FedEx came through, or you survived an ungodly Apple Store line, or you mugged someone who just did. However you got your hands on a new iPad, congrats! Here's everything you need to get started off right.
I'll assume you've successfully removed the iPad from its box, yes? Good. You're a natural! Now trot on over to your computer and plug it in with that fancy 30-pin connector (also, don't lose that connector—it's proprietary to Apple). If you haven't installed iTunes on your computer, now's the time to download it.
Once you're hooked up, iTunes will walk you through the registration process. It's pretty intuitive! But in case you're not one to intuit, you can check out our original iPad set-up guide. You can also do all of this over Wi-Fi, as long as you don't have music and video to put on your tablet and/or don't mind sluggish syncing.
Getting In Sync
Okay okay, so now here comes the first remotely tricky part. You'll be given the option to sync up alllll of the apps and media you've got stashed away in iTunes. And this is where a little selectivity is going to be helpful.
So. If you don't already own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you can skip this part. If you do own one or both of those things, you're going to want to pare down the apps you've collected. That's partly because not all of your apps are ideally situated to the iPad's larger display, and partly because you're going to want to save room for the ones that are. Especially since app sizes are increasing rapidly to keep up with that retina display.
Fortunately, iTunes does a lot of the work for you. Apps are already segmented between "universal" apps (that work for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) and apps that are designed specifically for the iPhone. Which means: go ahead and sync all of the universal apps you already have, then either track down the iPad equivalents of the iPhone apps you love, or stick with the iPhone version and settle for some wonkiness.
Your iPad also handily comes pre-loaded with iOS 5.0 and iCloud. Check out our iOS 5/iCloud set up guide. It'll help you get all your contacts, email, and calendar on your iPad. Even better—for those of you with Alexandrian music libraries—you can always pony up $25 and iTunes Match your way to cloud storage galore. Use this step-by-step guide to get set up.
The Apps You Need Right Now
Okay, okay, here's the fun part: where you get to trick out your tablet with the apps that make you a Grade A iPad Ninja. We keep constant track of the most essential iPad apps here, but think of the following as the most most essential. Most of these will be particularly grand on that glorious retina display.
Netflix streaming. On the iPad. It doesn't really get much better than that, assuming you've got a Netflix account (which by now, honestly, shouldn't you?). [Free]
Sure, Apple's iBooks app is fine. But with Kindle you can read your ebooks across your iPad, iPhone, laptop, and actual Kindle. It's the best, most versatile way to turn your iPad into a portable library. [Free]
See something on the web you want to save for reading later? Instapaper it, and you'll have a huge cache of perfectly formatted iPad content. [$5]
Even if you're the type of person who just says they want to cook but doesn't do any actual cooking, Epicurious is a must-have. It's a huge, easily navigable recipe database, with the all the requisite mouth-watering pictures [Free]
Social media! RSS feeds! All wrapped up in a very pretty package. Flipboard turns your Facebook and Twitter updates—and a host of other content—into the only iPad magazine you may ever need. [Free]
Of course, you may also just want your Twitter pure and simple, in which case you can't do much better than the Twitter for iPad [Free]
Words With Friends HD
Pseudo-Scrabble ends up being even better than real Scrabble, mostly because your friends have already downloaded this version. [$1]
Just in case you wanted to use your iPad to do some actual, uh, work, you can't do much better than Elements for a text editor. Bonus: files are stored in your Dropbox folder, so you can access them anywhere. [$5]
Infinity Blade II
Even better than the original, with amazing 3D graphics and an epic storyline: this is the iOS game to own. So go get it. [$6]
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery
Or if extreme sword violence isn't your cup o' tea, you could try this more thoughtful, engrossing, meticulously soundtracked game. It's affected by the moon phases in real life, so extra fun for werewolves. [$5]
If you're a comics fan, or even remotely considering being one, this app is a must-have. The interface is intuitive, the images are glorious, and twice-weekly back issue sales will keep you in X-Men without breaking your bank. [Free]
Wrap It Up
The iPad is a tremendous technological achievement, but at the end of the day it's a giant, expensive piece of glass. So get a case, please, before your fancy new toy because a fancy shattered platter. Thankfully, the world is overrun with iPad covers and cases. Traditionalists might be drawn to the faux-book stylings of the Dodocase, while klutzes will be best served by the indestructible G-Form Extreme. Or Apple's standard issue Smart Cover, which provides minimal protection but instant-on functionality.
Or if none of those tickle your fancy, there are plenty of cases we've covered in the past that you might enjoy slapping onto your new iPad. The best part: looks like all (or very nearly all) iPad 2 cases will work just fine on the new iPad as well.
Don't get me wrong—the iPad is plenty great on its own. But no tablet is an island, and you'll want to pick up these iPad peripherals lickety-split.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
That giant on-screen keyboard is okay for short bursts, but you're going to want an actual keyboard if you're writing anything much longer than a tweet. [Apple, $70]
3-in-1 iPad Camera Connection Kit
Forget Apple's official iPad camera connector, with its separate USB and SD card slots. This little guy lets you transfer files via USB, SD, and microSD all in one dongle. [MIC Gadget, $30]
Twelve South iPad Compass Stand
Cases can prop up your iPad in a pinch, but the sleekly multi-positional Compass stand acts as a perfect easel for your tablet's canvas. [Twelve South, $40]
You've got the basics down. Your iPad is full of apps, music, and videos. You've wrapped it in a protective case, and you've synced all your information to it. If you're feeling like going the extra mile, check out our ever-userful 11 tips and tricks. Most of all, just enjoy your shiny new gadget.