Welp, I did it. I spent nearly a thousand dollars on the new 11″ iPad Pro. It marks the end of a year wavering back and forth on whether or not to get a tablet.
A more in-depth piece is going to come, but for now, here are my thoughts after spending a day with it.
The “known quantities”
Go on a simple Google search of this new iPad, and you’re bound to find a bunch of pieces on why this definitely can not replace a laptop for most people. It’s a valid argument. At this price, and in spite of the marketing angle Apple has been running with, there are a lot of reasons why this device just isn’t going to cut it as a daily driver for most people.
The ways that iOS is holding back the iPad’s insanely powerful A12X bionic chip is well documented. There is no proper filesystem, which makes working between different apps and ecosystems extraordinarily difficult. The USB-C port doesn’t support external storage, which is kind of a bummer for people like me who cart around gigabytes upon gigabytes of creative projects on portable drives. The browser still defaults to mobile versions of websites, or straight up kicks you out to standalone apps that are often underpowered.
All of those concerns, and more, mean that I’d be very hesitant to move all of my work from my laptop to this. However, even though my primary use case for this is as a companion device for my laptop, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be pushing it as far as I can (more on that later).
Quick side note- because I’m not entirely replacing my laptop with this, I didn’t get the keyboard case. I’m also typing up this piece on my desktop computer, although I did do my outlining and notes using the iPad and Apple Pencil.
Now, on to my impressions.
Make no mistake, the $899 I paid for my 256 GB model (after student discounts) is a lot of money. Add another $119 for the second generation pencil, and we’ve broken the four digit barrier.
With the exception of my daily driver Razer Blade Stealth, it’s the most money I’ve ever paid for a gadget. I look forward to thinking long and hard about whether this is really worth it for the money.
Apple is still really, really good at hardware.
People aren’t lying when they say moving from a 60Hz display to one capable of 120Hz is life-changing. The simple fact that the screen is now showing you twice as many frames per second means the entire UI is, to reiterate a commonly-used descriptor, buttery smooth. Coupled with the frankly brilliant colors of the “liquid retina display” and the four high quality speakers flanking the screen, this iPad is an absolute joy to watch videos on.
However, it is a really big fingerprint magnet. That became evident after about an hour of using it out of the box, something that wasn’t helped by the 120Hz display passively encouraging me to drag my fingers across it as much as possible to experience that incredible smoothness.
I only have one real gripe. In an interview with The Independent, Apple’s Jony Ive specifically pointed out the rounded corners of the new display as a significant departure from previous design languages. It’s just too bad that, when in some apps, you lose that rounded corner effect because the top of the UI gets a black bar for all the status icons, and the bottom of the UI gets another black bar for the “go home” element.
The entire chassis does feels really nice to hold. It’s super thin, very light and despite having really boxy edges didn’t really go digging into the palms of my hand like I thought it would. I also think Apple did a really good job at drawing a line between thin bezels and having something that I can still hold on to.
As far as the battery goes, it managed to last through a day of really heavy use, including watching videos, installing apps and a lot of multitasking, so no problem there.
The new pencil was a huge reason behind me getting into the tablet market. I wanted to be able to digitize a lot of the things I’ve been relying on the more analogue pencil and pad to accomplish, such as outlining, brainstorming project ideas and marking up documents. I also wanted to see how a pencil would apply to non-drawing forms of content creation like video editing, layout design and photo manipulation.
The pencil itself has a really nice matte texture, and now charges wirelessly by magnetically clamping onto the side of the iPad. It’s a much better solution than last generation, but that wasn’t exactly a high bar to clear.
The magnets are fairly secure, but I did occasionally manage to knock it loose from time to time. However, in the end it’s a simple enough fix to rotate the entire iPad so the pencil is out of the way given how symmetrical the entire device is now.
