Detractors abound, but I’ve just had a fabulous, enriching and thoroughly enjoyable few weeks with Apple’s recent progeny, the new iPad, and I am surprised not that I like it, but by how useful I find it in my daily existence.

I received my loaner iPad for the purpose of evaluating one of the most useful applications for iPhone, iPod touch and now for iPad, Bento by FileMaker, THE personal organization application I think nearly every Mac user will find indispensible.  I’ve been traveling with iPad as I take it to show off Bento from TV market to TV market along the way during my annual Dads ‘n Grads national media tour.

So, rather than take my iPod, and I don’t (yet) own an iPhone, though I’ve borrowed plenty of them from Apple, iPad was set up as my main travel gadget du jour.  And yes, I also took a laptop, an aging HP running Windows 7 in this case.

I discovered that iPad has become indispensible to ME, and now, I will need to buy one of my own!

I’ll leave it to you to find and read others’ reviews, with all their tech jargon and specs.  What I will share with you are all the useful ways I have been enjoying this loaner iPad, as this may just resonate with you.

It must be stated that I do not consider iPad as a replacement for a travel laptop or home computer.  There are just some things it cannot do and there are many hotels with wired-only Internet connections in guest rooms, making it impossible for iPad to connect.  They may have Wi-Fi in common areas, such as lobbies, but I want and need in-room connectivity.  I see this changing, however.  I inquired about it at every property where I stayed that is missing in-room Wi-Fi, and these are all major chains in major cities.  Marriott, in particular, is lacking what we need, in my experience.  Front desk management at the Marriott in Downtown Philadelphia expressed to me the opinion that in-room Wi-Fi should not be expected there any time soon.  A Marriott’s staff member at their Rocky Hill, Connecticut property let me know that the building owner had no intention of extending Wi-Fi to guest rooms.  He knew the demand is there as well as all the reasons why it should be so, but, well, maybe this property needs additional encouragement OR, perhaps, travelers need to consider this “amenity” about a property as a condition of booking.  After all, it’s not just iPad users, but many other Wi-Fi enabled devices, including smart phones and more that users want to be able to use in guest rooms.

The iPad I have and would wish to buy is the 64GB Wi-Fi version selling for $699.  For now, ignore the price while I discuss my experiences.

Email – wherever there is open Wi-Fi, I do my email from it, having set it up with my MrGadget email account in the built-in Mail app.  iPad supports web-based email via the Safari browser, as well as Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo! Mail, AOL and most other email we use with the Mail app.  Setting it up for my email could not have been easier.  MrGadget email is now hosted by Gmail, so iPad knew what to do when I entered the asked for info.  Click. Done.  Easy and seamless. For others, email may be easier to not set up via this app, but to simply visit their email via the Safari browser.

And I find the virtual keyboard, particularly when oriented in landscape mode, to be a fine input method.  The secret, as with iPod and iPhone, is a light touch.  Those are not actual buttons, but virtual ones that need and respond best to the lightest of touches.

I’ve taught countless folks how to use their iPod touch and iPhones by demonstrating this feature, even to the most doubting ham-handed men who previously swore their hatred for the virtual keypad.  After I showed them the light touch method and heard their acknowledging, “Ohhhhhhhhhhh, so that’s how it works!,” they were off and running.  Only with iPad, it’s even easier as the targets are larger.

On the minus side, there are some screens in some applications and on some pages that do not lend themselves to easily seeing the area of the page to be filled in when the virtual keyboard is on the screen.  That keyboard effectively blocks the view we need to see when entering data in the spaces provided.  So, things are not perfect.  While annoying, this occasional circumstance was not a deal breaker for me.  I expect things to improve over time as app developers and web page developers become iPad savvy.

iPad syncs with my contacts, notes and calendar on my Mac at home, plus with Bento, of course. Click.  Done.  Easy and seamless.

Photos – I like to take with me, and have done so on my iPods, certain family and fun photos, as well as videos from iPhoto as reminders, remembrances of home and family while I travel.  And that fabulous iPad screen makes them all look so much better than the small screen of any iPod or iPhone. Click.  Done.  Easy and seamless.

