I have a bit of a problem. After years of packing my backpacks for tech events, I’ve developed an obsession with lightness. While I’ve generally been able to shrink my load down over the years, there’s one particular elephant in the room I haven’t been able to do without.
You see, even laptops that are marketed as “ultra-portable” often weigh well over 1kg and they don’t fit in my preferred bag. And that’s why for the past couple of years, I’ve always been trying to replace this big bulky laptop with an iPad, because the tiny iPad will fit in my preferred EDC. But the thing is, there was always a compromise. Sometimes it was performance, sometimes it’s the way you interact with an iPad, and sometimes it’s the limited software.
Then, Apple launched this, the iPad Pro 12.9”, and it was almost like the stars aligned. It has the same processor Apple puts into their MacBooks, it has a technologically advanced mini LED display, it has a proper keyboard and trackpad interface, plus software that’s way closer to the functionality of a laptop than it ever was.
So, problem solved? Well, yes…but also no.
Is the iPad Pro powerful enough?
I am a content creator, so I use my laptop mainly for document processing, web browsing, photo & video editing. It’s not a particularly taxing workload, but speed is very important to my creative process. On paper, the M1 iPad Pro should be more than enough for what I need, and if we’re talking about performance, that is absolutely the truth.
There wasn’t a single thing I could throw at it in my regular workload that would cause it to slow down or freeze up. It is truly the most powerful iPad I’ve used, all while keeping to the iPad’s solid battery life.
When it comes to the display, the new Mini LED panel is way better than your typical LCD screen on an ultraportable laptop. Its resolution of 2732×2048 pixels means that it’s also going to be sharper than anything that doesn’t have a 4K panel. And with ProMotion, it’s probably faster too.
Plus, the mini LED array means you get excellent local dimming this side of an OLED, with phenomenal peak brightness of 1600 nits. It’s a stunning screen, and one whose media consumption experience is only further enhanced by the quad speakers flanking it. Speakers which are definitely better than any Windows laptop I’ve used before.
But we know this. These are iPad things. And these are things that this iPad Pro does better than anything else in its class. The biggest weakness the iPad had as a laptop replacement was:
Its software and interface
With the iPad, no matter how much power, or screen or speaker or whatever else Apple added, the problem always came back to “it’s still just an iPad”. And the main reason for that is due to iPadOS. This tablet-only operating system was never as full-featured as MacOS, and while it is probably the best OS for a conventional “tablet”, it was still very limited if you wanted to treat it like a laptop. But Apple knows this, and the recent couple of iterations of this operating system has done a lot to address the shortcomings.
I used this device mostly on iPadOS 14, but have recently upgraded to iPadOS 15, and I gotta say—it’s definitely the best it has ever been as a productivity device. One of the main things I need to get my work done is a robust multi-window multitasking interface, and I think the iPad absolutely nails it for a mobile device, especially with iPadOS 15.
Snapping windows and creating new Split View spaces is very intuitive. I also love the fact that I can always pull in my floating windows from the side even in Split View…something I couldn’t even do on the MacBook Pro 16 when I reviewed it last. In fact, they’ve done such a good job with it multi-window multitasking that I think I actually prefer working on the iPad Pro than I did working on the MacBook Pro 16.
Then, there’s the new Magic Keyboard with its touchpad, and as far as interfacing with the iPad goes, this is the biggest update. As a keyboard and tablet stand, I haven’t used anything better. Not from other tablets, and not even from many 2-in-1 convertible devices. Up until this point, the keyboard solutions I was presented with were floppy affairs that usually needed a hinge built into the tablet to keep the device upright.
That made using it as a laptop, you know, on your lap, awful. But, with the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, you can absolutely use it like you would a conventional laptop. Heck, it even has a USB-C port for you to charge the iPad with so you can use the iPad’s own port for data transfer. The keys themselves are your typical chiclet keys, however. I was kinda hoping for butterfly switches or something more tactile, but this I think is still a very solid keyboard, so this is more of a minor gripe.
