You don't need an iPad. But once you try one, you won't be able to resist.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
April 5 2010 11:44 AM

You Don't Need an iPad

But once you try one, you won't be able to resist.

Illustration by Charlie Powell. Click image to expand.

I picked up my iPad at a San Francisco Apple Store early on Saturday morning, and I spent the rest of the weekend putting Apple's new touch-screen computer through its paces. Here are my first impressions:

You don't need an iPad; it's an indulgence. Over the last couple of months, I've received countless comments from readers puzzled over my early exuberance for Apple's tablet computer. The iPad, they argued, was the Paris Hilton of PCs, undeniably glitzy but of no discernible utility. It appeared to fill no obvious role in life—if you've already got a computer and a phone, why do you need one of these things?

The simple answer is: You don't. So far I've done almost nothing with the iPad that I couldn't have done on either my computer or phone. If I were to run into a kind-hearted mugger tomorrow who forced me to give up only one of my gadgets, I'd throw him the iPad without hesitation. I need my phone and my computer to get things done, but I don't really need a tablet computer. The iPad is a luxury—like Steve Jobs' Mercedes roadster, it's the sort of thing you buy if you've got extra money and you want a fun, stylish gewgaw.

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So, why would you pay at least $500 for a machine that merely replicates your other gadgets' functions? Because the iPad is the best media-consumption device ever made. Or, to put it another way, there is no better machine to use on the couch, the bed, or in the bathroom. Not long ago we had other ways to occupy ourselves in these places. But as TV, movies, books, newspapers, and magazines migrated to computer screens, our machines began to infiltrate every part of our lives. Yet neither the laptop nor the phone is especially well-suited for use while lying down or otherwise slumping around. The laptop is too bulky and the phone is too small. The iPad bridges this gap—its size, shape, and interface make it the perfect machine for your most intimate moments of leisure.

When you're lying down, you hold the iPad up with one hand a few inches away from your face, just like you'd hold a book. If you're sitting, you cross your legs and lay the iPad on your thigh. I found it just the right size for both positions, though at 1.5 pounds, it's a tad too heavy to hold up for very long. I recommend buying Apple's $40 case, which folds back to act as a kind of stand; I used it to rest the device on my chest without needing to support it all the time. (But beware—while surfing the Web in bed on Sunday morning, my self-standing iPad slipped and fell on my face. It hurt.)

It's the iPad's speed and touch interface that makes it a breakthrough leisure device. Pretty much every fun thing you'd do on your phone or laptop is better on the iPad. Movies and TV shows sparkle on the vibrant screen, and third-party iPad games are more powerful (and thus more addicting) than those on the iPhone.

It's difficult to describe how pleasant it is to surf the Web on the iPad without sounding like an Apple ad. The best thing you can say is that after a few minutes, you forget you're using a computer at all. The iPad loads Web pages instantly, and once you fall into the rhythm of tapping, pinching, and flicking to move objects on the screen, you feel like you're interacting with tactile, responsive paper rather than a flat piece of glass.

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The iPad's killer app is reading. The iPad is especially great for settling in with a book or a long article. Indeed, in nearly all scenarios, the iPad makes a better book-reader than the Kindle. Yes, Apple's tablet lacks the Kindle's paperlike E Ink screen, but that's a feature, not a bug. E Ink e-readers can't display color images and animation, and they don't do graphic design. Those elements are critical to the presentation of newspapers, textbooks, magazines, children's books, and lots of other printed content—all of which the iPad handles beautifully.

What's more, you can read a lot more things on the iPad than on the Kindle. With the iPad, you can read books from Apple's iBooks store, which carries "tens of thousands" of titles (priced around $10 to $15 each); there are also loads of books, magazines, and newspapers available through the App Store (including fantastic apps from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal); and best of all, there's a Kindle app for the iPad, which lets you read any of the 450,000 books that Amazon sells for its device. (In fact, it makes sense to buy your iPad books through the Kindle—Kindle books can be read on a range of devices, while iBooks work only on iPads.) There's only one scenario in which the Kindle outshines the iPad—if you're reading in direct sunlight, the iPad's glossy screen is almost impossible to make out. Everywhere else (including in the dark), the iPad does to the Kindle what the Kindle did to the hardcover—renders it instantly obsolete.

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