The iPad Pro review

First impressions.  For someone that’s only seen iPad sized tablets for the past 5 years, seeing the iPad Pro in person for the first time is invariably giggle inducing.  The size just seems ridiculous and unnecessary at first glance … Like a stretch limo or 100″ flat screen TV.  Eventually, you get used to it, but more on that later.

Physical usage

Attempting to use it as a normal iPad by holding it up creates first a feeling of experimentation, and then realization.  At first, the heft is deceptively light for its size.  In use in portrait, the tablet is unusually top heavy and your hands struggle to simply hold onto the tablet as your thumbs manipulate the keyboard.  In landscape, reaching the center keys is a near impossibility.  The tablet seems to be best used supported by something … Either a flat table, a cover, or while lying on a couch or in bed.  Holding it up by your arms and hands alone doesn’t feel good for long.

In the lap sitting in bed, it gets a little confusing to use. I find it works pretty well in landscape mode with split screen enabled.  Oddly, I find myself wishing that the keyboard in landscape would be on the top of the screen instead of the bottom, since the top is where my hands can comfortably reach out from my body to type, whereas trying to type from the bottom results in contortions of the wrists around your own body. This is less of a problem on a flat table where the iPad can be placed further in front of you.

One thing Apple gets right here that other companies don’t is the aspect ratio.  4:3 for iPad’s is simply the correct aspect ratio for nearly all tablets … Providing the right balance and trade off of informational depth vs width.  It’s puzzling that no other company has bothered to understand why this is.

Software

Mulitasking can be sort of nice when it works, but is laid low by the complete lack of software packages that actually support split screen right now.  Furthermore, the actual implementation just doesn’t feel good.  Activating it consists of the following.

  • Sliding over once from the right hand side
  • getting the arrow that seems to say “did you really mean to do this?’
  • Sliding again over the exact arrow deliberately
  • Attempt to pick the app you want from a linear, unsearchable list (it’s obvious that UI model will completely fail to scale in a few months)
  • Then tap the splitter bar to indicate that you really want to be in split screen mode instead of slide over mode.

And you still can’t switch sides, adjust the precise layout of both apps on the screen, or easily swap in other apps as needed.

Despite the above, the iPad Pro, by sheer virtue of physical screen area, manages to make multitasking somewhat palatable.  On the iPad Air 2, it’s only somewhat workable, and on the iPad mini it is nearly pointless since content in split screen is basically unreadable.

Using the native software is an exercise in incompleteness.  Unlike the original iPad, where Jobs outlined the rethinking of every native piece of software to suit the larger form factor of the iPad, the software on the iPad Pro is largely unchanged from its iPad equivalent.  Some software, such as messages and mail, leave large columns of empty space on the screen in landscape mode.

Improvements

And yet there are some niceties here. The typing experience in landscape mode on the touch screen is surprisingly decent. I can type rather accurately and quickly … Something I did not quite expect.

The iPad Pro’s size is a bit of a boon for the older crowd.  In fact, I was able to justify an iPad Pro purchase for my 70 year old mother based on just two factors.  One, she uses her iPad Air 2 for hours each day.  And two, her vision isn’t great right now, so the size of the iPad Pro makes the viewing experience a lot better for her.  She simply runs the iPad Pro in zoomed mode and the entire experience is simply that of a blown up iPad Air … Bigger text, bigger icons … Bigger everything!  She’ll still keep the Air 2 since the cellular connectivity and size make it better for traveling, but the iPad Pro is going to be a major part of her daily routine at home from now on.

The sound of the iPad Pro is markedly and immediately better at first listen than any other iPad.  While the speakers still point in the wrong direction, at least they are quite powerful and now produce a full stereo soundstage.  One gets the feeling this was simply done because they couldn’t really do anything else with the extra space … After all, 1.5 lbs is already quite heavy for a tablet, so the extra space couldn’t be used for more battery life.

