iPad apps: Twitter and social networking essentials

As you might've notice, either here on the site or likely elsewhere on the internet, we at Engadget have somewhat of an affinity to social networking. With a new screen sitting here saving us some screen real estate, we decided to give a number of Twitter and other pro-social apps a go for perennially staying connected to our online friends -- so long as there's a decent WiFi connection nearby. Here's the highlights from what we've toyed with, and stay tuned for even more roundups on the horizon.

Twitterific for iPad (free; $4.99 for Pro account) - Definitely the best Twitter app on the iPad so far (pictured above). It works great in portrait and landscape, contextual links conveniently pop out and photos even get special format treatment. No option to upload photos when tweeting, but we're guessing with a lack of a camera, it didn't seem as necessary an addition -- we like to show off our screen captures and saved browsing images, but hey, that's just us. The only deterrent for power users is that you can only view one column at a time, but with lists, saved searches, and all other thread options easily accessible from the leftmost column, we didn't find it too inconvenient whatsoever. [See in iTunes]

TweetDeck for iPad (free) - Largely the same interface as we've seen in prior iterations, and it makes the transition well here. Columns are easy to navigate and the sheer volume of information never seems cumbersome, although we find it pretty annoying that you have to switch to portrait mode to click on links, photos don't get their own formatting (relegating you instead to the site), and there doesn't seem to be a way to follow a public conversation thread -- but hey, it's free and great for multiple simultaneous feed navigation. Some people might find Twitepad ($0.99) more to their liking, but in our time with the software it was a little too crowded for our tastes, and buggy in its current state. It's definitely one to keep an eye on, though. [See in iTunes]

Twittelator Pad ($4.99) - When it comes to adapting to the "homely" iPad aesthetic, Twittelator definitely gets it, from the postcard border to the paper clips on certain icons. Super customizable, conversation threads are easy to navigate, images show up inline... the only catch is that we're the type of user who hardly ever looks at the unfiltered follower list, the inability to change the main feed in the left column equates to a lot of wasted space. [See in iTunes]

Sociable ($4.99) - The functionality is pretty barebones for each of the included portals, but let's face it, the ability to navigate Twitter, Facebook news feed, Flickr, Reddit, and Digg all from one account is pretty alluring, no? [See in iTunes]

AIM (free) - Turns out the developer arm of our parent company did quite a number with bringing AIM service to the iPad, with an elegant design, a number of thematic choices, and Aol Lifestream (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.) services "flipped" on the back of your main chat pane. [See in iTunes]

Loopt (free) - Find nearby events and restaurants (mostly culled from Zagat, it seems), check out images and reviews of the venues, and immediately get directions via a jump to Google Maps. If nothing else, photo mode is a gorgeous look at your local nightlife that provides the same review-and-find services without the map. [See in iTunes]

IM+ ($9.99) - Gtalk, AIM, Facebook chat, Skype chat, barebones Twitter, and more all rolled into one. It's a pretty expansive chat client, but like most of these multi-account apps, you're not getting as much functionality as you would a dedicated app for one service -- not to mention that $10 price tag is pretty hard to swallow. [See in iTunes]

Add to Home Screen (free!) - You're not gonna get the prettiest of icons, but given the iPad's expanded screen size, sometimes the best option is via Safari itself. Simply navigate to the proper URL, click the plus sign ('+') on the top bar, and assign it the name you always wanted. No image uploading might be a deterrent for the likes of Flickr and Facebook, but if the iPhone is any indication, we imagine official apps -- free and generally superior in quality to anything else out there -- aren't too far off into the future. The iPhone apps, also, still work fine despite some graphical inferiority, so why shell out cash now for just a temporary solution?