As the first models go on sale, I get my hands on one of the first Apple iPads in San Francisco, California

I was lucky enough to be in San Francisco this Saturday, which was the first day Apple’s new iPad went on sale. So, taking a walk down to the main Apple Store on Stockton Street, I fought past the queues of people in line to buy their iPads – many of whom had been there all night – to freely enter the store where there were models available to try out. Being an avid iPhone and iPod user I was excited to finally get my hands on the latest toy in the range and quickly managed to bag myself one to play with for a while. Picking the device up it is fairly light in the hand and surprisingly easy to support with your hand at one side, while operating the screen with the other. The iPad naturally sits in a landscape format, though by merely turning upright it will operate in portrait mode should you wish. The icons will all be familiar to iPhone users and menus can be swept between easily with the glide of a finger. One thing that is very apparent is the quality of the screen: it’s extremely crisp and bright, making images really jump out.

The bookshelf application reveals all of your saved or downloaded books on a virtual bookshelf that can be scrolled through with a simple finger touch and selected with a double touch. Though apparently more of a strain on your eyes in lower light, under standard lighting the pages were crisp and text well defined, making them easy to read. The pages also turned quickly and easily with a gentle swipe – unlike with some e-readers. The games on the model I picked up were limited to just one puzzle based affair, however, a quick play did demonstrate how potentially impressive the iPad could be for gaming. The adapted version of iWork is due to be another of the iPad’s strengths and the combination of the key note functionality for presentation and pages for word processing and numbers for spreadsheets certainly makes it suitable for business use. The touchscreen keyboard is fairly impressive too, though isn’t responsive enough to allow for any particularly quick typing. iTunes and Mail operate much like they do on any Mac or iPhone, though the large screen is a benefit for scrolling through album work or viewing email content. The Photo function makes the most out of that high res screen and puts most photo frames to shame.

Currently the bulk of the downloadable apps available were originally designed for the iPhone or iPod Touch, so when loaded up they appear at iPhone size in the centre of the screen, surrounded by an virtual iPhone surround. You do have the choice to enlarge these apps to fill the screen, though the high res of the screen makes it look very pixelated – like watching old VHS films on an HD TV. This is quite an unfair critism though, as the list of iPad specific apps is growing rapidly and is more the fault of the apps than the iPad.

After a good twenty minutes of playing I surrendered my iPad to another eager fan and left the store. Was I tempted to join the queue and buy one? A little. Though without the full 3G package and at this early stage it didn’t quite offer enough for me. Yes, I’d like one but I can’t honestly say it offers enough for me to justify paying the price tag, let alone the time in
the line.