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Field Test: The iPad Pro As A Computer Alternative

The iPad Pro, much like all Apple products, is unfathomably expensive. It is aimed at design professionals but it has features that make it stand out from a traditional iPad. The Apple Pencil for one. Given its steep price, you might have to choose between buying the iPad Pro or buying a better PC, or even a Mac. The iPad Pro’s graphic capabilities are well documented but you can’t say for certain if it will serve as a good replacement for a computer. You might be able to complete your design projects but will you be able to interact with people, send emails, compress files, and type comfortably on the device. We take a look at how good an iPad Pro is at being a computer.
To truly test how good the iPad Pro is as a stand alone computer, we decided to compose this article  on a 9.7″ iPad Pro, using an Apple Magic Keyboard connected via Bluetooth.

Writing

The iPad alone, with its touchscreen keyboard is not recommended for people looking to write extensively. There is no haptic feedback so writing extensively isn’t going to be a smooth experience. You will often wonder if you missed a key because your traditional hand-eye coordination will not affect its function here.

We tried poplar third-party keyboards on iOS. The apps didn’t improve the writing experience much. The iPad screen, despite its width is insufficient for any kind of extended writing. Some apps, like GBoard, or SwiftKey, that allow Swype like tracking gestures did speed up the experience for common words, but one always has to go back and check in case an uncommon word is used. For other apps that allowed text input e.g. Chrome or creating documents e.g. MS Word, the screen would always move when switching between controls.  Ultimately it becomes a hassle to manage both the iPad and the typing.

Speaking of moving screen, you will need a stand. This can be a cover with a kickstand, or something home-made like paperwieght. The point is, the iPad needs to be stable when you are writing. A keyboard connected via bluetooth will take away the need to handle the screen so if you want a comfortable writing experience, a Bluetooth keyboard is necessary. This doesn’t take away from the iPad given you’d need a physical keyboard with your Mac or PC. What it does show is that touch-input isn’t built for long-term typing.

Editing

The iPad Pro is most efficient when it comes to editing because there isn’t much typing involved. Any of the popular annotation apps will help illustrate edits, big and small.  If you have the Apple Pencil, it comes in handy here.

Editing on MS Word on iOS 10 using Pencil (1)

Multi-Tasking

Your work pace suffers as well on an iPad Pro as there are numerous limitations to multi-tasking without a mouse. Try copying an entire sentence using only a touchscreen and see how complicated it is. It’s not a big deal if you’re copying one or two snippets on your phone but it’s not great when you’re editing something large.

iPads are not meant to replace writing devices, even though that is exactly Apple’s intent with their larger screen devices. Tablets lack the kind of multi-tasking that makes PCs/Macs the preferred medium. For example, one cannot open multiple DOCX files at the same time on an iPad.  This is something very basic that you can do on a PC and a Mac without thinking twice.

Multi-Window Apps in iPad Pro (1) Multi-Window Writing in iPad Pro

Graphics

iPad Pro has always been touted as a messianic decree for artists because of the power it grants for image editing through a myriad of apps. However, there are limitations there as well. Even though apps like ProCreate are powerful engines, there aren’t enough things one can do with it on an iPad Pro.

Even though the art community does manage to get results from an iPad Pro, it still does not compare to Adobe Photoshop for PC/Mac. You cannot manipulate multiple PSD files simultaneously, you cannot access storage as conveniently for particular items (textures, images, etc.). 
A big drawback with the Apple eco-system of accessories is that they are not all-inclusive. For a $150 smart cover (with keyboard) it lacks the room to accommodate the Apple Pencil. Compared to this, the somewhat flimsy catch for the Surface pen on a Surface book is actually better.

Video Editing

Video editing is anything but a simple process on a computer. There are so many elements to control and the apps themsevles are complex. Some editing is as simple as reducing a clip by a few seconds here and there, while other types requires turning simple clips into Oscar candidates. When it comes to the latter, iMovie and similar iOS tools have that part handled, even the built in clipping tool is sufficient for that. However, overlaying text and adding transition effects is limited on iOS. So a small scale editing activity can be carried out on an iPad Pro, however the heavy lifting is still something best left to the likes of Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro.

Apple Pencil

A cheaper stylus can do many of the things a pencil can, like annotate, minor editing, some drawing based games. However, for more intricate work like drawing for professionals, annotating large bodies of text, taking hand-written notes, etc. are much more efficiently done with an Apple Pencil. This is a personal choice though and depends to a great degree on what you plan to do on the device.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should just skip getting the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro, you should reconsider why you’re buying this device in the first place. You can use an ordinary iPad instead and it will work just as well for you. It’s also worth reconsidering whether you need a tablet or not in the first place.

On the go

The iPad Pro, like all the other iPads before it, falls under two categories, with or without a cellular connection. Getting an iPad that is only WiFi enabled will save you some money, but you will also limit your mobility. Having an LTE connection while you are traveling can make communication more convenient, rather than waiting for a WiFi hotspot. Given the minuscule area an iPad requires to operate you can make it work virtually anywhere. Given how popular Apple’s data cable is, you will not need to worry about finding a replacement if you break yours. You might need to carry a socket adapter, but that isn’t too hard to acquire.

The iPad Pro as a computer alternative only works if you have a WiFI network to connect to. The only other solution is to pay more for the LTE model or connect to a hotspot. If you choose to connect your iPad Pro to a hotspot created on your iPhone, your battery will of course drain faster.

Conclusion

An iPad Pro as a computer alternative only works for non-writing purposes. However, journalists who prefer even more compact hardware than small laptops are going to find it advantageous as the 9.7″ model takes up very little space.

All in all, the iPad Pro is a powerful tablet, the 12.9″ is already as big as a 13.3″ Macbook Pro/Air and costs about the same, so professional writers already have their hardware figured out. The iPad Pro as a computer alternative isn’t a good option. It simply does not have the means to replicate the functionality promised in a laptop. However, this a reasonable fallback device for writing as long as you have some supplementary hardware.

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  • What’s the cost of an iPad pro, pencil, and bluetooth keyboard? It’s gotta be more than a very good, ultralight computer. A Macbook Air or a Windows Ultrabook seem like better, cheaper alternatives. IMO any way.

    • Adi Abdurab

      That has always been the Apple dilemma, the prices do not fall in any categorization. You could buy a simple touch enabled laptop with a wacom graphics tablet and outperform anything offered by the iPad Pro.

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