If the Apple iPad is an iPod touch on steroids, then the Apple iPad 3G is very nearly a pumped-up iPhone. It’s got the iPhone’s wickedly fast, smart GPS, a built-in 3G data connection that hands over smoothly with Wi-Fi and day-long battery life. You can even – with a bit of Skype fiddling – make and receive phone calls.
The 9.7in multitouch screen is still the best interface ever made. Glide your digits over its surface and the gigahertz chip inside the glass and metal case instantly responds, spinning photos, zooming web pages and controlling games with unparalleled ease.
The great outdoors
Like a house-trained puppy, the month-old iPad can now explore the great outdoors. The good news? The combination of cellular, Wi-Fi and GPS snaps the iPad 3G into its location in seconds, and superb mapping keeps you locked on to roads like rails.
Maps load speedily over 3G and the expansive real estate means you’ve the closest thing yet to a digital road atlas in your hands.
The bad news? In daylight, the iPad’s stunning screen looks terrible. It’s still (just) readable but the combination of hundreds of smeary fingerprints and a sickly green colour cast will make you long for the cosy dimness of a coffee shop.
Don’t get too excited about that 3G connection, either. While it’s fine for surfing, downloads and decent audio streaming (Last.fm sounds great), YouTube automatically downgrades beautiful HD clips to barely watchable versions and online TV apps like the impressive but US-only ABC Player won’t play at all without Wi-Fi.
In the US, there are two data plans, both using AT&T. The $15 (£10) monthly charge gives you 250MB. In a single (fairly intensive) day of general browsing, map surfing and emailing, we got through 60MB, so cloud warriors will prefer shelling out $30 (£20) for truly unlimited mobile broadband. Either plan can be cancelled and re-started from month to month.
App to the job?
It’s still early days for native Apple iPad 3G apps, but there’s already enough to keep anyone busy. Apple’s new iWork apps are beautifully simple, the iBooks and Kindle apps are fine for reading and the CoPilot Live 8 HD sat-nav app hammers another visually pleasing nail into the standalone sat-nav coffin.
It’s hard to see the iPad replacing real laptops in the near future, though. The soft keyboard is responsive but too large for thumbs only, and much too flat and basic for touch-typing. The lack of multi-tasking (coming in the autumn) also hobbles its inherent nimbleness.
Overall, it’s easy enough to picture the iPad surfing on an impeccably stylish sofa or browsing emails in a first class departure lounge. The iPad 3G’s problem is that it’s difficult to envisage it looking comfortable in the places in between.