I get my review loaner ahead of the general release. It's the 64-gigabyte, Wi-Fi-only version that retails for $699. I spend much of the day demonstrating its capabilities to the little knots of newsroom humanity that keep forming around me.
On the train home that evening, I briefly debate whether to take the device out of my bag and make a ruckus. What the hell. I put the iPad on my lap.
The reaction is immediate.
A well-dressed woman sitting next to me gasps and for the rest of the journey shows me iPad-related articles in the newspapers she's reading. Across the aisle, a large young man in baggy jeans and a leather Yankees cap peppers me with well-informed questions. How fast is the custom Apple (AAPL)-designed A4 chip? (Very.) Is it a lot like using an iPhone or iPod Touch? (Not really. The bigger screen makes it a fundamentally different experience.)
I get home, talked out and feeling like Steve Jobs' unpaid, not to mention unwilling, salesman. My wife, who in our 25 years of marriage has seldom shown an interest in any of my tech toys, declares the iPad "sexy."
I've found the iPad's kryptonite: sunlight. Indoors, the backlit screen works beautifully. As soon as I take the iPad to a park near my home, that strength becomes, ahem, a glaring weakness. It's easier to see my reflection on the glossy screen than catch a glimpse of the Real Racing HD course I was hoping to conquer in my virtual sports car. Just as bad, my fingerprints on the touchscreen, which barely registered indoors, are thrown into cruel relief by the sun. Note to self: If I take the iPad to the beach, bring a big umbrella. Maybe a tent.
Gym day. I like to read while I cycle; it takes my mind off the fact I'd much rather be doing something else. Until now, Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle has been my workout companion, and I have a backlog of books on it. Rather than pay for them again in Apple's iBookstore, I download Amazon's free Kindle iPad app and gain immediate access to all my previously purchased books, automatically returning to the point in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders where I had stopped reading on my Kindle.
Kindle books aren't as nice on the iPad as books purchased from Apple's iBookstore. They display as a single page whether the iPad is held horizontally or vertically, and the pages slide rather than turn. Still, they are much nicer on the iPad than on the monochrome Kindle. And you can buy Kindle titles directly from the iPad, giving you a second source of books that is, at least for now, considerably more extensive than Apple's.
I'm writing this passage on the iPad. At one point, I thought about writing the whole column on it. Bad idea.
The iPad-app version of Pages, the word processor in Apple's iWork suite, is maddening. The onscreen keyboard is fine for tapping out short notes with the iPad balanced on your lap. On a smooth surface, though, the machined-aluminum, slightly convex back slips around annoyingly. Apple's $69 keyboard, which includes a dock that holds the iPad at a good angle for typing, helps. But Mr. Jobs—who brought pointing devices such as the mouse into mainstream use—has trained me too well. I hate having to move my fingers from the keyboard to the screen for formatting, highlighting, and the like. While the iPad also works with Bluetooth wireless keyboards, it won't pair with a Bluetooth mouse, not even Apple's.
Entering data into the Numbers spreadsheet is just as cumbersome. Then again, once I'm done typing, the touch interface makes it easy to grab, drag, and resize graphics and format documents. The Keynote presentation app is a genuine pleasure.
But I still miss my mouse. If I'm going to use this thing to replace a netbook—which it's eminently capable of doing—for God's sake, let me use a pointing device other than my finger.
Cross-country flight. Today the iPad is incognito in its $39 Apple case. Nary a peep from fellow passengers or cabin crew. I settle in to watch Robert Downey Jr.'s hi-def performance in Sherlock Holmes, rented from the iTunes Store, along with a couple episodes of my favorite Britcom, Yes Minister. With a little reading and what it took to write these words, plus some iPad time I allotted to the teenage daughter traveling with me, the device has been in use for almost four hours. Still has 72% of its battery charge to go.
Regardless of how many iPads Apple ends up selling, it's something genuinely new. Is it a life changer? I ask the teenager. She shrugs. "It's O.K.," she says. Kids. Tough crowd.