The iPad Pro was advertised at release as a productivity powerhouse; the tablet which would replace your need for an actual laptop. Even now if you go to the Apple website, one of their big selling points is that ‘It’s more powerful than most PC laptops’. In this review I want to answer one simple question; for someone who’s looking for some hardware to help them start a new thing, is the iPad Pro the best tool that’s going to help them do it?
If you’ve had a look around the competition for tablets around this area, you’ll know that Apple aren’t the only company going after the busy but mobile person’s wallet. The Microsoft Surface tablets are generally considered the closest competitor and honestly I can’t think of a better way to describe the differences between the two than Techradar already has;
“To many, this is a direct rival to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, but in reality, the two devices are coming at the laptop replacement issue from different angles. The iPad Pro is designed for the casual user, one who doesn’t need a computer all day long. It’s not a MacBook Pro 2016 with a detachable screen – iOS 10 doesn’t have macOS Sierra capabilities, and even the iOS 11 update isn’t going to make much of a difference in that respect.
Microsoft’s device is more for those who need to massively multitask all the time, using dedicated desktop applications to get everything done.”
The point of this review is to use some kind of narrative structure to decide whether or not my decision to purchase an iPad Pro to help me create Inkbike was a good idea, and ultimately try to help other people in similar positions decide if the iPad Pro might be the right tool for them too.
(To reiterate the point; since my iPad is no longer the newest model, this isn’t a review for people who are looking to decide whether or not to get they can fit the latest piece of tech into their lives somehow. Instead this is a review for people who are looking for the right tool to help them on projects, that are debating about whether or not they might have a need for a really, really big ass iPad.)
This review is also written from the perspective of someone who’s never owned a tablet before and didn’t own any other computer – all work I’ve carried out in the last 12 months has been completely carried out on the iPad Pro.
Review model specs;
Type: iPad Pro (2015) 12.9-inch Wi-Fi model
Date of purchase: January 2017
Price at time of purchase: £700(ish)
Current price: £599 (although this model has been discontinued so it’s tricky to find)
I’ll preface this by saying that this is the first Apple thing I’ve ever owned. I’ve always had Android phones, I’d never owned a tablet before and my only laptop was a Dell which I had through Uni and that broke like 3 months after I graduated. So I’m not exactly an Apple fanboy.
But I will say this, Apple does make a seriously tasty piece of hardware.
Obviously, the size of the display is one of the big selling points on the 12.9” iPad Pro, and boy is it HUGE. A screen this size brings with it some obvious advantages; Netflix is awesome to behold and you’ve got plenty of screen space to use for your typing, drawing (detailed more later) or browsing pleasure.
In terms of resolution, the screen boasts the classic Retina display with a pixel density of 264ppi and it really pairs beautifully with a screen this size. As expected, colour pops and vivid detail is displayed beautifully, which makes viewing movies or videos on this thing an absolute joy.
it’s in these moments you remember just what an awesome kind of tech you have in your hands.
The colour is something I’ll touch on in more detail under accessories, but the resolution definitely makes working on the iPad a much more pleasurable experience.
Seriously, I tap away at this thing for hours when I’m working and I’ve never really experienced any eye strain or discomfort – something which unfortunately happens more regularly when using the monitors at work.
This is something I’ve loved, and is just one of those little touches which is a massive boon to me when I’m working as I’m able stay focused and get just that little bit more work done.
A caveat I’ve experience with the size is that it’s incredibly indiscreet. I got this thing around the same time that I got a new job and so I thought it’d be a good idea to make my meeting and training notes on it so that I had digital copies rather than scraps of paper which I would inevitably lose.
Let me tell you, there is no way of pulling this tablet out of your bag without drawing attention from others around the table. Likewise, on a screen this big, I’ve found there’s no way of sketching on this thing in a public space which doesn’t draw the watchful eye of people around you, which can sometimes be slightly distracting.
