Among the all potential devices, I have decided to give a try to iPad Pro. The decision making process was not easy and certainly there is pros and cons on this device. Here is my first impression about the device after first couple hours of use.
What’s iPad Pro?
This is the latest version of iPad, but rather than simple internal update, this version of iPad has a larger (i.e. largest) screen size. Furthermore, the device adds first official stylus type input device support, called Apple Pencil. The Apple’s primary target for this iPad device is business and creative consumers.
Laptop Class Hardware
12.9 inch is huge especially for true tablet i.e. something you hold in your hand. The screen is gorgeous as keeping in line with all other Apple product. Resolution is 264 ppi. It’s competitor Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book has 267 ppi, but difference is unlikely to be noticeable.
iPad Pro weights 1.6 pounds, which is light enough to hold on both hand. It is lighter than pretty much any other ultrabook on the market with compatible screen size. It is even lighter than Apple’s lightest laptop, Macbook 12 inch. It’s lighter than Surface Pro 4. However, it is not light enough to hold in one hand for prolonged period of time. So it’s not a device you can use comfortably in bed if you are like myself who like to have the tablet held up toward ceiling.
During the September event when Apple revealed iPad Pro for the first time in public, they made a statement how powerful this device is in a vague fashion. They had basically stated it is faster than 80% of portable PCs released this year (at the time of announcement) and when taking GPU alone it is 90%. So did this hold true? See the benchmark tests from Arstechnica.
Basically, CPU performance-wise iPad Pro is fairly close to that of Macbook Air from this year and better than Macbook from this year. However, lags significantly behind i5 version of Surface Pro 4 (but better than cheapest Surface Pro 4 model which used Core M version). When it comes to GPU, it even outperforms this year’s model 15 inch Macbook Pro with integrated Iris Pro graphics and even Surface Pro 4 integraded GPU, which is latest Skylake edition. Basically, GPU performance is very impressive.
Another important test is CPU throttling.
This is basically a test to see with continuous demand of CPU how the CPU performs. CPU gets hot with continuous use and when it does in order to avoid damage to the chip itself, the CPU slows down. This was reportedly a major issue in Surface Pro 3. Basically, think as on paper you may have 100% powerful machine, but the 100% can only lasts for 5 minutes then beyond that it only works at 80% of power. Above graph shows iPad Pro has sufficient enough heat dissipation deign that the chip can continue to operate at its maximum power.
iPad Air, iPhone 6 had 1GB memory. iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 has 2 GB Memory. Now iPad Pro gets 4 GB Memory. So in the iOS standard, there is a large amount of memory in the device. However, if we compare this to ultrabook like Macbook 2015 or Surface Pro 4, it is not so much. As those devices offer 8GB memory and even 16GB option for Surface Pro 4 high end model (sure price is significantly different but still an option).
However, one has to realize that simple number comparison is not adequate and not even reflective of true user experience especially in this scenario. This is because iOS applications are all built based on the 1GB Memory (up until recently) and more advanced applications may be having 2GB memory in mind. Furthermore, Apple only allows max 2 simultaneous application use and even then that’s not for every application.
Whereas, OS-X and Windows 10 applications do not have the similar restriction as there are many computers out there that has 16GB or even higher memory, and many application can be run simultaneously and nobody knows who and when runs enough to take up most of memory. So it is simply suffice to say here, 4GB memory in iPad Pro in iOS ecosystem is beyond sufficient to allow smooth running of pretty much all existing and any foreseeable upcoming applications without a hiccup.
Lightening remains to be choice of connector for iPad, which is proprietary to Apple. This connection previously supported only USB-2.0 standard i.e. maximum data transfer speed was 480Mbps but USB 3.0 can support up to 5 Gbps. The catch here though is Apple needs to release additional adapter to support such speed, and nobody knows when that adapter comes out.
Apple Pencil ~ Best in class Stylus ~
Here I actually agree with many reviewers that it should have been default inclusion on iPad Pro as this really is a one of key feature sets iPad Pro from other Ipad. But perhaps it is one way to keep to cost down for the device that is already expansive enough or perhaps to provide a little chance to third party stylus maker such as Adoit, Wacom etc. to come up with their own version of styluses.
But based on the online review, the stylus is one of the best in class, not limited to Apple ecosystem.
On the other hand, Apple Pencil worked really, really well. I’ve tried a few different brands of styluses in the past, and never have I been wowed like I am with this one. It’s comfortable in the hand, it’s incredibly precise, and it felt natural. Using it with Apple Notes has virtually no lag.
I did notice that there was a little bit more latency when writing in other third-party apps, like Paper by FiftyThree and Adobe Sketch.
While the claim of “virtually no lag” may not ring true exactly especially in some non-Apple apps that claim to be Apple Pencil-optimized, seeing any lag with casual drawing required intentionally racing the ink hitting the paper and the Apple Pencil moving across the display.
After a short time using Apple Pencil, I have to admit I’m impressed with the quality of palm rejection and even just how it feels moving across the screen. There’s a level of resistance and friction that emulates using a sketching utensil on paper.
Here are comparison videos from Youtube.
