I never intended to buy an iPad Pro.
Yes, I own an iPhone and have done for many years now. I also got sucked into the whole iPad vortex eventually, thinking it would allow me to be more productive but it ultimately ended up living out its days in the bottom of a drawer.
When Apple revealed the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil I didn’t even bother to watch the keynote. For me another, larger iPad wasn’t huge news, and a stylus, well that’s wasn’t exactly ground-breaking. I already owned a Surface Pro 3 which did everything I needed. I could write on it and use all of my main desktop applications too, like Autodesk Maya and ZBrush to a degree. I could even sketch and paint on it too…Yes, it wasn’t perfect but that was just what you expected with these devices. You were never going have the perfect drawing experience so you adapt.
It was only after talking to a handful of my artist friends that my interest was piqued. When phrases like “It’s amazing to draw on” and “I haven’t used my Cintiq Companion since.” We’re used on more than one occasion I decided I had to at least try one.
So did it live up to the hype? Was the drawing experience really that good and would it eventually, as Apple claimed, replace my laptop?
Read on to find out.
Unboxing & Setup
With all the Apple products I’ve owned the packaging is very similar and whether you’re buying an iPhone or an iPad there isn’t a huge amount in the box. With the iPad Pro you get the device itself, the usual array of pamphlets, the charging cable and plug.
What I liked about the charging cable which comes with the iPad Pro is its length. Rather than coming with the standard 1 meter cable you get twice that length, making it easier to keep the device charged while sat at a desk or holding it on the sofa. Not that the battery life is so short that you would feel the need to keep it constantly charged, but more on the battery later.
Setting up the iPad was straightforward. You turn it on and follow the on screen prompts, connecting it to your iCloud account if you have one to synchronize your settings or download a previously backed up version if upgrading from an older iPad.
Within the space of five minutes you are up and running and scouring the app store for those key apps that will show off your shiny new device.
The Device Itself
The 12.9 inch iPad Pro is slim, sleek and light, weighting just 713 grams. Yes it’s big, but just like upgrading from an iPhone to an iPhone Plus you soon get used to the size, and when going back to the smaller device it feels too small. For me the size is perfect. The display is slightly smaller than an A4 sketch pad which gives you plenty of room to sketch and paint, to a degree where it could constitute as work rather than leisure.
The iPad Pro follows in the footsteps of most other Apple products in that it’s an enclosed tablet with minimal buttons and ports around the sides. These include the power and volume buttons, lightning charging port, a 3.5mm earphone jack and four stereo speakers.
On the rear you have the lens for the 8-megapixel iSight camera with a second, 1.2-megapixel camera on the front for all those FaceTime calls and selfies. Also on the front you have the home button which also houses the Touch ID sensor.
The model I chose was the 128GB, Wifi only version as I wanted to have lots of space for saving artwork plus I didn’t need to connect it to a phone network. I already had a phone for that and if I needed to I could use it as a personal hotspot.
Holding it is similar to holding a standard size magazine which makes it ideal to read on, especially if you have lots of digital magazines or comics. They appear almost the same size as their real life counterparts and on the crisp, bright, 2732 x 2048 resolution screen they look amazing.
That is unless you’re outdoors as the glass screen is also very reflective making it difficult to work on in brightly lit areas.
The Apple Pencil
When I ordered my iPad Pro I chose not to have it delivered until I could also get the pencil too, even if it meant a three week delay. The whole point of getting one was to draw and paint and I knew if I received the tablet first I wouldn’t use it to its full potential.
When I finally got the pencil I was surprised by how long it was, but then when comparing it to a normal pencil its actually not as out of proportion as I initially thought.
Its round, has a good weight, is smooth to hold and is also very comfortable. I have drawn with it for hours at a time now and had no aches or pains as I have with some other stylus’ in the past. If you do find it uncomfortable I have seen many people online who have simply taken a rubber cover off a standard pen and put that onto the pencil which seemed to help.
The back of the pen, rather than acting as an eraser as you would imagine, instead houses a lightning connector. This is used to charge the pencil and also pair it with the iPad. This is very easy to do as you simply enable Bluetooth and then plug the pencil into the iPad and wait a few seconds.
In the box you get a replacement tip as well as a small connector which allows you to plug it directly into the charging cable so you don’t need to rely on charging it from the iPad itself. This connector is quite small though so you will need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go walk about.
