I have been looking forward to this device for years. It has had a rough introduction to the world. But that is only true for early adopters like myself. By the time normal people start to discover and purchase the iPad Pro, these early jitters will all be sorted out.
The iPad Pro is a device you have to live with for a little while to accurately assess. I have had mine since the first day of availability. But like the original iPad, it will take longer than a few weeks before we really get the whole measure of the device. There are so many questions that can't be answered in a few weeks of use. You can definitely write a review in the time I've had it. But it will need to be followed up with a three-month review, a six-month review, and a one year review for a better sense of it.
But no one should wait a year before deciding whether to give it a try. This review should be sufficient for that. You know me. This is going to be a lot of words. So grab your favorite coffee beverage. Sit back, and relax. It's time to dive deep into the iPad Pro.
Size, Form, and Function
I believe it is lazy writing when reviewers harp on how big and huge and big the iPad Pro is. Yet that is done and overdone in every review I have read. The iPad Pro was introduced as a 12.9" iPad. If it didn't seem huge when compared to previous iPads, there would be something wrong.
The interesting thing about all the size talk is that if it was a notebook, no one would talk about how big it is. 'That is because it wouldn't be big at all compared to most notebooks. It would be slightly smaller. It is only big in the context of other tablets. That reveals a presupposition that the iPad Pro is nothing more than a traditional tablet, only bigger. But if you think of the iPad as something else, then the matter of size goes away.
Right now, I'm using it as a laptop. In that mode, it could stand to be even bigger. That brings us to the matter of form. It is easy to forget that the iPad Pro is a tablet. The iPad Pro, in some ways, is the computer Apple has been trying to build from the beginning. It is a big, blank piece of glass and metal, with as few buttons as possible.
There is the Home button which is central to the operation of iOS. The volume UP/DOWN buttons are in their usual place on the upper-right side when facing you in portrait mode. The Lock button... It feels silly to continue describing something so well known by the masses. All that needs to be said about the form of the iPad Pro is that it is exactly the same as an iPad Air2. If you looked at a picture of either device without any visual context, you wouldn't know which it was.
The only difference of note would be three little holes in the middle-left side of the iPad. These make up what Apple calls the Smart Connector. It does not replace the Lightning port. It is in addition to the Lightning port. It has been discovered by tear down experts to contain USB 3.0 support. The idea is that more interesting peripherals can be connected to the iPad Pro as third parties make them available. Two already exist.
While the form of the iPad Pro is familiar, the function is still an unknown to many. This is where the conversation is. What exactly is the iPad Pro? Is it just a bigger iPad? Is it a laptop replacement? Or is it something else? Over the course of this writing, I hope to come close to addressing that question.
For the last couple of years, Apple has thrown around a term, "desktop-class". For now, it can only be considered a marketing term. But it is not without some tie to reality. In the industry, there is a certain class of hardware that is expected in a traditional desktop. And it's different from the hardware one would find in a mobile device. Apple has been blurring the difference between the classes for the last couple of years.
They have done this by including CPUs and GPUs that perform many tasks at the same level of a desktop. The raw power in a recent iPad far outclasses the power found in competing tablets. It is not even close. The only thing you can compare iPad performance with is a laptop or desktop. This is where Apple's marketing hype meets reality.
When the iPad Pro was introduced, Apple said on stage that the iPad Pro was faster than 80% of Windows laptops at CPU tasks, and 90% of laptops at GPU tasks. That claim has been tested by benchmark experts and has been found to be true. At the very least, no one has been able to refute the claim. That is almost just as good, since PC makers would debunk it if they could. It seems they can't.
So just what is the iPad Pro doing with all that power? The OS is full of all kinds of graphical flourishes that would bring a lot of computers to their knees. As other reviewers have reported, it is incredibly difficult to find anything to throw at the iPad Pro that will make it stutter. Running two apps side-by-side is as smooth as running a single app. Surf the web. Play a game. Watch a movie. Or do it all at once. Either way, the iPad Pro has the power to handle anything you throw at it without drama.
While this is brilliant, it is also the smallest hint of a problem. When this much power has nothing interesting to do, that means developers are not writing apps that push the hardware to its potential. That is not a fair criticism because developers have not had a chance to play with the hardware to see what it can do. The real problem is that Apple has not created any app experience that pushes the hardware. If Apple doesn't take the time to write for all that metal, why should anyone else? Nonetheless, the metal is there for some really amazing things to come.