Aside from Apple Pencil support, another new feature on iPad Pro is a new port called smart connector. Through which one can attach a keyboard device that uses iPad battery rather than its own battery. This is also short in supply and I don’t have access yet. Unlike Apple Pencil, reviews for the keyboard is mixed. Some says much better than expected, and even close to Macbook. Others say no where near the laptop keyboard experience.
I have hard time believing this provides anywhere near Macbook keyboard experience. We have alternative options including Logitech Create keyboard, which is backlit, but I am hesitant with it mainly because of the weight. When you add the keyboard, the weight becomes over 3 pounds i.e. carrying Macbook Pro or Surface Book. One of the main advantage of tablet i.e. lightweight goes away.
Lack of trackpad
I have read a few reviews mentioning the lack of trackpad being a downside when considering the device to be laptop replacement. Since all iOS applications are built based on touch interface, it may not be as substantial but I agree that having trackpad would be a nice addition especially with iOS 9 we can put two fingers over the screen keyboard to emulate trackpad and such function is actually useful editing documents.
Not a 2 in 1 device
Apple has in the past, and still states their intention is not to merge mobile plaform i.e. iOS (iPhone, iPad) with desktop/laptop platform e.g. Macbook, iMac. The reason behind it is by doing so will compromise user experience as it will result in suboptimal experience in each arena. This is an opposite approach by Microsoft i.e. Surface product line with Windows 10. Microsoft wants to make a single device that can be tablet and laptop, and perhaps desktop with some adapter. This type of device is considered as 2 in 1 device, and conceptually extremely intriguing, and in fact a dream device. However, in my experience, it is getting closer but not quite there for true 2 in 1 device.
Why didn’t I choose Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book?
The class leading device is Surface Pro line, with the latest version being Surface Pro 4. Surface Pro 4’s keyboard has much improvement since the original Surface Pro, but still not same as laptop. Even a short use I had at Microsoft store, it was instantaneously notable that keyboard and trackpad are still not that of Macbook Air I have. So there is a compromise as a laptop. As a tablet, the device is light enough to hold in two hand, but again not with a single hand for prolonged time. Touch centric application support are still lagging compared to iOS or Android. So it does have a form factor of Tablet, but I consider Surface Pro 4 as more of a ultrabook i.e. lightest laptop category.
Surface Book on the otherhand is extremely interesting, and truly got my attention since it’s announcement. However, it’s tablet portion only lasts 3 hours and it won’t charge even when docked to the keyboard unless you connect to the outlet. This means as a tablet the device has unacceptable 3 hours battery life. On the other hand, as a laptop the device looks amazing especially its integration of dedicated GPU card. But again, this is a laptop device and tablet function is there, but not a real one.
So 2 in 1 device is something I am still salivating and hoping to get my hand on, neither is not quite there. So at this point, I am agreeing with Apple’s take of separate devices to have maximal experience in each world. Obviously, this won’t last long with technology continue to evolve.
iPad Pro is not a 2 in 1 device
So iPad Pro is not a 2 in 1 device, and technically it shouldn’t be considered such. However, Tim Cook gave a confusing message.
“I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” Cook told the British publication. “Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”
Such statement seems to support the idea that iPad Pro is an indeed laptop replacement i.e. 2 in 1 device. Many internet reviews, and my personal experience even after couple hours, I can confirm that this cannot be a 2 in 1 device. Now I am like 99% iPad Pro owner that I currently don’t have accessories i.e. keyboard nor Apple Pencil due to short supply, but even when those are attached, there are several limitations of the device, or actually iOS prevents this being laptop replacement.
Multitask of a same application
2 view split screen addition on iOS9 is great and certainly works well with iPad Pro. I am ok with having only 2 applications run simultaneously as 12.9 inch canvas is big but not big enough to run anymore than those. I can sort of accept that not all iOS applications support split screen functionality as major applications I use indeed support that. Perhaps one can even say, even on Windows or Mac when you have a CPU/GPU intensive application can only be truly run one at a time otherwise, the system becomes too slow to the point unusable. But what I am still not liking is that we cannot run instances of same application in a split screen. For example, having two Microsoft Word open, or two web browsers open. Now there is a workaround for these as you can technically run Microsoft Word and Page, or Safari and Firefox etc. So it is a minus point but not tolerable.
What I usually do for my work is have a PDF reader and OneNote open simultaneously and take a note of what I read then occasionally take an image within the PDF into OneNote. In my desktop or Macbook, I can simply do a selected area of screen capture and just paste into OneNote. iOS won’t have a capability to do such in a global scale i.e. becomes application dependent. For instance, I can use Foxit PDF reader to take the picture of image, but that application does not support split view. I love PDF Expert and it support split view, but does not have the screen capture function. So workflow in this scenario becomes much inefficient.
Limited function application
I’m not a adobe suite user so it does not affect me but this is a best example. Desktop version of application has much more functionality than iOS version. So I can see for high end user, the iPad Pro cannot simply replace the laptop/desktop.
