I’ve never been completely satisfied with my computer setup. Sure, the 2015 13” MacBook Pro I have is fine, it does what I need it to do. But as someone that travels a lot, it’s bulky and the battery life isn’t that great, and outside of this blog and some side projects, I don’t really do any software development. Nothing that remotely taxes the machine, aside from occasionally compiling new versions of Ruby.
I bought the 5k iMac when it first came out; keeping the two computers in sync was really a headache, though. Every time I’d go on a trip I’d need to update software and re-login to various apps on my laptop, and it felt like more work than it was worth, so I sold the iMac.
The only other computing device I have is an ancient iPad (the first retina one from like early 2012) that barely functions. However, Apple recently announced the new iPad Pro which looks great and, according to all the reviews, is significantly faster than my laptop.
So, I thought I’d try the “iPad Only” lifestyle and bought the 12.9” + Keyboard Folio + Pencil. Due to Apple’s two week, no questions asked return policy, I can always give it back if it’s a mess. I’ve had it since launch, and here are a few of my thoughts.
This thing looks awesome. The design is modern yet retro (harkens back to the iPhone 5), and feels substantial without being too heavy. It’s clearly fast enough to do whatever I want it to do, and easy to move around.
- The screen is amazing. I know iOS devices continue to upgrade at a blistering pace, but sitting the iPad next to my almost 4 year old MBP and the difference is night and day. If you’re one of those people (like me) that upgrade perfectly good iPhones every year due to camera improvements, the screen alone might be worth upgrading. (Aside: Apple, you need a lease program for individuals for devices – I might want to trade in a new iPad every year if you keep this up).
- Reaching up to touch the screen is frustrating and unergonomic. The keyboard desperately needs a trackpad of some sort. I know, I know, iOS isn’t built for a pointer but even if Apple did some sort of on-screen giant finger-pad looking thing it would be a great improvement.
- USB-C seems like a welcome addition, although now I have three sets of chargers for my laptop, phone, and tablet. That’ll get fixed, eventually.
- I remember when MacBooks used to come with little screen wipes. The iPad gets fingerprint-y pretty easily, and when I’m writing I have to wipe the screen pretty often. Including a little wipe in the box would’ve been nice.
- The speakers are pretty nice. I typically listen via headphones, but I don’t find myself needing to crank up the volume when watching a show. Music still sounds better via earbuds.
The iPad feels wasted without a keyboard. The onscreen keyboard is goofy and awkward to type on. If you’re going to get this thing, you should get a keyboard for it. At press time, there weren’t any 3rd parties available, but I suspect Logitech or similar will come out with some competitive keyboards at lower prices.
- The folio keyboard is fine for typing in a pinch. If I’m sitting on the ubiquitous Ikea POÄNG chair with my feet up (as I’m doing now) the keyboard isn’t long enough to rest my wrists on it, so they sort of awkwardly and uncomfortably land in my lap. I’d prefer some contraption that extends the keyboard or maybe one of those laptop stands that sits in your lap.
- The thing opens “wrong”. I get there’s no other way to do it, but if you open it like a book, because that’s what it looks like and what you’re used to, you’re wrong: you then need to rotate it 90* counter-clockwise to get the keyboard to sit on your lap. That happens to me about every other time I open it. The right way, of course, is to set it “spine” end down, and pull the thing toward you. Kind of like the opposite of a laptop. If you open it like a laptop, pulling the screen up, about half the time you’ll pull the back cover off of it because the iPad itself is so heavy in comparison.
- If you want to use the iPad without the keyboard, it folds back underneath the display with the keys facing outwards. We’ll see how durable the folio is, but I’m worried I’ll end up breaking it by mashing the exposed keys.
- No function keys. It’s a small thing, but when I’m writing and listening to music, sometimes I want to skip to the next song. On the laptop, I can just mash F9. On this thing? If there is a key command, I haven’t found it yet. Yes, if iTunes is focused, I can use Cmd-> to go next, but it doesn’t work within my writing app.
- iOS needs a dedicated Settings panel for the folio. Using the arrow keys to scroll in Safari or through a text editor is painfully slow. I’d really like to be able to tweak the repeat/delay/etc. settings like on a laptop, or maybe remap keys.
As part of my travels, I often present at meetups and conferences. I love Keynote, but sometimes I have a graph or diagram in my mind that illustrates my point except I can’t just “draw” it. I have to pull out a spreadsheet and enter in data to get the graph that I want, or I use something like Omnigraffle to sketch something out. I figure the pencil will allow me to draw exactly what I want. I’m not giving presentations where the data is critical (or even known), but the trend lines are important.
- The pencil feels premium in my hand. The weight is nice, and the texture is the right amount of smooth/grippy.
- The battery life is atrocious. I’m not sure if I got a bum pencil or what, but if I leave it unattached for a day, the battery drops from 100% to about 80%. After two days, it’s in the 60s. In the time it took to write this post, it dropped to 94%. The thing charges so dang quick I guess it’s not that big a deal, but I could imagine pulling it out to do some note taking or drafting and being frustrated it’s dead. The solution is to leave it attached at all times, but if I’m sitting down to write, the thing sits on top, like Moby Dick, so I take it off.
- Multi-tasking (split screen stuff) is unintuitive. I had to watch someone’s YouTube video on how to do it. I listen to songs while composing notes like this, and it seems my only option is either this giant floating iTunes window or something that takes up a big chunk of real-estate on the right. Why no mini-player like a video? Supposedly iOS13 will have a bunch more features in this regard, so I’m cautiously optimistic they’ll figure it out.
- As silly as it sounds, I’m a heavy Safari user. Our one-week out of warranty dishwasher broke, and using Safari to find the part number, search the web, and find a place that had a good price for it was much more of a hassle than on my laptop where I could easily keep a couple of windows open (+ Notes + precise trackpad input). Actually, this is the use-case that prompted me to search for how to do split screen. I also repeated this process to find a good, battery-powered snowblower. I took out my laptop and repeated the process, and it took about 10 minutes longer on the iPad (and was more frustrating).
The iPad Pro is very clearly approaching laptop replacement territory; I know I can do it, but for now it’s still harder and more painful to do things with it than a laptop. Folks will say “yeah but you’re a power user” – for some things, yes. But otherwise I’m pretty vanilla when it comes to my computer usage. With the iPad, the hardware is indeed willing, but the software is weak.