The iPad: Some questions & answers

So, what kind of ports will you get on the iPad, anyway? What’s it like typing on the virtual QWERTY keypad? How do videos look? What’s the deal with GPS? And how much will the keyboard dock cost?

I’m going to do my best to answer some of these outstanding questions about the iPad, with help from the details on Apple’s iPad Web site along with first-hand reports from Wednesday’s event in San Francisco. (I’m based in New York, so I’ve been following along here with the invaluable assistance from all manner of live blogs, photos, videos, and even the surreptitious live audio feeds from intrepid audience members at yesterday’s unveiling; Apple has since posted video of the event here.)

Of course, the iPad questions and answers below are only scratching the surface; if I don’t end up answering your specific question below, please post it in the comments below and I’ll circle back in a follow-up post. (And for all the basic details about the iPad, click here.)

So, all set? Here we go …

1What about ports and buttons?

iLounge has an impressively detailed report (plus plenty of photos and videos baterya) on all the physical aspects of the iPad, but I’m just going to focus on ports and controls here. As with the iPhone, the front of the iPad is essentially featureless save for the Home key at the bottom of the 9.7-inch display; along the top, you’ll find a “sleep” switch, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a tiny hole for the built-in microphone (so yes, the iPad does have a microphone). On the right edge are the volume and mute buttons, while the speaker and Apple’s standard 30-pin connector sit along the bottom. That’s what’s there … so what’s missing? A USB port and a card reader, namely. (Apple will be offering a “Camera Accessory Kit” with separate adapters for USB and SD memory cards for $29, iLounge reports.)

How’s the virtual QWERTY keypad?

Just so-so, from what I’ve been hearing. As we saw yesterday, the iPad’s virtual keypad is (obviously) much bigger than that of the iPhone or iPod Touch; in fact, it’s nearly the same size as a standard QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately, the iPad keypad is “almost too wide for thumb typing,” Walt Mossberg complains, and you can’t type with both hands without putting the iPad down … and that could be a problem too, says Gizmodo, because of the iPad’s curved back panel: “Sitting flat on the table … the iPad sort of wobbles … so the virtual keyboard becomes that much more difficult to use.” Of course, you could always use the optional keyboard dock that Apple announced yesterday … but at that point, I’d argue, you might as well just pull out your MacBook.

1What’s the deal with the docks?

OK, so Apple announced two docks that’ll go with the iPad. One is a standard dock with a 30-pin connector that charges the iPad and tilts it at a good reading angle; you also get an audio port in the back for connecting a pair of stereo speakers. The standard dock goes for $29; meanwhile, for $69, you can get basically the same dock with a standard Apple keyboard attached in front. Finally, Apple will also sell a black iPad Case ($39) with a flip that acts as a kickstand for watching movies, slideshows, or presentations.

How do videos look?

Amazing, apparently. “Stunning,” says the San Francisco Chronicle, while iLounge crows about the “strong, rich colors” and “great viewing angles.” iLounge also reports that while the iPad’s 1024-by-768 display isn’t quite capable of displaying 720p videos at full resolution, the device can play 720p H.264 video files (albeit downscaled to the native resolution of the iPad’s screen), so I’m curious whether it’ll be possible to rent and watch an HD movie on the iPad itself. In other words, it sounds like watching a feature-length movie on the iPad will be a lovely experience, especially when you’re sharing a friend. That said, the iPad’s single built-in speaker probably won’t make for a cinema-worthy experience, so don’t forget your earbuds. Also, if you were hoping to play true 720p-quality video from the iPad on an external display, sorry, no dice … external output over Apple’s Component AV cable is limited to 576p. Also: Like the iPhone and the iPod Touch, the aspect ratio of the iPad screen is 4:3, meaning that you’ll have to be content with letterboxing in the case of widescreen videos.

1How’s the iPad’s overall performance?

Pretty speedy, says Gizmodo: “It’s fasssst … It feels at least a generation faster than the iPhone 3GS. Lags and waits are gone, and the OS and apps respond just as quickly as you’d hope.”

How do iBooks look?

Most of the impressions I’ve read have praised the sharp, easy-to-read text on the iPad’s iBooks reader, as well as the three-dimensional look of the page-flipping animations. But in the end, as iLounge notes, iBooks “falls short of really bringing books forward into the 21st Century … they are basically the same black and white things you see on an Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble Nook.” That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise—books are, after all, just text on a page—but still, worth noting.

What about 3G?

Apple says that it’ll sell iPads with embedded 3G for $130 over the standard iPad models, meaning the 16GB 3G iPad will be $629 (versus $499 for the Wi-Fi-only version), the 32GB 3G model will be $729 (instead of $599), and the 64GB 3G flavor will be $829 (rather than $699). For now, only AT&T is offering a specific iPad data plan: $30 a month prepaid for unlimited data (and, thankfully, no contract), or $15 for 250MB of monthly data. International plans will be announced this summer, Apple said.

OK, but what about GPS?

Well, it depends on what model you get. According to Apple’s (somewhat vague) specs, the 3G-enabled iPads will support assisted GPS with cell-tower triangulation, while the Wi-Fi-only model will have to depend on nearby Wi-Fi networks to determine (more or less) your general location. In other words, if you want an iPad that’s an ace at pinpointing your location on the maps app, you’ll have to pay an extra $130 for the 3G-embedded models. That said, both the 3G and Wi-Fi-only iPads come with on-board digital compasses and accelerometers.

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