I’ve tried to use it as a computer. I’ve tried to use it as a sketchpad. I’ve tried to use it as a gaming machine and a screen just for streaming Netflix.
But after more than a week with the iPad Pro, I’ve learned that it’s pretty simple. It’s just a big iPad.
That probably sounds like a silly, obvious statement to many of you, but over the last two weeks, tech pundits (and maybe even Apple itself) have been shouting nonstop, conflicting opinions about what the new iPad Pro is for.
My answer: The $799 iPad Pro is just an extra-large, powerful tablet, and it’s something even the biggest iPad fans won’t need to buy. It’s not a good replacement for your laptop, despite what Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said. It also doesn’t do much more than Apple’s excellent iPad Air 2 to justify spending an extra $300.
Instead, the iPad Pro is a niche product targeted at the subset of people who want to experiment with drawing or designing on a tablet, thanks to the excellent $99 Apple Pencil accessory. It’s also good for people who want to use an iPad for everything despite the obvious compromises they’d have to make giving up a laptop.
I know that sounds kind of harsh, so I want to be clear that I don’t think the iPad Pro is a dud. Like many new Apple products, there were lofty expectations for this thing, and Apple didn’t do a great job explaining what it’s for, leaving it to us to figure it all out. (The same thing can also be said about the Apple Watch.)
I think the iPad Pro is a hint that some day soon we won’t need a traditional computer to do everything. But for now, you have to deal with too many compromises. It’s a great iPad, but not much else.
Big and powerful
The iPad Pro has a 12.9-inch screen, which is significantly larger than the the 9.7-inch screen on the iPad Air 2. It’s thin and light for its size, but it’s still too cumbersome to hold for extended periods of time if you’re reading a book or magazine. I mostly used the iPad Pro while sitting on my couch, but eventually found myself propping it up on my coffee table with the optional $170 keyboard case, even if I wasn’t typing.
On the inside, the iPad Pro has the most powerful specs of any of Apple’s mobile devices. In theory, this is to take advantage of professional apps for things like video editing or 3D modelling. The Pro can handle those tasks perfectly, but if you’re just planning to use the device for watching movies or playing games, you won’t need that extra power. In fact, most iPad apps are still designed for casual consumption, not powerful productivity, so there aren’t many ways to unlock the hardware’s real potential unless developers start making better apps. And right now, the iPad Pro app selection is pretty bleak.
Apps are the real problem with the iPad Pro. While several have been updated for the larger screen, most, including top apps like Facebook, are just blown up versions of the regular-sized iPad app. These apps tend to look a bit distorted and don’t take full advantage of the larger screen. It’s not a terrible experience, but it does show developers aren’t exactly excited to get cranking with the iPad Pro.
Apple did try to help though. The iPad Pro can run two full-sized iPad apps at once in a split-screen mode, which I found handy for things like monitoring Twitter and reading the web at the same time. Still, not all third-party apps take full advantage of the split screen, and the feature isn’t as versatile as Microsoft’s solution on the Surface, which works with just about any app.
In short, the iPad Pro acts like a jumbo-sized version of the iPad Air 2. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I enjoyed having a larger screen for watching videos and reading web pages. But it feels like all that extra screen space and power will be wasted unless app developers take the time to utilise it.
The $170 optional keyboard case is the most disappointing part of the iPad Pro.
It’s difficult to type on, offers limited functionality over a normal laptop keyboard, and its design clashes with the beauty of the iPad Pro.
The most frustrating part is that even with the keyboard snapped in, you still have to tap and swipe around the screen a lot more than feels necessary for the form factor. I would have liked it a lot better if Apple had included some sort of traditional mouse trackpad for navigation like Microsoft’s Surface tablet does. (John Gruber of Daring Fireball went into a really deep dive on all the keyboard’s problems if you want to give that a read.)
And for a device that’s supposed to replace your laptop, I found it frustrating that I couldn’t adjust the angle of the display or use it in my lap with the keyboard connected. The only option is to keep it at one angle on the table. Writing a few quick emails that way is OK, but it’s a pain if you need to do any long-term work.
Apple tried to make the case for the iPad Pro replacing your laptop, but I just don’t see that happening without a suitable keyboard. It’s the same problem Microsoft’s Surface Pro has. Both tablets may technically be able to perform the functions of a laptop, but the experience isn’t better. There are just too many compromises. We’re getting closer to that miracle all-in-one device, but this iteration of the iPad Pro is not it.
If you get the iPad Pro and want a better keyboard, I suggest going with the one Logitech made. It’s designed more like a traditional laptop keyboard and I found it much easier to type on than Apple’s accessory. Plus it’s 20 bucks cheaper.
The Apple Pencil
The keyboard case may have been a disappointment, but I was surprised to find out how much I liked the $99 Apple Pencil stylus.
I’m not an artist or a designer, so I couldn’t really put the device through its paces. And I wouldn’t recommend buying the Pencil unless you plan to do some serious sketching or designing. (My colleagues from Tech Insider’s video team had a professional graphic artist give it a try and he really liked it.)
So I don’t really appreciate the Apple Pencil from an artist’s perspective. I’m more impressed by what it can do. Yes, there have been styluses for the iPad before, but those just mimicked your finger and didn’t have any more precision than that. The Apple Pencil can detect various levels of pressure, so the harder you press, the deeper and darker the marks you make look. You can even use the edge of the tip to create a shading effect, just like a real pencil.
The iPad Pro has two big problems: The form factor and the app selection. The keyboard feels unfinished and doesn’t function as well as the one on a MacBook. And there just aren’t enough great apps out there that take full advantage of the larger screen to justify spending so much on the iPad Pro, when you can get nearly the same experience on the iPad Air 2 for hundreds less.
If you want an iPad, get the iPad Air 2. It may be a year old, but it’s the best tablet you can buy. You’ll love it.
I’d only recommend buying the iPad Pro if you’re really dying for that larger screen or you’re a graphic artist or designer.
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