Apple aims to kick-start the perennially faltering tablet PC market with the iPad and, while it has a number of faults, it undeniably provides a new take on what was once deemed an all-but-dead market.
IPads will be available for pre-order from Monday 10 May for UK buyers, priced at £429, and will start shipping on 28 May. The surprising aspect of the Apple tablet is that it leaves a far greater positive impression as a business tool than as a novelty media consumption device.
Physically the iPad, though looking much like a gigantic iPhone, takes some getting used to. The design doesn't particularly sit well in your hands, and the well defined edges result in a less than comfortable experience if you decide to use it aloft for any length of time.
The fit and finish of the iPad is pretty much exactly the same as the original iPhone. That device raised the bar by using materials such as 'sapphire' crystal to enhance its perceived quality, a material which is found on the iPad. What you get with the iPad is the same level of build quality that can be found on the latest Macbook Pro and, given the price tag Apple has attached to the iPad, that's a good thing.
It is perhaps the 'tightness' of the fit and finish, similar to that of a German car, that makes the device heavier than one imagines from first glance. As the old adage goes, the weight is a sign of quality and, while that holds true with the iPad, the weight does become evident should you hoist the device singlehandedly for any significant amount of time.
Without doubt the stand out feature of the iPad is its screen. The 9.7in LED backlit panel isn't the typical cheap and cheerful unit found on the vast majority of laptops, and Apple's decision to use an in-plane switching panel results in stunning colour rendition and a substantially increased viewing angle.
With a rather old fashioned 4:3 resolution of 1,024 x 768, the screen ends up having a density of 132 pixels per inch. The high number is especially noticeable when viewing text, allowing greater anti-aliasing and resulting in crisp, clear characters.
Given the iPad's remit, the brightness afforded by the LED backlight is required to overcome bright light sources, and it isn't helped in this matter by the glossy finish. The finish may mislead users into thinking the screen is better than it really is, but in reality it maximises glare. This is acutely evident when using the device in front of a light source such as a window. Regardless of the powerful backlight, the device's usefulness diminishes very quickly with increasing ambient light.
Underpinning the iPad experience is Apple's A4 system-on-chip. The chip is the firm's first, and does a very good job of making the iPad feel responsive. It has the snappiness which is vital to making the experience enjoyable. The operating system lacks multi-tasking support at present, but switching between applications is fast, rarely exhibiting any stuttering or perceptible lag.