The iPad Pro is a powerful and versatile tablet that’s great for creatives and professionals. While we detail all its pros and cons in our review, we put it through even further testing by replacing our laptop with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro as we trekked through Japan during a two-week vacation. Here are nine things we learned.
Needs stronger magnets
There are a lot of magnets in the iPad Pro — more than 90, specifically, according to iFixit. That’s to allow the tablet to stay attached to the Smart Keyboard, and to help keep the magnetic Apple Pencil in place as well. But after shoving and pulling the tablet out of our backpack over the course of two weeks, we wished the iPad Pro came with a built-in compartment that houses the Pencil, or had stronger magnets. The Pencil can easily shift around, and while we’ve only seen it completely detach and fall on the floor of a plane once, it has spun around in place and nearly fallen off on several occasions.
All this being said, we love the ease of just snapping it back on top of the iPad Pro, and we hardly ever ran out of a charge as the Pencil wirelessly recharges when it’s attached.
Apple Pencil is excellent, but…
The redesigned Apple Pencil has a matte finish, and it looks more like a normal pencil that the previous version. It feels fantastic in the hand, and drawing with it is incredibly natural. It works well for editing photos in Adobe Lightroom CC: Using the Pencil to control sliders for contrast, exposure, and other settings was easy, but we did notice it’s not as fast as a mouse or trackpad. We edited photos slower than we would have on a laptop.
Smart Keyboard needs more configurations
We mentioned our dislike of the $200 Smart Keyboard in our review, which largely stems from the keys not offering enough tactile sensation. This is mostly subjective though. What we found more annoying is the lack of angles it offers when attached to the iPad Pro. There are only two ways you can position the iPad’s screen using the Smart Keyboard, and we constantly were searching for ways to angle it better — especially in cramped spaces like an airplane, or when sitting on the tatami in our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). We missed the versatility of laptop hinges.
The 12.9-inch size is beautifully large, but maybe too big for travel
We’ve fallen in love with the 12.9-inch screen size of the iPad Pro. It’s vast, and perfect for drawing or binge-watching the entire season of House on Haunted Hill on Netflix (as we did on the 13-hour flight). But looking back, we would have preferred to use the 11-inch iPad Pro for traveling instead. The 12.9-inch model spilled over the tray table on the plane, and using it on-the-go required far more concentration on holding it because it was so large, and we didn’t want to drop it. The 11-inch model would offer enough screen real estate, while being manageable in one hand.
Importing photos from a DSLR is as easy as (Apple) pie
We’ve never done a lot of photo-editing work on previous iPads, but we were enticed with the addition of the USB Type-C port on the latest iPad Pro. We’ve used the SD card adapter seen above on various laptops and Android phones in the past to quickly edit or share a photo captured on a DSLR to social media, and this became our daily routine at the end of each day in Japan. (This is not a new feature, as previous iPads supported SD cards through the Lightning to SD Card Reader accessory. But the iPad Pro’s USB Type-C port supports more third-party accessories.)
In all our years of using this dongle, it took the iPad Pro to finally deliver the best experience. Simply plug dongle in and insert an SD card, and the Photos app opens up, allowing you to import photographs and upload them to iCloud. When we’d plug the dongle in the next day, the iPad remembered the previous day’s uploaded media and only asked if we wanted to import the fresh batch of photos — smart.
We were able to open all these photos automatically in Lightroom CC for some quick editing. The iPad Pro became a handy backup device to store our photos as well, in the event we damaged or lost our camera or SD Card.
Face ID is so much better than Touch ID
Lift up the iPad Pro’s screen from the Smart Keyboard, and it’ll quickly unlock. Face ID has replaced Touch ID on the tablet, and we’re happy with the change. We don’t need to do anything but look at the iPad for it to unlock, and while it doesn’t save any time, it’s simply far more convenient that using a fingerprint sensor. It works in portrait and landscape orientation too, unlike the iPhone, and we never had a problem with its face-detection ability. It’s excellent.
You know what else we like? Gesture navigation that came to all supported iPads in iOS 12. It’s a more natural way to interact with a tablet.
Productivity is slow because there’s no trackpad
You can get work done on the iPad Pro. There’s no question about it. But it won’t be as fast as the work you can do on a laptop, whether it’s a MacOS or a Windows machine. While the iOS tweaks to the iPad are greatly appreciated — such as the dock, Split View, file manager, and drag-and-drop — using a finger to navigate a tablet this size with a gesture-based operating system simply isn’t as precise or fast as using a mouse or a trackpad. It’s the same argument we’ve made with Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, but Android has native mouse support. We’ve connected a mouse to the Tab S4, and it improved our productivity tremendously. But instead of lugging an extra mouse around, why not build a trackpad into the Smart Keyboard — similar to what Google did with the Pixel Slate keyboard. It’d make us work much faster.
Battery life is great
We hardly ever found ourselves with a dead iPad Pro. While on vacation, we weren’t using the tablet for hours on end, but for small pockets of time. It managed to stretch up to four or five days before we needed to plug it in, and we never turned it off. Each use involved some light photo editing, and watching some downloaded Netflix shows when on a train or airplane. The other convenience? USB-C. We used a USB-C Android phone during our trip, and having to only use one charging cable to juice up both saved us the hassle of fiddling with two wires.
Travel SIM convenience
As soon as we landed in Japan, we were able to find and connect to Japanese carrier networks, and pay to get cellular service while still on the plane (this only works on the cellular model of the iPad Pro). Now, we didn’t end up buying a data plan as we didn’t need constant cellular connectivity on the iPad Pro on vacation (we just connected to free Wi-Fi in hotels and cafes). We mostly checked to see if it works, and it did. There’s a small allotment of cellular data that is allowed to be used for free so the iPad Pro can search for networks, and you don’t need to worry about a physical SIM card.
So, would we ever use the iPad Pro again on vacation instead of a laptop? Absolutely. Despite our gripes, it’s an incredibly powerful machine that looks beautiful, with a gorgeous and vast screen, and it’s versatile. We didn’t intend to get a lot of work done — and fast — which is why we were okay with slower productivity using the iPad Pro. If this had been a work trip, we’d probably opt for a device with a trackpad instead.
Most people should still buy the cheaper $330 iPad, which now also includes Pencil support (first gen), but there are a vast number of uses the iPad Pro offers — it just might not replace your laptop for getting work some fast.