On balance though, it’s started a few fun conversations in cafés with people who have never seen and are genuinely fascinated by apps like ProCreate. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s been a joy to introduce people to these kinds of creative software and it’s in these moments you remember just what an awesome piece of tech you have in your hands.
Another benefit to the resolution of the iPad is what it allows you to do with the screen real-estate – you are able to split screen two different apps (though it doesn’t work with every app) at the same time with absolutely no loss of quality in either one.
This can make for some pretty effective multi-tasking; however I have to confess that I’ve not found any circumstance where it’s been a function I’ve needed.
I’d say this is probably something which would be more useful to people who need to stay active on social media (either for work or pleasure) while still getting other things done. It is still pretty cool though.
Another downside I’ve experienced with the larger model – which is no fault of Apple’s – is that having so much space to fill means that pictures and video viewed at full screen, can appear stretched out. This isn’t a problem at all for any images or videos displayed at over 1080p since there’s enough of the image to compensate for the size, but anything under that can look pretty rough. A lot of the time this is most noticeable for things like older YouTube videos and sometimes just means that despite the gorgeous, big screen – some stuff does just look a bit better when viewed on your phone.
A lot of the time though, the iPad is smart enough to resolve the issue by putting 80’s movie-style black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to adjust the image to the behemoth proportions of the screen. I just mention it because it took my a little while to figure out why some videos looked so rough.
…in terms of what they can do for movies or playing music, it’s AWESOME
Back to the gushing though, the speakers on the iPad Pro are another marvel. It features four mono speakers which are located on each corner of the tablet. The sound they are able to produce is nothing shy of incredible considering the size of the device – even capable of achieving some reasonable bass when near full volume.
Don’t get me wrong, the sound they generate isn’t going to stand up against dedicated speakers or for satisfy the keen ear of an audiophile. But in terms of what they can do for watching movies or playing music while you’re working, it’s AWESOME. I love that I can get such a great sound straight from the tablet without ever really feeling the need to get out any additional speakers.
In movies explosions have some substance, Spotify has some bass to it and it handles Netflix like a champ – I genuinely couldn’t be happier them.
Struggling to think of what else to include..
What else, what else…?
Ummm….the camera on the iPad isn’t something I can say I’ve ever really used, partly because my phone takes better pictures, but also because can you honestly imagine being the person who, when they want to take a picture of something, they pull out a 12.9-inch tablet? I can’t.
Portability! Weighing in at 0.7kg (or 1.57lbs if you understand pounds better than me), I’ve read some complaints that this thing is cumbersome – I’ve honestly never felt that way. It slips in easily to a laptop bag or backpack and honestly my lunch normally feels heavier in my bag then the tablet does a lot of the time
(Fun fact: I eat rocks).
I took it to work plenty of times in my backpack and it never felt cumbersome at all. In fact, the only time the iPad Pro ever has felt any kind of awkward is when you try to hold it in one hand. That isn’t really anything to do with the weight though, it’s more down to the size and shape of the thing in your hand.
Yeah no, that’s about it for build quality.
Now build quality is one thing, but the focus of this review is on how it works as a productivity tool – and whether iPad Pros are the laptop-killer for a would-be busy body that they were advertised to be.
I’ll start at what I would consider to be the first thing you would look for in a working computer – the word processor. I didn’t know this before I bought it, but there’s a difference in the way Microsoft views the larger and the smaller iPad Pro models – i.e. office applications are free to use for devices with screens smaller than 10.1-inches.
This means buying the smaller 2015 9.7-inch iPad Pro models nets you full use of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for free. If you opt for the larger model instead, to get the same functionality you’ll need an Office 365 subscription which costs £5.99 a month.
Of course, both iPads do come with the Apple equivalent software in the form of Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (slide-shows); so, it’s not like you’re left with no alternatives.
I really like them too, since they work great and you can get used to them quickly. However, it’s definitely something to consider if you’re looking to start a thing without taking on any recurring costs (apart from the…*ahem* substantial cost of the iPad).