Apple could have easily called the iPad Pro the iPad Fun Machine. Except for the fact that iPad Fun Machine is a stupid name, it is descriptively accurate. There is a pretty good chance that the iPad Pro is well equipped, regardless of your definitions of fun. The iPad Pro feels like it was designed for entertainment.
The screen is packed with pixels. The number doesn't even matter. It is more pixels than what can be found in the 15" MacBook Pro. If you don't know how much that is, it doesn't matter. The screen is absolutely stunning. Anything you look at on this screen is going to be bright, colorful, and crisp.
The speakers are up to the challenge. Watching a beautiful looking movie makes no sense on a device that has subpar sound. You don't have to worry about that with the iPad Pro speakers. There are four of them. The top two give you left and right stereo, while the bottom two pump out the bass, regardless of the orientation it happens to be in at the time. The speakers change dynamically as you turn the iPad Pro from portrait to landscape. No matter how you hold it, it always sounds great.
In addition to the rest of the hardware specs is the 4 GB of RAM. That's a lot for a device in this class. The upshot is that your Safari tabs stay open. Your games are ready to go when you get back to them. Your movies remember where you left off. While all that is happening, you can run two apps side-by-side with a movie playing in picture-in-picture. The bottom line is that the iPad Pro is equipped to entertain you, whatever passes for entertainment.
Safe for Work
It is far past time we quit asking if an iPad can be used to get real work done. Yes, you can get real work done with an iPad. You don't even need an iPad Pro for that. You can get real work done on a smartphone. It is not a matter of speculation. People have been doing it all over the world for a very long time. The iPad Pro is a very safe bet for a work machine.
Rather than asking if the iPad is safe for work, ask if it is suitable for the tasks you do for work. There are some tasks the iPad Pro cannot complete. Then again, there are tasks that a MacBook Pro cannot complete. My company uses a content management system (CMS) that cannot be accessed by an iOS device. That includes the iPad Pro. That doesn't mean that I can't use the iPad Pro for work. There are just some tasks I have to work around.
Break down your job by tasks and determine if the iPad Pro can do all of those tasks. Also, you should ask yourself how important it is for the iPad Pro to do every task. You are not going to make a lot of phone calls from your laptop. Yet you use your laptop for work. The fact that every device you have cannot perform every task you do does not mean that it is not a good device for work. It just means that you have multiple tools allowing you to choose the right one for the tasks at hand, whatever that happens to be.
Since I've had the iPad Pro, I've done 90% of my work from this device. That is more than I ever did on my notebook. Whether the iPad Pro does 100% of the tasks you do for work or 50%, you can easily find a place for it in your professional life.
On its own, the iPad Pro is a giant iPad. That is not a bad thing, just a true thing. If you want to take the iPad into laptop territory, you are going to need a hardware keyboard. I have written a piece on keyboard options for the iPad Pro. So be sure to read that if you haven't already. I ranked Apple's Smart Keyboard as the best option for typing on the iPad Pro.
A brief aside about the accessories..
There is some talk about whether or not the Smart Keyboard can be used while in a lap. The fact that I've typed the entirety of this review in my lap on a Smart Keyboard should be enough affirmation. I've typed it at home in a recliner, in a park, and at the bus stop. Lap typing has become my preferred mode of usage. The place where the keyboard folds away only bends in one direction, providing a surprising amount of rigidity to the unit.
Transforming the keyboard into its various modes can feel a bit like folding origami, at least for the first time. But you get used to it quickly so that it is a non-issue. Your typing speed is on your favorite keyboard will not be noticeably different on this one. You never have to charge it. And it doesn't seem to draw a noticeable amount of battery from the iPad. Since it doubles as a Smart Cover, it is easy to put on and take off. No one knows how the keyboard will physically hold up over time. I will report back in the weeks and months to come.
The bad news is that I do not yet own an Apple Pencil. It is not for lack of trying. My business rep at the Apple Store has not been able to procure one for me as of this time. I have logged quite a bit of time using a Pencil at the Apple Store. But it is not the same as having one's own.
What I can say is that if you have even the slightest bit of talent, you want this accessory. It is the best digital drawing experience to date. That is not just my amateur opinion. That is what the pros are saying. It is either the best, or tied with the best, and at a much lower price than other, professional solutions.
As someone without any such talent, I can only say that the drawings I make with the Pencil using an app that is optimized for it, look the same as my drawings that I do with paper and pencil. My handwriting on the iPad Pro is indistinguishable from my handwriting with pen and paper.
All of the magic is not housed in the Pencil. Apple has done a great deal of wizardry on the display that lies dormant until an Apple Pencil is detected. If you don't buy a Pencil, you will never know the tech is there. If you do buy a Pencil, digital magic happens.
