It’s quite impossible to have one device to rule them all, but I’d be happy if I could bring it down to two. The thought of not having to lug one and also one less device to charge is not a bad idea. A few years ago, inspired by a friend who’s a CIO of a large corporation and worked completely off his iPad, I went and got myself a good iPad keyboard. I was all set to enjoy a lighter backpack, face fewer charging problems, et al.
Talk about crashing down to earth. Typing on that smaller keyboard sucked and iOS back then was simply not ready for it. While we now have an iPad Air with a newer keyboard in the family, I’ve been scarred and avoid it like the plague. My relationship with tablets has evolved into one strictly about content consumption, with a rare email answered through on the on-screen keyboard and especially on the road in India, when the cellular network on my smartphone is on the blink, but the different one on my iPad has some life left in it. Besides that, my old 9.7-inch iPad has pretty much become my Kindle reader.
So, I started using the new, almost 13-inch iPad Pro with a mix of trepidation and excitement. I was excited about a tablet that had the hardware specs to make it a laptop replacement, but was also wondering if I’d be disappointed once again—the big, big promise of device consolidation, but failure to actually deliver in real day-to-day use.
The specs are great, no doubt about that
Naturally, the first thing that hits you when you see the iPad Pro is the size of the screen. The second is the surprisingly light weight for a tablet this size—just 723 grams at a mere 6.9 mm thickness, which in fact, is thinner than the iPhone 6s Plus. The reaction to the weight is always a “wow,” but not everyone will like the size bit. If your use of a tablet has come down to what I use my current iPad for, it’s way too big. But when you see it as a laptop replacement, it seems perfect, even if the 12.9-inch display is taller than the one on my 14-inch laptop because of its 4:3 aspect ratio.
The iPad Pro is powered by an A9X processor with 64-bit desktop class architecture, which is Apple’s most powerful processor yet. Does it mean the A9X is now at par or overtakes Intel’s high-end notebook processors? I’d take any such claim with a large pinch of salt, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that for any iOS application (which are all wonderfully optimised for performance), from Office 365 apps to graphics intensive gaming to Autodesk’s AutoCad professional applications, the iPad Pro doesn’t bat an eyelid as it handles them all with tremendous ease.
Light and sound
The iPad Pro features the highest-resolution Retina display of any iOS device. There’s also some nifty work done to save battery life despite the big screen—the display figures if you are watching dynamic content like a video or a game, adjusts refresh rate accordingly, while bringing refresh rate down in case of static content. Content consumption was a joy—from movies on a screen that’s almost a television that even 2 people can watch together considering the large display, browsing and reading e-magazines.
But, while consuming content on it was a joy, I enjoyed it most when the iPad was on a flat surface. When held in my hand, the large size made it unwieldy and given that it is thin and slippery, I was always worried that I’d drop it and that thought would never leave the back of my mind. I would be wary of using an iPad Pro in economy class while flying too. One, it’s large and wouldn’t be very easy to use in a cramped seating environment and second, laptop displays can be adjusted as you swing it back and forth, and you just might be able to work in a cramped environment if you have to as I’ve discovered. Deadlines can be powerful motivators too, to be honest. But on the iPad Pro the Smart Keyboard doesn’t have adjustable angles. Bummer.
Another negative about the display was the wide open spaces between apps. I hate scrolling through multiple screens to get to an app (folders too need one more click), and if Apple gave me a choice I’d fit double the number of app icons into that screen. No Indian real estate developer will buy an iPad Pro and not cry over the open spaces left unused. The pinned apps on the bottom dock can only accommodate six icons. Sigh.
If you watch a movie, sound is just as important. I like to listen to music as I work. One of the best things going for the iPad Pro are its speakers and the sound output it throws out—in terms of sheer power for a gadget as thin and light as it is, as well as innovative software that ensures that the four speakers placed in four corners dynamically change reproduction from bass notes to higher frequencies depending on how you hold the iPad Pro.
Software & Apps
iOS 9 brought in split screens (officially called Split View) for multitasking and it really makes sense on the iPad Pro. When you swipe inwards from the right bezel you get a menu that displays apps capable of using Split View. The default open size is a quarter of your display—I found it great for Twitter and Apple News. When I wanted a larger split screen you merely have to drag the split screen border further to the left and your screen is equally divided between two apps.
The display certainly could accommodate three or four apps and hardware specs would also handle it with ease, but Apple only allows two. Would have been so much interesting if there was more choice given to the user. There’s a picture-in-picture mode available for videos and FaceTime, but I personally find these very annoying, though some may appreciate the feature.
iOS apps are superbly optimised for performance and there is no dearth of tablet applications. But on the iPad Pro, I found that many applications just weren’t optimised for the large display. Take Facebook for instance, where the user experience was better on Safari, thanks to optimal use of the large screen rather than the Facebook app. Office 365, another set of apps I used a lot, was optimised though. The point though is that it will take some time before all of the many, many iOS tablet apps are able to make the most of the large screen, the internal hardware as well as the accessories.
With every other iPad from the past, accessories being optional was true in every sense of the word. The only accessory I’ve seen most iPad users get is a case. And some get a keyboard. But with the iPad Pro, using it without the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil is a terrible idea. There is truly so much more you could do with both.
I’m delighted to report that the 5-row Smart Keyboard on the iPad Pro was the very opposite of my earlier experience with a keyboard on an iPad. I got used to it very quickly and typing on it was a good experience. It also feels good to the touch thanks to a woven fabric coating on top. There are no mechanical parts and no physical gaps. It latches on like a leech to the iPad Pro for power and data connectivity using the Smart Connector on the left spine of upright iPad Pro. It’s nice to have a keyboard that doesn’t need charging separately.
