I haven’t been an iPad user since I got my iPhone 6 Plus.
My iPad mini, which I bought to compensate for the tiny screen on my iPhone 5s, sat unused on my nightstand for months until I finally decided to give up and sell it.
For me, the best computing combo is an iPhone and MacBook. I just don’t need that “in between” device Steve Jobs pitched the world when he announced the original iPad over six years ago.
But Apple is no longer pitching the iPad as an in-between device.
Instead, the new 9.7-inch iPad Air Pro, which goes on sale March 31 starting at $599, is designed to be a laptop replacement. It’s got loads of significant improvements under the hood, and an optional $149 keyboard cover. I don’t think it fully lives up to Apple’s promise, but it does come close. And for some people, it might be perfect.
It is without question the best iPad Apple has made, and it’s the one you should buy if you’re ready to upgrade. I’m even tempted to go for it.
Power for a price
There’s a bit of a sticker shock.
At $599, the iPad Pro costs $200 more than the iPad Air 2. But considering all the extra power and the fact you get double the memory, a better camera, and a more advanced screen makes it all worth it. You don’t need to replace an iPad every year or two like you do with an iPhone, so I always recommend getting the latest and greatest model when you buy. That $599 you spend will last you a good four years or so.
Don’t let the looks fool you either: though the iPad Pro is almost identical to the iPad Air 2, it’s running the same powerful A9x chip from last fall’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Some specs geeks have pointed out that the 9.7-inch model has less RAM than the 12.9-incher, making it slightly less powerful overall, but I’ve been assured most people won’t notice the difference. I certainly didn’t.
The new Pro is more than capable of running advanced apps like 4k video editors and heavy-duty drawing programs. It’s plenty powerful.
Besides all the invisible power, the screen has some significant improvements that even casual users will notice. It’s much brighter than before — Apple claims it’s the brightest tablet screen in the world — and it has sensors hidden in the bezel that automatically adapts the display to the lighting in the surrounding environment.
Apple calls this a “True Tone” display, and it really does work. The display gets warmer in indoor lighting, making it much easier on the eyes. You may not notice it at first, but switch True Tone off and you’ll immediately miss it.
Sound is a lot better too, thanks to four stereo speakers around the edges, just like the ones on the 12.9-inch model. (The Air 2 only has one speaker.) It’s loud, and makes watching videos or listening to music much more pleasant than before. The ultimate Netflix machine.
The Apple Pencil
I’m no artist. I can’t even legibly sign my name. The Apple Pencil, the same $99 accessory that launched with the big iPad Pro last year, isn’t for someone like me.
Instead, I had an artist friend test it out using an app called Procreate. She was blown away by how versatile the Pencil is, detecting pressure and shading as she sketched a drawing at a bar during happy hour the other day.
I think my tweet says it all:
If you’re like my friend, get the Apple Pencil. If you’re like me, skip it. Your fingers will do the trick for everything you want to do.
The big question
Here it is: Is the iPad Pro good enough to replace your laptop?
The short answer: No.
The long answer: It depends. There are plenty of people who could get by using the iPad Pro as their primary computer.
An example: My mother uses her 5-year-old iPad 2 more than any other gadget. I can’t even remember the last time she used a laptop. But then again, her computing tasks mostly involve emailing, checking Facebook, and playing endless hours of “Candy Crush.” If that sounds like you, you could probably get by using the iPad Pro as your only computer.
Plus, mobile apps continue to get more powerful and help you be more productive. And the PC market has been in decline for years as people have realised phones and tablets are good enough for what they need to do. (Meanwhile their old PCs gather dust.)
But I still can’t recommend most people switch to an iPad Pro instead of a regular laptop.
The iPad app ecosystem has gotten better, but still doesn’t match what you get on a Mac or PC when it comes to productivity. Most of it is a form factor problem. It’s simply too tough to use touch-based apps to get things done when historically those programs are designed for a mouse and keyboard.
It’s annoying to reach up and tap and swipe at the screen to navigate because the keyboard cover doesn’t have a trackpad. And the keyboard cover itself doesn’t feel as polished as the rest of the iPad hardware. I found it flimsy and difficult to type on. Plus, it doesn’t hold up in my lap as well as a regular laptop and it’s impossible to adjust the angle of the screen.
The iPad doesn’t do enough to justify making those tradeoffs yet. And Apple already makes great laptops like the MacBook Air and the super-thin MacBook that are much better devices for getting things done.
Maybe the world is shifting to a tablet-centric computing era as Apple believes, but if it is, we’re still in the very early stages of that. And if Apple does make that dreamy all-in-one device, I imagine it will work a lot differently than the current iPad Pro.
Should you buy it?
Try not to get too caught up in the laptop replacement argument. It’s one that will continue for years as our computing habits evolve. If you need a new laptop, by all means get a new laptop.
The iPad Pro is an amazing device, and it’s easily the best iPad Apple has made. If you’re using an iPad that’s at least three years old and thinking about an upgrade, this is the device you should buy.