I’ve been playing with the iPad for a couple of days now, and wanted to write up some first impressions.

I’m in Canada, so I couldn’t just pick one up at the local Apple store (not that I have a local Apple store in Brantford – the closest is Toronto). I drive to the Apple store at the Walden Galleria in New York, about 1.5 hours from here, where they still have them in stock. The guy at the border checkpoint was as surprised as I was that they were still available, and the customs agent assessing my taxes on import (which was just the PST and GST – 13%) said “We’ve seen a lot of those this week”. Apple must have anticipated the border-crossers and given the stores within driving range of major Canadian cities with some extra stock.

I brought it home on Tuesday and set it up, downloaded some of the apps that are available, and then kind of said “hmm, now what”.

I have a laptop, and there isn’t really anything that the iPad does better than my laptop.

If I’m sitting on the couch reading email or surfing the web, the laptop has this built-in stand which also serves as a keyboard. I have to hold the iPad, which makes it a bit more awkward. This could be solved with a case for the iPad – I don’t have one yet – so maybe this isn’t going to be a problem.

The onscreen keyboard is usable but not enjoyable to use. I’m not going to be typing out anything more than a sentence or two on it.

Browsing the web is okay, but without Flash it feels like something’s missing – I always know that the next link I click on might lead to something I can’t use – and I miss the easy tabbed browsing, middle-clicking on an interesting link to queue up loading it while I continue reading the article I’m reading.

But there is one thing that the iPad has that my laptop doesn’t – a touchscreen. And that’s the thing that makes all the difference.

There are some great games available. Plants vs Zombies, Harbor Master and The Creeps are all available from the Canadian app store in iPad optimized versions, and they look great. And interacting with these games using the touchscreen is so much nicer than using the mouse. Playing solitaire on a touchscreen is somehow more relaxing than doing it with the mouse. The iPad is an awesome casual game machine.

It’s also a great kid machine – my son has been playing PvZ on the PC but the touchscreen takes a lot of the mouse dexterity problem out of the picture. He loves it.

Browsing my photo library on the iPad is a lot of fun. Apple tweaked the pinch-to-zoom gesture so it zooms much more quickly and the result is that instead of two or three gestures to zoom in on something you can usually do it in one.

I think my wife has a much different view of the iPad than I do. She finds the laptop gets too hot and is uncomfortable to use on the couch, and likes the fact that the iPad is silent and never gets hot. And technically it’s her iPad, so I’m glad that she likes it.

So what’s the verdict? It’s a great toy, but it’s not going to replace a computer for most of the things I do on a computer. On the other hand, I think Apple has created a great mainstream-friendly touch-based user interface and that’s going to go a long way.