Apple iPad: 7-Day Test Drive

When I wrote my review of the iPad last week, I'd had the tablet for only a day or so. It was enough time to evaluate the look, feel, and overall operation. But you don't really get to know a piece of gear like the iPad without spending some time with it.

So I spent the last week integrating the iPad into my everyday life, including work hours, because iPad system administration tools are already available. Here's what I discovered.

[ Learn networking basics and benefit from exclusive tips and techniques in Paul Venezia's Networking Deep Dive Report. | If you haven't read it yet, check out Paul's full review of the iPad. ]

The most noticeable problem with the iPad is the lack of multitasking. After decades of using computers that run more than one app at a time, I reflexively tried to use the iPad in the same way -- and got mad when it doesn't work.

For instance, I opened an SSH session to a Linux server with iSSH to check on some things, then received a colleague's IM, served up via push notifications. This required me to quit iSSH to return the IM, then go through the reconnection process to get back to where I was. The same thing happened with RDP sessions -- not cool at all. Apple's April 8 iPhone OS 4 event showed off multitasking features in the new OS version, but I'm going to reserve judgement until I can see it myself.

Also, several high-profile iPad apps are simply buggy and slow. One of the apps touted at the iPad announcement was MLB at Bat 2010. It was visually impressive and offered features, such as pitch trajectories, not found in the original iPhone app. Being a baseball fan, I bought it for $14.99 on the first day I had the iPad. Since then I've found it lacking in many areas. It's slow, it consistently fails to update game information, it crashed several times, and the video quality lacks luster. Oh, and there's no sign of that pitch trajectory feature demoed at the announcement.

Plus, it's expensive: $14.99 gets you the app for the iPad only. If you want the iPhone app, you pay another $14.99. And did I mention that it's good for the 2010 season only? Suddenly, it's not worth it. Shame on you, MLB. (Note: This app was updated after I wrote this, a few of the issues seem to be slightly improved, but it's still not fully functional.)

That's not the only app that seems pricey. It's one thing to buy a few 99-cent or $1.99 apps from the App Store, but quite another when you shell out $9.99 or more a pop. A $1 app that's mildly useful or entertaining yet a little buggy is no big deal. If that app costs $10, I expect a lot more.

It's not just the expensive apps, either. I've found The Weather Channel MAX, a free app, to function only occasionally, and I experienced fairly significant problems with the AOL IM app, with ghost notifications alongside missing incoming messages. The ABC app is very polished and presents a usable interface for watching television on the iPad -- except for the sudden midscene ad insertions (even sentences of dialog), the sporadic video dropouts, and occasionally being forced to watch the entire episode of "Cougar Town" from the beginning to catch the last five minutes because you had the temerity to pause the episode to take a phone call. Not so cool.

I realize that due to Apple's tight security, most of these applications were developed on the iPad simulator and were not fully tested on a real iPad. I'm sure developers are feverishly coding updates to address issues. But isn't the main point of the App Store's policies supposed to be quality control?

Now, about the Apple iPad case -- as I noted in my iPad review, a case is a must-have, and Apple's is sleek and well designed. It solves the carrying problem, protects the screen when closed, and offers several comfortable angles to use the device while sitting or even reclining.

But I also bought the iPad dock, which is completely incompatible with the case. That's right, if you buy the case and the dock, you can't dock the iPad without removing it from the case. For want of a few millimeters, epic fail.

On the bright side, some people have complained about the iPad's Wi-Fi performance, but I haven't experienced that. I've used my iPad in several Wi-Fi hotspot locations without an issue (so far). In fact, using speedtest.net's app, the iPad consistently beat my iPhone when tested at the same locations.

Overall, I find that I continue to use my laptops and workstations for work, and my iPad for casual browsing, email, reading, and whatnot -- things I previously did with my iPhone, but with a far better experience. Except that I don't bring my laptop to the coffee shop anymore -- and I'll toss the iPad in the car when I'm heading to, say, the dentist, where I would never bring a laptop.

After a week of real-world use, I can confirm that Apple has won its bet that there's room for a new device between the iPhone and a laptop. The iPad fills that space nicely, despite various disappointments. But I need real multitasking sooner rather than later. And if the App Store persists in allowing buggy iPad software, do we need an Apple store, or should we all just go out and get jailbreak apps?

This story, "My week with an iPad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile, Apple, and the iPad and read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com.

Product mentioned in this article

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