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The iPad Pro: Overkill or Just Right?

Javier Gutierrez

While at a tech conference I found that lugging my 6-pound, 15.6” laptop proved to be quite cumbersome and impractical. Using my phone for most of my needs was good enough, but the tiny screen wasn’t very practical either, especially when replying to e-mail or live tweeting at the event.

I needed something in between. So, as soon as the conference ended, I took a trip to the Apple store, and after a friendly, 20-minute conversation with my sales associate, I walked out of the store with a Space Gray, WiFi-only, 256 GB, 9.7 inch iPad Pro (sans Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, more about that decision later). My total cost was $898 plus tax, including three years of Apple Care.

Four Months Later

I used to carry my laptop everywhere, even on vacation. Not anymore. Since I started using the iPad Pro, I’ve substituted about 90 percent of my computing time away from my desk with the iPad Pro. There will be certain things that require me to grab my laptop from time to time, and I still carry it on long business trips. However, I don’t lug it around in my car trunk everywhere anymore. Instead I have a handsome, compact messenger bag that goes with me everywhere, iPad and accessories in tow.

I definitely enjoy using it and having a handy multimedia device that can easily go around with me without requiring a huge case or backpack.

Battery Life

I’ve been getting around nine or ten hours of battery life on the 9.7” model (actual use varies, depending on what I am doing).

I provide remote support for a living, and accessing my customer’s computers is an important part of my life. Having to plug in my laptop at the most inconvenient time does not make me happy. Also, I have to carry a power inverter or an extra DC adapter in order to plug in the computer to a power outlet on most planes, trains, and automobiles. With the iPad, I carry an external battery or my compact iPad car charger (more about accessories later). So in the unlikely event that I forgot to plug in my iPad overnight or have been using it heavily during the day, I’m more than covered. Score one more point for the mobility of the iPad.

For the purposes of this review, I streamed one hour of HD video on Netflix (via WiFi) with the brightness set at 50 percent, and drained around 8 percent to 9 percent of the battery. I can’t give you an exact figure as I paused it for a bit and I wasn’t on 100 percent when it started, so that’s the best estimate that I can give.

In a nutshell, the battery on the iPad should give you a full day of work in addition to enough charge for some recreational use. I usually charge the iPad overnight, unless the battery is over 33 percent (no sense in needlessly shortening the battery life span).

The Screen

The anti-reflective coating on this tablet is wonderful, significantly reducing glare and greatly increasing readability, but the real star is the True Tone technology, definitely one of my favorite features when on the move. Hidden sensors on the face of the iPad detect the ambient light color and brightness of the room and automatically calibrate the output of the display to match your environment for even greater readability and reduced strain on your eyes. The goal of this technology is to allow your iPad screen to act more like a piece of paper, which reflects the color of the room. It might sound strange for your screen to get more yellow if the room is yellow, but if you turn off True Tone, your screen will look incredibly (and uncomfortably) blue. Once you use it, you will definitely notice the difference if you decide to turn it off, and more than likely, that’s something that you won’t be doing unless you are working on something where color balance is critical, and you’d probably be doing that type of work in a properly lit environment, anyway.

The viewing angles are great, which allow you to share content on the device with a small group of people without sacrificing detail and without the need to plug your iPad to an external screen, even while outdoors. The resolution is crisp, allowing me to work seamlessly even on the 9.7” screen (compared to my usual 15.6” laptop or the 22” screen that I use at my desk). And the colors flow beautifully and seamlessly while viewing videos. Images pop with rich colors and high pixel density, all providing an excellent saturation and balance. It’s the best tablet screen that I’ve used so far. It’s even better than most laptop screens you will find at the same price range as this device. You can also take advantage of the split-screen feature for many apps (although I haven’t used the feature as much as I thought I would).

Productivity

If you are an Office 365 user, you will be happy to know that you can use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to create and edit documents right on your iPad; it’s included in your Office 365 subscription. Needless to say, the mobile apps aren’t as powerful as their desktop counterparts, but they are quite richly featured nonetheless. Some of the editing of this review was actually done on the 9.7” iPad Pro using an external keyboard. I actually intended to do the whole review on it, but staring down at such a small screen for a prolonged amount of time does get tiresome on the back of your neck. Plus, the tiny keyboard makes me have to backspace a lot, which is frustrating and time consuming.

If you don’t have an Office 365 subscription, worry not, Apple has you covered. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are preloaded and free—and quite powerful as well. So there will be no shortage of options for you to make the most of your tablet.

That being said, for those of you accustomed to working on a regular computer, be it a Mac or a Windows PC, you’re used to browsing for files stored locally on your device. The iPad doesn’t have a File Browser per se. You can use different cloud-connected storage solutions, such as its native iCloud (which includes 5 GB of free storage) or Drobox, Google Drive (a great paring with Google Apps, which are also available to download from the App Store), or Microsoft OneDrive (especially handy for Office 365 users). It takes some getting used to, but you have the added bonus that whatever you work on is backed up in the cloud, so that takes care of two birds with one stone.

The processor is lightning fast, switching between recently opened apps is quick and easy, and the one-button approach for multiple tasks is handled beautifully by iOS, including the integrated fingerprint scanner (Touch ID).

