My employer recently found themselves in a place where they were looking to staff a particular project, specifically with a resource who had previously been removed from that project (and that resource was happy to be removed)…however, previously mentioned resource is now in a position for demands to be heard because the company has a need to address. During a conversation with said resource, one might advise that while they’re not actually in a position to negotiate, this is the closest they’ll ever be (at least with their current employer) to being able to negotiate. That juxtaposition—the closeness of the thing to the actual thing—is how I’d describe the iPad Pro 10.5 relative to a real laptop.
I’ve been using the new iPad Pro for a little more than 2 months now, a majority of that time with the attached Apple Smart Keyboard and cover, and 100% of the time with the latest version of iOS 11. Let me be clear—this is not a laptop replacement, and it is not almost a laptop replacement…
With this device, there’s always a “but.” No matter how much I try to dislike or discount the experience relative to a full laptop experience, I find myself more and more moving away from my new MacBook Pro with touch bar and moving toward regular use of the iPad Pro.
Yes, the price is high. Yes, you have to pay extra for the keyboard. Yes, it’s not a full desktop operating system…these are all things we know…BUT it is one of the best non-laptop laptop analogs I’ve ever worked with. And let’s discount immediately the likes of the Surface Pro and Samsung’s Windows tablets, as those are legitimately laptops converted and slimmed down to be used as tablets, NOT tablets converted and bulked up to be used as tablets. The iPad Pro is different.
And YES: I am a pretty sizable Apple Fanboy. My Mac, my iPhone, [and sparingly] my Apple TV are all part of my frequently used devices…so why should my iPad be any different?
Like with anything Apple, this is about way more than the hardware—but the hardware has to set a good foundation for the iOS 11 software overlay which has been the best version of iOS we’ve seen yet—and one specifically designed (in my opinion) for the iPad over any other device (step aside, iPhone).
In terms of form factor, we didn’t gain anything huge over the previous generation iPad Pro 9.7. Slightly thinner bezels, a slightly larger screen…honestly the usual incremental update between product generations. On the inside, an upgraded processor, double the memory, incremental storage increases for each model (10.5 base doubles the storage of the 9.7 base), a brighter display (and better display, more on that later), better cameras, updated Touch ID, the same battery all add up to an overall better device. And that makes a lot of sense, in spite of the upgrades not seeming to be much more than moderate.
The screen, though, is far from moderately better. Apple put in a 120Hz panel on the new iPad Pro, and it supports a wider color gamut. This isn’t something you look at while you’re using it and think, “Man, all that extra refresh rate is really making a huge difference in my every day use;” however, it is something that you will appreciate once you have whether or not you realize it. The crispness, or snappiness, of the display on the 10.5 versus the 9.7 or any iPad Air is magnificent—and all tablet makers should move this direction.
The speakers are ridiculous (in a good way), at least for tablet speakers. For those of you familiar with the speaker setup in the new MacBook Pro–the latest generation iPad Pro has continued this trend to offer exceedingly great sound in a way that no other tablet manufacturer has gone after. I hope this is the “spoiler alert” for the upcoming HomePod, which is sure to disappoint if the speakers aren’t amazing. Yet I digress…
The keyboard, although an extra expense, is one that you don’t want to pass up if you’re looking for a part-time laptop fill-in device. I’m rather partial to the work the folks over at Brydge are doing with their keyboards, and you may want to watch for that as an alternative once they’re released for the new iPad Pro 10.5 in the fall; Zagg and Logitech also have their competitors for Apple’s product—but none of those were available as quickly as Apple’s keyboard, so it was the natural choice for an early adopter. Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a surprisingly enjoyable typing experience, and while it is not designed to be the most adaptable from a screen angle perspective, it does a really good job covering the device while also serving as a keyboard or stand when you need it. Again, this is not the device that is going to replace your laptop, so the typing experience doesn’t have to be amazing: it just has to be comfortable. And, it is, again—surprisingly so.
While on the topic of input devices—I passed on the Apple Pencil for now. I’ve used it, read reviews about it, heard how awesome it is from so many folks…I just don’t need it in my life for how I use my iPad. And honestly, it’s another $100, so why bother unless it makes a big difference? The artsy folks will definitely want to add this accessory, but otherwise you can probably live without.
