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Apple iPad – one to rule them all

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Now we’ve tested the rest, we finally come to the tablet brand that caused all the trouble: the Apple iPad. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK considers whether it still sets the benchmark for the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test.

The tablet revolution ofnthe second decade of the 21st century may have started with the iPad, but the iconicndevice came after many failed tablet ventures – including Apple’s own Newton.nEven Microsoft came up with a variation five years ago.

This history holds one of the first lessons of the iPad: it was not annimmaculate conception that came into the world fully formed with no labournpains. It was a result of numerous and elaborate improvements. That, in turn,nmeans it represents a moment in the evolution, rather than revolution, of andevice category. The revolution was in design – all the elements gelled into andevice that anyone could use; and in marketing – it was a device every iPhonenuser would want to use, along with everyone else who laid eyes onnthe device.

The iPad 2 holds rather different lessons. It shows that even thensupposedly perfect gadget can always be improved. And that, even with a devicenthat has electrified the market, there is room for alternatives that fill thengaps left wide open.

The Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test reveals where the iPad 2 leaves thengaps.

1. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can youncomfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)

There’s a reason Apple have put so much energy intonthe design of covers that allow you to stand it up in almost any direction. Andnwhy iPad cases are among the most popular Apple accessories on the market. Thisngorgeous device, Apple fans will tell you, was not made to be pawed but to bencaressed. Consequently, it needs to be placed on an appropriate surface to getnthe most out of it –partly because it is a little heavy to hold in one hand andnoperate with the other.

That said, the iPad was the first computer ever tonadapt its monitor to the position in which it was held. In whatever way it isnpositioned, the screen image instantly orients itself to be upright. Yes, thenother tablets do that too, but few as instantly as the iPad.

Typing on an iPad, however, is no pleasure. The designnof virtual keyboard is the prime reason we recommend that anyone who needs tonproduce complex documents should revert to a laptop. But there is one smallnchange that would make all the difference: allow users to place the cursornwhere they wish, and insert what they wish. It is deeply frustrating, whennattempting to correct mistakes, to be forced either to accept a spellcheckernrecommendation, or to struggle with manipulating the cursor into the right spotn– and then only to be allowed to backspace-delete. With the iPad’s famed easenof usage and lightness of being, this is one inexplicable nod to the dark side.

Score: 8/10.

2. The Angry Birds test (How responsive isnthe device in interactive tasks?)

The iPad 2 hardware runs on a 1 GHz dual core Apple 5nsystem on a chip (SoC). It’s also described as a package on package (PoP). Ifnyou want the technicalities, the chip is a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPUnwith NEON SIMD accelerator and a dual core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU. Want antranslation? Serious fire-power. Other tablets that come with a 1 GHz chip tendnto lag behind the iPad, since it’s not merely about the chip, but about allnthat integration.

Ironically the processor is manufactured by arch-rivalnSamsung – but from Apple’s design.

This processing power means the iPad packs seriousnpunch in any multimedia applicaton that needs serious punch. Or catapult.

Angry Birds was practically made for this device, andnthe iPad’s performance here shows up most other tablets, including its closestnrival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Run them side by side, and you realize thencatapult gets a little sticky on the Galaxy. With the iPad, there is never anmoment’s doubt that it will handle whatever is thrown at it with elegance andnspeed.

Score: 10/10

3. The tablet gender test (Can itnmulti-task? Hint: males can’t.)

The iPad isnmale. In the past, it wouldn’t let you so much as look at another app whilenyou’re running your current operation. Now, thanks to hormone replacementntherapy from the new iOS 5 operating system, you get to double-tap the mainncontrol button to show a ribbon of open apps along the bottom of the screen andnto switch between them. You close them by holding your finger on the icon andnthen clicking on the minus button. A very elegant solution (thanks to @RobinMeisel fornpointing that out on Twitter). However, the ability to manage apps in thenribbon remains limited. On this score, the Android 3 tablets tend to be aheadnof Apple. But hey, look at the positive side: it’s something to get the medianexcited about for the next edition of the iPad.

The single-buttonnapproach is part of the charm of the iPad, though. It means there is nonlearning curve whatsoever. You click the button, or you tap the screen. Butnonce you’ve learnt to use the device after the first 60 seconds, you do want tonget more out of it.

