Apple iPad Review: The Tablet Revolution Begins

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Gaming Performance

We've stated already that the iPad is all about media consumption and productivity, but that's because we're lumping gaming into that "consumption" class of use. There's no doubt that gaming is a huge part of the iPad, and Apple touts it as such. The iPhone and iPod touch have certainly cut into the traditional gaming handheld market, with some more casual gamers choosing one of those (and the low-priced App Store titles) over dedicated PSP or DSi hardware and those expensive titles. The iPhone and iPod touch lack physical controls, so the experience is certainly somewhat lackluster compared to say the PSP, but for many non-hardcore gamers, it gets the job done in a pinch.

Asphalt 5 - Click To Enlarge

The iPad promises most of the same, but with much more screen real estate and a more intuitive interface. Having a larger device to tilt, touch and look at enables a slightly more immersive gameplay experience.  Particularly with driving titles and games that rely heavily on the accelerometer, there's additional joy in being able to tilt and turn a device as large and substantial as the iPad. Apple's App Store currently has just over 1000 apps designed "specifically" for the iPad, but many of the games are simply up-scaled versions of old iPhone and iPod touch titles. A few titles add some real functionality to the mix, but early adopters are getting slim pickings when it comes to standout games.

We're reserving most of our judgment on iPad gaming for a separate breakout piece--it's just too large, too broad and too deep to cover on one single page. But we will say that we tried out a variety of games, from HD Poker to a first-person shooter to Brick and Asphalt 5 (above), and there's no question that gaming on the iPad is much more enjoyable than gaming on the iPhone 3GS. We simply wanted to play for longer periods on the iPad; the enlarged form factor is simply more suitable for gaming than the diminutive iPhone, and the excellent response from the touch screen and accelerometer aid in that experience.

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The bottom line is that gaming on the iPad is not a gimmick. It's a serious market and it holds serious potential for this tablet. The only concern we have is the quality and price of game selections in the App Store. Currently, there aren't too many revolutionary titles that take advantage of the new form factor, and those that are will cost you. As the weeks go on and developers have time to craft better and bigger games for the iPad, we suspect this will change for the better.

The iPad frankly offers up a whole new way to game; it's simply entirely different than the feeling you get from mashing static buttons on a PSP or DSi. It has that interactive flair that the Wii has, something that gets you hooked and keeps you coming back now that you feel your own movements having a direct impact on gameplay. Tablet gaming won't take over the world, but to say it will remain a niche gaming market is giving it far too little credit in our estimation.

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We should also point out that Apple never published details of the GPU inside of the iPad. There's no mention of this at all in the company's official iPad technical specifications website. Apple also neglects to confess the amount of RAM the iPad ships with (rumored at 256MB). These are two huge, critical components of what makes the iPad tick, and we're still confused as to why they're being covered in secrecy. We've seen reports around the Web stating that the iPad's GPU is the PowerVR SGX 535 GPU, which is the exact same part is the iPhone 3GS. If true, this means that the graphical capabilities of the iPad are quite weak compare to some upcoming tablets from Asus and the gang that is assembling around NVIDIA's Tegra 2 technology. The iPad's integrated GPU is plenty to handle most of today's games, but it's not really a gamer's GPU per se. It's safe to assume that this graphics core is probably closer to the end of its rope than the beginning, though we've seen nothing but impressive graphics on everything we played so far. The real challenge will be the comparison between the iPad's graphics and the graphics experience with Tegra 2-based rivals forthcoming.

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