Also, it’s worth noting that due to the iPad Pro operating with iOS (read: mobile) rather than full-blown Mac OS (read:desktop), the iPad Pro doesn’t offer the fully-fledged versions of processing programs. Regardless of how well Microsoft or Apple have optimised their programs for touch screens, the fact is that you’ll always be working on tools designed for mobile platforms.
How much this should affect your decision will depend on how you like to use your word/spreadsheet processors – if you’re someone who relies heavily on the more advanced tools afforded in MS Word/Excel/Powerpoint then the Windows Surface Tablets might be the way for you to go.
If you’re just looking for something you can type into and apply some more basic design feats, then this absolutely won’t be a problem.
Whichever one you choose, I’ve found actually using them is a bit of a mixed bag. The iPad Pro offers a decent word processing experience; the screen is plenty big and like I said earlier, the resolution makes it easier to spend long stints typing away.
My main real complaint here though is that I really felt the absence of the mouse when I’d be writing up long documents. Since this was my only computer I didn’t really have any way of getting around this and this was exacerbated by the amount of time I’ve spent working on it for the last 12 months.
Although Microsoft pre-emptively worked on this by optimising iOS Office software for touch controls – while they get the job done, they never felt to me like a comfortable replacement for traditional mouse and keyboard setup.
It was never something which caused me to rage quit my work or anything – but it could get pretty annoying dealing with things the fiddly text-highlight controls which was especially annoying since accidently touching anywhere else on the screen apart from two teeny tiny icons means that all text becomes deselected.
The annoyance is added to when the touch accuracy in Word feels inconsistent – 95% of the time it works perfectly, but sometimes times you swear, you SWEAR(!), that you’re touching the right area but nothing happens (RAAAAGE). It sounds like a small thing but when that happens a couple of times in succession, it can really throw off your workflow.
But iPad…I still love you.
Looking at the above, it’d be easy to assume that I’ve had a nightmare using the iPad Pro for the last year since it looks like all I have are complaints. I’ve tried my best to be as comprehensive as possible when describing any issues I’ve experienced so that anyone reading this can be informed but the truth is, I’ve not once regretted purchasing the iPad.
It’s a great way to show off your work and just feels like a more fluid, natural means of presenting yourself then it would be with a full-on laptop
It’s been an invaluable tool for me for a number of reasons. For example, I love the fact that it’s always ready to go – unlike a traditional laptop there’s no boot up time, as soon as I’m ready to work then so is the iPad. All I have to do is hit the home button and it lights straight up without any loading or anything which brings an incredible sense of fluidity to my work.
Another great use I’ve found for this ‘always-on’ feature as I’m getting the website up and running is being able to do quick-fire iPad presentations for people I want to work with. Like when I’ve shown my website to potential collaborators who are say, shop owners, it’s been really cool to just be able to lean against the counter with the iPad and walk them through the concept, website and design.
It’s a great way to show off your work and just feels like a more fluid, natural means of presenting yourself then it would be with a full-on laptop.
It’s also lightning fast, never once stuttering or slowing down regardless of the work I perform on it – something which has remained the same from the day I bought it in January 2017 until now. Apps and tools like Word boot up in seconds meaning that you’re never left waiting around for something to happen.
It’s also a brilliant tool to use for quick and easy design-work thanks to third-party apps. As someone who’s yet to delve into the world of professional design software from the likes of Adobe, I’ve loved being able to use apps like these (link to article on design apps) to create great-looking graphics in minutes.
Pretty much every image and graphic you can see on Inkbike has been made solely using the iPad and it’s been so awesome having a tool that allows me to just pump those out in a heartbeat without needing to be an expert in design software.
I know it seems weird to follow on from the above with an entire section dedicated to accessories; but I think that for someone to make full, productive use of the iPad Pro, a couple of accessories are unfortunately essential. Let’s start at the top.Right, allow me to paint you a picture *clears throat all official-like*…
So you’ve dropped several hundreds of pounds for an iPad, like enough hundreds that could have instead paid for a whole week’s holiday in some paradise-looking hotel in a Croatian national park in sunny August, flights and all (in case it wasn’t obvious, at the time of writing this I’m also planning my summer break).
