The iPad Pro Road Test
I went on vacation with Krissy for the last several days (to celebrate our anniversary), and rather than to take either my Pixelbook or my Dell XPS 13 with me, I took my new M2 iPad Pro with its Magic Keyboard to see if it was a suitable laptop replacement for a short trip. I am back now with thoughts. Let’s start off with:
THINGS THAT I LIKED:
1. The iPad’s computing capabilities. It’s got an M2 chip, 16GB RAM and a 2TB SSD, which basically meant there was nothing short of a real-world tornado simulation that was going to faze it. I didn’t experience a single hiccup or slowdown running anything on it. Admittedly what I was mostly doing was email, social media and some light productivity and YouTube watching; if the M2 had gagged on any of that, something would have been terribly wrong. There was nothing wrong. I’ve also run Logic Pro for iPad on the thing and similarly experienced no problems there, and it’s a far more intensive program. I don’t think I’ll be making this iPad choke anytime soon.
2. The screen. It’s bright, the colors are lovely and it’s tack-sharp in terms of resolution. I believe the screen refreshes at 120Hz, and the smooth scrolling is absolutely a feature you notice. Everything looks great on this screen, and its 4:3 dimension means there is a whole lot of real estate to use.
3. The Magic Keyboard: I’ve never used one before and they always looked a little flimsy to me, but in the real world, the build is solid and both the keyboard and trackpad, while not the best I’ve ever used in my life, were still more than sufficient. I didn’t really notice the lack of a function key row, and while I understand other people find the keyboard a little cramped, I apparently have tiny hands and never experienced that problem myself. I also assumed that I wouldn’t actually be able to put the thing in my lap to work on, and that it would just flop about and otherwise be unwieldly, but, nope — I had no problem propping it up on my legs and going to town. It’s not the best lap experience I’ve ever had from a computer? But it’s not the worst, either. It’s totally usable.
4. The speakers and camera. The speakers are nice and loud and clear. I’m not expecting earth-shattering bass out of a tablet, and I didn’t get it, but otherwise, it’s perfectly solid. For most non-party situations, it’s plenty loud. The camera is not overladen with megapixels — both the front and rear-facing cameras are 12MP — but the pictures are sharp, colorful and pretty. I know many people recoil in horror at the idea of taking pictures with a tablet, but, look, if that’s the piece of computing you’re using at the moment, why would you switch just because the thing looks slightly awkward? It’s fine. And the pictures are nice!
So all that’s good! Now:
THINGS I DID NOT LIKE SO MUCH
5. Both the Magic Keyboard and the iPad Pro are absolute smudge monsters. I don’t think of myself as a particularly oily character, but after a day of use, both the iPad and the keyboard were smudgy as fuck. You can see it in the photo above, especially on the trackpad. Apple touts the iPad screen as being “oleophobic,” and fingerprint resistant, but I am here to tell you that this is a contemptible lie. I have never had a piece of computing equipment get this smudgy, this fast. And yes, to be clear, I am taking a normal amount of showers and hand washing. It’s not me, or at least, not just me.
6. The UI/feature set is not great. Some of that is me coming over from primarily Windows, to be sure, and another part of it is Apple not wanting the iPad to entirely cannibalize its Mac computer sales. I get that. Be that as it may, there’s a whole lot here that is clunky and/or fuzzy as fuck, from app switching and resizing to multi-finger gestures on the Magic Keyboard trackpad. Likewise, as someone who is extensively wrapped up in the Googleverse, most Google apps on the iPad are kind of a mess in terms of operability, with features that are either degraded from their Android/Windows equivalents, or with those features missing entirely. I understand that Apple only grudgingly lets Google into its walled garden to begin with; even so, their lack of functionality doesn’t make me want to use the equivalent Apple apps, it just makes me want to reach for my actual laptop.
7. The Apple Pencil. So far it’s mostly just an expensive magnetized hat for my iPad. Which to be fair is as much about me as it is about the Pencil – I can’t draw or paint to save my life, and the other trick that the Pencil has — scrolling through pages and such — one can do as easily with one’s fingers. I tried using the iPad as a notepad for handwritten notes and was immediately disconcerted by the feel of the stylus on glass. This is a problem I had with the Pixelbook as well, mind you, so it’s not an Apple thing, it’s a me-writing-on-glass thing. I understand there are screen protectors that also replicate the feel of writing on paper, and I may have to try those out. For the moment, however, yeeech, not a fan.
8. Apps not as full-featured as on either Mac or PC. This is less of a “dislike” as a “meh,” but it’s there. This is something I had to deal with with the Pixelbook as well — I had to use the Web versions of a lot of programs, and they’re just not as good. The iPad versions of things like Word or Lightroom tend to be better than the Web app versions, but they’re still missing some features and plugins I use with the desktop, and that can get a little frustrating in the (to be fair relatively rare) moments when I actually need the deeper set of tools and abilities. Apps sometimes compensate for this with iPad-only functionality, but so far at least, that’s functionality I’m not actually using.
So, will I continue using the iPad as a laptop substitute? Maaaybe? For trips in which I know I won’t be need a whole feature set for the programs and apps I use, sure, because in those cases there’s no penalty, and the iPad + Magic Keyboard combo is perfectly serviceable. For light travel, notwithstanding my gripes about the Google-specific apps, the iPad + Magic Keyboard is at least as functional as my Pixelbook, and a lot more powerful under the hood. I can see taking it on the trips I’d taken the Pixelbook on before. If I need full functionality for productivity work, I’ll still haul out the Dell XPS 13.
For those of you with an iPad and a Magic Keyboard, what has your experience been? Is it something that replaced a laptop for you? Or is it not quite there yet? Let me know your thoughts.