Can an iPad Pro replace your laptop? Here’s what happened when we tried it

“I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” Tim Cook asks of a reporter from The Telegraph while admiring the new iPad Pro. It’s a sentiment that Phil Schiller echos in the product announcement, “the iPad Pro can do things a notebook cannot.”

But in order to replace a laptop, the iPad Pro has to be versatile enough to take on all the tasks of the day, and well equipped enough to deal with any problems that arise without getting in the way. Performance and responsiveness are one part of the equation, but so is the ability to organize emails quickly to look for a message, or to relax after a long day of work.

Does the Pro have what it takes, or is it just slightly larger iPad Air? Follow me through my workday, and I’ll tell  you.

Just after midnight

The iPad Pro wakes me up at midnight, ringing and buzzing unpleasantly from across the room. Attaching my iCloud account has effectively turned the iPad into another iPhone, one that I forgot to put on “do not disturb” when I went to bed.

The iPad Pro works best when you modify your workflow to fit with the way it works.

But it’s not all bad. When I wake up at a reasonable hour I can see it was just my friend calling because he was in the neighborhood and heading to pick up some late night breakfast. I also have a text, some Twitter notifications, and way too many emails.

I appreciate having access to everything in one place, and I can even get some work done. The larger screen is better suited for first-thing-in-the-morning tasks, like responding to email or loading WordPress, than my iPhone 6+. I don’t have to boot up my desktop, and I can even bring the iPad Pro downstairs for a quick game of Hearthstone while I have coffee and breakfast.

It just works, except when it doesn’t

Covering the news is my first morning task. That requires monitoring Feedly, Slack, Trello, WordPress, and email, while Spotify churns out music in the background. I quickly have a smattering of apps open, plus a few tabs in Chrome.

Apps can share the screen with the split-screen function, but I find the slide-over function, which momentarily overlays one app on another, much more useful. Slack fit into this workflow perfectly. It’s always a quick swipe away, and I can respond to messages and participate in group chats with ease.

Some apps require a bit more attention, like Trello, a popular project management platform. The iOS version of the app isn’t refined. It crashes frequently, and often allows for editing and commenting when it’s not up to date, resulting in sync issues later. I’m forced to boot up my desktop 35 minutes into the day because clicking links in Trello causes the app to crash.

There’s other weirdness, too. I prefer Chrome because I use Windows computers most of the time, and it carries over my bookmarks and preferences. Unfortunately, Safari is the permanent default browser in iOS, so links in other apps open there instead of Chrome. I spend a lot of time copying and pasting links into Chrome tabs, and every time I do it’s a subtle reminder that I’m playing outside of Apple’s sandbox.

Ultimately, the real issue isn’t app compatibility, or the way each is supported. The issue is when something goes wrong, I’m out of luck. If Trello hits a snag on the PC, I can restart the browser, or try a different browser. If the Trello app doesn’t work on the iPad, there’s not much I can do. Such moments always force me to reach for my PC.

Focusing on the (multi)task

The afternoon finds me in our darkened lab running benchmarks on a review monitor. The iPad Pro picks up easily and moves with me. The battery is almost fully charged, so there’s no need to plug it in.

While my workflow remains similar to the morning, it also includes the use of a spreadsheet. That’s a demanding task without a mouse, but the iPad Pro’s keyboard mostly operates like it does on the desktop, although the Google Sheets app has a little trouble understanding that I’m not using the on-screen keyboard to fill in values.

Apple iPad Pro
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It shines while I’m writing up my display quality report. I need to crop down some images, and while I don’t appreciate how they’re just sort of floating in my camera roll, editing in Photos is simple and intuitive. Uploading them to WordPress is smooth as well.

The iPad Pro works best if you’re willing — and able — to alter your workflow to its favor. It’s not going to change how it operates to fit what you do, and despite the new split-screen option, that often means focusing on one task at a time. While sliding in to Slack or Spotify continues to feel smooth, attempting to run two apps side-by-side in Split View doesn’t feel comfortable. The spreadsheet makes that clear, as there’s not enough room to edit a spreadsheet while simultaneously editing a review document.

Kick back and relax

I play a ton of games on my smartphone, and that carries over well to iPad Pro. I’m guilty of sitting in front of the TV and playing a game at the same time, and the iPad Pro is a great size for a little Terraria or Simpsons.

To the iPad Pro’s credit, a comparable notebook like the Apple MacBook can’t handle any sort of serious gaming. While its Core M processor and integrated graphics are still loading Goat Simulator, the iOS optimized version of the game is already be running buttery smooth.

The iPad Pro’s large size and attachable keyboards mean it came to work.

Granted, it’s a smaller library compared to what you might find on Steam, and a lot of the best games are designed with the iPhone in mind. The upshot is they all run well. The iPad Pro is at the top of the performance food chain for iOS products, so nothing is built for a more powerful system.

The screen is great for movies or music videos, although once again the mobile OS rears its head, as most iOS streaming apps aren’t available at high enough resolution to take advantage of the screen’s pixel density. And while it’s a minor complaint, a laptop does have a built-in stand, whereas propping up the iPad Pro to watch a movie requires buying a keyboard.

It takes all types

So, can an iPad Pro replace your laptop? It depends how you like to work. If your day-to-day involves many browser tabs and application windows at once, you might find that overwhelms the singular focus of iOS. Conversely, those who sit and stare at one document, or spend hours editing a single image, will find a lot to love in the iPad Pro.

Either way, you’ll have to make concessions in your workflow to take full advantage of what the iPad is offering. There isn’t much room to tinker around under the hood, with a distinct lack of file explorer or sideloading privileges. Apps either run smoothly and function well, or in rare cases don’t work at all. The portability, battery life, and big, beautiful screen will appeal to a lot of users, and the trade-off of a locked down OS won’t be noticeable to most of them.

The price is the biggest issue. An iPad Pro starts at $800, but you’ll of course need to spend more for a keyboard accessory (I mostly used Logitech’s, but had time with the Smart Keyboard), putting the total north of $150. That’s in Surface Pro 4 territory, or will purchase a Dell XPS 13. Either machine will be a better choice for productivity.

My time with the iPad Pro proved it’s capable of replacing a laptop. Why anyone would choose to buy it for that purpose isn’t obvious. If you are considering it as your only machine, I suggest you think carefully about how you use your system. The iPad Pro is sleek, beautiful, and fast, but it’s limitations might surprise you.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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