If you own an Apple iPad, statistically, the odds are you own an iPad 2. There’s no shame in that. Your four-year-old tablet is probably on your coffee table, or next to your bed. Maybe it’s in your briefcase, full of movies for your flight tomorrow. Perhaps you’re thinking about upgrading to the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. There are many new features (and limitations) that only show up in the iPad Pro. Here’s what you should know.
The most important thing an iPad does is work everywhere. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a terrific device, but it’s most comfortable on a desk. The 7.9-inch iPad Mini is too small to do anything more than deal with email. The 9.7-inch model is the closest thing yet to a perfect middle ground: Big enough to give you space to work, small enough to hold with one hand. It’s the Goldilocks iPad.
Cool: the iPad Pro’s True Tone display, which calibrates the tablet’s screen so it looks right even if you’re in a room with weird lighting. Cooler (technically Warmer): Night Shift, which works on any device with iOS 9.3, changes the color spectrum at night so you can use the device without hurting your eyes or disturbing your sleep. The iPad Pro’s screen uses a wider color gamut, too, and is absolutely the best screen ever on an iPad.
Nearly every iPad keyboard case ever made has been cramped, clumsy, and cumbersome. Apple’s own Smart Keyboard—unique to the iPad Pro—isn’t perfect, because you just can’t fit a full-size keyboard into so little space. But you get used to it, and at least it doesn’t look awful or weigh as much as the tablet itself. The Smart Keyboard is the keyboard case you should buy.
The Apple Pencil is for drawing and sketching. Maybe for taking notes in a meeting. It’s not for navigating, avoiding fingerprints while you play games, or typing on the on-screen keyboard. It doesn’t do such things well at all. If you have no artistic intentions for your iPad Pro, you don’t need to drop a Benjamin on the Pencil. If you do, you should. Also, it only works on the iPad Pro, and not iPad Air.
There are a few truly remarkable apps in the iOS App Store for 3D modeling, drawing, city planning, and the like. But only a few. Even though the iPad Pro is powerful enough to do real work, it simply may not have the apps you need—either because Apple’s made it too hard for developers to make money over time, or because there aren’t yet enough professional users with professional expense accounts.
The most ADD thing you can do on the iPad Pro is have two apps running side by side, with a tiny video window overlaid in one corner. That’s a massive improvement over the regular iPad’s obsessive monotasking (and a use case that begs for the new device’s fast processor), but still nothing like what you can do with a decent laptop or desktop. Apple would tell you it’s good for focus; I say it’s bad for productivity.
Let’s say you’re on vacation—a beach in Belize, say—and the boss pings you to say he needs to you to send six emails and double-check that spreadsheet, stat. The iPad Pro is perfect for these kinds of short, simple, and task-oriented tasks. It’s light and portable, it lasts a long time, it’ll work anywhere. But if you’re already sitting at your desk, hunkering down for the workday, wouldn’t you want something with more power, more screen, more flexibility?
I keep thinking the iPad is fast enough, and I’m probably right, but the Pro really is at another level. Whether you’re triple-tasking, playing the increasingly impressive games available in the App Store, or editing video, you feel the difference. It used to feel like a reach to call an iPad a “desktop-class” device, but not anymore. This thing screams.
One of the best things about both sizes of iPad Pro is the four speakers, one on each corner, that output stereo sound in any orientation. The iPad Pro is loud enough to be heard over the din of your kitchen, the running water, or your obnoxious roommate. That goes a long way toward it feeling like a tablet that can truly do everything you need, no accessories needed.
If you buy the iPad Pro, odds are good you’re going to keep it for a while. Longer than your phone, probably longer than your laptop. If you can swing it, get the iPad Pro with LTE capability. Purchasing (and cancelling) cellular service is incredibly easy, and it’s the kind of thing you’ll want more than you think on a machine that’s more capable of office tasks. If you have an LTE iPad Pro, you’ll find it’s suddenly useful many more places.
Most of the best use cases for the iPad Pro are really heavily prescribed. You take notes here, then take a picture of your document like this, then file it here, open it in this app, send it there. But these things are going to get easier and broader, and there really is something magical about being able to—for instance—shoot, edit, and share video in the same device. Or take a picture of a document, mark it up, and send it off in a single app. This is the future.
The thing the iPad Pro does best… is be an iPad. It’s terrific, better than ever, for watching movies, playing games, reading books, and casually wandering around the Internet. If you’ve been looking for a reason to upgrade, the iPad Pro does all things iPaddy better than the iPad Air and mini. But aside from the occasional gotta-get-it-done project, it’s not up to the task of your whole work life yet. Keep your laptop, but freecycle your old iPad and stick this one on your coffee table instead.