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iPad  header logo
Portable gaming's blank slate
 Handset: iPad 
 Manufacturer: Apple 
by Tracy Erickson
It's challenging for a new device to offer innovation. It's near impossible for a new device to transform the prevailing wisdom of the day. iPad succeeds in doing both.

When viewed through the eyes of a gamer, no other portable device is as transforming as this. While iPhone and iPod touch arguably broke innovative ground, iPad picks up where those handsets left off in the hard work of shifting the wider paradigm of portable gaming from a position of inferiority with respect to other forms of gaming to one of equal worth.

It does so by building on the unique features that have made iPhone a phenomenon, while at the same time creating a fundamentally new platform with the potential to create experiences no other piece of hardware can support.

Sleek, minimalist design paired with capable processing power lend iPad enormous appeal and potential.

A sight for sore eyes

For any portable gaming device, form factor is of the greatest and most immediate concern. iPad obviously outstrips all other portables in size and shape - it gives pause that such a substantial device could be considered portable at all. Yet, its surprising light weight and thin construction allow it to be held comfortably in two hands.

To be sure, it's an adjustment from the small handhelds that have defined portable gaming to this day, but such size has its benefits even if it means the loss of pocket portability.

The large screen creates an unrivalled visual experience, not to mention an expansive interactive surface. These features have never before been offered by a portable gaming device and so their impact on visual immersion is profound. Only the aspect ratio - 4:3 and not widescreen 16:9 - is a point of criticism.

Audio is a different matter and like iPhone and iPod touch iPad varies in quality when considering use of its embedded speaker versus headphones. Unsurprisingly, headphones provide much higher quality audio than the speaker row at the bottom of the device.

Curiously, stereo speakers are not a part of the design: instead of situating two speakers - one at each side of the home button - there's only one on the right side.

Inside out

Filling the screen and speaker with sights and sounds are the internal processing components that form the vital organs of iPad. These are remarkably powerful compared to existing portables and therefore allow stunning graphical displays and complex gameplay features.

Apple has developed a proprietary central processing unit that doubles that of iPhone 3GS, triples that of PSP, and is well over 12 times as powerful as a Nintendo DS. This central processor is boosted by other components: 256 MB of memory (half of what's inside a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360), as well as an unspecified graphics processor.

Together, these components provide an amazing amount of hardware power that provides great potential in terms of graphics and flexibility in game design. Complex simulations are possible, while high definition visuals can be pushed to a resolution of 1024x768. No other portable gaming device comes close to touching iPad in raw power.

Even the battery excels, with Apple promising ten hours of life. In extensively testing the device, the battery never drained during a day of use. Naturally, this will diminish over time, but the fact that games can be played for extended periods of time without killing the device is a boon for gaming.

Tabula rasa

Of course, processing power alone doesn't make a great portable gaming platform. It's a blank slate on which developers can create a range of experiences. The App Store provides the mechanism through which games are sold and its previous establishment with iPhone makes it stable for the advent of iPad.

The early library includes a wide variety of titles from different genres including racing, real-time strategy, online action, massively multiplayer, and more. Such diversity reflects the potential for different gaming experiences possible because of the neutral quality of the device's design.

Compatibility with most iPhone and iPod touch titles provides access to thousand of additional games, which can either be run at native resolution at the centre of the screen or up-scaled to fill it. For games that felt cramped on the diminutive iPhone, the option to expand them onto the larger iPad screen is welcome.

While it shares many of the same features as iPod touch, with respect to gaming it's a world apart. The experience of playing games on an iPad is so fundamentally different thanks to the greater screen size and more robust processing power that such a comparison misses the point.

It may hold true for the device's other features and software, but not for gaming. If anything, the two are similar in achieving a level of accessibility to which only Nintendo DS competes.

The big picture

What remains to be seen is whether this initial iPad model has all of the hardware components for lasting success as a portable gaming device. Networking, for example, is limited to Bluetooth and wi-fi. With the release of a 3G-enabled iPad in the near future, will the demands of connected gaming make that the preferred choice?

The lack of input/output ports aside from the 30-pin connector used for charging and syncing the device with your PC or Mac also raises questions. Will the inability to interface with USB or other wired accessories be a problem? What about the inability to expand the internal flash drive?

It's unlikely, given that success for a games device comes not from any particular feature, but rather the capacity to deliver compelling games. iPad has that capacity. While the iPod touch brought attention back to portable gaming, iPad has the potential to change what we understand portable gaming to be.

Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson 5 April 2010
A stunning combination of aesthetic design and raw power, iPad is a bold new device destined to disrupt portable gaming
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Specs Size243x190x13mm
BatteryEmbedded, 25 W-h lithium-ion; 10 hour expectancy
CPU1 GHz Apple A4
Memory256MB DDR-S DRAM
Screen250mm, 1024×768 pixels
SoundMono speaker built-in, 3.5mm headphone jack, mic
Controls/buttonsHome, volume rocker, sleep/power, mute switch
Input/Output30-pin connector
NetworkingWi-Fi (802.11abgn), Bluetooth (2.1, EDR)
Other featuresMulti-touch display, proximity and ambient light sensors, 3-axis accelerometer, digital compass
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