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La Vida IPad Means Glances, Glare: Rich Jaroslovsky

The Apple iPad
A shopper tries out at an iPad at Apple Inc.'s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, on April 3, 2010. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

It’s now been almost a week since Apple Inc.’s iPad went on sale. With the reality beginning to replace the pre-launch hysteria, here’s a diary of several days spent trying to live my life on it.

Day One: I get my review loaner from Apple ahead of the general release. It’s the 64-gigabyte, Wi-Fi-only version that retails for $699. (The equivalent model that will also run on AT&T Inc.’s 3G network, which goes on sale later this month, will cost $829.)

I spend much of the rest of the day demonstrating the iPad’s capabilities to the little knots of newsroom humanity that keep forming around me. On the New Jersey Transit train home that evening, I briefly debate whether to take the device out of my bag and risk a ruckus. What the hell. I pull out the iPad and put it 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 New York Yankees cap peppers me with well-informed questions.

How fast is the custom Apple-designed A4 chip? (It roars.) Is using it a lot like an iPhone or iPod Touch? (Not really. The 9.7-inch screen makes it a fundamentally different experience, eliminating the need for constant panning, pinching and zooming required on a smartphone.)

‘Sexy’ Device

By the time I get home, I’m talked out and feeling like Steve Jobs’s unpaid, not to mention unwilling, salesman. My wife, who in our 25 years of marriage has seldom displayed much of an interest in any of my tech toys, declares the iPad “sexy.”

Day Two: I’ve found the iPad’s kryptonite: sunlight. Indoors, the backlit screen works beautifully. When I take the iPad to a terrace at the Bloomberg office or to a park near my home, the screen becomes, ahem, a glaring weakness.

Turns out it’s easier to see my own reflection on the glossy screen than to do a little reading or catch a glimpse of the Real Racing HD course I was hoping to conquer in a prerelease game Apple loaded onto my loaner. Moreover, my fingerprints on the touch screen, which barely register 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.

Page Turner

Day Three: Today’s a gym day. I like to read while I cycle at the local Can Do; it takes my mind off the fact I’d much rather be doing something else. Until now, Inc.’s 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 app for the iPad and gain immediate access to all my previously purchased Kindle books.

Like the Kindle app that’s long resided on my iPhone, the iPad version syncs wirelessly with my Kindle hardware, automatically returning to the point in “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders” where I had stopped reading on my Amazon device.

Kindle books on the iPad aren’t nearly as nice as books purchased from Apple. They display as a single page whether the iPad is held horizontally or vertically; native iPad books display two pages at a time in landscape mode. You also lose some of the iPad’s slick book-like experience. Kindle pages slide rather than turn, unless you go into the app’s settings and turn off something called “basic reading mode.”

Writing is Hard

Still, except in sunlight, Kindle books are much nicer on the iPad than on the Kindle’s monochrome e-ink display. And you can buy Kindle titles directly from the iPad, giving you a selection that is, at least for now, considerably more extensive than Apple’s.

Day Four: I’m writing this passage on the iPad. At one point, I thought about writing the entire column on it. Bad idea.

It isn’t often one can say this about an Apple product, but the $9.99 iPad-app version of Pages, the word-processing software in the Mac’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.

Missing a Mouse

Apple’s new $69 keyboard, which includes a dock that holds the iPad at a good angle for typing, helps. But Jobs --- who introduced pointing devices to mainstream computing with the mouse on the original Mac -- has trained me too well. I hate having to move my fingers from the plane of the keyboard to the screen for formatting, highlighting, and the like. While the iPad will pair with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard, it won’t work with a Bluetooth mouse, not even Apple’s.

Pages lacks some other basics, like the ability to add new words to its spell checker. So, just as on an iPhone, it will never learn that “its” isn’t the same as “it’s.”

Entering data into the Numbers spreadsheet app is just as cumbersome as typing in Pages. On the other hand, once I’m done typing, the touch interface makes it easy to grab, drag and resize graphics and format documents. And the Keynote presentation app is a genuine pleasure.

Sorry, 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.

Movies Look Great

Day Five: Cross-country flight. The iPad is incognito in its form-fitting $39 Apple case, which with a fold and tuck makes a neat little stand for viewing videos or typing.

Today, it draws nary a peep from fellow passengers or cabin crew. I settle in to watch Robert Downey Jr. in “Sherlock Holmes,” rented in beautiful high-definition from the iTunes Store for $4.99, along with a several 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 and still has 72 percent of its charge left. Apple’s claimed 10-hour battery is no exaggeration.

Regardless of how many iPads Apple ends up selling, it’s undeniably something genuinely new. Is it a life changer? I ask the teenager. She shrugs. “It’s O.K.,” she says. Kids. Tough crowd.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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