So I bought an iPad

The Apple iPad is one of the toughest pieces of technology to find right now. I resisted the itch for a good two months, largely because I didn’t have a job where I could afford to drop money on anything, let alone technology. I consoled myself by relegating it to would-be hipsters, Apple freaks, and fanboys, while secretly fostering a burning desire to expand my collection of things that beep. And then, thanks to the Viking, I got a new job and a great first paycheck.

Here’s a quick rundown of what the iPad is not, for those of you thinking about buying one. The iPad is not a true computer. It isn’t a netbook, it isn’t a tablet. It doesn’t have open development, and you can’t really hook any peripherals up to it directly. It doesn’t have a camera, not even a little cheap Skype camera or 1.3MP sensor like the first iPhones and pretty much all camera phones have.

The iPad is not an iPod. It shares a lot of functionality with these devices, and it uses the same core OS as both the iPod Touch and iPhone, but it’s definitely not the same thing.

So what is the iPad? It’s a niche device. Not everyone has this niche. For me, it’s an all-inclusive mobile wonder. If you can get your hands on the 3G unit and are willing to pay the data rates, you suddenly have a world of possibilities you won’t get on the iPod or iPhone. The first thing I did was use it as a GPS on my passenger seat in my car. Google Maps is awesome when you can see it like a normal, printed map.

Obviously most of the iPhone games play on the iPad, and there’s a lot of fun free games you can download to it. I admit I’m addicted to the classic Windows games you can get (Reversi, Free Cell, Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Minesweeper), and importing over my contacts and calendar was pretty simple by just restoring from an iPhone backup and hitting “Sync.”

A few technical details about the iPad:
While it supports Wireless-N technology, it doesn’t have a true Wireless-N radio. It’s actually customized and doesn’t use double-wide channels or MIMO. It has lower data rates than even the crappy netbooks do if you just get the Wifi model.

The unit with the 3G radio has more internal antennae. In fact, it runs better and faster on 3G than the iPhone does because it has a faster processor. The A4 chip is very nice, and I haven’t seen the iPad stall between app switches yet.

The battery life on the iPad is amazing. My first few days I’ve been on from pretty much the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed. When Apple was boasting a 7-to-10-hour battery they weren’t kidding.

The one minor grievance I have about the iPad is that it is being limited by the iPhone 3.2 OS. The processor can handle background processes without slowing down, it has enough memory to handle numerous apps, but iPhone 3 suspends applications when you switch. This is in general a very minor annoyance, but for some applications it’s a killer; for example, Pandora Internet Radio, or third-party chat addons. Missing messages in chat because you switched to read an email becomes irritating quickly. Also, it didn’t come with iChat or a Jabber application built-in. That should have been a given as Apple’s solution to a tablet PC. I begrudgingly spent the extra $3 to install Jabba, which integrates with Jabber, Facebook, and LiveJournal. I really only care about Jabber and Facebook chat. And within two weeks iPhone 4 OS should be available for download, so many of my multitasking needs will be met.

If you were thinking about getting one, make sure it fits the niche you want it to fill. The iPad is definitely versatile, but it’s not nearly as customizable as a Windows-7-equipped netbook. If you find it annoying to see the ads where it works “by magic,” it’s probably not your toy. But if you want a really big iPod that doubles as a full Safari terminal with built-in GPS navigation and unlimited internet radio streaming, it’s definitely worth looking. You can get Pages, Numbers, and Keynote from the AppStore, and even export to Word and PDF formats. At the very least it’s a very cool toy. With apps like PhotoGene that integrate with Facebook and Mail, and a Camera Connection Kit, you can take the iPad with you for mobile editing and photo uploading.