While the typing experience was a great one, I do have some doubts about the durability of the keyboard, especially in Indian conditions and if you use this gadget outdoors. What I missed most though was a tracking device. There are so many apps where I’d prefer a tracking device and there’s also muscle memory, which takes a long, long time to undo. You might think it’s simpler to just click on a Microsoft Excel cell but for me it’s a frustrating exercise without a trackpad or device.
Which brings us to the Apple Pencil, a gadget that got Apple a lot of flak from wags on social media when it was has announced. Apple has also bristled about comparisons to a normal stylus as we know it. The Pencil connects to the iPad Pro via and charging is though the Lighting plug. It’s fully charged in around 45 minutes, and even a 30 second charge would give you around 30 minutes of use. But frankly, it looks weird to have the Apple Pencil jutting out of the iPad Pro when it’s charging.
Initially, you might even wonder if you need this accessory. Not all of us have an artistic bent of mind. If you love art though, you have to get the Apple Pencil. Also, if you let your kids use your iPad. But, as I discovered, I ended up doing a lot more with it than poor doodles. From sketching a wireframe to actual writing—there is absolutely no lag and it's sheer fun as you discover what different amounts of pressure can do. Tilt the Apple Pencil and you can shade, as with a real wood and lead pencil. It all depends on what an app is capable off and I’m looking forward to more apps that will make full use of what the Apple Pencil can do.
Since I’m not much of an artist I asked some friends and colleagues with an artistic bent of mind to try the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro and all of them went “wow.” Apple devices and technology are notoriously easy to use and they took to the Apple Pencil like a fish to water. In a few minutes they figured out what different angles of use would do and it was just like using a real pencil or a brush on paper or canvas. They loved the responsiveness of the Apple Pencil and instantaneous reproduction. Leave alone good artists—my 6 year old son took five minutes to get used to it and draw what I thought was one of the best things he has ever drawn in another ten.
The big negative with the Apple Pencil is that it cannot be clipped or magnetically attached to either the iPad Pro or the Smart Keyboard. Being smooth and round, it rolls off easily. The rear cap has to be removed while charging and it’s small and hence could be quite easily misplaced. The cap doesn’t fit on the tip either. So, while you should get an Apple Pencil if you decide to get an iPad Pro, you have to take very good care of it.
I got almost 8-10 hours of daily use for a typical workday scenario, including lots of email and browsing, use of Office apps, music in the background and some videos. I guess for the average person, this should cover a typical work day. Which is far more than what you will get on many laptops. Apple has done well on this aspect, which is key for productivity on the road. And the fact that the iPad Pro is still incredibly thin and quite light just adds to its appeal.
Very few would use an iPad for taking pictures and fewer still will use the big iPad Pro. It’s just too unwieldy for the purpose. There’s an 8 MP camera with 1080p video recording capability on the back if you want to swim against the tide though. The front 1.2 MP camera for FaceTime may be put to more use in real life though—professional video conferences isn’t a far out thought for a professional tablet, and it’s quite inexplicable why Apple only offers 720p video recording on this one.
Lack of 3D Touch
3D Touch is the biggest innovation from Apple in recent times and given that the iPad Pro doesn’t allow for a tracking device, 3D Touch might have brought in another layer of usability. I would bet a large amount that the next iteration of the iPad Pro will come with 3D Touch. One just wishes that Apple had offered 3D Touch on the iPad Pro today.
Laptop replacement? Should you buy it?
For me, on many aspects, the iPad Pro was a laptop replacement. For most of my regular job, I could do it easily on the iPad Pro powered by iOS 9. But work isn’t just about the regular. There are many applications that won’t be available on iOS 9, especially in corporate environments. In such cases, you’re stuck. Besides, as said before, the lack of a trackpad or tracking device is something very tough to let go of. Personally, the iPad Pro has taken me a long way on the road to lose my laptop, but the destination is still some time away and this iteration of the iPad Pro may not get me there yet. Perhaps the next one—it’s clear though where this trend is headed.
Some designers and professionals like architects might love the capabilities of the iPad Pro, especially with the Apple Pencil. To put it simply, the iPad Pro is a bold reinvention of the iPad as we knew it and the hardware specs and the display couldn’t be better. Apps have some way to go, but that will also happen—and you know which corporate apps you can’t avoid, which you should help you decide on chucking away your laptop for the iPad Pro or looking forward to the future.
But the price tag hovers over all of this. As with all new Apple products, the iPad Pro slots itself in the highest end of the category when it comes to price, retailing in India for Rs 67,900 (32 GB, Wi-Fi); Rs 79,900 (128 GB, Wi-Fi) and Rs 91,900 (128 GB, Wi-Fi+4G Cellular). The smart keyboard retails for Rs 14,900 and the Apple Pencil for Rs 8600. Forget about the 32 GB version if you are really looking to replace your laptop. Which means that if you buy the Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil—in my opinion, there’s not much point to buying the iPad Pro without both—then you are looking at a pricey Rs 1,03,400 for the 128 GB Wi-Fi version and a jaw dropping Rs 1,15,400 for the best one.
But then, is there anyone who doesn’t complain about Apple’s prices on new products? But many still buy them anyway for the ‘incredible’ Apple experience, as they call it. I find it difficult to recommend the iPad Pro at this price, but if you have got the money and want to experience the bold new reinvention of the iPad with a superb display, great hardware and some compelling accessories, go ahead and splurge.
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