Videos – Taking advantage of that nearly 10-inch gorgeous, sharp and stunningly clear screen is such a pleasure for anything on it.  But watching videos, well, this is something special for any traveler such as I.  I transfer movies and TV shows from TiVo to my Mac, then using the indispensible Roxio Toast 10 Titanium Pro software, I transfer the shows to my Mac Pro with Toast’s TiVo Transfer, then use the software to transform those big files for viewing on my iPad.  This, too, happens seamlessly, putting the re-done videos into iTunes for me, where they easily sync with the connected iPad, as was done for iPhone and iPod.  But it is that magnificent display that makes the experience so likeable and pleasing.  The same joy is had when I copy my DVDs and code them for viewing on the iPad, using the free Handbrake software, or finding what I want using clients such as Vuze, then using that software to convert automatically for iPad and send it to iTunes.  This is sweet!  And let us not forget that streaming Netflix works wonderfully on iPad with your Netflix account from $9 monthly and up.

This is just one of the killer apps for me with iPad.  Traveling as I do, pulling out iPad and choosing to watch what I want, when I want, while waiting at the airport to board a flight, aboard planes and in my hotel rooms, this is living!  Others cannot help but notice and comment favorably when they see the quality.  Sure, iPad is still new to most, so that newness factor has to be considered.

Games – I also enjoy the limited gaming of interest on the iPad much more than on the smaller screen of iPhone or iPod touch.  Though I am not much of a gamer in the traditional sense, such as shooters and other intense game genres, I like whatever games I play much more on iPad’s larger screen.  More and more games will be developed or old ones rejiggered for that larger screen

iBooks – The number of books compatible with this included app is growing steadily.  iPad is an excellent reader!  The iBooks app opens as if a wooden bookshelf, with books neatly lined up on the shelves.  Only Apple would think of such an elegant presentation, and I appreciate it.  For those who jumped the gun and purchased Kindle, there’s a Kindle app for iPad that allows Kindle books to be read in elegant style.

Audio is mono through the built-in single speaker, but, no matter, it’s meant to be a personal product and, as such, to plug in your own earphones, especially when in public.  It is important to note, however, that there is considerable output power from the built-in speaker.  Playing music or listening to any audio, for example, in a hotel room, is a pleasant experience using just the internal speaker.  Using great earphones from the likes of Shure, Etymotic, Ultimate Ears, VModa and so many others, sound is as it would be with iPod or iPhone.  I prefer the type that plugs into the ear canal to block outside sound.  I do not prefer the bulkiness of over-the-head phones, especially for travel, even the noise cancelling Bose or the others.  I get plenty of isolation from outside noises with these in-ear models and they fit in the palm of my hand.

And speaking of audio, I also like listening to audio books and my iTunes music, though the experience is hardly unique to iPad over iPhone or iPod.

Favorite audio-related apps include ooTunes that allows me to listen to nearly any radio station from home or any other city over Wi-Fi, plus access my entire music collection from home (with my home computer on, of course), and much more.  With Wi-Fi in a hotel room, I can set it as a bedside clock radio, listening to a radio station or using its browser, my Live365 old time radio stations with the sleep timer built into the ooTunes app.  More apps in this genre that I use are iheartradio, Live365, AOL Radio, Radiolicious, Shoutcast, Pandora and TuneIn Radio, none of which are better on or unique to iPad over iPhone or iPod touch.  I enjoy listening to lots of old time radio (OTR), those great old radio personalities and shows from the 1930s through the 1970s.  All of this on iPad (as well as on my Wi-Fi radios).

Absent to date is a sleep timer built into the OS, similar to what can be done with iPhone.  Come on, Apple, please give iPad a universal sleep timer app!

Internet browsing using the included Safari browser is pretty sweet, as well, but, or rather BUT, there is no support for Flash.  This is a BIG issue to many users, because so many Sites are Flash-based.  If you wish, search for the controversy that continues to rage over this issue.  So, I am resigned to the fact that flash-based Sites will not work using Safari.  I know Apple is pushing an alternative technology, HTML 5, but the uptake on this technology is not high, yet.  So, we wait.  And there are others working on alternative approaches, such as the geniuses at work at AlwaysOnPC.

News readers are another area I enjoy with iPad. Again, it’s that great screen, much better for reading news feeds, magazines and more, than any smaller screen device.

But can’t other devices, netbook PCs, for example do the same thing?  Currently, no, not really, and no, not with the same performance characteristics.

