The good and the bad that make up the iPad

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      They’re already smeared and smudged with the fingerprints of us tech geeks who needed to be the first in line to buy the iPad. But for those who don’t feel the need to make their friends envious or have strangers ooh and aah when they pull out their tablet on the SkyTrain, is Apple’s latest moneymaker a must-have?

      The iPad is no fad, but neither is it an immediate game-changer that will leave behind anyone not onboard right at this moment. You may want an iPad, but the truth is you don’t need one.

      Apple sold more than 300,000 iPads on April 3, launch day in the U.S. By 6 a.m. that day, about 20 Canadians were among the 150 customers lined up outside Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Washington, the location of the Apple Store closest to the border. I was in line behind Rasheed Akhtar and Nico Alary, two app designers from Vancouver’s Pallian Creative. For Akhtar, Alary, and me, the iPad has become our favourite gadget since then.

      The iPad’s best features are an incredibly robust battery lasting 10-plus hours and a quick on-off button. But despite the elegance of its design and its amazing touchscreen, the iPad has not become an essential tool in my working life, nor have its entertainment capabilities made other gadgets obsolete.

      The problem with the iPad is also the genius behind it. It combines many of the features desirable to anyone who travels, waits in line or takes the bus, watches movies, or listens to music. But it doesn’t allow you to do everything.

      If you don’t have a laptop, a Sony Reader or Amazon Kindle, an iPod, or an iPhone (or other smartphone), the iPad is perfect for you. If you have any two out of the four, the iPad doesn’t add anything to your current arsenal.

      The iPhone’s entry into the mobile market in 2007 was more significant because it was a real replacement device. The iPad isn’t a new screen to replace a current one. It might become the third or fourth screen you’ll be carting around every day—an extra half-kilogram of gear.

      Everything is brighter and bigger on the iPad, but there’s nothing the iPad can do that other devices cannot. Sure, video is amazingly clear on the iPad, but a laptop won’t attract fingerprints. The sound quality with headphones on isn’t much different than that of an iPod, but the speakers on the iPad are good enough to hear dialogue in a movie without the volume being jacked all the way up.

      For now, only the 16-, 32-, and 64-gigabyte Wi-Fi models—which sell for US$499, US$599, and US$699—are available, and just in the U.S. A Canadian rollout of all Wi-Fi– and 3G-enabled models is expected at the end of May.

      Despite all the hype, by hour two on launch day, anyone could walk into an Apple Store and purchase one, and there were no reports of stock outages. For Canadians getting one from the U.S., an American gift card or an American credit card and address are needed to get into the U.S. App Store.

      Games like Cogs HD and Labyrinth 2 HD show off the potential of the iPad as a gaming machine, according to Monty Hayter, a salesperson and part-time app developer from Langley who picked one up on the first day.

      “The big apps and those from the iPhone look remarkably good scaled up to fill the screen,” Hayter said in a phone interview.

      Hayter and I both initially had trouble typing with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard but adjusted quickly. While I’m unlikely to be able to type as fast on the iPad as I can on a laptop, it’s faster than thumb-typing on the BlackBerry. As Hayter and I both found, though, the bigger problems with the iPad can’t be overcome without added hardware or paid apps. There’s no SD card reader slot or even a USB port for downloading and uploading pictures or files. For those functions, you need to buy adapters.

      For those of us who’ve resolved not to pay for apps, free apps are plentiful. Sure, some of the paid games with wow graphics—like Asphalt 5 HD—are neat, but there are enough free apps to provide plenty of entertainment.

      So, is the iPad worth the price? For me, reading newspapers like the New York Times and listening to and watching videos from the BBC on the iPad are worth half the price of the device alone. The free apps, including iBooks, are easily worth the other half. Although e-books cost more through iBooks than on the Kindle or the Sony Reader, the iPad, with its flip-action page-turning, is more fun and responsive than those other two devices.

      There are so many reasons to love the new iPad, but its being indispensable isn’t one of them. For now, owning an iPad fulfills a desire but not a need.