But instead you have opted to spend your money on a big-ass iPad and having dropped that amount coinage, naturally you’re going to want to buy a case to protect it from everyday wear and tear.
If I was to give you just one single critical piece of advice that you would listen to, it’s this: do yourself and your sweet, yet-to-be-damaged spine a favour and don’t shell out for one of those fancy ones with a keyboard built in. I know, I know – they really do look like a good idea (THINK OF ALL THAT SPACE YOU’LL SAVE IN YOUR MOBILE-OFFICE ACTING BAG WITH A KEYBOARD BUILT IN TO YOUR CASE, OH SWEET WONDERS OF ENGINEERING).
Trust me, all it takes is 10 minutes sat at a desk, crumpled over your iPad, Keyboard combo for your spine to start singing.
“What ARE you talking about mate? It’s the same as working on a laptop, I do that all day and I’m fine.”
Yep, totally see where you’re coming from. I mean the 12.9” iPad Pro is even roughly the same size as a lot of laptops so that would absolutely make sense.
EXCEPT that laptop screens tilt baby. Tilt. For. Days.
Because of that, you can do this magical thing where you adjust the way you’re sitting. Want to sit upright more? Not a problem, just tilt that screen back. Want to sink into the recesses of your chair? That’s A-OK buddy, you just tilt that screen down. See where I’m getting at?
Want to readjust your sitting position with the iPad Pro? Not going to happen (or if it does, it’ll tilt to one of like 3-set positions which aren’t great either), and that noise just beyond the immediate crumbling noise of your own spine giving in like an old abbey? That’s Tim Cook laughing at you while you try.
Anyway sorry, I went off on a tangent there…
My point is, don’t buy a keyboard case combo and instead just opt for a case and a separate Bluetooth keyboard (any Bluetooth keyboard will work with an iPad, it doesn’t have to be an Apple one). This means that you can still have the keyboard at your fingertips but you can move the screen to wherever is most comfortable for you at your desk. For me, it’s resting happily on a stack of books at the end of the table at eye-level – something my spine is super happy about.
If you’re worried about the impact this will have on the portability of the device, I completely understand but you can get some really tiny little keyboards to carry around, some even fold up to take even less space. Plus, chances are, if you’re carrying a bag big enough to a fit a “12.3 screen, you’ve got room for a teeny, little keyboard.
I personally got this one, which is on the slightly pricier end of the spectrum at £32.50. Partly because of its size so it could fit snugly in my backpack but also not take up too much room on my teeny, tiny desk. It also has the fun little perk of being able to connect to up-to three devices at the same time, which you can switch between. I have a little desk stand for my phone, and it’s pretty cool to see I’ve got a message, press a button and just be able to type a reply straight from the keyboard.
There are absolutely cheaper options though depending on what you’re after, if you want to stick with the Apple aesthetic there’s this one for like £11.
If you want something to take up less space than the others then there are a couple of foldable keyboards with good reviews too, liiiiiiike this one.
I would argue that another one of the main reasons for someone to buy an iPad Pro is for what it allows you to achieve creatively.
What was, and remains biggest draws for me when buying the iPad Pro was that it was something I could use as a Word Processor for all of my work, while also being an awesome tool for graphic design and digital artwork. Because of this, the Apple Pencil was absolutely essential for me to make sense of this purchase. I know that because I had to wait a couple of days after my iPad arrived before I bought the Apple Pencil and honestly, in that time, I wasn’t really sure what to do with the iPad.
Like it was cool to be able to watch Netflix on such a big screen and everything. My experience almost certainly would have been different if I’d had a specific project on at the time but….yeah, for the first few days before I got the Apple Pencil it was kind of like owning just a giant phone.
