As expected, The Friends Of Apple (FOA) reviews of the iPad have arrived two days before the actual iPad itself, and as expected, those reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Also, I think it's interesting that each, in its own way, addresses the standard iPad complaints ("it's just a big iPod," "the A4 chip isn't actually a new design," etc.). Needless to say, none find it lacking in any meaningful way, and all of them tick off major marketing points fed to them by Apple.

FOA #1, The WSJ's Walt Mossberg, is the most heavy-handed in his Apple bias, and he provides the easiest read if you just want to check off the list of things Apple needs to see appear in reviews of its products. It's almost like they wrote this review, in fact. It's no wonder Apple loves him.

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 could be a game changer the way Apple's iPhone has been.

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.

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. But it all depends on how you use your computer.

I also was impressed with the overall speed of the iPad. Apple's custom processor makes it wicked fast.

I did run into some annoying limitations ... the iPad is much heavier than the Kindle and most people will need two hands to use it. The iBooks app also lacks any way to enter notes, and Apple's catalog at launch will only be about 60,000 books versus more than 400,000 for Kindle. The email program lacks the ability to create local folders or rules for auto-sorting messages, and it doesn't allow group addressing. The browser lacks tabs. And the Wi-Fi-only version lacks GPS. Also, videophiles may dislike the fact that the iPad's screen lacks wide-screen dimensions, so you either get black bars above or below wide-screen videos, or, if you choose an option to fill the screen, some of the picture may get cut off.

All in all, however, the iPad is an advance in making more-sophisticated computing possible via a simple touch interface on a slender, light device. Only time will tell if it's a real challenger to the laptop and netbook.

Up next, FOA #2 David Pogue. Pogue is one of those guys who can't just write an article. He has to be cute, and tries to be funny. He's the type of guy who, in high school, when they announced that the class was going to put on a production of "South Pacific," shot his arm in the air and yelled "me! me! me!". That said, there are some good comments here if you dig and, unlike the other guys, he raises some interesting and even non-obvious critiques that you know Apple doesn't want to see appearing in reviews.

The Apple iPad is basically a gigantic iPod Touch.

The simple act of making the multitouch screen bigger changes the whole experience. Maps become real maps, like the paper ones. You see your e-mail inbox and the open message simultaneously. Driving simulators fill more of your field of view, closer to a windshield than a keyhole.

Apple asserts that the iPad runs 10 hours on a charge of its nonremovable battery — but we all know you can’t trust the manufacturer. And sure enough, in my own test, the iPad played movies continuously from 7:30 a.m. to 7:53 p.m. — more than 12 hours. That’s four times as long as a typical laptop or portable DVD player.

There’s an e-book reader app, but it’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits). The selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces). And you can’t read books from the Apple bookstore on any other machine — not even a Mac or iPhone.

When the iPad is upright, typing on the on-screen keyboard is a horrible experience; when the iPad is turned 90 degrees, the keyboard is just barely usable (because it’s bigger).

The iPad can’t play Flash video ... all the news sites and game sites still use Flash. It will probably be years before the rest of the Web’s videos become iPad-viewable ... There’s no multitasking, either. It’s one app at a time, just like on the iPhone. Plus no U.S.B. jacks and no camera. Bye-bye, Skype video chats. You know Apple is just leaving stuff out for next year’s model.

At least Apple had the decency to give the iPad a really fast processor.

The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget. Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.

FOA #3 Ed Baig, writing for USA Today, says:

The first iPad is a winner. It stacks up as a formidable electronic-reader rival for Amazon's Kindle. It gives portable game machines from Nintendo and Sony a run for their money. At the very least, the iPad will likely drum up mass-market interest in tablet computing in ways that longtime tablet visionary and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates could only dream of.

The iPad has its share of Version 1.0 inadequacies. It doesn't multitask, save playing iTunes music in the background. There's no webcam for those of us hoping to do video chats. The battery is sealed. It's too big for your pocket. Videos failed to play at Hulu and ESPN, among other Web destinations.

Apple has pretty much nailed it with this first iPad, though there's certainly room for improvement. Nearly three years after making a splash with the iPhone, Apple has delivered another impressive product that largely lives up to the hype.

So what do we have here? We got what we expected to get. What we really need to do is wait until Saturday until the real reviews appear. And while I'm not surprised that these guys were almost universally positive, I do expect big things from the iPad given its physical limitations. It's an Apple product. Even the ones that don't do well in the market are beautiful to look at. The iPad, at least, will be that.