I think I would have preferred a smaller cable, one which could plug into the iPad as well as the main lighting cable to charge. This would also solve the other issue of charging the pen from the iPad itself, where it simply sticks out of the bottom of the device in a very precarious way, one which is just asking to be knocked off and broken.
When I think about it though I have never used this approach to charging the pencil. If I am going out I make sure both the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil are fully charged and because both devices have quite a generous battery life I am never suffering from power panic. I guess if I ever do, having the option of a quick boost from the iPad is a good idea, so in this instance a quick 30 second charge is very convenient.
The Smart Keyboard
With the iPad Pro I also decided to get the Smart Keyboard, which also doubles as a protective cover for the screen. I wanted the full experience to see if I would actually use this more than a laptop. At £139 its certainly not cheap, but I didn’t want to go down the route of a third party keyboard at this stage, besides, the only other one on offer was quite bulky and I wanted to keep my iPad Pro as slim as possible.
The Smart Keyboard is exactly that, its slim and light so doesn’t add a great deal to the weight of the device and with a quick flip of the cover you have a keyboard in front of you and the iPad Pro sat upright, just as you would with a laptop. Although this gives you a comfortable angle to work with you are only limited to the one position, and the keyboard is left flat against the desk which some users may not like.
Some other potential issues are that the keyboard doesn’t have a track-pad and it also doesn’t have a full suite of keys. The fact it doesn’t have the full line of Function keys doesn’t actually bother me as for this device I wouldn’t see me needing to use them, the missing trackpad also isn’t a deal breaker as you can easily navigate your work via the touchscreen.
What does seem strange is there isn’t a holder for the pencil, which would have been a nice touch.
The keyboard is covered with a waterproof fabric to help with those drips and spills and typing on it feels quite nice, once you get used to it. The keys have a good, firm feel to them and also have a decent press distance and springiness, yet I can’t help but feel its just shy of that full laptop typing experience. I also found that I was hitting the wrong keys sometimes when in full flow, but this could be that I simply need more time typing on it.
Even though I had the Smart Cover I was still aware that the back of the iPad Pro wasn’t protected, plus I was getting more and more annoyed with having to carry the pencil around separately. I looked around for a solution and was thinking I might need to attach something to the keyboard myself, just to carry the pencil but then I discovered the Coverbuddy by SwitchEasy.
This is essentially a plastic cover which is designed specifically for the iPad Pro and to work along side the Smart Keyboard. It clips to the rear of the device and protects it from knocks and scratches but the other bonus is it has a handy holder for the pencil.
This can be removed if you need to lay the device flat, or you can use it to prop the iPad Pro up at a slight angle while you are drawing.
For me it’s been a great investment as I can finally carry everything around in one complete package, plus the iPad Pro is fully protected. Although after a while using it I have noticed the corners of the case are cracked and chipped but this might just be me being clumsy and thinking about it I would rather the £30 case be chipped than the iPad Pro.
The iPad Pro in Use
After all this information you probably just want to know what it’s like to use, that’s the important question. Sometimes details and statistics pale in comparison to whether the device actually does the job you want it to.
Make no mistake this is a powerful device and it handles all the major apps without breaking a sweat. Games look and play amazingly well too, the ones that have been updated to the iPad Pro anyway.
I also have to mention the four speakers and how good the sound is. When sat in front of the iPad you get the full stereo experience which can be great when watching a movie, although if I am being picky the base just isn’t as deep as I might like.
I personally love using Adobe Sketch and Procreate which both run super-fast and are just a delight to work in. I have tested many other applications too like Sculpt + by Autodesk and some of the more 3D specific ones and these all work well, although when compared to the full desktop experience they do feel limited. I do think it’s about time we had an iOS version of some of the more popular desktop applications available.
Imagine ZBrush running on this device, or even a ported version of Sculptris. Even a stripped down version of Maya would be great as it would open up the iPad Pro to so many other people. I would love the ability to work on my desktop and then continue on the iPad Pro, even if it was in a more limited way.
I’m getting a little side tracked here but this is a major limitation of the iPad Pro, the inability to continue working from your desktop. That is unless you’re a writer or illustrator in which case you are laughing.
So back to business…
Using the pencil is a pure delight. Its responsive to even the lightest of lines and there is little visible lag. Yes, if you draw fast lines all over the screen you will see some delay in the strokes but for the majority of my time with the pencil I have been focused on smaller, more precise lines while I am sketching. As you would with a traditional pencil and paper.
