In Depth: A month with the iPad Pro
Apple iPad Pro as a gift? A one-month review to help you decide.
Does that holiday selfie in front of the fire look a little off? Irrespective of where your allegiance leans–toward or Android–it’s virtually impossible to argue with the fact that it was the iPad that kicked off the whole tablet brigade.
With the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro, both Microsoft and Apple have launched a new large format tablet in the last throes of 2015, in the hope of winning over new customers and reinvigorating a market which seems to have reached a saturation point. That innocuous slab of glass aimed at delivering a consumption-first experience with our content quite literally changed the way we read online news, watched portable movies or played games. Every tablet that has been launched since has largely treaded the same path–a device meant for media and content where the focus is on watching, viewing and reading. Sure, the battalion of aftermarket accessory manufacturers have provided a steady stream of Bluetooth keyboards for all manner of Android and Apple tablets, but it still never really led it to becoming a true convergence device. One fun feature to play around with is in the “Liquify” category of tools, which allows users to warp people’s faces to adjust the proportions of their chins, lips, cheeks and jaws. (Yes, this is a feature that Adobe got into a little trouble for demonstrating at an Apple event, when it altered a woman’s face to smile.) The app offers a good set of tools for the phone photographer.
The lowest priced iPad Pro is $799 (the cost of a decent Windows laptop) and the cellular version starts at $1,079 (the price of a good Windows laptop and more than the 13-inch MacBook Air, which starts at $999). Now, over five years since the launch of the first iPad, we have a tablet that is attempting to do just this: the pulls no punches when it comes to packing serious processing ability into an innately portable and useable form factor. In theory, its stylus can handle up to 1,024 degrees of pressure, resulting in what Microsoft says is a level of precision that has never been seen before with a touch screen.
From tearing away that shrink wrapping to pulling apart the two halves of the box with their apparently micron-level fit, it’s impossible to open the entire package quickly–you just have to do this slowly. Apple was a forerunner in the tablet business and is now the only manufacturer to offer models in three different formats: 7.9in (the mini range), 9.7in (Air) and 12.9in (Pro). Once I got acclimated to the size and weight (which, by the way, isn’t as bad as it sounds because the weight is distributed over a large area), I thought, “Why did Apple wait so long to bring this thing out?
Lift out the device and all you see is the neat, recessed coil of Type-C USB 3.0 cable, alongside a little paper folder containing the mandatory quick start guide, the regulatory leaflets and the SIM removal tool (this was the 128GB WiFi+Cellular iPad version.) Holding up the tablet its size and heft are evident, though not uncomfortable–it’s a large, cool slab of metal and glass that feels pleasingly balanced in the hand, even when you flip it over and hold it in various orientations. Everything is where you expect to find it–the front camera up top, the round button at the bottom (doubling as a fingerprint reader,) and the rear camera.
Finally, there are not two but four individual speakers near each of the corners–the sound field is crafted so that bass frequencies are routed to the lower two speakers while the mids and the highs are piped through the upper speakers, and this also realigns with the device’s orientation. Packing almost 5.6 million pixels on a 12.6-inch real estate makes for sharp rending of everything from serif on Web text to tiny details from your DSLR camera photos.
With a 3rd generation 64-bit A9X chip pulsing at its core, this tablet delivers about 2.5x the processing performance and a staggering 5x the graphics power of the earlier A7 processor. And the numbers certainly translated–during a prior demo of the product, I saw AutoCAD 360 running an apparently massive mesh file of downtown San Francisco. Zooming and panning the entire scene was flawless, with not even a shadow of a hiccup–from state-level down to the bolt of a seat of a stadium, it’s like the file was being viewed on a high-end graphics workstation. Even with a task as demanding as video editing, this tablet handles 4K streams like a breeze, enabling clipping, splicing and all that good stuff using the intuitivity of the touchscreen. Tapping into its multitasking abilities, you can even run multiple apps in split-screen, side-by-side view for really amping up on your productivity–especially useful when researching and writing articles, or keeping a live video running as you’re catching up on the latest news stories.
We’ll be diving more into more extensive, real-world applications with the device, but from what we saw so far, suffice to say it’s got enough grunt that won’t leave you missing your laptop. Constructed using numerous sensors, it is able to communicate several types of information with the paired iPad, including the amount of pressure applied, the direction and even tilt.
Put together in the sketching context, there’s nothing quite like this–from sharp lines to misty shading, it looks and feels just like the real thing. The pencil is also handy in more modest applications–you can, for example, open a JPEG attachment sent via email, mark it up with doodles and sketches, and send it on in one go. For example, when traveling locally, I’ve used it for long stretches, relying on the Pro’s bigger/better virtual keyboard, the new virtual pointing device, and split-screen multitasking.
There are just too many gotchas and incompatibilities that can creep into your work flow. (Not to mention a relatively limited form of multi-tasking on the iPad.) In my case, I use it for communication and light writing and photo editing tasks but drop it like a bad habit as soon as I need to get down to some serious work. The keyboard itself is surprisingly comfortable and intuitive to use–being full-sized, it feels much like a laptop keypad, even in terms of tactile response. Which is surprising, given that it uses no physical switches beneath the keys–the buttons are crafted using a contiguous, fabric-type material that actually delivers a subtle yet reassuring spring, which makes for intuitive typing. I should also add that the above discussion doesn’t necessarily apply to artists or designers, who might find the iPad more efficient at doing some tasks with the Apple Pencil (which I have not used).
Also the pencil doesn’t really have a place you can attach it to, so you’ll need to be especially mindful of leaving it around (being completely cylindrical, it also happened to be notoriously prone to rolling off the table.) Having a single device that can be used in lean back mode (content consumption) as efficiently as in lean forward mode (content creation) has been a portable device pipe dream. Over time as more bespoke apps become available, it’s easy to see this tablet really becoming a single go-to tool for both casual entertainment and solid productivity.
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