In the seven days that have elapsed since the Apple iPad went on sale, we've been putting the feted slab through its paces. Here's why we think you should buy one:
So, the big-iPhone-that's-not-a-phone behaves much in the same way as its miniature relative – just on a much larger scale. Consequently there have already been various moans in the press that the new tablet is a bit "heavy". Really? It's 730 grammes (even less if you opt for the basic Wi-Fi version). That's a third of the weight of an average laptop. So get yourself down to the gym. Or, failing that, use your iPad as a makeshift barbell you media weaklings.
As we've been reminded ad nauseam, the iPad's screen is a touchtastic 9.7 inches and brighter than a Junior Apprentice. This is undoubtedly one of the device's biggest selling points, although the dark glass display is also an unrelenting smudge magnet. (We'd advise resisting the urge to wipe away fingerprint marks, as this not only reduces reflection but also delays the onset of OCD.)
The iPad-centric apps at launch have understandably been few and far between, but there are some promising starters for ten – the Phaidon Design Classics tome, Adobe Ideas, National Geographic World Atlas HD and tvGuide, for instance. Of the early games, Angry Birds HD and Shrek Karting (an ogre-themed Mario Kart rip-off) are particularly good fun.
The iPad was born to browse, and it does so with ease. It's a pleasure navigating news pages without the incessant zooming required to decipher the text. That said, it is crying out for Flash support. Blank web pages – or that telltale blue Lego brick ominously lurking where web content should be – are a bore, so hopefully an Apple/Adobe truce isn't as unlikely as we've been led to believe.
Watching video on the iPad is sheer genius. Ditto browsing photos. In both cases, the image quality is second to none. Although its dimensions make it less suited to iPod duties, expect music apps to turn the iPad into a wireless jukebox control for home Hi-Fi systems.
As for the fledgling iBooks service, the convenience of archiving all your literature in one place far outweighs the early (and seemingly exaggerated) criticism of the backlit screen causing headaches. (Just don't expect to be able to read books on it in bright sunlight – all you'll see is your own face squinting back at you.)
Although the blurb promises up to 10 hours of juice, we've consistently experienced closer to eight. Either way, it's perfectly suited to long-haul travel and will easily make it through a typical weekday on a single charge.
The portable office
A pleasant surprise, this. For £6 each, you can install the three iWork utilities (Pages, Keynote and Numbers). All are compatible with their Microsoft Office equivalents and you can even save and email files in .doc, .ppt and .xls formats. Furthermore, because you can sync the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard you don't have to rely on the slightly unnatural sensation of typing directly onto a large touchscreen.
The roaming bit
The 3G pay-as-you-go option for the iPad is a shrewd move. No contracts, just spur-of-the-moment surfing you can top up from as little as £2 for a single day, to £15 for a month's worth of use*. The aerial in the 3G version (that black band across the top of the screen) is efficient too.
In hardware terms, the iPad is everything you could ask for. It neatly combines all the bits you use the most in a laptop, but in a form that's a little lighter and a lot more appealing. It's also far more business-minded than it pretends to be. More apps and a better web experience would certainly improve the experience, but these will doubtless be dealt with in due course (and without the need to buy a whole new device).
* Prices quoted are for O2 tariffs. Data usage caps apply.