Touch ID can be very handy to protect your privacy; not only does it unlock your iPad, but it can unlock individual apps as well. I have my Outlook, LastPass authenticator, Amazon, and several other apps protected by this feature, which integrates seamlessly into your life. After a while, you won’t even notice the extra step.

I work as an MSP (managed service provider), and providing remote support to customers is of great importance in my world. The remote-control apps that I use work beautifully on the iPad and allow me to provide support even when my laptop isn’t available. I originally skipped the iPad Air 2 because of its lack of processing power, but the more powerful A9X chip in the iPad Pro gives me what I need—and it will sustain me through future software releases, so my investment makes more sense long-term.

If you have an all-Apple ecosystem, you will love the way it integrates and allows you to copy data from your iPad and paste it into your Mac or iPhone (or vice-versa). I currently use a 21” iMac, an iPhone, and the iPad Pro, and they work beautifully together. If you have already invested in the Apple ecosystem, this add-on will make perfect sense.

I can’t mention productivity without bringing up the untethered “Hey Siri” function. Untethered simply means that you are not required to press the Home button to use this function; you can simply call out “Hey Siri” and blurt out your command. True, Siri is far from perfect and will misunderstand you sometimes, but it gets the job done. For example, without even opening the cover of my iPad, I just say, “Hey Siri, set an appointment to meet with John tomorrow at 9:00 am”; she will even ask me, “which John?” if she finds several matches in my contacts. It’s that simple. And there are several other uses for Siri; this is just one of my most frequently used.

Entertainment

Other than being an excellent work companion, my other use for the iPad is as a distraction. After I’m done with work for the day, I plop on the couch and check my social media feeds, play some games, watch some YouTube videos. I can spend a couple hours just lounging, and the iPad Pro doesn’t feel heavy or uncomfortable, even when held in one hand.

Video playback looks beautiful on the vibrant screen, and the headphone jack is still there on this model, so you can plug in your headphones and get lost in some YouTube for hours on end without bothering anybody around you.

WiFi connectivity provides seamless streaming, and the speakers provide rich, full, and loud sound. It’s a good kind of loud, though. Clear and crisp, with enough bass to make it matter. Forget about needing an external speaker with the iPad Pro—yes, the sound is just that good.

I’m an 80s kid, and video games were a big part of my life growing up. I play some classic remakes of my favorite SNES games on the iPad Pro, and they look and sound great. The touch interface can be a bit cumbersome, however, so I might invest in a gaming control in the future if the price is right.

Apps

There is currently not too much in terms of apps that really take advantage of the Pro’s features, except for those using the Apple Pencil, and even then they’re not of much use to me (I’m not a creative type).

Accessories

I wanted more rugged protection but didn’t want to spend $149 for the Smart Keyboard Cover as I didn’t intend to use it as a laptop replacement. So I purchased the UAG Folio Feather Lite Composite Case ($59.99, urbanarmorgear.com, but discounted elsewhere online). Even though it is light, it adds another 10 to 11 ounces. Still, protection is important, and you can remove the cover flap when using it as a hand-held. It’s not too thick, so it doesn’t kill the aesthetic of your iPad either.

I also purchased the Anker Bluetooth Ultra-Slim Aluminum Keyboard (anker.com, now discontinued), which fits nicely in my bag and is not permanently attached to my iPad Cover.

The Anker PowerCore 20100 ($79.99, but discounted heavily online) power bank keeps me charged on the go and also fits nicely in my bag.

The Anker 24W Dual USB Car Charger ($29.99, but discounted heavily online) keeps both my iPad and iPhone charged while driving.

Last, but not least, I bought an Apple Pencil ($99, apple.com) when I was offered the opportunity for this review, in order to provide a full experience because it’s one of the features of the iPad Pro.

As a writing tool, it feels natural, and my handwriting is indistinguishable from pen and paper (not necessarily a good thing in my case—ugly is ugly). However, I’m more of a keyboard guy and seldom use it for writing. At this point, I seldom use it at all. My wife uses it more when she wants to draw or color something on the iPad, but I just can’t see it as something that the average user would want to purchase.

The cap falls off way too easily if you drop the pencil, and because it’s round, it’s bound to roll off your table at least once. It proves cumbersome when charging on the iPad because it literally sticks out like a sore thumb, although a mere 15 seconds of charging will allow you continued use for 30 minutes.

So unless you are an artist who needs a great drawing tool, skip the Apple Pencil and buy the Apple Care plan instead (that was my initial rationalization for the purchase of the protection plan). I only caved on buying a pencil for the sake of providing a better review.

Who Is It Ultimately For?

If you want to enjoy a bit more processing power and use an Apple Pencil, then the iPad Pro is for you. If you are looking for a good companion for your laptop, the regular iPad will probably be enough. For a full comparison of features and prices laid out in a nice table, visit apple.com/ipad/compare so you may see what features matter most to you.

Javier Gutierrez is CEO of adroIT, a unique managed service provider for southern Arizona and the state of Sonora, Mexico. adroIT keeps its customers running smoothly through layered protection with services such as remote monitoring and management, business continuity, managed security (firewall, anti-virus, anti-spam), and more. adroIT’s unique approach combines information technology infrastructure library practices (ITIL) with lean manufacturing philosophies and best practices, focusing on continuous improvement. Find them on the web at adroit.mx.