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----It makes a refreshing change to review a product that can't be pigeon-holed. Apple's iPad, which has reached levels of mainstream publicity normally reserved for ash clouds and elections, is one such product. It represents the first strike in what could be the defining product segment, if not of 2010, surely of 2011. That Apple is first out of the blocks shows exactly how serious it is about tablets. Apple has already created two epoch defining products in the iPod and the iPhone. Now it's gunning for a hat-trick.
In comparison to its ambitions the iPad looks almost modest. Fundamentally its design, which is so obviously derived from the iPhone and iPod touch, constitutes little more than the beautifully crafted aluminium casing and the glass fronted screen. This simplicity works, though. Not only is it aesthetically elegant, it's functionally non-threatening. Aside from a small smattering of buttons, which comprise the iconoic home button, a volume rocker, hold/power button and a switch for locking the screen orientation, the iPad is just a big screen you can touch. No one could ever be intimidated by it.
As it's the most eye-catching feature, it's no surprise to find Apple has invested heavily in the quality of the screen. Not only is it very large, measuring 9.7-inches, it has a sharp 1,024 x 768 pixel resolution and utilises the premium LCD panel technology, IPS. This tech, which you'll find in most of the best LCD TVs, affords excellent viewing angles and deep colours. Combine this with bright LED backlighting and you have a display that showcases videos, photos and magazines extremely well. It's also just as sensitive and accurate for touch control as its cohorts.
While the screen is the main hardware highlight, also key to the iPad's success is Apple's custom-engineered 1GHz system-on-a-chip. Based on CPU tech licensed from British firm ARM and a PowerVR graphics core, it ensures the iPad ticks along at a snappy pace. It'll also handle 720p h.264 video comfortably, though the aspect of the screen (4:3 as opposed to 16:9) results in large black bars above and below widescreen videos.
Beyond the processor and screen there isn't much more to add hardware-wise. Our model, which is a 16GB Wi-Fi only version from the US, does lack 3G and the assisted GPS 3G equipped models enjoy, but that aside it has all the same basic elements. This includes Bluetooth 2.1, Wireless-N Wi-Fi and a digital compass, while storage capacities for all models start at 16GB and go up to 32 and 64GB.
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