Reviews: The iPad Pro

Being a rampant Apple nerd, I was one of the first few to order an iPad Pro, Smartcase and Apple Pencil.

Before giving in to my cult’ish consumerism I was surprised to find there weren’t many plain-spoken reviews of the device to read online. While there were many tech focused reviews, concentrating on the specs and showing photos from either the Apple event where the iPads were announced or the promo shots that followed soon afterwards, there weren’t many notes from the ‘average person’ saying whether they liked the product.

I’ve tried to provide my very average-person thoughts on the device below.

Summary

  • It’s an impressive device in a lot of ways, but you probably shouldn’t buy one.
  • I’m looking forward to using an iPad Mini with the Apple Pencil.
  • I will probably take mine back, but laziness might win out and I might keep it. If I keep it I will probably end up regretting it in a few months time.

Hardware

It’s almost impossible to read a review of the iPad pro without some fairly generic ‘wow it’s big’ comment. It simply has to be said, though, the thing is big. Approaching ludicrously big.

  • The size is convenient when reviewing documents, as it’s possible to see one page at a time without having to reduce the font size to something impractically small.
  • The size feels luxurious while reviewing general websites as, again, it’s possible to view an expansive amount of information on each webpage without having to reduce the font size. It also helps deal with annoying banner advertisements and navigations bars, which for some reason lately are determined to scroll down with you, blocking a sizable portion of text (especially after you double tap to zoom).
  • The size is not too large to deal with one-handed. I’ve seen it written in various articles that the thing is unwieldy and I don’t buy it. Perhaps if your arms are very slight and very weak you might struggle, but I’ve found it’s possible to comfortably hold it with one hand while you peck out an email / message on the oversized keyboard with your other hand. After a while perhaps your fingers might get fatigued having to hold the device (just due to the increased weight combined with the leverage of the wider screen and thinness) but then you can either balance the iPad in the palm of your hand for a while or simply change hands. It’s not an issue.
  • The Smartcase is a bit of a disappointment. I quite like the feel of the keys and the fabric material generally, but it adds a significant amount of weight to an already-on-the-heavier-side iPad, and doesn’t protect the back of the device at all.
  • The Smartcase’s lack of a hinge or adjustable viewing angle is perhaps the single most disappointing aspect of the entire iPad + Smartcase + Apple Pencil suite. I’m used to my MacBook 12", which obviously comes with an adjustable hinge, and I’ve taken for granted the flexibility that hinge provides. I hate the tension that comes with using the iPad + Smartcase in any non-typical situation (i.e. on a table), which most often arises while lying on my back in bed. This isn’t a problem for the MacBook, but requires a careful balancing act to avoid the iPad’s screen falling back to a difficult viewing angle while still not pressing down on the keyboard with enough pressure to flip the screen into your face. If you have ever fallen asleep and had an iPad screen whack you just as you drifted off, you will know the terror I’m talking about — except then you probably weren’t using a 12.9" display.
  • It’s possible to use the Smartcase in your lap, but it doesn’t feel smooth and easy.
  • The Apple Pencil is delightful to use, and makes me want to be a better artist. I’m hopeful I will find an excuse to use it in my professional life (marking up documents and the like) but as yet I’ve not had the opportunity. Or, more accurately, I’ve had the opportunity but found it just as easy to use other methods.
  • Also, given the Smartcase, I wonder whether I can justify asking people to send me things in PDF just so that I can use my Apple Pencil to mark them up, and then have them make my amendments into the Word document, when I could in theory just use the fabric keyboard to make those amendments myself.
  • Why isn’t there an obvious way to attach the Apple Pencil to either the Smartcase or the iPad Pro itself? Magnets or a slot or something. I can say hand-on-heart there have been a few times where I’ve thought ‘oh I could use the Pencil for this!’ only to realise I’ve left it in another room that is clearly too far away. I know the Apple team wants to design for sexiness, and I love that about them, but they should also design for laziness, too. we’re the it just works crowd, after all, and there should never be a time when I’m required to walk ten meters to another room to get something done.
  • The first smart person to come up with a half-way-decent Kickstarter campaign to attach the Apple Pencil to the iPad Pro will raise a bajillion dollars.
  • I’ve had absolutely no issues with the TouchID to login. It’s very convenient, given the size of the thing.