As a result of this new charging method, the pencil now has a flat edge that you can double tap to perform certain actions. In the native iOS notes app, it toggles between your writing instrument and an eraser. It’s a nice feature to have, but I’ve still found it kind of hard to trigger given how my grip, and by extension the physical pencil, shifts around as I write.
As a tool for navigating around iOS, the pencil is pretty nice simply due to how much more precise a stylus is than my fingers. However, Apple has set it so that the pencil doesn’t trigger the notification shade, control center or the home/multitasking gestures. That minor annoyance is understandable though because those actions are all near the edge, and Apple probably wanted to prevent any unintended swipes when drawing or writing.
In my opinion, the one place where the pencil truly shines is in the forms of content creation I mentioned. Whether adjusting the sliders in Lightroom CC or cutting out a photo in Photoshop mix, the precision of having a stylus makes the process go so much smoother and faster.
FaceID belongs on a tablet
When Apple moved on from fingerprint scanners with iPhone X, I wondered if that would be the last straw that drove me back to Android. My reasoning at the time was that it made more ergonomic sense to use fingerprint authentication on a device that almost never leaves my hands.
With the iPad, however, it manages to work out. The sheer size of tablets compared to phones meant that triggering a fingerprint scanner was always going to involve awkwardly shifting your hands so you could reach the sensor.
Since Apple has retrained its facial recognition algorithms to work in any orientation (even at a slanted angle- I tried), unlocking the iPad Pro or approving a purchase no longer requires that much fumbling with the device in my hands. It’s great.
Plus, when you combine FaceID with iOS 12’s integration with third-party password managers, I was able to breeze through setting all my apps and services up for the first time.
The iPhone X’s gesture-based navigation makes its way to the iPad! To be fair, these changes have already been live as of last year’s iOS 11, but now they’re mandatory given the lack of a home button.
Overall, they’re…fine. Swiping along the bottom edge to switch between previously used apps is great, but getting the different upwards swipes for home, multitasking and the dock is a bit harder. At this point, I suspect it’s an issue of me not being used to it, so I’ll revisit this in my full run through.
The app situation
Some apps haven’t been updated for this new aspect ratio, so they’re going to get black bars on either side of the landscape UI. It’s not a great look, especially in AR apps that will theoretically look much better with the much-reduced, even bezels on this iPad, but that’s out of my control.
Also, several apps don’t even have iPad versions, meaning you’ll have to deal with a blown-up, grainy iPhone app when doing things like browsing Instagram or updating Snap stories. I know it isn’t an issue specific to this iPad Pro, but still.
There’s no headphone jack
And I’m fine with it. Wireless headphones are now at the point where I no longer feel obligated to carry around the little headphone jack adapter for my iPhone 7 Plus, so I doubt I’ll miss it here.
A bonus that comes with AirPods and iOS is that switching between my phone and my iPad is super easy and doesn’t require me to re-pair anything.
However, if you’re one of the people who still prefer your traditional headphones, take note that Apple no longer bundles an adapter in the box. That’ll be $9, please.
“Normal” productivity tasks
I’ve briefly went over how the iPad is pretty good at basic creative work, but how is it in more traditional productivity workflows?
To find out, I split-screened the Lexis Advance app with Google Sheets and catalogued a dozen news articles for a class project. It worked fine and I got what I needed done, although I suspect it would have gone faster on a computer.
Same goes for tasks like managing emails, and marking up some screenshots before sending them off in Slack. They worked, but required a few extra steps than needed on a computer.
My current take is that the advantage with the iPad doesn’t lie in it being able to match a computer in its ability to get work done, but rather that it can get that work done in situations where pulling out a laptop might be a bit much.
I’m going to take my time with writing the full run-through. There are still a coupe of scenarios I’d like to put it through, including editing a full video, processing a full photoset, and doing some graphic design. I’m also considering bringing it on my winter trip in place of my laptop, but I’m not 100% certain on that yet.
I also want to see how well this fits in with my intended use case of being a companion device to my laptop, so look for the full piece sometime in January!