Gadget reviewers having out-of-body experiences over the iPad

Alternate headline: “Chump blogger tempted to blow a thousand bucks on oversized iPod.”

Dude, talk me out of this. This is officially an intervention.

For the past week or so, I have been testing a sleek, light, silver-and-black tablet computer called an iPad. After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades…

It’s qualitatively different, a whole new type of computer that, through a simple interface, can run more-sophisticated, PC-like software than a phone does, and whose large screen allows much more functionality when compared with a phone’s. But, because the iPad is a new type of computer, you have to feel it, to use it, to fully understand it and decide if it is for you, or whether, say, a netbook might do better…

My verdict is that, while it has compromises and drawbacks, the iPad can indeed replace a laptop for most data communication, content consumption and even limited content creation, a lot of the time.

That’s from Walt Mossberg’s review in the Journal but all the top gadgetheads are in accord. Gizmodo’s compiled a handy dandy table of pullquotes from their raves in case you want to compare and contrast; if you’re more interested in the device’s major features, Live Science has a quick and painless rundown. The biggest surprises? Per Mossberg, there’s no eye strain from reading e-books on the backlit screen. And battery life is sensational — even longer than Apple’s claim of 10 hours, according to several reviewers. The word processing suite is supposedly a bit glitchy, but then this thing isn’t aimed at business consumers (yet). It’s a laptop replacement if you use your laptop for browsing, media, maybe drafting the occasional letter, and pretty much nothing else. Which, come to think of it, I do.

One fun fact not mentioned elsewhere that I only discovered recently: It’s not a standalone device. Read the fine print in the right-hand column on Apple’s tech specs page and you’ll see that the system requirements include a PC or Mac. Not a huge deal for HA readers since we all have access to computers already, but for the casual computer user who was thinking the iPad might suffice as their only device, think again. As for cost, granted, this thing is a steal compared to Apple rollouts of yesteryear, but unlimited 3G will run you an extra $30 a month. (Good news: AT&T’s already warning about being over capacity.) You can do without it and choose to rely on Wi-Fi if you like, but then you risk being without a signal when you’re on the go. And, if you happen to be dumb enough not to have a wireless router at home — ahem — you’ll have to pony up a little extra cash (or not so little) to get yourself one of those too. So yes, the low-end models are only $499, but in my case it’ll approach a thou. And yet.

Exit question: Why should I say no? It’s just a big iPod, right? Next year’s version will be twice as awesome and half the price, no? Insanely enticing stories like this are just pie in the sky, are they not? Talk to me.