The Apple iPad
The benchmark by which all tablets should be judged, with seamless integration between hardware and software
It takes only a few minutes playing with the iPad to realise how very wrong the "it's just a large iPhone" critics were. In its relatively short life, this understated chunk of plastic, glass and metal has managed to shake up the whole computing world.
The hardware lives up to Apple's usual minimalist approach. The front is dominated by the 9.7in IPS panel, with a 1,024 x 768 resolution. IPS technology helps viewing angles in particular -there's very little drop off in contrast until you reach extreme angles - and colours are accurate. Our one minor criticism is that the low pixel density means you notice more grain than, say, the Galaxy Tab with its 7in screen, and the Tab's display is brighter too.
In terms of features and flexibility, the iPad again falls behind the Galaxy. If you buy the 3G version then you can't simply slip a data SIM into the slot; it only works with micro-SIMs. Note, you're also limited to whatever storage it comes with; there's no memory card slot.
The battery isn't removable, and there isn't a webcam; the latter is one reason many people are holding back until the "iPad 2" appears in spring 2011. There's an optional extra camera, though, plus much more if you're willing to invest: a keyboard, dock, camera connection kit, AV cable - and so many varieties of case you could spend a whole day choosing.
The iPad also wins on battery life. Its size and weight are mainly due to the massive 6,500mAh battery, which keeps enough charge for around ten hours' use. Build quality is excellent, with the curved aluminium rear providing solid protection while giving the iPad some added style. The only other physical features are a rotation locker, volume up and down, and on/off.
Indeed, while Android tablets typically have Back, Home and Menu buttons on the fascia, the iPad has just one. This works stunningly well: if you want to go back one step, then there's always a Back button in the software. Nor have we ever found the need for a context-sensitive menu; everything is always just a tap away.
This intuitive approach to software design is due to Apple's obsessive control over every app, and that has inevitable downsides. Don't even think about loading your own software onto it: everything passes through the Apple Store or, if you're synchronisingwith a PC, iTunes. One daily frustration is loading software from the Apple Store - even if you're downloading a free app or update, you have to enter your password.
The onscreen keyboard is functional, with big, hittable keys coupled with clever word-recognition software that means, if you're typing in email for instance, your intended text will usually appear even if your fingers didn't quite hit the right buttons. This is when the larger size of the iPad counts against it, though. It's a little heavy to use one-handed, and too wide to comfortably type into using your thumbs alone.
However, it's the quality of the apps that really makes the iPad. Every week sees another big-name publisher join the throng, from The Economist to The Times. There are so many superb games too: Cut the Rope, Scrabble, Ragdoll 2. Or just use it for work: Dropbox is there for file synchronisation; Pages (£5.99) for word processing; Maps for navigation. And underlying it all is the slick interface that works so seamlessly that even the most mundane task, such as web browsing, becomes a pleasure. It's this that keeps the iPad ahead of the rest.
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