Score: 7/10

4.  Testing by the book (Can itnreplace novels and textbooks?)

Apple is known for its powerful and effective ads, butnone of the best ads yet to reference the brand was for the Amazon Kindle. Itnshowed a man lying down on a deckchair by a pool and pulling out his iPad, allnthe while glancing smugly at a woman reading on a rival device. Then socialndisaster strikes. The glare of the sunlight on his screen makes it impossiblento read a word. He calls over to the woman, asking how she can read in the sun.nShe smiles ad says simply, “It’s a Kindle”.

That ad only tells half the story, though. In normalnlight, however, reading on the iPad is a spectacular experience. When it comesnto textbooks, newspapers and magazines, the iPad offers an experience that isnsuperior to the original printed format. The Kindle merely matches the originalnexperience – albeit with massive capacity that you couldn’t match in a personalnlibrary.

The bottom line is, most reading occurs in normalnlight – or should, say the optometrists – and that is where the versatility ofnthe iPad overcomes the natural reading of the Kindle (we’ll review the Kindlenin more depth soon).

Score: 8/10

5. Live long and prosper (How’s thenbattery life?)

One of the crucial breakthroughs for the iPad was itsnbattery life: 10 hours. The iPad 2 initially appears to have poor battery life,nbut after fully charging and fully de-charging a few times, it appears tonperform to promise. In standby mode, I’ve gone a week without using it (Yeah, Inknow, but some of us have to work), and come back to find almost no loss innbattery status.

Score: 9/10

6.  It’s all about You(Tube) (Hownwell does it handle online video sites?)

For a device that doesn’t support Flash, Apple does anremarkable job with video, and especially YouTube. Demonstrating the depth andnrange of music videos on YouTube, recently, no other tablet matched thenexperience on the iPad.

Score: 8/10

7. The retro test (Can it replace yournradio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)

TuneIn Radio installs quickly and seamlessly on theniPad. Using the iPad’s location information, it instantly displays all localnstations, from 5FM to Chai FM and hundreds of international station in dozensnof categories and sub-categories. Bye bye FM.

Incidentally, pushing the all-doing Control button tonexit the app won’t silence the audio. You have to stop it in the app itself.

Two mono speakers behind a single grill make for ansimple approach to audio – although it does result in a mildly tinny sound. Thensound offering is backed up by a Volume button below the top right corner, andnstereo audio-out socket on the top left. Bluetooth enables wireless headphones.nIf you want to make your own sounds, a microphone is also built in. It may seemnlike the bare minimum, but touches all the bases most users need.

Score: 8/10

8. On target (Is the on/off switch easy tonfind and use in the dark?)

The On button protrudes slightly above the top rightncorner, and can’t be missed, even in the dark. However, it does get hard tonfind when you’ve been tilting the device in all directions and forget whichnside really is Up.

Score: 8/10

9. Keep control (How effective are thencontrol buttons – hardware and software?)

Control buttons? We don’t need no stinkin’ controlnbuttons, as a Mexican bandit might once have said in a movie. The mostncompelling feature of the iPad is its sheer simplicity. It is the reason thisnis the number one choice for schools looking at rolling out tablets, despite itncosting far more than low-end 7” devices. For the power user, however, the lacknof virtual control buttons becomes a hindrance, and needs to be addressed whennthat multi-tasking gap is also repaired.

Score: 8/10

10. The iPrice Test (Is itncompetitively priced?)

Traditionally, Apple computers were far more expensiventhan equivalent devices from other manufacturers. That has changed in recentnyears, and the iPad has led the charge down the price ladder, although not downnthe quality ladder.

It is deeply ironic, then, that almost every otherntablet entering the market to take on Apple has been more expensive. That’snlike giving up the battle even before you’ve fought it, but still sendingnarmies onto the field to be wiped out. The exception has been Amazon, whichnannounced its KindlenFire would cost $200 – less than half the price of the cheapest iPad.nMotorola followed by announcing a cheaper Xoom. And finally, the rest of thenindustry is waking up. French electronics company Archos has announced an 8”ntablet for under $300 and a dual core 1.5GHz tablet for less than $400.

In other words, price pressure has finally arrived,nbut that has not yet reduced the demand for the iPad at current prices.

Score: 9/10

The bottom line

The iPad narrowly edges out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1nas the best tablet we have yet tested. The benchmark device retains its status,nbut by a slim, reachablenmargin.

Overall score: 83/100

*nFollow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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Once thing about the iPad vs. the Galaxy that perhaps is missing and worth mentioning: Flexibility. When it comes to apps, with the iPad you HAVE to do everything though the store, whereas the Galaxy running Android, allows you to either use the Market Place to get your apps or you can install apps directly from a link. This flexibility and not being bound to Apple’s rules, in my opinion, gives the Galaxy the edge.
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