Last night at 8 pm Pacific time, the Internet lit up with the first reviews of the Apple iPad from the tech journalist A-list and an interesting scattering of regional papers and web sites. Apple seeded nine units to reviewers, and today handed more off to journalists, including Macworld magazine and at least one analyst, the well-regarded Michael Gartenberg.

The iPad goes on sale on Saturday, with those (like yours truly) who pre-ordered devices getting them delivered by UPS or picking them up Apple retail stores. Online ordering is now backed up for April 12th delivery, although there are likely to be units for sale at Apple stores and, surprisingly, at Best Buy.

The advance word is generally good. Among the biggest surprise is that several reviewers found battery life while continuously using the device was actually about two hours longer than the 10 hours Steve Jobs promised at the introduction. That's not surprising given Apple's past problems with battery longevity. Better to aim low than high, and make everyone happy as a result. However, PC Magazine only got about 9 1/2 hours in its test.

You can find video at most of the links below, too, of the iPad in action.

From the national media, we get David Pogue of the New York Times, Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal, Ed Baig of USA Today, and actor/writer/wit Stephen Fry filing for Time magazine, of all things.

Pogue, a former Macworld writer, and now long-term Times tech columnist, has often been accused of being a Mac fanboy because he writes books about the Mac platform. But he's been plenty critical of Apple's missteps as well. He filed a two-fer: a review that talks to techies in the first half and to average mortals in the other. He tells techies that if they need a laptop, buy a laptop; for everyone else, if you want a device designed to let you consume media, the iPad could be perfect.

Mossberg at the WSJ is more consistently positive. He sees the iPad as a replacement for other devices, which was my take when I had time with it back in January at the launch event. I could see that 90 percent of what I do on a laptop while traveling, I could do easily on an iPad, some of that with an external keyboard. However, Mossberg says the iWork suite of productivity apps doesn't work perfectly yet.

USA Today's Baig doesn't mince words: "The first iPad is a winner. It stacks up as a formidable electronic-reader rival for Amazon's Kindle." He adds: "Apple has pretty much nailed it with this first iPad." He believes the iPad will be the first tablet to succeed.

Stephen Fry, just about my favorite creative person in the world, wrote an essay about the iPad for Time, but hasn't yet posted a straightforward review, although he posted an unboxing video last night.

Fry likens the iPad to the realization of a vision of his old friend, Douglas Adams, the now-deceased author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The eponymous guide was a tablet-sized device that could pull up a vast array of static and video data using the "sub-etha" network—not a far cry from the Web over Wi-Fi or 3G. "Douglas Adams is not alive to see the closest thing to his Hitchhiker's Guide that humankind has yet devised," he wrote.

Colleagues at regional papers also got a crack at the iPad: Andy Ihnatko at the Chicago Sun-Times and Bob LeVitus ("Dr. Mac") at the Houston Chronicle. Both have a long history with the Mac platform, and together have written a bazillion books. Andy invented the Macquarium. (Are the two Mac columnists at The Seattle Times, Jeff Carlson and me, bitter about not getting an early unit for review? Noooooooo.)

Ihnatko went apeshit and wrote five separate articles about the iPad, because he's a writing machine. Fortunately, all of the articles are interesting and worth reading, if you can devote the time. His general review notes that "it's a computer that many people have been wanting for years." He writes, "the excitement slips away after about ten seconds and you’re completely focused on the task at hand ... whether it’s reading a book, writing a report, or working on clearing your Inbox."

Bob LeVitus thinks that the iPad is likely yet another device we'll use for a range of purposes for which another device suddenly seems like the wrong choice. "Prior to our iPad's arrival [my wife] said she didn't understand why anyone would want or need an iPad. Now she just keeps saying, 'No, you can't have it back.'"

Xeni Jardin, one of the editors of BoingBoing goes into great detail about the experience of using the device with specific apps, including a remarkable periodic table of the elements program. I know: Sounds tedious in text, looks remarkable in preview. "The iPad hits a completely new pleasure spot," she writes, although she doesn't say whether she likes or loves it after extensive use.

PC Magazine offers a pretty techie look at the iPad, concluding, "There may be things it doesn't do, but what it does do, it does remarkably well."

The Root's Omar Wasow also got an iPad. The Root is an African-American news site run by the Washington Post. Wasow critiques the lack of local storage—capturing a PDF you received in email for later review, for instance—but finds it remarkable overall.

I'll file a report on my experience with the iPad after I have some time to work with it this weekend.