That said, the trackpad has a bit of a learning curve. Rather than acting like a cursor, it behaves more like an on-screen finger. This resulted in some unexpected and inconsistent interactions across applications. But, you do get access to a bunch of useful gestures that make it so you really don’t have to touch the screen to navigate it as long as you remember what the gestures do…hence the learning curve.
Once I was familiar, I have to say that the experience of working on the iPad was really good—-definitely better than any I’ve used before this. But, I still wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s as good as a desktop. And this disparity to me became most apparent when it came to file organisation and image processing.
It can be a pain in the butt
I am glad that there’s now a Files app, and I’m also glad that moving and renaming files in your Files app is very easy and intuitive. But, using it, I could immediately tell that it wasn’t designed to function the way, say, Windows Explorer was designed to function. Let me give you a simple example.
Let’s say I want to rename a photo that I took with either my iPhone or one that I downloaded from the internet, before uploading it to SoyaCincau.com. On a computer, I just need to click on the photo, rename it and boom we’re done. On the iPad, first you have to head to the Photos app. Then, select the photo you want to rename and save it to your Files app, then, launch the Files app, navigate to where you saved the photo, and then you can rename the photo. Now imagine uploading 30 photos to a gallery page.
One slightly quicker way is that you can also rename the photo as you’re saving it to the Files app, but even that’s way more steps than it should be. If you know of an easier way, I’m all ears. But until then, this is just so tedious.
Then there’s also the disparity between similar apps on the iPad and on a computer. Apps like Google Docs and Photoshop for example aren’t nearly as intuitive on the iPad as they are on a computer which can be very frustrating for someone like me who prioritises speed. And it’s not like using mobile apps on an iPad is that much better than on a desktop browser either. Instagram, for example, still doesn’t have a proper iPad app so you’re stuck with this terrible ported iPhone version. I guess the silver lining is that in iPadOS 15 it can rotate now, but COME ON.
With how easy it is to offload and touch up photos on the iPad now thanks to the USB-C port, wouldn’t having a proper iPad Instagram experience be a logical course of action?
And then there’s the app that I use the most often, by far: WhatsApp Web. Why isn’t there an official app for this on iPad when there’s even one on Windows? Being forced to run it on Safari in desktop mode is just terrible.
Now, I can’t say that I wasn’t expecting at least SOME adjustment and compromise when making the switch to iPad. Plus, a lot of this, I don’t even think is Apple’s fault. They’re relying on third-party developers to make apps that work better, but unfortunately the iPad market is just so small that I don’t really think it’s a major priority for these developers.
In the month replacing my laptop with the iPad Pro, I was able to adapt to most of these quirks, and when I accepted some of the faults, I definitely was able to use it basically full time. Its form factor is also inherently useful for the non-creative side of my work. Managing my team, leaving notes, signing documents—all of that worked phenomenally on the iPad and Apple Pencil.
And if we’re talking about this combo, I don’t even think I really was the kind of creative Apple was targeting with this device. Considering their promotional material, they were probably looking for the more artistic type and I can totally see why.
But don’t take it from me. To really put it to the test, I got the help from one of my friends who is a concept artist for some of the biggest games of the last five years.
An artist’s perspective
Siew Hong is a Lead Concept Artist at Passion Republic Games, and he’s been in the industry for over seven years. He has worked on games like Uncharted 4, The Last of Us Part II, and Injustice 2, among others. I left the iPad Pro with him for a couple of days just so he could get a feel of what it was like to use it compared to his usual setup. To him, the main difference is obviously the size.
“I think the differences is definitely, iPad Pro is more compact and smaller in size so I can just bring it around and draw anywhere I want,” he said.
“Wacom Cintiq has certain products that are similar, but I think they are still quite chunky, and they overheat quite easily compared to the iPad Pro. I still don’t really like the latency in the Wacom Cintiq compared to the iPad, and I was quite surprised when I tried it out—the iPad Pro actually—there’s not much of a lagginess, and I don’t really experience it in a sense, it’s not noticeable.”
