10 questions to ask before buying iPad

On Friday night, I bought an iPad nearly three months after giving 12 reasons why I wouldn't. An unexpected reason came up: My wife's MacBook Pro died. I reckoned she could temporarily use the tablet (which cost way less than any new Mac laptop) and give me a chance to better test the device (than using the Apple Store display models). I'm not among Apple's inner circle of reviewers, nor on any of its other reviewers' lists. I'd have to buy an iPad to test one and pay the restocking fee should I decide not to keep it. The MacBook Pro failure presented reason to join the iPad Generation.

Before getting to those 10 questions to ask, first it's the story of the failed MacBook Pro. I bought the computer used -- somewhat scratched and nicked but in excellent operating condition -- in summer 2009. Early last week, the laptop started acting strangely, with scrolling display or pixelated frozen screen that required reboot. Thursday, the computer rebooted to kernel panic -- Apple's version of the Windows blue screen of death -- every other reboot before freezing up again. So I hauled the ailing laptop into the local Apple Store, expecting prognosis that the graphics chip had failed; I'd already read on the InterWeb that generation of nVidia graphics chip was defective.

At the Apple Store, the Genius confirmed what I expected but said something I didn't. The graphics chip is the only part "covered out of warranty," which in Genius Bar lingo meant free repair. Apple would replace the logic board. After handing over my wife's vintage 2008 MacBook Pro, I took another look at iPad, which I really wasn't interesting in buying (Hey, I gave 12 reasons why not, remember?). But I often swap computers, operating systems, cell phones and other gadgets to break up my routine, to minimize falling into habits. The finger-licking-good user interface certainly would disrupt how I normally interact with a computer. So I decided to buy an iPad. What's 700 bucks between frienemies? But there were none in stock. No problem. An Apple Store employee took my name to reserve one for whenever more shipped in.

Next day, I got email that my iPad was waiting. Whoa, that was fast. I bought the 64GB WiFi model hours later, using money from my meager tax refund. My wife and I both used the tablet over the weekend, but she less time than either of us expected. About 6:15 Sunday evening, someone from the Apple Store called to say that my wife's laptop was ready for pick up. Whoa, that was pretty good service. Turnaround was less than 72 hours after I had been told the repair would take five-to-seven days.

Based on my early iPad usage, I've formed some questions potential buyers should ask when considering the big purchase. I'm not ready to review or even recommend iPad, and I may yet return the device. It's an expensive toy for my budget, fun as iPad may be to use. Now for those questions:

1. Can you rub your tummy, wave your hand, chew bubblegum and blink your eyes at the same time? If so, iPad isn't for you. The device is a multitasking-free zone. OK, some Apple applications kind of work at the same time -- on par with rubbing your tummy and chewing gum together. But iPad is, for now, mainly a one-thing-at-a-time device, which is one of several reasons why in early March I singled out the 55-and-older set as a viable market segment.

2. Do you watch videos at places other than YouTube? If so, forget iPad. For me, the device generated scathes of frustration because the browser doesn't support Adobe Flash. Just try watching videos at MTV.com, Engadget or any (other) WordPress.com site using the built-in video streaming service. They're Flash-based, baby, so they poop out using iPad's mobile Safari.

Apple has gone on the offensive against Flash, and Macheads have joined in, justifying the attack. What a load of crap. For all the BS about Apple protecting the user experience, Flash is all over the Web. The Flash flap is like Apple releasing a digital-only TV four years ago and arguing that analog is inferior and has a monopoly on broadcasting standards. Digital is better, so Apple won't support analog. This is exactly the kind of argument applied to Flash, ignoring it is the major means by which video is delivered over the Web.

3. Do you like to eat with your fingers? Then iPad is for you. The Apple demos don't lie. The tablet is pure finger food. Are you ambidextrous or would you like to be? Apple is a two-handed device, if rightly used. Think "Minority Report" for the kind of sweeping movements that make iPad fun to use and a remarkably more productive tool than mouse and keyboard.

4. Do you have trouble managing your inbox? I sure as hell do. The mail just piles up for months before I finally get around to deleting and filing. On Saturday night, I cleaned up about six months of @me.com email, using iPad. It was unfraking believable. Using my fingers, I blew through the work in about one-third the time of using keyboard and mouse. Bee-Jesus!

5. Did you rebuy music or movies you already purchased to get the content in a new format? You know, moving from vinyl to CDs or VHS to DVD or DVD to Blu-ray (or, gasp, defunct HD DVD). If so, you'll be primed to rebuy many iPod/iPhone touch apps as iPad versions, which typically cost more in the larger formatted size. Not only will you pay twice, but higher price, too. Welcome to the iPad economy!

6. Do you like to read while sitting on the toilet? Wonderful, iPad is the ideal bathroom reader. You can choose from e-books, magazine apps or the Web --  even watch a TV show or (gasp!) movie if you need that long in there.

7. Is your music library bigger than a cereal box? Mine is 78GB of music, and video content consumes a little more. The iPad offers storage capacity of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, which is underwhelming for big content consumers. Since there are no USB ports, digital content stored on portable drives isn't a real solution either. Streaming music could be an option while you work, but -- whoops -- Apple prohibits third-party apps like Pandora from doing so.

8. Have you pined for an Apple laptop but couldn't justify, or afford, $999 for the white MacBook? Well, well, for half that price iPad could be yours. It's the cheapest Mac you can buy. The tablet easily provides more than 90 percent of everyday portable PC functionality -- better than a Windows netbook, in my testing. But there is the puny storage (16GB) for $499, Flashless browser, no peripheral ports (OK, Apple sells extra-cost camera and VGA adaptors) and singletasking to consider. But if you can live with these compromises, iPad has plenty of appeal. The screen is so beautiful, you will want to lick it (and your fingers, too).

9. Do you enjoy reading bulky magazines, like Brides or the old Computer Shopper? Then you'll love iPad for its heft, on the order of a later series Harry Potter book, but, of course, nowhere as thick. The iPad measures 24.28 cm by 18.97 cm by 1.34 cm (9.56 inches by 7.47 inches by .5 inches). The WiFi model is .68 kg (1.5 pounds) and the 3G model .73 kg (1.6 pounds).

For my tastes, iPad is too large, about as long as a hardcover book and much wider, by about 3 cm. The black border surrounding the viewable part of the screen is about 2 cm around. By removing the border, iPad's length and width would be about the same as a hardcover book. The iPad doesn't compare well to ultra-thin, electronic paper screens, making it not nearly as "revolutionary" as advertised. In two or perhaps three years, Apple will unveil an iPad nano that is super thin with smaller dimensions.

10. Do you travel often by air and find annoying and time wasting the security process of removing your laptop from its bag? Like me, perhaps you worry about notebook theft while going through the security line. If the answer is yes, iPad could save you time and troubles. In the United States, the TSA has deemed iPad as security check-in friendly. You can leave it in your bag. Yesterday, Altimeter Group analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted: "Going through security with iPad was a breeze. Easiest pass through since 9/11. Nice to lose five pounds that quickly." That could be you!

Wrapping up, do you have any questions to ask about iPad or perhaps others you think potential buyers should ask? Please offer them in comments. As for my iPad, I'm still weighing options. If you live in the San Diego area and would settle for a slightly-used Apple tablet, make me a reasonable offer.

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