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Originally published April 3, 2010 at 6:28 PM | Page modified April 5, 2010 at 9:23 AM

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Review: Refined Apple iPad delivers a great experience

The iPad is solidly designed, stable in execution and speedy in performance.

Special to The Seattle Times

Breaking down the iPad

Processor: 1 GHz Apple A4

Capacity: Several sizes — 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB flash drive

Size: 9.56 x 7.47 x 0.5 in.

Weight: 1.5 lbs.

Display: 9.7 inches on the diagonal, multitouch

Battery: Built-in lithium polymer, up to 10 hours per charge

Price: $499 to $829

More information: www.apple.com/ipad/specs/

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When laptops first appeared, they were functional but underpowered satellite devices — portables to be used as adjuncts to more muscular PCs. Now, laptops are more powerful and more popular than desktops.

The Apple iPad is about to become today's satellite, only this time not as underpowered.

First off: You're not going to do the same things on an iPad that you do on a laptop. There are areas of overlap, sure: browsing the Web, managing your calendar and contacts, checking and composing e-mail. But it's not a laptop replacement.

What's most important is that the iPad isn't intended to be.

A quick disclaimer. At the time of this writing, I've used my iPad for only a few hours. However, I did attend the media event in January where the iPad was introduced, so I have had some hands-on time with a preproduction model.

Two models

The iPad is available in two models: The Wi-Fi-only model began shipping this weekend with storage capacities of 16 GB ($499), 32 GB ($599) and 64 GB ($699); a model with Wi-Fi and 3G cellular-data capability starts shipping in late April, costing $130 more at each price point.

The backlit LCD screen measures 9.7 inches diagonally and is bright and beautiful. IPS (in-plane switching) technology offers a wide field of view that lets other people see the screen clearly when they're sitting next to you.

The iPad is a bit heavier than you'd expect, though that's a trim 1.5 pounds. The tapered back fits well in the hand, though, and makes it easy to pick up.

I haven't had a chance to test the battery life, but reports from reviewers who've had the iPad for a week sound inconceivable: Apple claims up to 10 hours of use per charge, even watching video the entire time, but real-world use reveals about 11 or 12 hours.

Books and games

Many people see the iPad as an e-book reader that also happens to do other stuff. The free iBooks application (which you must download separately) is nicely implemented, with legible, resizable text and a choice of five fonts. It supports text search, bookmarks and dictionary lookups, but no capability to add your own notes.

Book titles that you purchase from the iBookstore (available from within iBooks, not iTunes) can be viewed only on the iPad.

However, if you're contemplating buying a Kindle from Amazon.com or an iPad, remember that Amazon also has a beautiful Kindle for iPad app, so you can read any title bought from Amazon.

The iPad is also fast and responsive. Graphically intensive 3-D games fly, even those not updated or written specifically for the iPad. (Remember, the iPad can run virtually all existing iPhone and iPod touch apps.)

As a media device, it's unparalleled. Movies, TV shows and music are all enjoyable on the iPad's screen and the surprisingly decent built-in speakers.

It isn't flawless

The iPad isn't flawless, of course. A few things stand out from my testing.

Although the screen is beautiful, it's also reflective. I find myself adjusting the iPad's position more often to avoid glare, but it's not unusable. Fingerprints appear easily, but are easily wiped off with a cloth.

The on-screen keyboard does take some getting used to. I can type easily on it, but I make more mistakes. It may improve my typing technique, though, teaching me not to rest my hands on the keyboard.

Although I didn't have time to write this article using the iPad itself, I can see myself typing an article-length piece using just the on-screen keyboard.

There's no way to print from the iPad. I can envision a business traveler needing to print out something.

To be honest, many of the often-cited shortcomings of the iPad don't bother me. The device doesn't support Adobe's Flash technology, which many Web sites use to play back video or run games. But many of those sites also offer non-Flash delivery, and I expect we'll see many Flash-only games become iPad apps sooner rather than later.

The iPad doesn't include a camera, but neither does the iPod touch. I can see how it would be nice, but not essential, to have a front-mounted camera for video chats.

My overall impression is that Apple recognizes that details matter, contributing to a great experience.

The iPad goes to great lengths to cater to people who are unfamiliar with computers or who respond better when put at ease.

Text-insertion point

Opening a new window in the Safari browser, for example, puts the text-insertion point in the Search field instead of the Address field, an acknowledgment that a lot of people now use Google as the first line of attack to find something on the Web.

Perhaps one of the best things I can say about the iPad is that it's refined. I agree with Mike T. Rose of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, who said, "The 1.0 of the iPad was really the iPhone and iPod touch."

The iPad is solidly designed, stable in execution, and speedy in performance.

Jeff Carlson, a Seattle freelancer, is one of the regular contributors to the Practical Mac column on the Personal Technology page of The Seattle Times.

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