Apple's new iPad tablet computer hits stores Saturday. And after months of hands-off, arm-chair criticism, we're finally starting to see reviews from the privileged few who actually got their hands on one. The appraisals are overwhelmingly positive. No one thinks the iPad can fully replace a laptop, but it's pretty close.

  • David Pogue  The New York Times columnist calls it the most "polarizing" product he's ever seen. Therefore, he writes one review for techies and another for the general public. Preaching to the tech faithful, he says it's basically a big iPod Touch. The virtual keyboard is a "horrible experience" and most of the Web's video content is unplayable because it doesn't support Flash. Anyone with a smartphone and a laptop doesn't need this. That said, the great unwashed will love this device. The touchscreen is fabulous, checking e-mail is a delight and best of all are the applications. From game apps (Pogue loves Scrabble) to newspaper apps to the prospect of a Hulu app: the iPad is great for consuming media and is in a gadget-class of its own.
  • Walter Mossberg  The Wall Street Journal's tech wiz is absolutely smitten. Calling it a potential laptop killer, he says the iPad's finger-driven functionality could "change portable computing profoundly." Unlike Pogue, Mossberg loves the virtual keyboard. He finds himself relying less on his laptop because the iPad is so much better for surfing the Web and consuming photos, videos and books. "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," he writes.
  • Stephen Fry  In perhaps the most conspicuous display of Apple fanboy-dom, Time's resident technologist reviews the iPad and gets some face time with Steve Jobs. There's no veil of objectivity here. His adoration of Jobs and Apple products is on full display: "I have met five British Prime Ministers, two American Presidents, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson and the Queen. My hour with Steve Jobs certainly made me more nervous than any of those encounters." Praising its overall functionality Fry says "my iPad is like a gun lobbyist's rifle: the only way you will take it from me is to prise it from my cold, dead hands."
  • Edward Baig  USA Today's tech guru emphasizes the iPad's superiority over the Kindle. "There's no contest. Titles on the iPad such as Winnie the Pooh (which comes preloaded on the iPad) boast colorful illustrations. The 6-inch Kindle screen is grayscale. You can change pages on the iPad by tapping the screen: The page turns naturally, like a book. On Kindle, you have to press physical buttons and wait an instant while the page refreshes. Rotate the iPad, and you'll see two pages side by side. Newspaper and magazine layouts look vastly superior on the iPad compared with Kindle. The iPad is backlit, so you can read in the dark. You have to supply a reading light with Kindle."
  • Tim Gideon  Getting into the details, PC Magazine's review hones in the iPad's apps. "There are 12 preloaded apps on the iPad: Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, Videos, YouTube, iTunes, App Store, Safari, Mail, Photos, and iPod. Maps is particularly useful and entertaining: I found every bar and Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and got driving directions to my parents' house in Virginia, all in a matter of seconds. If you haven't seen it yet, Maps is basically Google maps with an interactive search feature—you type in "Tex Mex" and arrows will scatter across the map you are viewing, each one clickable with a brief description of that particular restaurant. If you are searching your current location, you will appear as a blue dot, and will receive automatic directions to whatever destination you choose."