Three days in to using the latest Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro as my main computer I canned plans to buy a 2018 MacBook Air.
The new iPad Pro is all the mobile computer I need for journalism on the move.
It’s light. It’s always on and ready to go. It goes all day and then some on a single charge.
Add a SIM card and it’s always connected.
At a pinch it can take photos and shoot video. Mind you, there is something uncool about holding up a magazine-sized glass-metal slate to take shots. Despite this it works a treat.
The iPad Pro also does a good job recording audio. You can do that without looking like a dork.
There are great iOS writing tools that work so much better on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro than on smaller iPads or iPhones.
While I prefer a Markdown editor for my writing, most of my clients prefer to get Word documents. Converting Markdown to Word is easy enough. But on the iPad Pro it’s easy to work in Word and not stuff around with converting files.
For some reason I’m yet to fathom, Word works far better on iOS than on MacOS anyway. On the iPad Pro it’s a far better experience than on any MacBook. At least for my work.
If you think I’m enthusiastic about the new iPad, you’d be right. It’s rare for any new hardware to capture my imagination as much as the last two 12.9-inch iPad Pro models.
They are amazing. Despite the high cost, we’ll come back to that point, they a good investment. I get a fast productivity pay off. So might you.
For my first two days with the iPad I was out-of-town working from a hotel room and cafès. That gave me an opportunity to road-testing the iPad with the kind real tasks that make up my bread and butter. I had a newsletter and a feature to write.
Before going further, I should point out an older 12.9-inch iPad Pro has been my main mobile computer for a year. There have been times when I needed a Mac, few times, but enough to mention.
I’m familiar with the basics of living an iOS only existence. Much of the rest of this post is about my first impressions moving from one 12.9-inch iPad Pro to another.
Size is the most visible change. As the 12.9-inch name makes clear, the screen is exactly the same size as before.
The edges around the screen; bezels in geek-speak, are smaller. This means the iPad is smaller. When looked at in the portrait orientation, the 2018 model is only about 5mm less across its width. It’s height is around 20mm shorter.
In practice this is a bigger deal than you might expect. At the airport on the way home I had to unpack the iPad to go through security. Taking a dozen or so millimetres off the case means I could slip it in an out of my bag with less fuss than my older iPad.
Space is at such a premium when flying that this helps. The smaller 12.9-inch iPad Pro size works better on Air New Zealand tray tables.
It is a few grams lighter too. If, like me, you watch streaming sports coverage on an iPad, it means you can hold the device for longer in a single hand.
I spent part of Thursday and Friday moving from place to place, often cafès, carrying the iPad. It felt more comfortable.
Apple uses a faster A12X processor in the newer iPad Pro. You may see this referred to elsewhere as a system on a chip. It is getting on for twice as fast as the processor in last year’s iPad Pro.
You wouldn’t buy an iPad Pro based on something as esoteric as processor speedtests. I’m not going to waste your time discussing benchmarks, they are meaningless for most of us.
Even so, you might choose the new iPad based on what that faster A12X chip means for your productivity.
Raw speed doesn’t make any difference to my writing. I don’t type a Markdown or Word document any faster with a better chip.
The speed comes into its own if you do photo or video editing. Next year, Adobe plans an iPad version of Photoshop. That will push the A12X harder than anything I’m using at the moment.
For now, one bonus of the faster processor is that it runs the Face ID software at a clip. It works in no time.
This means you don’t need a home button, hence the smaller bezels. It also means security is less of a productivity burden. At times I still instinctively reach for the home button, but I suspect that won’t last.
Smart Folio Keyboard
The Smart Keyboard Folio is better than the Smart Keyboard Cover used with the earlier iPad Pro. It still lacks backlighting, which I find essential on a night-time plane flight even though I’m a touch typist.
Speaking of which, I can touch type all the alphabet characters without a problem. Yet I struggle to find the apostrophe key without peeking. In touch typist circles, that feels like cheating.
Likewise, I need to look at the arrow keys use them. The keyboard is exactly the same width as on my old, 2012 MacBook Pro, but shallower.
Keys have a pleasing amount of travel and a comforting click. The typing experience is good. This is more important when you consider Apple’s new MacBook keyboard comes in for criticism. I prefer using the Folio.
I’m not excited that Apple now offers two screen angle positions. Microsoft Surface users will jeer that Apple hasn’t gone down the kick-stand route. Long-term happy iPad users will wonder what the fuss is about.
The back part of the Keyboard Folio covers the entire back of the iPad. It would be a little harder to remove in a hurry than the earlier KeyBoard Cover. That’s not a bad thing, my old Keyboard Cover often detached when I didn’t want it to.
Also I slipped and bashed my older 12.9-inch iPad Pro. If that had happened with the newer Folio, it would have protected my tablet.
New Apple Pencil
Apple’s new Pencil is marvellous. I like the way it looks and feels in my hand more than the earlier one which was too shiny and slippery for my taste.
The new Pencil has a far less awkward charging mechanism. You sit it on the top of the screen when the iPad has its keyboard attached in the landscape orientation. While it is there, the Pencil will also pair with the iPad. It feels almost like magic.
When the Pencil is in this place, a strong magnet holds it to the side of the iPad. I walked about 5km around Wellington in windy, wet conditions. The Pencil stayed stuck in place.
Apple has done something remarkable to the speakers. When I first heard them cranked up during a demonstration the clarity surprised me. It’s amazing given the small amount of space the engineers have to play with.
Later when I listened alone, the wide stereo separation was more obvious. There’s enough sound here for two or three people to watch a movie or sports game on the device in comfort.
12.9-inch iPad Pro Issues
I’ve run up against a couple of frustrations. Using WordPress is hard work on the iPad Pro. The WordPress iOS app is incomplete and inconsistent. I usually prefer to use the web to edit and manage my site, but this is difficult on a touch screen device.
WordPress has a poor designed for touch screen users. There’s a simple fix for this, find an alternative to WordPress.
Not having a Touch ID home button presents a minor, very minor challenge at first. I use a couple of apps which don’t always switch off when they are in the background.
With the old home button, clicking it twice gets a screen showing all the active apps. Swipe the misbehaving ones up and they would stop. If I didn’t they chewed through processor cycles or battery life.
Now there’s no button, the double swipe-up gesture is a little harder to use. It could be a case of getting use to it.
Value for money
Make no mistake, the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is not cheap. The basic model is NZ$1750. That version only comes with 64GB of storage, which is less than most people will need.
Few users will need to go all the way to the MZ$3049 model with a terabyte of storage. To me even the 512GB for NZ$2350 seems excessive. The sweetest spot is the NZ$2000 model with 256GB.
Adding cellular capability adds NZ$250 to the price. This seems a hefty premium given that you can tether an iPad to a phone in a jiffy. After all, no-one goes out without their phone these days.
Is this a lot to pay? That depends on what you want it for.
If it makes you more productive and lets you work where you otherwise might not. If it makes better use of your travelling time then its a bargain. You’ll recover the price premium in no time.
When you compare the price and performance of an iPad Pro against any laptop, they don’t look like a bad deal. The same goes for comparisons with the Microsoft Surface. For a while I could have gone Surface or iPad Pro. My recent experience puts me in the iPad Pro camp, but, remember, my needs are not your needs.
If you think you can’t justify the price, there’s always the non-Pro iPad. It does most things its big sister can do at a fraction of the price.
Prices start at NZ$540 for a 32GB model. I recommend you either find a little more and get the NZ$700 version with 128GB or accept you’ll move plenty of data on and off your tablet.