We are in a bit of a grey area at the moment, computationally speaking. Laptops have never been lighter and more powerful, and mobile computing systems such as the iPad have never been more capable or this close to being “a real computer”. Should you buy an iPad or a laptop? At the moment, there’s still a great argument for both, which is what I have, but the overlap is so close now, that I could definitely imagine only using the iPad as my main computer. In a few years I think this overlap could be significant enough that for the majority of people, a laptop no longer makes sense.
I used to be an “early adopter”. I’m not sure when that changed exactly... but I’ve stopped purchasing the first run of any product, at least anything that costs substantial money. I have a collection of retro video games that can now all be emulated using the latest tech, for a fraction of the price. It’s likely I will sell of most of my collection... unless there’s something really sentimental there. I never really went through a phase of purchasing Apple products in the “Rev A” stage, but I did have the original iPhone, which I imported from the USA, and I also had the original iPad, which I gave to a colleague for his children to play with last month. The original iPad cost 600GBP and I believe I also purchased the model with 3G as iPhone tethering wasn’t possible without jailbreaking your iPhone (something I used to do but can no longer be bothered). So, that was my last iPad, and here I am writing this review on the iPad Pro 10.5”—this is not an incremental change for me, this is a total step change.
The original iPad weighed 730g (!) but somehow I did manage to carry it around, and use it one handed. My MacBook weighs less than the old iPad. It’s crazy how quickly technology moves on when you take a break of almost a decade.
There are two aspects to reviewing an iPad—hardware, and software. Hardware is relatively easy to review, as it won’t change with time (except for battery degradation). Software on the other hand, could and most likely will have changed from when I wrote this review to when you are reading it right now. Upshot is, I am currently using iOS 11 (11.2.6), coming from iOS3 (!) on my old iPad.
The iPad is so ridiculously well made that you just wish everything in your life was made to this level. Imagine a coffee machine with this fit and finish... or a car. It’s so light, too. So thin, and so light. I am sure if I wait 10 years iPad-type devices will be even thinner, and even lighter, and obviously more capable and more powerful, but at this very moment, there’s little else I would like from this device. Yes, it could have zero bezels, a higher resolution screen, and be completely waterproof. But honestly, as it is right now, there’s little I would change physically.
I purchased the Smart Keyboard from Apple, which as the name suggests has a fantastic keyboard built in. I did have a Surface Pro 3 (I did get abut 80% into its review but then sold it), and this device is much nicer to use. The keyboard lays flat and really is a joy to type on. So much so that when I am on my MacBook I really have to avoid poking the screen because I think I am on the iPad. The cover folds away neatly and provides a stable platform from which to type. You look a bit stupid resting it on your lap, but it’s perfect for aeroplane tray tables (where I am writing this right now), trains, and around the house. I was close to buying a Bluetooth keyboard and a standard Smart Cover, but decided against it. The Smart Keyboard is also a good cover, and is really pretty thin.
The most surprising thing about the keyboard was the shortcuts, though that’s really a software thing. It really did surprise me how 99% of my Mac OS shortcuts work on the iPad (copy and paste, spotlight search, screenshots)... I just tried them out and they worked great. The other thing you can do, is hold down command, and have a list of shortcuts...
I also bought the Apple Pencil. Overpriced? Hmm. It’s a little egregious that the iPad Pro doesn’t come with the pencil in the box. The Surface Pro line does, and I think it would a) increase its appeal and b) increase developer interest, if it were included in the box. Is it any good? It’s amazing. I enjoy using this much more than the pen on the Surface series but I am not sure why. I did buy a Sony pen for the Surface that was much nicer, but the Apple Pencil is just sublime. Perfect size and weight, really nice to hold, and its interaction with iOS is marvellous. Handwriting is a joy, photo editing is more natural, PDF markup, signing documents, drawing... and much more I haven’t yet discovered. The lighting connection for charging looks ridiculous when sticking out of the iPad, but it doesn’t need to be in there for long, and you can always use the adapter and iPad charger.
You can tell Apple’s mobile division works in a different place to their Mac division, and I am not sure where to put this comment. All iOS devices using lightning connectors, which are so common due to the crazy adaption of the iPhone by the general public. Macs now all come with the new computer “standard” USB-C connections... and the Mac Mini has thunderbolt (lightning shape), and I don’t know what the iMacs and Mac Pro has but whatever—we are not at the one port utopia us first world losers all crave. Out of the box, there’s no way to connect my iPad/iPhone to the MacBook via a cable. Having said that... why do I need to? With AirDrop, I can transfer files with much less hassle.
Battery life. Oh my god. It’s amazing. Yes, shiny new tech... but the iPad battery is so stupidly good that it makes a brand new laptop’s battery look ancient in comparison. This is why for the masses, a mobile device is going to be the future rather than laptops getting much better. There will be a convergence of the two platforms, of course, but I think the mobile division will steal people rather than the laptop division making the leap to mobile.
