Apple iPad Review: The Tablet Revolution Begins

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E-Mail Usability and Performance

The Mail app is a huge part of what the iPad does. Aside from helping users consume content, the other primary purpose (in our eyes) of this tablet is to help you be productive and get work done. E-mail is an essential part of getting work done in today's mobile society, and thus having access to a robust mail application is a must. Apple's desktop Mail app is one of the better ones out there, though we have to say that Gmail's "available anywhere" interface is tough to beat, and judging by the amount of users, we aren't alone.

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Unfortunately, there's not a lot to praise here. This is simply the same Mail app that's in the iPhone and iPod touch, but with a larger right panel (where email texts are shown). The left pane shows a list of non-threaded messages, which will drive avid Gmail users crazy. There's no way to create conversation threads, and there's no way to choose a different sender if you have multiple sender email addresses established within Gmail. Inbox searching is slow, not to mention hit-or-miss on accuracy, and while colors and rich text render well, this just feels like a very stripped down app from top to bottom. It's a barebones mail app with no fancy extras at all, and the sad part is that Apple won't allow a competing mail app to be approved in the App Store. There's also a lack of attachment options, mostly because iPhone OS 3.2 doesn't have a proper file storage system. You can create and attach images from the Photos app, for example, but you cannot pull in a photo to attach if you've already starting typing an e-mail. Our suggestion? Use the Safari browser to load the real Gmail, and ditch the Mail app completely. Too bad that solution doesn't utilize Push Notifications, which are admittedly a nice feature of the stock Mail program.

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Google retooled their Gmail for mobile HTML5 web app (which loads instantly when visiting on the iPad's Mobile Safari browser) as the unit shipped, enabling those who chose to use this over Apple's built-in Mail app to have a nice twin-pane view of their mail. The problem is that true threaded conversations and the ability to select a separate Sent-From address are still missing, and while it's pretty to look at, some of that advanced functionality that real power Gmail users crave is lacking even from this.

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The good news is that you can force Gmail to load the desktop version within Mobile Safari, and it handles the burden admirably. It still looks slightly cramped compared to the layout in a normal Firefox browser, but it's perfectly usable (unlike the desktop version of Gmail on the iPhone's browser). This gives you all of your threaded conversations, labels, stars and multiple Sent-From addresses, and you can bookmark it or create a desktop icon/link to go straight into it. Unfortunately, as we stated earlier, you cannot remove Apple's integrated apps, so the Mail icon will still remain even if you choose not to use it, and instead use a Gmail icon/link. Hopefully this situation will be looked into as iPhone OS 4.0 debuts.

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