Apple iPad Review: The Tablet Revolution Begins

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Safari Performance (And Dealing With No 'Flash')

In order to better quantify just how "fast" web browsing really is on the iPad compared to some other browsing experiences, we put it up against a netbook, a full-sized notebook, a Wi-Fi enabled iPhone 3G and a 3G-enabled iPhone 3G.

These times were what it took the page to fully load, though in most cases everything save for the ads were loaded in a much shorter period of time. We tested each site 10 times and tossed out the outliers while averaging the rest. The numbers speak for themselves; the iPad is just marginally slower than a MacBook Pro with a 2.4GHz CPU and 4GB of RAM, while it was even faster than the pokey S10-3t netbook. It is definitely quick.

A few months ago, we tested out Apple's latest version of Safari on the desktop. We weren't exactly thrilled with the performance, but that's because the desktop version of Safari has real competition to deal with, namely Firefox and Chrome. Both of those browsers were superior in our eyes, and we just generally felt that Safari wasn't quite as fast and responsive and was limited by a lack of available plug-ins and add-ons. Mobile Safari, however, is different. When it launched on the iPhone, it immediately became the best mobile web browser out there. It probably still is, but we don't enjoy the fact that Opera cannot get their rival past the App Store blockade.

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That said, the iPad web surfing experience is truly excellent. It's faster than we ever expected it to be, it's more reliable than we anticipated, and the best part is that it's the real, full Internet. Except for Flash, which we'll touch on momentarily. You really can surf the entire Internet with the iPad's browser, and every single site loads incredibly rapidly. Frankly, it makes the iPhone's version of Mobile Safari look sluggish and behind the times, but that's the advantage of a 1GHz CPU powering things. Even heavy, complex sites like loaded up without a hitch, and our own site looked fantastic. Zooming and clicking on links was super simple, and fonts always re-rendered instantly and never looked fuzzy or distorted.

Mobile Safari simply does a laudable job handling almost anything the Internet throws at it, and many websites are retooling their landing pages to be "iPad-friendly," meaning no Flash. Mobile Safari can play back almost every movie file
except Flash, and we must say, those videos played back seamlessly. We watched a number of clips from ESPN's website, and all loaded promptly and played back smoothly. Scrolling from top to bottom no longer involves that checkerboard loading page seen on the iPhone, and it's really easy to forget you're surfing on a tablet and not a legitimate notebook.

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Entering new URLs is nearly as easy as it could be, though we wish a double-tap in the URL bar would automatically highlight the whole phrase to make deletion easier. Also, Safari itself still isn't compatible with some logins and sites, but those bugs will have to be worked out at a higher level than just the iPad.

So, Mobile Safari works great when it works, but what about the 800-pound gorilla in the room? Adobe's Flash format is not supported, and if you visit a Flash-based site, you'll get a message suggesting that you download and install it. Trouble is, no Flash build is yet available for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, and it doesn't sound like Apple will be caving anytime soon. Now, we're forced to wait as sites scramble to convert from Flash to HTML5, but in the current time, there's not a lot you can do except wait.

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If you browse a lot of Flash-heavy sites, this factoid will probably hinder you from getting an iPad; if not, you shouldn't mind too much. Still, Flash needs to be supported (even if performance isn't great), and Apple is alienating a huge bucket of sites with this blockage in place. Will all of that change with iPhone OS 4.0? It's doubtful, but we're holding out hope. All in all we're impressed with the Internet performance on the iPad, though without Flash, it does feel a little bit hamstrung.

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