I'm biased toward Apple products. They're not always perfect, but they still tend to be way ahead of the competition in terms of design, usability and style. Our columnist, Michael DeAgonia, reviewed the iPad after getting his hands on one Saturday and tends to feel the same way, both about Apple in general and the iPad in particular.
On Saturday night, a bunch of friends dropped by the house for an ad hoc get together, and I wanted to see what they thought of the iPad. So after installing my apps and syncing my data, photos, music and podcasts, I passed it around and left them alone to use it.
One friend, immediately upon seeing the iPad, asked "Why would anyone want that?" I handed it over, told him to hit the home button to turn it on and suggested he try it out. 10 minutes later he was still Googling things, checking his own blog online and allowing that maybe it would be useful for him as a way of showing off his work to clients.
A little while later, a neighbor walked in and when I handed the iPad to her, she sort of gasped and before even turning it on, said "I want one."
By mid-evening, other friends had downloaded a chat app from the App Store that allowed them to see people online nearby -- the app uses location-based services -- and several of them were crowding around the tablet, looking at the pictures of potential chatmates, comparing notes and laughing. It struck me then that the iPad is just meant for sharing. It's small enough to pass around, large enough for several people to see what's on-screen. (Ryan Faas has a look at the striking variety of uses for the iPad in various workplace settings.) No one had any problems figuring out how to do things, and the multi-touch technology I demonstrated wowed people who hadn't seen it before.
Finally, after everyone had gone, I settled onto the couch and used the iPad pretty much as I had expected: to surf, check e-mail, post a few Tweets and Facebook updates and watch streaming video from Netflix (in this case, the Starz show Spartacus). And the partner couldn't resist checking out Lady GaGa's Telephone video. Both look absolutely beautiful on the 1024-by-768-pixel screen; it has a high pixel-per-inch count, and it shows.
In other words, even for a first-generation product, the iPad turned in a pretty stellar performance. And it was still 72% charged after a few hours of use. For once, Apple's battery life estimate appears to have been right on target.
Having catalogued some of the ways the iPad was a hit, I should note a couple of places where more work is needed. First, I'm with Mitch Wagner, who found that the initial syncing of data and apps seems to take forever. It took a couple of tries before I realized my photos had not been fully copied over. And the syncing seemed to move at a snail's pace, no doubt because more than anything, I wanted to disconnect the iPad and actually use it.
Secondly, I'm still trying to figure out how best to hold it. No matter what you do, you're going to get fingerprints on it, though they do wipe off pretty easily. But the iPad's 1.5-pound heft makes it feel heavy the longer you hold it up. It works best propped up in your lap. I'm definitely going to be on the hunt for a carrying case/stand.
The virtual keyboard works well, but then again, I never minded the smaller keyboard on the iPhone. But several people (touch typists) noted the lack of tactile feel when typing. It's going to take some getting used to.
As for the hardware, the iPad builds on Apple's recent work with unibody laptops, marrying aluminum and glass in a way that makes the iPad feel like it's indestructible. It's not, of course, which is one reason I want to get a case for it ASAP. And while the design is cutting edge, the technology is merely current. No OLED screens or even a Webcam here. Even so, a teardown by Rapid Repair shows it is indeed very well designed and built.
In other words, after all these years of wondering whether Apple would do a tablet, and when it would so it, I'd say the wait was well worth it.