I even love being able to tilt the pencil and shade areas of my sketches and this also registers with how hard you are pressing. Below are some head studies I did using Adobe Sketch and you can see how it almost looks like a pencil sketch.
In short I have to say this is the best drawing experience I have had to date with a tablet and whenever I feel like sketching its always the iPad Pro I go to.
Another aspect I like with this device is it doesn’t get hot and even after a few hours of use its still deathly silent. With other devices I have used in the past after half an hour the casing begins to get warm and then the fans kick in and can be annoyingly loud. To the point where if I am working in the evening I have to stop or move to another room because the fans are drowning out the TV.
When the iPad Pro was first announced a lot of people complained about the fact that this powerful tablet didn’t have a full-fledged operating system. Instead Apple chose to stick to iOS, something that still confuses people to this day.
You have a tablet that’s claimed to replace your laptop yet it won’t run any of your favourite desktop applications. Instead, you have to fumble onwards with tablet versions of these apps which don’t really do the same job, before transferring them to the desktop to finish.
After using the iPad Pro for over a few months now I have to say I couldn’t disagree more. I think keeping it iOS based is one of its greatest strengths.
Let me explain…
A full operating system is created to work on a huge number of devices, all with wide and varying configurations. It has to adapt to different environments and be easily updated should that change. What comes with this are constant updates, compatibility issues and crashes.
The same can be said of the programs which run on these systems. They too have to be able to work on any setup and be compatible with a wide range of peripherals. A mouse, a stylus, a graphics tablet, 3D mouse the list goes on.
iOS is simply made to run on the iPhone and iPad, that’s it, so it’s written specifically for those devices. The same applies to the applications they run. They are made for the iPad and that’s all, so they can be focused and streamlined to make the most of that environment.
An example is Photoshop. This works great on a desktop but when you try to use it on a touch screen device your workflow isn’t as fluid as you would like. The UI is too small and it can be difficult to navigate the menus which are all built to be accessed with a mouse.
If we look at Procreate, which is probably its closest competitor on iOS, we have a really nice app which is made purely for the iPad and optimized for the touch screen input. This makes it intuitive and also keeps it responsive so you can focus on your art rather than where the tools are.
Yes, iOS does limit what you can do on the device but I feel that developers should embrace it and create or adapt their apps to take advantage of the operating system and work in harmony with it rather than forcing Apple to to change.
In short, I am impressed with the battery life of the iPad Pro. Its claimed to last up to 10 hours and even though that number is quite generous I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. Obviously lots of things factor into this. If you are connected to wifi and using Bluetooth for the pencil, plus you have the Smart Keyboard attached then all these are going to have an impact on the power consumption.
I have used the iPad Pro for three hours, sketching using the pencil while also connected to wifi and seen a drop of 15% with the battery, which for a tablet is quite liberating. I have also spent many hours writing with the keyboard attached and again the battery didn’t drain as quickly as I would think, with a full battery dropping to just 68% over the space of a few hours.
Has My Laptop Been Replaced?
I think you already know the answer to this but it has to be no. I do love the iPad Pro and I can see myself using it for many years to come, however when it comes to work I will still need access to a laptop.
I often need to visit clients where I will work in Maya, or need to demonstrate it in use. I will also need the ability to take their data or use custom applications, which are almost always generated in a Windows environment, and use it directly on the laptop and in all these instances the iPad Pro would be useless.
Where it does shine is with those times I want to sit and be creative, read a magazine, surf the web or even play a game. If my work moves into a more illustrative path, or if you are more of a traditional artist yourself then this could all mean nothing as for this type of work it’s ideal. I could see myself creating a full illustration on the iPad Pro, just transferring it over to the desktop at the last minute for final tweaks and I have spoken to many artists who do just that.
So if you’re a 3D artist then with the current line up of apps this wouldn’t be an ideal choice for you but I could see the iPad Pro pushing many laptops aside within the 2D art community.
Should You Invest?
I don’t think you can say a definitive yes or no to this questions. As with many devices you have to look at your budget and factor in what it is you are going to need from it.
If you are in the market for something which will work in tandem with your desktop, then I would say the iPad Pro isn’t for you. At this point it’s still too restricted in what you can do with it, especially if you are a Windows user who needs to work with applications specific to that OS. With this in mind I would suggest you go for the laptop option instead.
If you are an illustrator then I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest you get one, with the Apple Pencil, now. Drawing and painting on it is a pure delight, its portable, light, quiet and has a good battery life. What more would you need, apart from a less reflective screen that is.