Australian Review: Apple iPad Pro - Luxury
"This is stupid," said my partner when I first showed her the iPad Pro, "why would anyone want a tablet this big?"
After five minutes doodling with the Apple Pencil, her tone had changed completely.
"Do you have to give this one back?"
My initial reaction was similar; while the iPad Pro certainly has its merits, it's a niche device without a well-defined purpose. It's a little too big to comfortably use on the train, it's a lot more expensive than any other iPad, and it's certainly not the laptop alternative that Apple billed it as. But after spending some time with the iPad Pro, it starts to make sense. Even if you have no intention to purchase either of its accessories, a big screen iPad is a welcome luxury in a world where phones keep getting larger and larger.
Measuring in at 12.9-inches, the supersized iPad Pro is almost comically large at first. While 13-inch or so displays are dime a dozen when it comes to notebooks, they're a little imposing when it comes to a tablet. You're not going to be holding this one-handed for any extended period of time. That being said, the iPad Pro only weighs 712g, which impressively enough, is less than the 3G-enabled version of the original iPad.
As odd as the iPad Pro's screen is, it quickly becomes liberating. In addition to the top notch display quality Apple is known for, the additional real estate gives apps plenty of room to breathe. Using GarageBand on an iPad Pro is a very different experience to using it on a regular iPad. You're able to hit keys and buttons more accurately, it's much easier to get lost in what you're doing. As more and more apps become optimised for it, the iPad Pro's extra screen real-estate is a blessing, even if you're not using iOS 9's split screen functionality. Browsing Safari almost feels like reading a newspaper.
Given its large stature, I've found using the iPad Pro in landscape more comfortable than trying to wrangle it in portrait. Moving hands from side to side feels natural, while moving them up and down the gigantic screen is a little weird. That being said, the iPad Pro is lovely in portrait when you're taking notes with the Apple Pencil.
In terms of performance, the iPad Pro more than lives up to its predecessors' reputation; it can make going back to your iPhone feel slow. Notably, Apple went all out with the iPad Pro's speakers. They go loud with minimal distortion, offer a good sense of stereo separation, and manage to avoid sounding tinny. Unsurprisingly, the iPad Pro does however struggle with lower-end frequencies, especially sub-bass.
But the iPad Pro is more than just a giant iPad, it's Apple's first take on a Surface-like two-in-one. While I love that Apple is trying something new, the iPad Pro doesn't quite do it for me as a PC-replacement. Part of the blame lands at the feet of the somewhat underwhelming optional Smart Keyboard, but the larger issue is iOS simply can't replace a desktop operating system, whether it's OS X or Windows.
The problem with Apple's AUD$269 Smart Keyboard is simple; it's just not a good keyboard. To me, this is really odd. I swapped from Windows notebooks to a MacBook Air in 2009 and never looked back thanks to the high quality trackpads and incredible keyboards, but the Smart Keyboard shares nothing with the Apple notebooks I've come to love. The keys have almost no travel, but at the same time, require a surprisingly high amount of pressure. When you combine these two issues, the lack of tactile feedback means you probably won't notice when a keystroke doesn't go through. I tried to write this review on the iPad Pro, but had to swap back to my Mac thanks to how uncomfortable the experience was.
Lapability isn't great either; unless you're typing on a desk or another flat, solid surface, the iPad Pro's top heavy nature means there's a good chance of it toppling while you work. The Smart Keyboard's construction restricts you to one viewing angle, a la the original Surface.
But even if the smart keyboard had MacBook-grade keys, I'm not sure it would fix the iPad Pro's two-in-one experience. By nature, iOS is a touch-first operating system. Almost every single interaction, whether you're opening the app, clicking a link, or even pressing the home button requires your finger to touch the screen. As a tablet, this makes a lot of sense, as a notebook, it doesn't. Since the Smart Keyboard doesn't have a trackpad (and iOS doesn't support trackpad input), you'll be moving your hands up to the iPad Pro's screen a lot. Admittedly, a lot of apps do have keyboard shortcuts for certain touchscreen functionality (such as cycling from emails in Mail), but these aren't exactly intuitive.
To sum it up, it feels like Apple has made the same mistakes Microsoft did in the Surface's early days.
On the other hand, Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro's other new accessory is an absolute joy to use. I have atrocious handwriting, but I simply love the Pencil. It's hard to explain, but Apple has nailed the feel of jotting down notes, drawing, colouring, and highlighting. Putting Pencil to iPad works exactly how you'd expect it to, and it's wonderful.
Charging the Pencil by plugging it in the iPad Pro's Lightning connector is a bit weird, but it's a minor inconvenience.
The iPad Pro is a luxury. It's a tablet that makes me want to go to the effort of using a tablet while I'm at home, rather than just using my phone. The only question is whether that’s worth the AUD$1,249 entry price (and an additional AUD$165 for the Pencil). If you're a creative type looking for another tool to keep in quiver, I think the iPad Pro is a good option. The extra screen real estate alone is incredible when you're dabbling with synthesisers or drawing programs. For everyone else, the answer isn't as clear, as at the end of the day, the iPad Pro isn't great as a two-in-one. It's not going to replace a MacBook or Windows PC for most people.
In a world of big phones, the iPad Pro makes the iPad more relevant than ever, but at the same time, it falls short of Apple's notebook-killing ambitions. Simply put, the iPad Pro can't escape its tablet roots.
Cybershack Score -
|Gorgeous screen||Smart Keyboard is underwhelming|
|Apple Pencil is amazing||iOS isn't optimised for two-in-one experiences|