So, I mentioned in my previous post about being interested in new ways of computing. Devices like 2-in-1’s, Chromebooks, and tablets have promised new ways to do the things we need or want to get things done. I’ve tried all of these and I can say, without a doubt, the iPad Pro has been the closest realization of a new paradigm in personal computing.
The hardware of the iPad Pro is nothing short of elegant. So much is provided by a simple slab of aluminum, silicon, and glass. It’s deceptively light. You see the 12.9″ Liquid Retina display and think that it has to be too heavy to use in everyday situations. Of course, you’d be wrong. It is incredibly well balanced in the hand and surprisingly light. The weight distribution is such that it doesn’t require you to hold it in a certain way for comfort. You can hold it any way you like and it will feel natural.
The display ticks all the boxes you’d want in a portable display in 2019. High resolution? Check. Color accuracy? You bet! HDR? Yep! High refresh rate? Absolutely. Apple has really outdone themselves in the display department. It makes sense, though, when you consider the device is a slab of screen in your hands. Their True Tone display really helps when viewing content in a variety of environments by sampling the lighting in your area and adjusting the screen accordingly. The ProMotion is what really makes the canvas feel next-gen. The 120 hertz refresh rate makes even things like scrolling through a web browser feel like a smooth and enjoyable experience you’d be more than happy to repeat each day. The HDR implementation, while not as good as that on the iPhone XS, is definitely up to the job. Watching movies on this device is the best it gets for mobile film. Which brings me to the accompanying feature: the speakers.
Apple has done an amazing job with their acoustics these days. The HomePod is easily the best sounding smart speaker on the market, the sound out of the small AirPods is way better than you’d expect, and the speakers in the iPad Pro are another notch in Apple’s audio belt. With 4 speakers, each with separate tweeters and woofers, the iPad produces some of the richest sound I’ve ever heard from a mobile device. The stereo separation is top notch and creates a wonderful sound stage for watching movies or listening to live music. The individual woofers create a distinct bass response while the individual tweeters keep the highs clear. The mids can get lost a bit, but they’re still there for most things you’d listen to. A wide variety of music could easily find a home here, from acoustic alternative to pounding hip hop tracks.
The inclusion of USB-C is a game changer for the iPad. The previous Lightning connector, while capable, never really caught on outside of the iPad and iPhone devices. This limited their usefulness when it came to peripherals. There is an entire supply chain of accessories for Lightning-equipped phones and tablets, but they are a thing of the past in the iPad world. USB-C enables the use of so many peripherals that were inaccessible before such as USB microphones, external displays, wired keyboards, and all manner of USB powered paraphernalia. The main omissions are a mouse and external storage. There is no interface for a mouse to work on iOS so that’s out the window. On the external storage side you are able to connect an SD card to import photos and videos from other cameras (as well as plugging the camera directly in the port) but the lack of support for USB sticks and external hard drives leaves many stuck with the storage they purchase with the device, 512GB in my case.
The A12X that Apple has managed to cram into this svelte package is a powerhouse beyond what you think is possible with mobile constraints. With an 8-core CPU and custom GPU, nothing has slowed this tablet down for me. I have been able to accomplish many tasks that I would have had to rely on my desktop computer to brute force. Watching videos is child’s play, video conferencing is nothing to it, even heavier tasks like digital art and video editing find the iPad shrugging it off and asking for more. Even editing 4K 60 FPS footage from my iPhone XS is as pedestrian a task as browsing the web. The render times from LumaFusion have been on par with that of my hexa-core desktop at times. The high efficiency cores in the A12X have offered some impressive battery life stats over the past 2 weeks. I am averaging 11 hours of screen-on time while doing daily tasks, gaming, creative endeavors, and much more on both Wifi and cellular connections. This vastly surpasses my experience using the same applications on a traditional laptop, even the 2014 MacBook Air that now collects dust.
Face ID joins this new iPad courtesy of the bezel reduction from the previous generations. This time it is much faster than its original incarnation on the iPhone X thanks to the speed of the neural engine in the A12X. It can now be unlocked from any orientation, unlike iPhone. If you attempt to unlock the device and you are covering the camera an arrow will appear on screen and remind you that you are doing so. The front camera is a quality 7 megapixel affair that offers high quality selfies and some of the best video conferencing available. The rear camera is sporting a 5 element lens with software-based stabilization. The Smart HDR function for taking photos creates scenes that have vibrancy while also maintaining detail in the darker portions of the picture. Both of these cameras are capable of portrait modes using the True Depth camera on the front and machine learning on the back.
The optional, but extremely necessary, keyboard folio is a wonderfully convenient and indispensable accessory. It attaches to the iPad using a plethora of magnets on the back and side of the tablet. These magnets hold not only the folio to the body of the device, but also help align it when using it in a “laptop” mode. The magnets are surprisingly strong and hold up well when in a bag or being held in the hand. The keys on the keyboard are using Apple’s butterfly switches for actuation and they feel clicks and satisfying, if a bit loud at times. They are wrapped in the same fabric-esque material that comprises the folio as a whole. The size of the keys is adequate for touch typing and after only an hour or so, I was more than used to them and able to type quickly. It also helps that iOS does a really great job at cleaning up my typos which are more of a problem with my brain not working right with my hands than it is the keyboard not being usable. The main downside of the keyboard folio is that there are only two settings for angle. At 5 ft. 7 in. I am the ideal height for either of these settings, but your mileage may vary. At $200 it’s expensive, but it’s one of the main reasons you get an iPad Pro in the first place over the base iPad. A must have.
