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In-depth review: Apple's IPad and iPhone OS 3.2

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iPad hardware: the battery

Thanks to the relatively large amount of space behind its large screen, iPad packs a big battery pack with 5.5 times the capacity of the iPhone. And despite its large and bright display, the device sips power very efficiently.

While desktop operating systems have incorporated a variety of power management technologies to enable them to work on notebooks, Apple's iPhone OS was built from the start to coast on as little energy as possible. That provides iPad with a much stronger starting position in efficiency than netbooks running Windows XP/Vista/7.

Like everything else that Apple builds these days, iPad has no user-replaceable battery. But there are lots of external battery packs and charging devices designed to work with the huge installed base of devices with iPod connectors, and many of these should work with iPad, too.

The device does demand more power to charge (and charge quickly) than the iPhone does, which is why it ships with a larger, 10 Watt adapter. It may also report that it is "Not Charging" when plugged into the USB ports on a Mac or PC.

This message, which of course can only be seen when the screen is on, means the device is using enough power to illuminate its display that there's not enough extra to recharge the battery. If you switch the screen off, it can trickle charge from USB if the port supports the "High Power" specification, which delivers 5 Watts. It will always charge fastest when plugged into its own charger.

As a variety of reviewers have noted, the device will coast along for 11-12 hours while playing movies, even without dimming the screen from its rather bright default setting.

iPad charging matrix

iPad hardware: keyboards

Compared to the existing iPhone and iPod touch, iPad and its iPhone 3.2 firmware presents a virtual keyboard that's significantly easier to use, although it still isn't going to please touch typists.

It's better primarily because the keys are larger and easier to hit, but they're still virtual so you have to watch the keyboard as you type. It's okay for entering a paragraph or so, but you won't want to type in long documents by touching out letters on the screen. However, after some iPad typing, returning to iPhone text entry feels extremely cramped.

In portrait mode, the virtual keyboard of the iPad takes up much less of the screen in comparison to the iPhone, but in landscape orientation, it consumes nearly the same ratio (as shown below).

iPhone vs iPad virtual keyboards

To demonstrate the versatility of the virtual keyboard, iPad apps can now present custom keyboards that are suited for a specific task, such as those used in Apple's own Numbers spreadsheet, which adjust depending on whether the current cell is a formula, a date, text, or a number.

iPad Numbers keyboards

Apple has also extended the iPhone OS' copy and paste system of text selection to add new functions you might want to do while entering text, such as looking up a word's definition in the dictionary (a feature supported in specific apps such as Apple's Pages word processor), or replacing the word with a related one from the system dictionary.

With spell checking turned on, words that are flagged as misspelled are underlined in red, and touching the word presents a popup of spelling suggestions (shown below). The existing auto spell correction of the iPhone OS still works, too.

iPad spelling correction

The biggest new thing for iPad in the keyboards department is that you can now connect any Bluetooth keyboard or the special Dock Connector keyboard Apple sells, which is integrated into a Dock stand.

Being able to type with a conventional keyboard makes iPad a serious replacement for having to lug along a full sized notebook just to do some writing while commuting on a train or flying across the country.

In addition to being able to touch type with your eyes focused on the screen, an external keyboard can also set screen brightness, volume, control media playback, and perform text selections (using shift plus the arrow keys; you can also use shift+Option+arrow keys to select one word at a time, or use shift+Command+arrow keys).

An external keyboard is also great because you can invoke a variety of handy keyboard shortcuts, including Command+X/C/V to cut/copy/paste without using your fingers, or use Command+Z or Command+shift+Z to Undo/Redo operations. Not all familiar operations have a keyboard equivalent though; Pages doesn't currently support key combinations for setting bold or italics, for example, although this is only a limitation of the app itself.

If you make a text selection from the keyboard, you (somewhat confusingly) can't always touch the screen to select an operation like copy; touching the screen often resets your selection. In other words, you'll need to select and perform operations from the keyboard, or from the screen using touch but you can't always mix back and forth.

This appears to be a bug, as in some apps (like Mail, but not Pages), when you "select all" using Command+A, it will pop up a Cut/Copy/Paste button you can touch, but in most apps, when you make a partial selection using arrow keys and shift, it won't allow you to touch the selection to pop up options; instead, it will reset the selection.

Once you associate a Bluetooth keyboard, iPad apps no longer automatically show the virtual keyboard. To go back to normal operation, you have to power your external keyboard off. However, you can display the virtual keyboard when using an external keyboard by hitting a function key (the pre-iPad Apple Bluetooth keyboard will do this when you hit the eject button; Apple's iPad keyboards have a specially marked button for displaying or dismissing the virtual keypad.)

Apple's iPad-specific keyboard also includes buttons for the Home screen, screen lock, and initiating Spotlight search and its Picture Frame mode. I couldn't figure out how to trigger any of those special features from a standard Bluetooth keyboard using any combination of keys.

If I haven't stressed it enough yet, being able to both type and perform copy/paste and undo features from an external keyboard open up iPad to an entirely new class of uses over the previous iPhone OS devices.

It's great to know Apple only reserved this trick for iPad just to show it off, and will deliver it on its other mobile devices as well in iPhone 4.0, once the exclusive novelty period wears off.

On page 3 of 10: iPad hardware: Bluetooth networking; iPad hardware: WiFi networking; and iPad hardware: video output.