This thing is a snappy performer, not a pokey, have-to-make-excuses-for-it, compromise laden netbook, though it is more expensive.

If you’ve even had experience with using an iPhone or iPod touch, you already know how to use it.  If you don’t, it’s intuitive in the Apple fashion, so it is terribly easy to figure out and fun to use immediately.

Though I have not downloaded and tried Pages, Apple’s word processor for Mac (part of iWork ’09 on the Mac) and available separately for the iPad, I’m not convinced iPad is a replacement in any way for a true computer, though some will see it as such.

Where iPad shines for this user are the multimedia opportunities described above as well as the ease of use, its simplicity and utilitarian value during travel.  Sure, while sitting at home on my couch, I can also use it to check email and just plain have fun.

Without Wi-Fi plus 3G, users must rely on open and available Wi-Fi networks.  In my travels, several hotels do not have Wi-Fi available from guest rooms.  Many others do, and I am certain that most are evaluating the feasibility of adding in-room Wi-Fi at this time.  They must.  Their clientele comes to them, whether with an iPod touch or now, more than two million iPad users, plus Wi-Fi enabled smartphones of all types and descriptions.  Everyone with one of these devices increasingly will want to, need to rely on Wi-Fi and not 3G or 4G networks for one simple reason – Wi-Fi may be free, 3G and 4G networks are not, and there are limits or will be limits on the amount of data allowed to pass on your 3G or 4G plans.  Wi-Fi enables streaming video and audio without these limitations.

Even with the 3G version of iPad, these limitations may present problems for many users, not to mention the added monthly expense.

And now, what about the expense?  Yes, this is a luxury product, even in its base configuration at $499.  It’s anew category, a new thing on which to spend discretionary funds.  So, for most of us, the decision to buy requires some serious soul searching. And then, it’s a matter of how much storage is of interest to the user.  For the serious traveler, ME, for example, I easily load it up with lots of music and videos, enough to nearly fill the 64GB model with useful entertainment from home for more than a week of travel at a time.  This capacity issue has to be a personal choice, dictated by the user’s budget and needs.

The iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G is not going to be what I would get.  I’d be better off with iPhone for my 3G than with iPad.  iPhone is perfect for its mobility as an iPod while on the go, including while exercising.  I can’t see iPad fulfilling this role.  Also, iPad, absent 3G, and even with 3G, is just too big to do be used as a GPS device.  iPhone, on the other hand, is perfect for this, and with several fine apps for this purpose.

So, for me, for this user, the 64GB iPad is a class act, one that I will really, really, really hate to give up, to return to Apple.

Yes, I would have hoped for a built-in camera.  It would have been nice to have a USB port to accept a USB drive.  It would have been fun to have other niceties, but as it sits, the current product is fine and finished, a very compelling device, with the promise of fun, fun, fun, and some productivity along with it.

In the past couple of weeks of travel with this iPad, I’ve encountered a few fellow travelers who also have an iPad, their own iPad.  One memorable day, we were three in a row sitting, awaiting a flight out of the DFW airport in Dallas, all with iPads.  The others were a middle-aged husband and wife with twin iPads.  She was reading a book and he was listening to music. Once aboard the aircraft, she continued reading while he watched videos.

Another HUGE plus is battery life.  It is spectacular.  Riding coast-to-coast, watching videos all the way brought me from 100% battery life to about 80%.  I’ve been quite pleased with battery performance.

To those who thought iPad would flop, I can only say, ahem, you were wrong.  You missed the boat and you just don’t get it.  What will competitors come with?  Clearly, Apple is in their cross hairs, but, yet again, Apple has created a singularly outstanding product that others cannot, will not likely be able to best. Sure, there will be many competitive touch screen tablets, but they will lack the ease of use and fun factor, the finesse and style, plus the full integration with everything else Apple, a dramatic strength, but only truly for Mac users.  And so, Windows PC users will talk trash about iPad, and never know just how good it can be to join the world of Mac.  That’s OK with me.  I know there will be Windows or Linux or even Android-based touch screen tablets targeting as their competition this iPad, but Apple has a jump on them.  This thing just works so well.

I will continue to be a happy Mac user, soon (hopefully) an iPad owner, AND a Windows PC user, but only when I must.  Probably an iPhone buyer, too, and then I will almost enjoy traveling.

That’s my quick take.  What’s yours?

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