done by showing you exactly what's in your queue. The YouTube app is the YouTube app; you hop in, search, and find something funny to laugh at. There's also shortcuts to Top Rated, Most Viewed, Favorites, Subscriptions and My Videos, not to mention History. Lastly, iTunes and App Store enable you to buy music and apps, respectively. Both have great navigation for a mobile device, though we still strongly prefer the full desktop iTunes versions of both. They'll work in a pinch, but real music and app shopping should be done on a desktop and synced over when possible.

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