To the critics, fanboys and sceptics who have been waiting for Apple iPad for months, today’s first impressions ranged from elation to exasperation.

Writing at Slate.com, Farhad Manjoo said the iPad is the second computer he’s been looking for. “I wanted a flat, portable, easy-to-use machine that I could use for e-mail and reading the Web,” he writes. “The iPad is that device. Jobs described it as the perfect hybrid of a laptop and a phone, and I agree. Everything about it—its size, shape, weight, and fantastically intuitive user interface—feels just right.”

As an object, the iPad also won early praise. “It’s substantial but surprisingly light. Easy to grip. Beautiful. Rigid. Starkly designed,” writes Mark Wilson at Gizmodo. “In the hands, it feels great—not too heavy at all.”

Though Apple didn’t spend much time talking about it, those who had a hands-on with the device definitely noticed the iPad’s speed. “The speed of the CPU is something to be marveled at,” writes Joshua Topolsky at Engadget. “It is blazingly fast from what we can tell. Webpages loaded up super fast, and scrolling was without a hiccup. Moving into and out of apps was a breeze. Everything flew.

With its focus on reading and the new iBooks store, the iPad also makes a compelling alternative to the current crop of eReaders on the market. “When you look at iPad in comparison to other e-readers available today, it is now clearly the best device on the market for those who enjoy reading,” writes Nick Bilton on Bits. “Although the Kindle made amazing headway in the digital book market, helping push the boundaries on digital reading devices and the acceptance of these technologies, Apple’s iPad is a tectonic shift to the e-reader and e-book marketplace.”

Many, however, focused on the iPad’s shortcomings. The absence of a camera, in particular, left many critics baffled. “The lack of a camera on the iPad is a serious problem,” writes Mike Melanson at ReadWriteWeb. “Are we really going to have to carry a separate camera with us and connect it to the iPad to get it onto the Internet? And what about Skype . . . Video chatting is out of the question.”

Nor does the iPad have Flash, a key component to rich web experiences. “If Apple wants this to be a serious computing device (i.e., an alternative to your laptop, at least in some situations), [the lack of Flash] is a pretty big drawback,” writes Anthony Ha on DigitalBeat. “While I’m willing to tolerate that on my iPhone, it would be awfully frustrating to see on a larger, more powerful device.”

And while Mr Jobs showed off the iBooks store, there was no mention of other media deals that would make the iPad a truly disruptive offering. “There was no immediate word on any of the rumored subscription content deals with Hollywood and other content providers that might make the iPad a must-have gadget that moves beyond niche markets such as education, health and graphics arts,” writes Cliff Edwards at Business Week. “Much has been made about Apple’s attempts to revive the markets for various forms of media, but little was said at the Apple event to clarify just how the iPad will do that.”

Over at CrunchGear, Nicholas Deleon said he just doesn’t need a new category of devices. “It’s not an iPhone replacement because it’s not a phone (duh); it’s not an iPod touch replacement because it’s not portable; and I already have enough “real” computers that I don’t need a tablet,” he writes. “The iPad seems to fill a void that I simply don’t need filled.”

The truth is, it’s too early to draw conclusions about the iPad. David Pogue points out that if history is any guide, the launch of the iPad will follow a predicable three-part routine. Phase 1 was the rampant speculation. Phase 2 involves a bit of a letdown and a focus on the product’s perceived flaws. Then, when the iPad goes on sale in April, “Phase 3 will begin: positive reviews, people lining up to buy the thing, and the mysterious disappearance of the basher-bloggers.”

We’ll have to wait and see.

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