Chris Burton's Apple iPad Pro Review

Every iPad Pro reviewer tries to answer the same question… Could you replace your computer with an iPad Pro? It’s not surprising giving the tablet’s relatively high cost. How else could you justify such an extravagant purchase if not to save you lugging around a Macbook or Windows laptop? It’s a comparison even Apple isn’t shy of making with its recent advertising campaign “5 reasons iPad Pro can be your next computer.”

Before I can even attempt to answer that question, there’s quite a bit to unpack here. Why are you looking to replace your laptop? Is portability or battery life your main concern? What about the software you use, are there iOS equivalents? Depending on what you do, the software you need to do your job effectively might simply not exist in Apple’s App Store. Plus how much value do you place on extra curricular activities such as watching Netflix, gaming or creative pursuits you might be looking to enjoy?

After a few weeks with the giant 12.9” model, here’s a quick look at what’s great, and what’s not so great about the 2018 iPad Pro.

Great: The screen

The iPad Pro is basically one huge screen, so it makes sense to start there. And what a screen it is. Not quite edge to edge, but close enough to make the bezels disappear while still giving you something to hold. With the bezels reduced, the device feels less bulky than the previous iPad Pros and integrated FaceID means no more home button. As anyone who’s adapted to the gestures which replace the home button on the latest iPhones will tell you, you won’t miss it.

The display itself is ‘liquid retina’, which is Apple marketing speak for LCD with a high pixel density. It’s the same technology as the iPhone XR and it really does shine, both literally and figuratively with clever colour matching and low light reflectivity.

The industrial design of the device is peerless, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The squared edge means the iPad is even thinner than previous models without sacrificing battery life. It also harkens back to the iPhone 4 design and has the necessary wow factor of a premium device. The camera ‘bump’ that sticks out of the back is just as distracting as it is on the new iPhones, but if you’re planning on using a case (and you probably should) it’s a bit of a non issue. Even without the case the iPad somehow sits flat on the desk without rocking, which was a major concern of mine going in.

Great: Pencil & keyboard

To be considered a true laptop replacement, the iPad Pro needs a keyboard, and to get a keyboard, you’ll either need to connect one via bluetooth or opt for the Smart Keyboard Folio. The latter also serves as a case and stand, and without adding much bulk offers a surprisingly capable keyboard. Microsoft has led the way here with its Type Cover for Surface tablets but with its latest generation of keyboard/case combo Apple is quickly making up ground.

The Apple ‘Pencil’ however has always been the leader in its class. This is the second generation Apple Pencil and it’s clear that many of the missteps from the original version have been ironed out. The pressure sensitive stylus now has a flat tappable edge and connects to the iPad’s edge via strong magnets, charging wirelessly. The Pencil takes advantage of the super fast 120Hz refresh rate only found on the iPad Pro, resulting in a smooth and responsive experience that’s as close to writing on paper as I’ve seen yet. Don’t get me wrong, no one’s going to be fooled into thinking it’s paper, but when paired with excellent drawing apps from Adobe and others, it really can emulate pencils, ink and paint brushes making the iPad Pro a joyous device for creatives.

Great: The software

I’ve already mentioned there are some great sketching apps that really take advantage of the Apple Pencil, but with the iPad ecosystem now 8 years old there are millions of apps to choose from on the App Store. Plus with the power of the iPad Pro (comparable to most Macbook Pro laptops and even XBOX games consoles) full desktop applications such as Adobe Photoshop are now heading to the App Store. This isn’t a cut down version of the software, it’s the full code and may herald the start of a software revolution as more tools become available.

In addition to the App Store’s apps, Apple’s own software suite has really matured in recent years. Apple’s “Office” equivalents of Pages, Numbers and Keynote all have great iPad versions, while GarageBand and iMovie are surprisingly capable creative tools for video editing and music production. Considering all these are included in the price, you’re getting a pretty powerful business toolset right out of the box.

Not so great: The screen

One word: fingerprints. Why does it look like I’ve been enjoying the Colonel’s finest finger lickin’ chicken any time I handle the iPad? I know it’s inevitable on a glass screen, but my fingers aren’t that greasy, promise. It’s a minor thing but very noticeable on a screen that big, so make sure you always have a soft cloth to hand if these things bother you. As a large slab of glass, it’s also impossible to forget how fragile it is, especially when carrying it around without a case. I found myself handling the iPad Pro gingerly, and videos exist of people snapping the thing in two with their bare hands. Insurance or AppleCare is recommended.

Not so great: Pencil & keyboard

I consider the Apple Pencil and keyboard to be such a key part of the iPad Pro experience that you might as well add £330 to the purchase price before you start. Without these, I feel it would be difficult to recommend the iPad Pro over a regular iPad as it’s unlikely you’ll get the full benefit of the business applications. As ever, there are exceptions to the rule, but if you’re considering the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, your starting price will jump up so remember to take that into account.

Not so great: The software

Apple’s suite of iPad apps are great, and as I mentioned there are millions of apps to choose from... but the question is, are they the right ones? Unlike entertainment and social media, many of us can’t pick and choose the software we use professionally. As more and more software packages move to the cloud and make themselves available on the web, this is becoming less of an issue. However with industry standard applications like Adobe Photoshop only just making it to the platform, it’s still early days for business software even 8 years into the iPad’s life.

In summary

Did you see what I did there? For every positive, you can easily nitpick some negatives (although I feel that way about most technology today). It’s hard to recommend a product outright as personal factors and preferences play such a massive part. Your opinions on Apple and its ecosystem will probably be a more important factor than the all day battery life or true tone display.

As an app developer who uses iPads every day, I can confidently say this is the best iPad I’ve ever used. It’s also the most expensive, so take that as you will. It’s a gorgeous display and a buttery smooth experience. As a creative, I’ve never had a better experience of sketching digitally than I had with iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.

I use a 12” Macbook every day. Could iPad Pro replace my laptop? No, not today. While I can do most of my job on the tablet, Apple doesn’t have an iPad version of Xcode (its software for creating apps). So while Apple would love to think that iPad Pro can be my next computer, it won’t be until they finish supporting it with their own software.