And, as it’s a mobile device and not a laptop, you won’t be told to pack it away during take off and landing. Yes, it’s pretty trivial really, but it’s just another nice little thing. It means I can continue doing what I am doing, watching/reading, all the way to the gate. If you’re watching a film on your laptop, you have to stop and put it away ~20 minutes before landing. Watching Netflix on your phone isn’t that much fun, and you’re probably lower on battery than you would want to be.
The camera is great, but really... come on... let’s not even go there. FaceTime is probably the main camera use... but also documentation (such as the logging of receipts).
iOS11 is superb. The gestures are so natural it’s not even funny. Sliding across from the right you can overlay Safari web browser whilst remaining inside your document. You can then snap to screen, so that the two apps sit side by side properly. Netflix now has a PIP (Picture-in-Picture) mode. Notifications are the same as on the iPhone, so a quick slide down from the top gets you there. Sliding up from the bottom gets you to all of your applications... and so on. The gestures really are great. I won’t go into a dull iOS review—there are so many reviews out there that I won’t even scratch the surface. I’m still learning myself.
One thing I will revisit in the future is my usage of the iPad Pro. I bought the iPad Pro over the iPad for its keyboard, increased power for photograph editing, and the pencil. I am still working out my photography workflow with the iPad involved and it’s not easy. Over the years I have used Adobe Lightroom to organise my photos, but there’s no reason I need to continue doing so in the future really. However, Lightroom Mobile syncs RAW files to Creative Cloud which then in turn uploads the files to my iPhone and MacBook, and Mac Mini. That’s pretty cool.
One issue I have with Adobe these days is their subscription model, so I have to see over the next month whether I think it’s worth my dollar or not. Consumers and even “prosumers” don’t tend to like subscription models, but I think this is changing. We have Netflix and Spotify now... everyone and their mother has these apps installed. Hell, I pay for PlayStation Plus and this website. Every year I receive an email asking me if I would like to renew my website hosting and I always go through the same motions. I am hoping this year I have zero hesitation as I did years ago. Let’s see. But back to Adobe... why would I want to subscribe? Because it’s the only offer they have for proper integration. If I continue using Lightroom as my photograph management system (which I do not have to do, for sure) then I need to adopt their subscription model really.
I have more reasons against the subscription model than for a subscription model, and Adobe have been very clever (or very stupid). Now all of the photos “live in the cloud”, and sure, that’s convenient, but who owns them? Do I? If I own them, can I always download the original photos or is there paid access? Who protects the files? Who is liable for theft/loss? I do see the appeal - if Adobe holds the RAW files then I don’t “need to worry” about storing them myself. But TBH I have too many RAW files kicking around from over the years that I almost never go back and look at. And when I do, I wish I simply exported a full-resolution JPEG instead as Lightroom takes ages to render the RAWs.
Another application that is often touted as being “an iPad seller” or MVP (most valuable player) is Affinity Photo. I have the software on my Mac and it’s brilliant, and as a photoshop replacement it’s superb. How much I would use it in the future is up for debate, but I am going to make 2018 a new year in photography, really kick start things, get my photographic mojo back. That was one of the main reasons I opted for the iPad Pro over the standard iPad/iPad Mini, which are great media consumption devices. EDIT: Since I started writing this review I purchased Affinity on the App Store for the iPad and will give it a go.
A lot of the software “problem” comes down to the applications rather than iOS itself. iOS itself doesn’t really cause me many problems... it’s the apps. I mean, I was considering an ASUS Transformer Book 5 years ago... I was very close to buying one, but didn’t due to its shortcomings. Now we are almost there. If I had the ASUS I would have been in that “early adopter” cycle, and though I am technically in it right now I suppose, the app situation is such that I can do 90% of what I need to on the iPad. For example, in order to properly manage this website, I need a full operating system. The apps available allow me to blog, nicely, better than on the computer in fact, but actually managing and designing the website requires a full browser. Outlook on iOS is my favourite mail client... but you cannot attach local files, only files from the cloud... but not iCloud Drive. Outlook 365 on the web, or the Microsoft Office program restore this functionality. Programming and data analysis also require complete software packages. I could have my Mac Mini server do the entire grunt work, but if I am ever away from WiFi or something strange happens to my connection... etc... then I’m stuck. Local copies are always worth having. Back up your stuff, people.
SHOULD YOU BUY ONE?
iPads are a luxury. Nobody needs an iPad. I'd recommend getting one, if you can justify the cost to yourself. An iPad mini or standard iPad would be my recommendation for most people. The iPad Pro really is almost a computer replacement. It could actually be my computer replacement, but I would have to make a few more sacrifices that I am not quite yet willing to do. For example, viewing USB drives, coding, data analysis... this isn't the work of an iPad. But I don't do that kind of stuff every day, so actually the iPad is my go-to device unless I have a good reason for opening up the MacBook (which I review in due course).