But I wasn’t quite as impressed with some of the other iPad Pro versions of the Adobe apps. For someone trying to do simple sketches or wireframes, the apps work. Anything heavier, I found too cumbersome and complicated to do, and ended up reverting back to my laptop programs.
iOS vs. OS-X (Windows 10)
The topic is basically already addressed in above section. Many shortcomings of the iPad Pro equate to limitation of iOS and the existing applications. However, there are strength of iOS over desktop/laptop OS.
Instant wake up
Benefit of tablet device like iPad or Android is true instant wake up. I rarely reboot iOS, perhaps once every month or so only when things start doing some weird thing. The use of 4GB Memory in a ecosystem where up until recently had 1GB memory capacity makes instant launch (likely from cached apps) of applications.
Even though Macbook wakes up relatively fast, it is nowhere near instant. Newer Intel chips and Windows support Instago/connected standby mode, although it sounds like having a little issue now, I am sure the bug will be fixed soon if not already.
Better software experience
There are applications that are limited functionality compared to desktop/laptop counterpart, but there are actually applications that may be unique or perhaps work better in iPad Pro. For example, Complete Anatomy application that was demoed on the Apple event in September is exclusive to iOS.
Another example is IMAIOS e-Anatomy. There are iOS and Android version of dedicated software. For desktop/laptop users, it is used though online access. The application caches images in offline on mobile device but not true on desktop version as it requires internet access.
Here I would not truly include Comic Reading or perhaps standalone PDF reading due to simple massive size of iPad Pro, but in general these reading application also feel more natural on touch centric device. Windows 10 still lags in this arena despite touch capability because simply application supports are not there yet.
I have touched this in the Memory section, but because it is iOS ecosystem and iPad Pro is the best hardware spec of any iOS device by significant margin, we know all the applications will run smoothly without a hiccup. Taking a windows as an example here. Yes. there are potential of being able to use all the great desktop class application but each application have hardware requirement and high demanding application won’t run smoothly or may not even be usable depending on the hardware configuration. For instance, Surface Pro 4 line advertise as Adobe tool works well only with i7 Core version.
What really is an iPad Pro?
In above, I said it’s not a 2 in 1 as it cannot really replace laptop at least yet.
The gorgeous screen, and touch centric nature of device with relatively light weight allowed me to put the device on my lap as I watch TV or play with my son. I was surfing net primarily, so it is basically a tablet use but simply far more satisfying and impressive experience than with my 9 inch iPad Air. But as a pure tablet, it is heavy to hold in one hand.
It seems like Apple had failed to achieve neither perfect tablet nor perfect laptop. Well, the conclusion is not so simple especially someone who is interested in drawing/writing on iPad. I have tried multiple expensive bluetooth stylus on iPad including ones cost ~$100 but knowing how it feels when stylus is appropriately functioning from Samsung Galaxy Note tablet series, and Surface Pro device, I was never satisfied. This is no longer the case with iPad Pro along with Apple Pencil. Also drawing/writing, I believe having a larger screen estate is welcome addition even with some increase in weight as people tends to not hold canvas in hand and draw/write but rather put on desk and write or draw.
Myself not being an artist, I imagine my ideal scenario, which was when I was in college where I wanted to take digital note. iPad Pro has the full day battery, light enough weight and highly accurate stylus. In fact, I remember how disappointed I was when iPad was initially introduced without stylus support and was certain it will be a failure.
So in one category, I believe iPad Pro is tablet focused with drawing/writing capability that iPad was never good in. Without such function, would this device worth anymore than other tablet? I am not sure. As of right now, I feel most likely the answer is “no.”
If one knows all the application need is satisfied with current list of iOS application then bigger screen estate, which really gives a split view perfect feeling, it may be a worth purchase, but my guess is current application features are not quite there yet for most of us.
So this may be a niche device and potentially fail miserably or perhaps may be a new hype that Apple may ignite among students, artist, and businessman etc.
My first impression is iPad Pro is powerful tablet and certainly from the hardware stand point of view, it is really a laptop class device just like Surface Pro 4 is. In fact, it’s more powerful than Apple’s own laptop, Macbook 2015 edition. Personally, iOS had its own success because it is separate from OS-X; otherwise, developer may have simply elected to make desktop application and give a little touch friendly feature rather than making applications 100% touch based. Yet, it is undeniable that iOS has its own limitation and desktop/laptop OS tends to have more productive capability. However, I think the issue really comes down to not so much between iOS vs. OS-X/Windows 10, but simply available application and their features.
iOS has some applications that performs better than desktop application for specific tasks. Windows 10 still lags a quality of touch application. So at this point, I would say iPad Pro has a true potential to be its own type of device that is actually different from classic tablet nor laptop, but for its success, dedicated or improved application support for this new type of workflow on iPad device is necessary. As of today, those application features are not quite their for me, and probably many others.
I have hard time defining what truly is iPad Pro right now especially not having Apple Pencil in my hand. It has a true potential to drive new genre of device (technically not new, but just a original iPad did, Apple may be able to make this appealing to wider audience). But there is also a potential that this device may end up being in a niche with being compromised tablet and laptop.
I believe it is best to hold off purchasing this relatively expensive gadget until you know all your workflow need are satisfied with upcoming application updates.