Software

  • I was very excited upon first using the device to utilise the extra screen real estate for some picture-in-picture viewing, while I waste time browsing what would no-doubt be something stupid. Excited.
  • Unfortunately, what I didn’t know before trying out the iPad Pro, is that the picture-in-picture function is limited to certain apps for now, and it doesn’t work with Netflix or YouTube. This means that unless you have a catalogue of iTunes stuff to watch, you’re out of luck. [Edit: Netflix now provides this option — and it’s great — but can’t get it working with YouTube still]
  • Watching Netflix or Youtube on the device (scaled up, obviously, as you can’t use any other app while the video is playing) is very pretty and very pleasing, but I’ve never been one to sit there and binge watch a show without also doing something else at the same time — usually web browsing, social media or who knows what in another window.
  • If you can imagine yourself needing a large’ish screen to watch a TV series then the iPad Pro is a good substitute — very crisp display and also with good sound — but I query why you wouldn’t just use your television for that?
  • It’s taking me some time getting used to the iOS versions of the Microsoft Office suite. They’ve come a long long way from how I first remember them, and I think I probably still prefer them to Pages / Numbers etc but it’s not a straightforward swap from the desktop versions to the iOS versions. If you were (like me) hoping there would be a seamless transition from working on a laptop to working with the iPad, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. I think I could get used to the way iOS does things, but it’s a long way from being perfect.
  • It’s been said elsewhere but I do feel a bit of a disconnect between achieving an outcome on iOS and OS X. With my MacBook 12", I feel that I’m always five to ten minutes away from figuring out what software is required to get something done. With iOS, I’m usually 30 minutes away at the least. There’s Googling to be done, then once I work out what the generally accepted ‘best’ iOS app is for doing a particular task I need to download it and I need to try to work out how to use it (which is rarely as instinctive as Apple might want for all its products). Everything is just that little bit harder.
  • Why is there no 3D Touch on this thing? Being able to press harder on the keypad to move the cursor is something I was really looking forward to and, given there is no trackpad on the Smartcase, is something really lacking. Another ball dropped. [EDIT: I’ve since learned that you can use two finger dragging on the onscreen keyboard to achieve the same result. Still would prefer a trackpad, though, as it doesn’t feel comfortable to reach up from the smart keyboard to the screen. Also, if you have the smart keyboard plugged in you don’t automatically see the onscreen keyboard.. it’s not a neat solution]

Cost

  • The damn thing is expensive. I’m in Australia, which means we are hurt by (1) the USD / AUD exchange rate getting worse and worse (for Australians); and (2) the fact that everything is more expensive in Australia for no apparent reason.
  • The iPad Pro + Smartcase + Apple Pencil comes in at $2,133 total. The mining boom is over, Apple, cut us some slack.
  • I was told by an Apple Genius in the store that if you drop the iPad Pro and the screen is damaged it will cost you approximately $900 to have that screen fixed. Ouch.
  • As a consequence I took up Apple Care at an extra $129. I don’t know if this is a scam or not and I’m not recommending you take it up, but I was sufficiently scared at the prospect of a $900 repair that I bought it.

Delivery

  • I was obviously one of the first few to get my order in as I was lucky enough to get the Smartcase + Apple Pencil only a week after my iPad Pro arrived.
  • It is a bit annoying that the two week refund period runs from the delivery of the iPad Pro, however, as it’s difficult to know whether I would like to keep the device without experiencing it with all the ancillaries. [Edit: I have since been told that all Apple purchases ordered after 1 November can be returned up until 7 January. This is a good policy and gives me more time to work out whether I’m returning it.]

Use Cases

  • I’m a corporate lawyer, and I’m still optimistic that I might find a use for the iPad Pro at work to justify it’s expensive cost. At this stage though, I have to be honest and say that I’m likely going to return this thing in a few days time. It’s worth noting that I already have a MacBook 12" and, if I didn’t have that device, I perhaps would keep the iPad. The fact that I’m still not 100% sure though suggests that for many people, and probably the vast vast majority of people, the iPad Pro is just not worth purchasing.
  • Being able to view documents at an appropriate size and one page at a time is a luxury that shouldn’t be underplayed, but it does come at a cost. The device itself is big and not super convenient to take with you from meeting to meeting. It’s heavier than I would like. The Smartcase covers only one side and the side it does cover isn’t of a uniform thickness either. It borders on ugly.
  • The Apple Pencil is very impressive and I’m hopeful soon I will be able to use it to either take notes during meetings or mark up documents or who knows what. I feel though that I’m searching for a use to justify the impressive device, whereas I had thought the thing would demand it be used to solve an obvious problem. I’m just not there yet.
  • The Apple Pencil with an iPad Air or an iPad Mini might be just the ticket. Something small enough to bring with me from meeting to meeting without being ostentatious, but with a subtle input device capable of keeping up with conversation. If I need a keyboard I could bring a wireless Apple keyboard with me — I suppose I’d just need a cable with a lightning port at both ends to charge it from the iPad itself.. do they exist yet?
  • If I was an artist either professionally or recreationally I think it would be much easier to justify the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil combo. I’ve seen some really cool artworks on twitter by people doodling around in their spare time. I am not in any way artistically talented, however, and the fact that the Apple Pencil doesn’t in some way attach to the iPad or at least the Smartcase seems stupid to me. The design team dropped the ball there.

[EDIT (approximately 6 months later): I decided to keep the iPad Pro and I now do use it at work quite a bit, mostly to jot down notes in meetings though not for amending documents. Using a pencil to take notes is so much more subtle and convenient than typing on the keyboard. Key to this decision was picking up the Leuchtturm Black Pen Loop. It’s still too big, though. I’m looking forward to Apple adding the Pencil functionality to something with the iPad Mini form size. That’s going to be a winner.]