Finally, the iPad Pro has an all new A9X processor.  Oddly, they’ve moved back to dual core, but the generational leap in performance was still quite significant.  No one likes a step backwards, but they’ve still managed to deliver the fastest iPad ever. In practice, the 4GB of RAM and extra speed aren’t particularly noticeable now, but it’s clear the iPad keeps up while multitasking two apps for the moment, and should be future proof for some time.

Accessories

The pencil.  While clearly not for everyone, the pencil is an example of classic Apple innovation.  It works, it works intuitively well, and it brings something to the table that other products haven’t yet.  Our company artist was able to pick up the pencil and start sketching immediately.  Nothing on his end was needed to feel out the pencil and the iPad to get going.  That’s remarkable.  I can’t personally appreciate the impact of this, being about as far from an artist as you can get, but it’s clear that, while this is a niche, it’s going to be a very highly impacted niche.

The Smart Keyboard is an odd product.  I want to like it.  I can put up with so so keys.  What I can’t put up with is the lack of function keys.  At home, having the keyboard cover on is completely pointless.  There is nothing I would bother unfolding and setting up the keyboard for that wouldn’t be easier on a regular laptop or computer.  Don’t get me wrong here … There’s some innovation with that keyboard fabric and overall thinness of the cover.  But it still feels like a product that didn’t quite hit the mark.  Sorry Apple, but Microsoft’s type cover seems like a better product.

If there’s one good thing about the keyboard, it’s that releasing it as a real product finally forced Apple to fix the junky keyboard support in previous versions of iOS.  For example, you could never send a message with the keyboard just by pressing enter.  Now you can.

On to the rest of the accessories … Accessory pricing from Apple has always been a bit unpleasant.  But this year they’ve managed to reach unheard of heights.  The silicone case for the iPad Pro costs 79 dollars.  The front cover is 59.  To get full protection, you’ll need to shell out 140 dollars for the pleasure.  Something about it doesn’t feel right … Almost as if Apple has started to cross the line from premium pricing for premium products over into something not so nice and exploitative.  Let’s hope that trend doesn’t continue.

Summary

I’m not entirely convinced by this new iPad.  In a sentence, the hardware is way ahead of the software.

Can it replace your laptop?  Absolutely not, unless all you do is web surf, watch online video, and write emails.  That might be some of you, but it isn’t me.  I could never develop on this.  Opening zip files or downloading anything would be an exercise in frustration.  And why shouldn’t I be able to have multiple apps open?  Split screen is a somewhat poor emulation of the real thing.

Despite that, I’ve decided to hang onto it a bit longer due to Apple’s generous holiday return policy.  Sometimes these devices take time.   The hardware needs to exist first for the ecosystem to move forward.

On a positive note, I am seeing some merit in the tablet for home use.  I think I slightly prefer it over the iPad Air in that respect.  On the go, however, I simply cannot carry just this device when I travel, and that’s a goal that I have had in mind since the first tablets.  Barring that, the LTE iPad Mini is still the trustiest of travel tablet companions for me.

Would I recommend someone else buy one?  Not without some very specific need for it right now.  In my mother’s case, it was a combination of eyesight and frequent usage at home.  But in most other scenarios, the price jump to the Pro from the iPad Air 2 is huge, and the accessories are priced on the high side of reasonable on top of that!  And that’s even before you get to the unwieldy form factor.  The Air 2 is simply a much better all around tablet, the hardware has aged very well so far, and it has lots of great deals going on it since it is now a year old.

The appeal of the iPad Pro is going to depend on how quickly developers take on the new features of the iPad Pro into their apps.  Until then, purchasing one will depend on how long you can live with the unrealized potential in the device.

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2 Responses to The iPad Pro review

  1. swift110 says:

    The iPad Pro is huge, that’s for sure. I see some potential in it with regards to graphics applications but I think they should have bundled the pencil in with it at least. That would have made it even more tempting to folks in my opinion.

  2. Pingback: iPad Pro 12.9 long term review | rkuo.com

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