A lot has been made of the fact that the Apple Pencil does not have an eraser on the end like the yellow #2 you used in grade school. I can only imagine this complaint is being leveled by people who do not use professional tools. Good ink pens don't come with erasers on the end. There are no professional pencils that come with erasers on the end.
Shop around for art pencils, drafting pencils, and the like. Apple made a professional tool that professionals might appreciate. They were not going for the Crayola aesthetic. Second-graders learning to draw block letters were also not the target market of the Pencil. The actual target market will find it phenomenal.
That said, the Pencil is also fantastic for hand-written note takers. In supported apps, students are going to love the ability to write notes in tiny print. There are apps that let you type, write, draw, record, and import images and web clips. Whether you are taking notes in a meeting, or notes in a class, it will be better with an Apple Pencil.
Covers and Cases
There are always third-party covers and cases for Apple products. Apple also provides a first-party solution. But it is a little different than with previous iPads. They do not make an all-in-one Smart Case for the iPad Pro. Instead, what they are calling the Smart Case is actually just a back cover with a cut out on the side if you want to add a Smart Cover for the front. Each are sold separately, and expensively.
That said, if you are not going to purchase any type of keyboard case, you absolutely need a Smart Cover. That is a huge chunk of high-tech glass you are carrying around. The Smart Cover also provides a way to stand the iPad up for those long movie-watching sessions. For more protection, you really should get the case as well. I have.the Smart Keyboard and the Smart Case on the back. It is not only a well protected kit that is ready for work at a moment's notice, but it looks and feels premium when all dressed up.
You don't need both the Smart Cover and the Smart Keyboard. They are both the same, except that one has a keyboard hidden inside an extra fold. Okay, there is one little trick the Smart Cover can do that I wouldn't recommend with the Smart Keyboard. Despite its size, the iPad Pro makes a great refrigerator magnet. The magnets in the Smart Cover are plenty strong enough to mount your iPad Pro on your fridge for when you need a kitchen computer. Don't try this with the Smart Keyboard.
Is the iPad Pro a laptop replacement? That seems to be what all the reviewers want to know. But I tend to think that is the wrong question. If you need a laptop, you need a laptop. But there are many people walking around with laptops who would be much happier with something else. It is just that the laptop was the only device that seemed to make sense. Now, there is the iPad Pro: the device they really wanted, but couldn't choose until now.
Some people are just fine with a laptop, but want to try something different. Again, there have been no sensible alternatives to the laptop before now. As for me, I sold my laptop. I'm all in on the iPad Pro. I can do everything I need with my iPad Pro. Some things just require a bit of a workaround. If I run into something that I have to get done right away, but can't do natively on my iPad, I have an app that allows me to VPN into my Mac at home. By using that on my iPad Pro, I can complete any task I need to.
That adds an extra layer of complexity to a very few tasks. But the iPad Pro enables a whole host of tasks not available to me on a laptop. I'll take that trade any day. But it is not a trade for everyone. If you want to replace your laptop with something just like a laptop, just keep your laptop. There is nothing quite like it. The iPad Pro is for people who still need to get things done, but want a different experience than a miniaturized version of what they already have on their desktop.
Conclusion: The Emotion Factor
Unfortunately, no one can tell you the most important thing about the iPad Pro that you really want to know: If you buy it, will you love it? It is not about the speeds and feeds. At the end of the day, not even geeks care about what processor and GPU are driving this thing. It all comes down to how it makes you feel.
Listening to Blackberry users wax poetic about their beloved hardware keyboard has allowed me to gain a crucial understanding about people and their tech. It is not about whether it is the best, or the fastest, or whether it makes you more productive. It is all and only ever about how much you enjoy using the device.
For me, the iPad Pro presses all the right buttons. I feel like a million bucks when I use it. The device works well and looks sharp. It feels good in the hand when all dressed up. There is something about it that makes me want to use it even when I don't have to. I have a big computer on my dest 10' away. But I am sitting in a recliner using the iPad Pro on my lap. That's crazy! But that's exactly what I want to do right now.
When you want to use a thing, you will use that thing, and a lot more often than if you didn't want to use it. In the last couple of weeks, my iPad Pro has gotten more use than my notebook did in the last couple of months. I can't say if you will feel the same. But I do believe that the iPad Pro has the lust factor that the most used tech gadgets have. I also recognize that this write up is short on negatives. I have covered most of that in the previous write ups. Check back in a few months as the devil-riddled details reveal themselves.