Before I get to software, I want to mention a few things that are not so great. First and foremost, no USB-C. I understand why Apple has stuck with its propriety cable here, but it also makes sense to start moving the direction that literally every other device manufacturer is headed, wether or not it’s courageous. And along with that—no fast charging, meaning the battery (still, in 2017) takes a stupidly long time to charge.
Also, when this thing isn’t in a case or attached to some kind of keyboard, it tends to be a challenge to hold (perhaps, in bed or on the couch) while in portrait mode without bumping the screen. This is a result of the small side bezels, which may be visually appealing but are not conducive to accidental screen contact.
My only complaint about the Apple Smart Keyboard is that the bottom-left key is a keyboard selector, not a function key. I love the fn key on my Mac and use it all the time; I’d like to be able to do the same with the Smart Keyboard.
And honestly, that’s about all of the bad there is. It’s a very, very short list, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part: iOS 11.
This is not the first time we’ve seen a tablet OS make an attempt at multi-tasking. This is not the first tablet OS to allow “click and drag” functionality. BUT (and there it is again), it is the first time Apple has done it, and done it acceptably well. Multi tasking in iOS 11 is far from perfect, but the key is the intuitiveness of making it work…the specific gestures required to activate that feature…that make this the best non-laptop multi-tasking I’ve encountered in a mobile platform. And sure, maybe multi-tasking on the iPad Pro 12.9 would be better merely due to additional screen real estate, but it works passably well and without much fuss for the smaller sibling. And, click and drag, again, while not being ideal in a mobile setting, is executed in a way through gestures that make it a thing you want to do, not something you can do.
To clarify that statement, I’d like to bring up the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 which was just announced and is available on preorder. For starters, no, I will not be picking one up to review—but a frequently heard criticism about the new Note 8 is the incremental improvement over the Galaxy S8, which is for all intents and purposes the best smart phone on the market right now. The additional features you get by spending an extra $250 is not enough to justify the price tag, because those features tend to be things that the device is capable of yet something most users will not take advantage of. And so it goes for previous mobile platforms trying to make things like multi-tasking and click-and-drag a reality: the act of doing the thing is far more complex than the result of doing the thing makes it worth. Somehow, in a world of moderate improvements in its mobile devices, Apple found a way to avoid this frequent, and frustrating, misstep.
Quick bit about the keyboard—is the ability to use Command+Tab to access the app switcher. It’s not true multi-tasking for the Windows fans who frequently use Alt+Tab, but it’s damn close and really awesome to have on an iPad.
The final bit about iOS 11 that makes this device a game changer (and hopefully will continue to adapt in the future) is the dock. For the first time, factory settings and no required additional third-party apply allow you to add as many apps to the dock as you wish, and you can access the doc from any app at virtually any time (specifically, with multi-tasking and click-and-drag, as well as frequent app access). We’ve all grown very accustomed to, when needing to get to a different app on our tablet or phone, first clicking the home button and either opening an app drawer or scrolling through screens to get to the desired app. And again, with a little gesture control by swiping up from the bottom, I can get to the iPad’s dock and launch any app from that doc without the extra button press. In some ways, this makes the device more “Mac-like” than ever before. And while I’d love to see some options to suspend or hide the dock in iOS to clean up that home screen, I’m liking the direction the thing is heading.
Apple has notoriously expensive hardware which in most cases does a great job meeting the status quo. My gauge for how great an Apple product is: how often I think about how much I paid for it. I’ve owned my fair share of iPads over the years, and have toyed with the idea over the last 12 months on picking up the new Pro. So, when the 10.5 hit I pulled the trigger and haven’t looked back since. I’ll admit, without the iOS software updates that we’ve seen recently, this iPad likely would have been used just as much as all my previous iPads, then either returned or sold off to the highest bidder. But Apple, in true Apple fashion, finds a way to combine hardware and software for an experience, rather than just delivering a product—and that is why they have the market command they do.
Nonetheless, I have to recognize the sheer cost of the thing for what you can do with it. A base level iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard is more expensive than a decent budget laptop, and while it may be lighter and more “boutique,” it is obviously less capable. Then again, Apple isn’t marketing the iPad Pro (in whatever “Pro” means here) to the budget buyer; that space is targeted by the new iPad at $329. Either way, this was an easy purchase to live with, which for me is all I need to know whether or not a product is worth recommending. And, I find myself using it far more than I use my new MacBook Pro, which will take me a while yet to pay for.
Thank God for 0% interest—how else will we continue to feed our Apple habit?