The iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and AAPL Pencil charging (not awkward-looking at all...LOL)

I know that the iPad Pro has been subject to a number of reviews since its release on November 11th - but those reviews have largely been superficial. Instead of putting something out as soon as I got it, I wanted to really use the thing for a while and test its capabilities (or lack thereof) before putting putting forth some thoughts on the new device. I think it is great for people to write about it at the launch event or even several weeks after, but I've always believed that the best reviews come after a person's been able to really use the device over a sustainable period. I also believe you have to understand the context of the user - that influences a review tremendously - somebody streaming Netflix all-day has a very different opinion than somebody actually trying to do something 'useful'.

My Profile:

I'm a consultant that travels quite a bit. I am a heavy MS Office user (Excel, PowerPoint, and Word). I read and write a ton of emails on a daily basis. I'm a tweeter. I'm a blogger.  I AM NOT a graphic designer nor a heavy photographer. I use an iPhone 6S+, but a PC for work (due to the heavy use of the MS Office Suite).  I am also not a gamer.

AAPL Adoption Patterns:

I have had every major AAPL 'device' at some point. I have never had an iMac ironically, but I've had the following:

  • MacBooks: 11" & 13" MacBook Airs, 12" MacBook, 13" & 15" MacBook Pro Retina, 13" MacBook
  • iPads: iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 1, iPad Mini 2 Retina
  • iPhones: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPhone 6S+


My Setup:

So I'm the definition of an 'early adopter' for AAPL products (if that wasn't) - I bought the iPad Pro on the morning of its U.S. public release date - November 11, 2015.  Here's what I have:

  • 128GB Space Gray with LTE (Verizon) iPad Pro
  • AAPL Charcoal Gray Silicon Case
  • AAPL iPad Pro Smart Keyboard
  • AAPL Pencil x 2 (lost the first one)

Needless to say, I'm in about $1,350, which exceeds the price of the base new 12" MacBook w/ Retina Display. I had one and got rid of it (a whole different story for another day), but basically I felt it was an under-powered laptop with a nice screen - I expect v2 to be greatly improved. But nonetheless, on with the iPad Pro:

The Good:

  • The display is amazing: You can't really appreciate such a large canvas with such high quality until you've used it for a while.  Most media content looks great on it - HD Movies, Hi-Res Photos, YouTube videos, etc. Absolutely no complaints here - I know there are some always complaining about % of RGB, color spectrum, etc...I'm not one of those people. As long as its not a completely over-saturated Samsung screen, I'm perfectly fine with the standard AAPL 326 PPI LED-backlit laminated screen (no air-gap).
  • Speakers are great: AAPL added stereo speakers on all four corner of the iPad, as opposed to the two that are on the iPad Air 2.  They also reconfigured the internals to enhance the sound - it's a significant improvement.
  • The AAPL Pencil is 'magical': Like I said, I'm not a graphic designer, but I still use the Pencil. I've used other stylus-type pencils before, including some pretty high-end ones from the likes of Wacom. Nothing really compares to the Apple Pencil. The latency between pressure and screen visualization is virtually zero.  I have primarily been using it with the Paper53 App. I have heard that the Pencil does have variable performance with different apps. My only gripe with the Pencil is 1) charging it is really awkward; 2) there is no logical place to store the thing (hence, I already lost one). All told, it's hard for me to believe you could buy this device without also buying the Pencil.
  • The Smart Keyboard holds its own. I've seen a lot of reviews both on the AAPL Smart Keyboard and other 3rd party offerings. The greatest part about these keyboards is that they don't pair through bluetooth.  They pair physically through a magnetic charging port on the iPad and keyboard - this is true for both AAPL's Smart Keyboard and at least the Logitech offering - not sure about others. The 'key travel' is pretty good - I actually find it a bit better than the keyboard on the 12" MacBook.  Using it in your lap is doable albeit a bit awkward.  It folds up nicely and doubles as a Smart Cover.

The Bad:

  • It's really just a 'Big iPad': Other than the Pencil, there is nothing that I am doing more of (in-terms of productivity) than on the iPad Air 2.
  • It's not a laptop replacement. Many have claimed that they have replaced their laptops with an iPad Pro - if you're simply doing email, that's likely possible - but you could also use an iPad Air 2 for that.  I still cannot see myself building PowerPoint decks, writing long documents or even working in Excel on the Pro. I do blog on the Pro, but I was doing that on the Air 2, so once again, not sure how the Pro justifies that use-case.
  • iOS: Either iOS needs to be 'pushed-up' or OS X needs to be 'pulled down'. It's still a mobile OS that makes it very difficult to do a lot of core productivity work. I have not been all that enamored with the split-screen mode - it's just a bit awkward to use and many apps still don't support it.  I rarely, if ever, use the feature.
  • It's heavy. The iPad Pro (bare) weighs 1.59 lbs. The silicon case + Smart Keyboard add another 1.59 lbs. This brings the total weight with keyboard and case to 3.18 lbs. For reference, that's heavier than all of the non-Pro MacBooks: (12" MacBook is 2.03 lbs; 11" MacBook Air is 2.38 lbs; 13" MacBook Air is 2.96 lbs). It truly makes the iPad Air 2 feel like...well...'Air'.
  • Battery life: For some reason, I am not getting great battery life out of the device. I don't have the screen brightness turned up; I don't run a lot of apps in the background.  I set it up as a new device, as opposed to restoring an iCloud backup, but still not getting great battery life.

The Final Take:

Everybody talks about this A9X chip as a modern marvel of silicon technology that outperforms Intel's Core M processors (the same one that comes in the 12" MacBook with Retina Display).  I don't do the types of things with this device to really see it.  I think it's a great device.  I use it daily, but I struggle with the question of: 'what am I doing with the iPad Pro that I couldn't do with the iPad Air 2 (other than using the Pencil occasionally)?  The hardware is there; I'm waiting for the software to catch up.  Who is this device for? Likely best suited for power users like graphic designers or gamers. If you have an iPad Air 2, not sure this is a step-up I would make right now.  As the MS Surface is still more a laptop occasionally used as a tablet; the iPad Pro is still a tablet that can occasionally be used as a laptop.  If AAPL ever put an LTE radio into a MacBook Air, I'd switch in a heartbeat - constant connectivity (especially for frequent travelers) is key, which is why I've always loved the iPads. I saw an iPad Air yesterday and I thought it was a Mini - I might be at the point where I can never return to a smaller iPad (similar to how I'd likely never be able to go back to a 4" iPhone screen after using the 5.5" 6 / 6S+ for so long).