He added that he really likes how portable and functional the iPad Pro was beyond just as a device to draw on. Whether it was taking notes, or just writing something down, everything was automatically sorted by date and category so it made searching for what he needed way more convenient than flipping through his physical sketch book. All of this was super convenient for his role, as a Lead Artist is expected to take care of multiple aspects of the creative process at the same time.
Siew Hong was also impressed with the performance and display of the iPad Pro. He really liked how smooth everything was, and how colour accurate the screen looked. The only thing he wasn’t a fan of was the smudges that would end up on the screen from drawing directly on it because it actually hindered his artistic process, and he hopes that they’ll find a solution for this sometime soon.
This iPad’s big problem
I definitely think Apple has done an incredible job with making the iPad Pro a legitimate productivity tool. But, although I definitely think I could replace my laptop with this 12.9” iPad Pro, it’s also the only one I wouldn’t replace it with.
The whole point of this experience for me was to make my setup more portable. It was a pursuit of lightness and smallness, and the bad news is, the brand new iPad Pro 12.9” is anything but light and small.
With the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil that makes all this productivity possible, the iPad Pro 12.9” weighs in at almost 1.4kg. That’s even heavier than your typical ultra-portable laptop, and is definitely heavier than my daily driver. Plus, its footprint is also so big that it too won’t fit into my EDC. Even the 11” iPad Pro weighs over 1kg which is a far cry from the 700g of my previous iPad Air.
But I guess that’s the trade-off if you want the solid build quality of the Magic Keyboard with its robust hinge. Though, word of advice, I’d avoid the white colourway because it gets dirty so easily.
So, now I have a bit of a dilemma. The whole reason I wanted to trade my laptop for an iPad was so I could have a smaller and lighter alternative. But with this iPad Pro, it’s not a whole lot smaller, and it’s definitely not lighter. So, is there still a reason to replace your computer with an iPad?
If there was, price definitely isn’t it. If you want this 1TB iPad Pro 12.9” with the M1 processor, you’ll have to pony up nearly RM8,599. For that money, you can get an XPS13 with an i7 and a 3.5k OLED display. And if you want the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil, that brings the price to RM10,697, which at that point you can buy pretty much any laptop your heart desires.
But what if you’re an artist?
Oh, and if you’re an artist like Siew Hong, and you were thinking of replacing your full setup with an iPad, well here’s what he had to say.
“Personally, I felt that the iPad Pro can’t replace a full setup from like a computer. Working from a desktop, like a computer desktop, is better for our posture compared to working on an iPad, your head is always down,” he said.
“It’s just not as convenient as drawing on a computer. But I do see there’s a potential of it to produce a final artwork from the iPad Pro itself when I need to. But, personally, I would still prefer a desktop, like a full working desktop because there are a lot more things I can handle on the desktop itself. For example when I work on a design, I like to look for a lot of references so my tabs would be crazy. there would be multiple tabs going on.
“For the iPad Pro it’s possible to do that but it’s a bit more complicated y’know. It’s not as streamlined compared to a computer, so that is like the concern I have mainly for the iPad Pro.”
Siew Hong, however, does see potential for the iPad Pro to slot into his workflow as a kind of in-between device. If, for example, he receives feedback from a client, he can immediately note it down and sketch out the changes on the go. It also gives him the option to work anywhere he wants, and not be bound to a fixed setup.
“For me I don’t see an iPad Pro as my only source of option to make something to final. Mainly I’ll see it as something for bringing to sketch or maybe like 50%-60%, then I’ll just bring it up to my computer and finish the final touch up.”
So yeah, those are all my thoughts after replacing my laptop with an M1 iPad Pro 12.9”. It’s the best iPad for the job, but to me it’s also the only iPad I wouldn’t replace my laptop with. How ironic.