BUT OH BOY AFTER THE FIRST FEW DAYS, the iPad was awesome. Apps like Procreate and Autodesk Sketchbook with the iPad Pro + Pencil combo are an honest delight to use. Just having that many colours, brushes and tools at your disposal make creating art an absolute joy.
I remember when I first got the iPad, I was playing the remastered Bioshock game series (self-professed geek right here) and had a wicked time painting my own posters in the same theme;
The Pencil itself works perfectly, it never feels like you’re having to overcome its limitations as a piece of tech to carry out work, it just enables you to put whatever is in your mind’s eye to digital paper.
The iPad’s capacity for digital artwork is also one of the biggest crowd pleasers I’ve found when I’ve been drawing on it out and about – friends and family love painting with it when they come over and I’ve even had strangers come up to me in cafés asking me all about painting with the thing.
It really is just incredible fun to use regardless of your skill level, so it’s something I wouldn’t hesitate to anyone who owns the iPad Pro. The only thing you have to consider is whether or not you’re willing to part with £100 for the pleasure but again, I’ve never once regretted the decision to buy it.
Another huge benefit of the iPad Pro as a graphics tablet is actually its price compared to competitors. Yep, you read that right – an Apple product offering value for money compared to competitors.
Doing a little bit of research around the area of graphics tablets lets me know that the two biggest players in the market seem to be Wacom and Huion (with Wacom tending to be slightly more popular).
If graphic design is something you’re looking to get into (something incredibly empowering when it comes to starting your own something as it means you can create your own branding and graphics), you have two options really when it comes to these tablets;
A touchpad-style one where the lines you sketch appear on your computer rather than on the tablet itself.
Starting price: £49.99 (at time of writing)
Requirements: Computer & Software
One with a full-HD interactive screen where you can see what you’re drawing/painting on the tablet in real-time.
Starting price for known brand: £699
Requirements: Computer & Software
Then you have the iPad Pro waltzing in and providing you with a uncharacteristically fair price for Apple, as a third option;
One iPad Pro with HD touchscreen where you see what you’re drawing/painting in real time AND a solid word processor AND a video player AND whatever else the App store makes out of it.
Starting price (2017 10.5-inch model): £619
Requirements: Apple Pencil (which admittedly is still the most expensive pencil you will ever buy) & Software -No need for a computer.
I’m not saying it’s cheap or anything close to an accessible, entry-level price for people looking to dabble in graphic design – but if you are fortunate enough to have the means and can justify the price, the iPad Pro actually offers pretty decent value for money.
Yeah no like I said before, this is a purchase I never regretted making. But it is a tricky decision in the first place, you could absolutely afford to buy a decent mid-range laptop for the same or less. So the question is, if your considering one, what extra features does the iPad Pro offer for your money?
You get a gateway into the world of graphic design and digital art, a decent word processor, a means of delivering beautiful presentations mobily and a computer system which is ready to work as soon as you are.
For a project-driven someone, I definitely think that the iPad can really open up a lot of avenues for someone to follow in a way that makes them fantastically accessible. Before I had the iPad Pro, I had never considered the possibility that I would get into design, be presenting to collaborators on-the-go or be a digital artist. Now I’ve designed a whole website, successfully worked with a handful of entrepreneurs that I’ve presented to and…well ok, no I’m definitely not an artiste but I know a lot more about constructing a digital painting than I ever would have without buying the iPad Pro.
Developing these skills haven’t just been useful in my personal projects, but have helped me develop skills that have helped me career development too.
Ultimately, the benefits you’ll see from having the iPad depend entirely on your usage, but if you’re willing to look into, I can absolutely guarantee that you’ll be rewarded. While this doesn’t take the sting out of the incredibly steep price-tag, if you’re fortunate enough to be in a financial position to be able to consider buying one, I wholeheartedly recommend you do.
How much do you feel you have a need for a big-ass iPad? Is the merging tablet/laptop something you see potential in? You KNOW I want to hear your thoughts, let’s have a chat!