The newness of Apple’s iPad Pro is evident in its look, feel and size — not to mention the Apple Pencil, which works with it.
The first rule of the iPad Pro is: don’t let anyone — especially a child — borrow it along with the Apple Pencil. You won’t get them back.
True, new technology always draws attention, but this year’s iterations of the iPhone, Mac models (aside from the new MacBook), and Apple TV largely differentiate themselves by their internal components. And that includes the don’t-call-it-a-stylus Pencil, which by itself is useless, but when paired with the iPad Pro becomes — dare I say it? — magic.
But let’s start with the obvious. The iPad Pro is big. It’s impossible to miss.
• Brilliant Retina screen
• Screen’s variable refresh rate
• High-quality speakers
• Apple Pencil
• Split-view multitasking
• Overall responsiveness due to A9X processor
• Too big for some activities such as reading in bed
• Some may not like Keyboard feel
The device, which starts at $799, weighs about the same as the original iPad (1.57 pounds), but because the mass is spread out over a larger, thinner surface area, it doesn’t feel to me as if it’s a half pound heavier than my iPad Air. The 12.9-inch (diagonal) screen is brilliant, both in terms of illumination and quality.
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Even though nearly every Apple product now sports a high-resolution Retina screen, I was surprised to see that apps not yet optimized for the larger screen dimensions do feel a little chunky.
Before I dig more into the hardware, I confess that I’m dancing amid details to avoid the real question in your mind. Is the iPad Pro a laptop replacement? Is it just a Surface with a fruit logo? Is it your next computer?
As mandated by technology-journalism law, I’m writing this review in a cafe using the iPad Pro. I’m typing on Apple’s Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, which folds over to act as a slightly bulkier Smart Cover-like screen protector.
The keyboard is slim and requires no battery or Bluetooth connection, instead communicating with the iPad Pro using a new, tiny Smart Connector on the side. The keys are clickily tactile, enclosed in a (sealed) conductive fabric and polyurethane surface. Although they feel odd at first, I’m getting used to them quickly.
I’ve had this iPad Pro on loan from Apple for just under a week. Because of other projects on my plate, I wasn’t able to tackle the other mandated technology-journalism- product review trial, which is to set aside my MacBook Pro and see if the iPad Pro can be a “real work machine.”
But let’s break that down, looking at tasks I’ve actually been doing.
Writing is not a problem, and if you spend a lot of time wrangling words, dealing with email, communicating via Messages or Slack, the iPad Pro can easily step in for a larger laptop. I’m using Apple’s Pages for this article, because iCloud syncing makes my documents available on any of my devices.
Even without the hardware option, writing with the on-screen keyboard is much improved, thanks to the greater screen real estate. You get a full-size, full-function keyboard that’s a little overwhelming at first.
In fact, that points to the most difficult thing I’m encountering so far: fighting my own muscle memory, accustomed as I am to shortcuts designed for smaller screens.
The Apple Pencil is a fantastic example of this. As my daughter can attest after a lot of use, the Pencil is great. It’s the first stylus that doesn’t feel like you have to change how you draw or write to use effectively. It accomplishes this by a very clever feat of engineering: when the Pencil is near the screen (communicating internal sensor readings via Bluetooth), the iPad Pro’s screen refresh rate increases. Speed, pressure, angle are all taken into account nearly instantly.
Where my muscle memory interferes is not wanting to put my palm on the screen when I draw. However, it’s not due to traditionally poor palm-rejection interference that interprets your skin as a drawing implement. No, my problem is that my brain is so convinced that I’m using a real pencil that I don’t want to smudge the work I’d done already.
That still doesn’t answer the larger question, though, so I’ll be realistic: Yes, you can get real work done on the iPad Pro. The internal specs are impressive as hell, with processor and graphics-processing speeds that rival laptops. You can edit 4K video in iMovie, push Excel data around all day, build presentations in Keynote while referencing your outlines in OmniOutliner, which is also visible using iOS 9’s Split Screen mode.
Yes, it can replace a laptop, but as with any computer decision — laptop vs. desktop, Mac vs. Windows — the question is whether the iPad Pro will work for things you need a computer to do. If you rely on software unavailable on iOS — InDesign this week, in my case — perhaps a laptop is the choice for you. Or, if you need those things but also want a touch-screen tablet in the same device (and you don’t mind running Windows), a Microsoft Surface Pro could be the one for you.
And remember that it’s an iPad; you can hold it on the couch or in bed (although it feels too big to me for reading in bed), catch up with the news, watch movies and TV shows, and listen to music through the really amazing set of four speakers that sound almost as good as an older Sonos unit I own. They even switch tasks if you change the iPad’s orientation, so the high frequencies always come from the top speakers.
Seriously, Apple didn’t need to make great speakers, although I’m sure they would point to students, musicians and other creative people taking advantage of high-quality sound. But I’m glad they did. I have a couple of movies queued up as a reward for this week’s work.