iPad reviews question office-readiness

Ease of use, speed and battery life must be weighed against missing functions, critics say.

Is the Apple iPad good enough for government work? The early reviews are in, and they show mixed results.

In general, the iPad wins praise for its speed, touch-screen interface, battery life and overall user experience. But it gets complaints for what's missing, including support for Flash, a camera and the ability to print.

The New York Times’ David Pogue captured both perspectives by splitting his review into two sections, one for techies and one for everyone else.

For the techies, he complained about the onscreen keyboard, lack of Flash support and iPad’s inability to multitask.

For everyone else, he praised the multitouch screen, e-reader and user-friendliness. “The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget,” he writes. “Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.”

USA Today’s Edward Baig gives the iPod 3 1/2 stars out of four, but he primarily sees it as a leisure device that's good for watching movies, reading digital books and playing.

But the question for potential government users is whether the iPad will allow you to mix business with all this pleasure.

Eric Zeman of InformationWeek thinks not. “Apple's iPad can handle office fundamentals pretty well, but a significant e-mail weakness and its lack of cloud support are among the reasons it can't seriously be considered a laptop replacement,” he writes.

The inability to print could be a deal breaker for feds, although that might not be a problem if wireless printers are available. At the moment, it appears that you can’t print anything from the iPad, although there will soon be an app for that, and more will likely follow.

But the device could have other shortcomings on the job. PC World’s Melissa Perenson writes that the iPad doesn’t let you manage files or take photos — although that could be a plus at agencies concerned about security — and it won't multitask. And not having Flash support makes many Web sites nonfunctional.

Apple doesn’t claim the iPad is ruggedized, but if durability is a concern, Macworld advises users to buy a protective case. In stress tests, the iPad started showing signs of damage after being dropped a few times.

On the bright side for the iPad’s job prospects, Mocana announced that it has earned the government's first FIPS 140-2 Level 1 validation for an encryption product running on the Apple iPhone or iPad.

It’s likely too early to tell if the iPad has a real future in government or private-sector work. But for now, the reviews suggest it’s more of a great second car — stylish, sporty and innovative — than a sturdy everyday vehicle.

Even the Chicago Sun-Times' Andy Ihnatko, who calls the iPad “one of the best computers ever,” notes that it's not quite enough. “As impressed as I am by the iPad, I’d soon go stir-crazy if I had to rely on it as my one and only full-time computer,” he writes.

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