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Apple iPadWe shine the Product Spotlight on Apple's successful iPad to learn what makes it tick, what's new, and why it deserves its ranking as CNET's highest-rated tablet.
-If there's one new tech product that defined our year, it's this: the Apple iPad. I'm Donald Bell here to shine the product spotlight on this game-changing tablet. The iPad debuted in April of 2010 and immediately reset everyone's idea of what a tablet should be. There are 2 main models of the iPad: one that connects to the internet using a combo of Wi-Fi and 3G from AT&T; and one that relies just one Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi models are placed at $499 for 16 gigabytes, $599 for 32, and $699 for 64. Models with 3G are available in the same capacities but are priced at $130 higher. Out of the box, you get the iPad, a wall adapter, and a USB cable. Headphones, cases, docks are all sold separately and are all worthwhile investments. Looking at the iPad itself, the design is constructed entirely of glass and aluminum, giving it a feel that's closer to a Macbook than to an iPhone. It's 7.5 inches wide, 9.5 inches tall, and just a half an inch thick, with a diagonal screen size of 9.7 inches. On the bottom, you have a dock connector and a speaker, along with the home button. The side has volume buttons and a mute switch. And at top, you have the headphone jack, a little pinhole microphone, and a screen lock button. Compared to a smartphone or a dedicated e-book reader, it's not the lightest thing at 1.5 pounds, but it's lighter and more convenient than a laptop. And that, oddly enough, gets us to the heart of what makes the iPad great. It holds its own between the smartphone and a laptop without making you think, "Why am I bothering at this when I can just be using a smartphone or a laptop?" It sounds obvious, but it's something that the competition hasn't been able to reproduce. They go smaller or bigger, but we just keep coming back to the iPad. So getting past the design, what's the iPad actually good for? Starting with the stock apps, you get e-mail, a web browser, YouTube, maps, videos, music, calendar, notes, contacts, and photos----all of which have been optimized for the iPad's large screen. You'll find similar apps on competing products but you won't find these. Here you have links to the iTunes Store and the iOS App Store. In a way, you can boil down the success of the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod Touch to these two killer apps. With iTunes you get direct access to the world's largest and most popular digital music store, along with movies and TV shows, that you need to buy or rent, and a great selection of podcasts, audio books, and free educational content. All of these content downloads directly to your device with no need to connect to a computer. More importantly, you have the App Store which gives you access to hundreds of thousands of third-party applications and games that can mold the iPad into tons of different uses. If you wanna use the iPad as an e-book reader, you can download Apple's own iBooks app, or the Amazon Kindle reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook reader, or even an app for comic books. And that's just one example. But Apple really does have an app for just about every interest, and that's a big part of the iPad's appeal. Now, there have been a few changes to the iPad since we first showed it off in April of 2010. After the update to iOS 4.2, the iPad now shares most of the features found on the iPhone 4 including folders, multitasking, TV show rentals, printer support, and a new wireless streaming feature called AirPlay. If you like staying organized, the folder feature lets you group apps together under a custom label. The multitasking capability allows you to run multiple apps at the same time and quickly jump back and forth between the currently running apps. It's great for productivity but it's also fun just to listen to Pandora radio while reading an e-book. TV show rentals which came to the iPhone and the iPod Touch in September are now finally on the iPad, offering tons of popular shows for as little as 99 cents per episode. If you have an AirPrint compatible printer, you can now print e-mail, photos, web pages, and iWorks documents wireless from your iPad. And if you own one of Apple's $99 Apple TVs or you're thinking about getting one, the iPad's new AirPlay feature lets you send your videos, photos, and music straight to your TV over your home network. Add it all up and you have an awesome product that just keeps getting better. It's also one of those few tech products that we feel good about recommending across the board whether you're a gadget fanatic or someone who typically shies away from computers. It's worth giving the iPad a try. So that's the iPad from Apple. It's CNET's top pick for tablets and it's also one of the most talked-about gadgets of the year. And more than anything, it's a lot of fun. So, for CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell.