Sunday, April 04, 2010

iPad: First Impressions

Note: See my latest post on the iPad here

A break in the weather for several days saw my work schedule increase dramatically and I wasn't even home yesterday when my wife signed for my iPad shipment. I had been checking the UPS tracking status every day since I received the tracking number, but interestingly after an origin scan for Shenzhen and then an origin and departure scan for Guangzhou, China, there were no updates to the status until Saturday morning when I saw the package had arrived in Louisville just after midnight on Saturday. I don't know if the lack of tracking information was part of some secrecy arrangement between Apple and UPS or if it was a result of the sheer number of packages that were handled. An estimated 600,000 to 700,000 iPads were sold on Saturday, though it's not clear how many of those were shipped via UPS and how many were in-store purchases.

When I arrived home yesterday afternoon, there was barely time to unpack the iPad, turn it on, and play with it a bit before leaving for a dinner engagement. But there are some first impressions to pass on to my readers.

Fit and Finish

The quality of construction, specifically it's case and screen are quite good. The iPad weighs in a bit heavier at 24 ounces versus the 10 or so ounces for a Kindle DX, but it seems like the form factor and weight are just fine for my purposes.


The software is what I would expect as a long-time Apple user: Turn the device on and it displays graphics that tell you to sync with iTunes. I plugged it in to my Macbook Pro, launched iTunes, followed the prompt and was in business with in just a few minutes. Short, sweet, and simple. If you know how to use an iPhone or iPod Touch, you'll be right at home with the iPad.

Display Quality

I find the display to be very readable and clear, even in bright sunlight. I want to to test it out in flight, but I'll have to wait for some flyable weather. The screen does show lots of smudges and fingerprints, but these aren't noticeable until you turn the display off. Once you do you realize how dirty the thing has gotten!


My choice was a mid-range, WiFi version and several people have asked me why not wait for the 3G version that includes a GPS receiver. First, there are so many GPS receivers and screens in the aircraft I fly that the last thing I need is another GPS. Secondly, I envision the iPad primarily as a chart viewing device: I think I can figure out rough location using my noggin! Besides, pilots need to keep up their pilotage and map reading skills, right?

iPad EFB Apps

I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the apps installed on my iPhone were available on the iPad on launch day. Specifically, Foreflight Mobile for the iPad is available at no charge to current subscribers. Sweet!

Skycharts Pro is available for a mere $19.99. For that price you get all the US VFR, IFR and terminal charts that you want. An excellent deal considering how the new NACO chart distribution scheme can and has resulted in occasional chart shortages in my local area.

GoodReader has an iPad version that works great if you choose to use terminal procedures from NACOMatic or PDFPlates. And the GoodReader price is still just $0.99.

What's Not to Like?

I'll post some more impressions once I've had some time to use the device in flight, but at first blush the iPad seems to be just the sort of display I was hoping to use as a reliable and affordable electronic flight bag. There are some missing pieces that I hope will fall into place over time. More on that in a future post.


ipearx said...

Any chance you could write some details on how the screen performs compared to other devices in sunlight/shade/cockpit? Thanks for the review, looking forward to more.

John Ewing said...

Later today I'll probably be able to post something. That ForeFlight radar screen shot gives you an idea of what was going on around my neighborhood yesterday and needless to say, all my teaching was cancelled. Today should be better ...

gmedina said...

Wow! I have pre-ordered 3G 32G version I hope to have at the end of the month to run my current iPhone version of ForeFlight 3.0. Can't wait! The 3G will come in handy for weather briefings, etc., where wireless isn't available.

BTW, is your FreightDawg blog content still available? I used to love some of the pics and used a couple in the past as wallpaper??

Paul said...

I'm curious to see what flight apps we will see on the iPad. I've never tried using my iPhone in the air but I've heard conflicting reports about whether the GPS works without being in cellphone mode, so if I wanted a moving map I might have to break FCC rules.

Ars Technica did a big review yesterday saying the screen is almost unreadable in sunlight so I'm curious as to how it will work in the cockpit. This is a problem with the ATC GPS I use right now.

I'm real curious about the Notion Ink Adam coming out this year, but if it doesn't live up to it's hype, I might go the iPad route.

John Ewing said...

Still working on getting some photos of the iPad in various lighting situations.

My initial impressions are that the screen performs pretty well in bright conditions. Now if you're flying an ultralight and have direct sunlight hitting the screen, well that's a different story.

Heck, I've had frequently used approach charts stored in plastic sleeves become temporarily unreadable under some lighting situations. Even the G1000 screens can become problematic if you're wearing a light colored shirt and the sun angles are just right.

Sure the iPad has limitations, but overall, I think it does a pretty good job as an EFB.

I promise to post some more info when my schedule permits.