The Apple Pencil is the smoothest pen/stylus experience I’ve had on a device. The Surface Pen was really good for note taking in college, but this would have been the accessory that would have caused you to doodle in the margins. I’m no artist, though. I got the Pencil because I wanted the entire experience and it has come in handy the few times I wanted to draw something out or write something down. However, my roommate Vanessa Dial who can be found at Crafty Nessa is more capable in this area and had a few words of her own:
I’ve been a fan of the Microsoft Surface as a creative tool for a while now but the iPad gives it a run for it’s money without breaking a sweat because the iPad doesn’t heat up like the Surface does.
Because of the way the iPad is designed it is extremely intuitive and easy to jump into. The pencil is charged by clipping to the ipad, as opposed to needing batteries, and is super light so you can use it for long periods of time with little hand fatigue. I also don’t seem to activate the screen as much on the ipad while drawing as I do with the Surface.
There are still a couple things I don’t like about the ipad while using it for drawing (using Procreate). The pencil has no eraser but the Surface pen has an eraser. You can double-tap the pencil to change to the eraser and apparently I do this all the time by accident while drawing which is really annoying and breaks my flow but I’m sure this is something you can train yourself out of with time.
Otherwise it’s great. The pencil has great sensitivity, although I can’t tell how close it is to the Surface pen sensitivity.
At $130 it’s a bit expensive for a niche accessory, but if you plan to do any amount of drawing or note taking, it’s a great purchase.
Software and iOS
Now, many will argue that the Achilles heel to the great hardware is the software. iOS is an amazing mobile OS and offers features that really compliment the experience like multitasking, picture in picture, handoff, continuity with iPhone, and the list goes on. I find that many people’s complaints about iOS stem from a familiarity with desktop operating systems, workflows, and applications. When you are able to step away from the standard Adobe products and desktop metaphor you’ll find a vibrant ecosystem of apps that provide an experience for creatives, business people, road warriors, gamers, and casual users. No, you won’t find Steam games or desktop engineering software on here, but you will find the software that most people, including myself, want and need.
There are apps like Office and iWork that are great for getting things done for work. I have submitted documents for work that I edited on the iPad in Word and nobody was any the wiser. I keep track of my budget and bills in a Google Sheets spreadsheet without issue. The notes for this very review are stored in Pages and in iCloud for safe keeping. The integration of OneDrive and other cloud storage options really facilitate cross-platform editing and accessibility. Editing my WordPress site has been a breeze with the app available for it as well. In fact, this whole review was written on the iPad Pro using the WordPress app. How cool is that?
For creative outlets I have used Procreate for illustrations as well as Pixelmator and Lightroom CC for photo editing. Procreate is easily the best illustration software I’ve used. (Sorry, Krita) With the Apple Pencil it makes for a smooth and natural environment in which to lay down some paint and see what happens. The other photo editing options are very powerful and allow me to make edits that I would normally take too long to do on a desktop application. The simplicity of all of these apps is not to be looked down upon. They provide a streamlined experience and allow you to focus on your task and get it done swiftly. For editing some drone footage that my dad and I took, I used Premiere Rush and LumaFusion. Premiere Rush is a very simple video editor akin to iMovie, but it syncs with Creative Cloud. After purchasing LumaFusion, and taking the time to watch tutorials, I definitely prefer it as my editor of choice. I am able to make fairly complex clips with this editor and manipulate effects and transitions that I would normally make in Kdenlive or DaVinci Resolve. I am by no means a professional creative, and I do see the need for the desktop programs, but these solutions have really enabled me to create on the go without a hassle. That is worth quite a lot to me.
Games play stupendously good on a screen this smooth and this high resolution. I’m not a big mobile gamer as of this review, but I am learning to enjoy the experiences offered by these devices. I tested Hearthstone, Minecraft, and Real Racing 3 on here. Hearthstone was an awesome experience as I enjoy playing on the desktop and being able to take it wherever I go with the cellular connection is next level. Minecraft took some getting used to, and admittedly I’m still pretty rubbish if I get attacked, but it runs smoothly and has all that you’ve come to enjoy from vanilla Minecraft. Real Racing 3 was a new one for me, though. A co-worker who is a bit of a gear head suggested I try it and it is actually a pretty great racing game. There’s lots of love about its physics engine and on the iPad Pro the details really come through. Steering with a giant tablet is also a satisfying experience.
When we take the iPad Pro as a whole, including the keyboard and the pencil, we have a glimpse into the future of computing. Apple caught a lot of flak for their “What’s a computer” ad, but I now see what they were getting at. This really transcends the laptop and tablet experiences like no other. The Surface Pro comes close, but there’s a certain something that comes from an always connected, all day battery, light and portable device that the Surface can’t quite match up to. While these devices are, well, divisive, I still think they are the future. So long as you have $1500 lying around to pay the Apple Tax. Price aside, this is the mobile device I have wanted for years and the fact that it is a reality makes going that extra hour at the coffee shop that much more enjoyable.