Despite being in existence for over seven years, it’s still a challenge to figure out where the iPad fits into Apple’s lineup.
Steve Jobs famously introduced it as something in between a smartphone and a laptop, but it never quite found its purpose. Is it just a big iPhone? Will it revolutionise publishing? Is it a new kind of computer?
With the iPad Pro, Apple appears to be inching towards a real answer. The iPad is a laptop alternative, but it’s still not a perfect one. However, Apple made some significant steps last week to reinvigorate the iPad with new features in the upcoming iOS 11. It adds a lot of the things iPad fans have been begging for. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until the fall to get all that.
I’ve been testing the newest iPad Pro, the 10.5-inch model with faster specs that was announced at WWDC last week. The $US649 tablet goes on sale this week, and it’s replacing the 9.7-inch iPad Pro that launched last year.
It’s the best iPad, even though it’s not for everyone.
The biggest change with the iPad Pro is the new screen size. At 10.5 inches, it’s slightly larger than the standard 9.7-inch screen that’s been around since the original iPad debuted. To make room for that extra screen space, Apple shaved down the bezels along the sides and extended the length of the iPad.
But overall, the new iPad Pro’s footprint isn’t much bigger than the 9.7-inch model, and it still weighs about a pound, making it comfortable to hold up for long periods of time. The extra length also means you can snap on a full-sized keyboard, so typing doesn’t feel as cramped as it did before.
I think this new size is the sweet spot for the iPad. It’s not too large and unwieldy like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but still large enough to comfortably juggle two apps at the same time in split-screen mode. It’s also a great size for watching videos and scrolling through news articles or the web in full screen. I found myself using the iPad Pro a lot more than my iPhone over the last few days, simply because I could get more done with it.
Plenty of power
The outside isn’t all that’s changed. Under the hood, the iPad Pro is running Apple’s latest A10x processor and comes with 64 GB, 256 GB, or a whopping 512 GB storage options. It’s plenty fast, and can handle the latest and greatest games and professional software like photo and video editors.
There’s also an improved screen that refreshes animations faster, so scrolling through content on the web or apps is smoother. It also helps when drawing or jotting down notes with the optional $US99 Apple Pencil accessory, reducing the lag between writing on the screen and when you see the markings actually appear. It’s not quite the same feeling as drawing on paper, but I found that it’s comfortable enough. (By the way, most people won’t need the Apple Pencil. Only get it if you plan on using digital art apps or scribbling notes the old-fashioned way instead of typing.)
There’s another good move. Now both iPad Pro models have identical specs, so you don’t have to worry about trading off a little performance depending on which screen size you prefer.
It feels premature to write about the iPad Pro today because a lot of its potential won’t be unlocked until iOS 11 launches this fall. At WWDC, the iPad, not the iPhone, got the most important updates, a sign that Apple is finally giving the tablet the attention it needs to find its place. iOS 11 is a major overhaul that will change a lot about how you use the iPad in the future. BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski even called it “the second coming of the iPad.”
Just about every update in iOS 11 is designed to make the iPad more Mac-like and productive. There’s a new app dock that you can pull up while inside any app. It looks nearly identical to the dock in macOS. You can drag and drop photos and other content between apps. And there’s a new file system app that pulls together photos, documents, and other files into one manager, just like on your Mac. It even works with cloud storage services like Dropbox.
All of those are features that iPad should have had years ago, and at first glance they feel well thought out and useful. But we won’t know for sure until iOS 11 launches in a few months, and it’s up to app developers to create apps that take advantage of all these new features. Better late than never.
My only major complaint with the iPad Pro is the optional $US159 Smart Keyboard. It’s a smaller version of the same accessory that launched with the original iPad Pro back in 2015, but it doesn’t address a lot of the issues that many had with it.
The Smart Keyboard is missing a lot of what you’d expect from an accessory focused on making you more productive. There aren’t any function keys. No brightness or volume controls. And, most frustratingly, no home button for jumping back to the home screen. It’s also not that comfortable to type on because the keyboard is so narrow from top to bottom, doesn’t sit well in your lap, and limits you to one viewing angle. I’d love to see some sort of solution for this in future versions of the keyboard. It’s the biggest thing holding the iPad Pro back.
Logitech does make a keyboard that addresses most of these issues, the $US130 Slim Combo keyboard case. But it feels cheaply made and plasticky to me. The keyboard kept falling off the iPad’s magnetic connector too.
Keyboard issues aside, the 10.5-inch model of the iPad Pro is a great device and loaded with a lot of potential and promise once it gets that iOS 11 update. After all these years, the iPad has struggled to find its purpose, but Apple’s vision for the product is finally coming into focus.
From the Microsoft Surface to the Samsung Galaxy Book, there’s a lot of competition of the iPad in the pro tablet category. But even with its faults, the iPad Pro is the best tablet of the bunch.
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