A non pro’s review of the iPad Pro (2018)

The iPad Pro is probably the weirdest product category Apple has at the moment. It’s stuck in a limbo and it feels as if Apple itself doesn’t really know what to do with it. The original iPads were marketed as multimedia devices, but with the growing popularity of smartphones and their ever-increasing screens, this purpose was mostly made redundant.

This sparked the ‘Pro’ line of iPads that were courageously marketed to be computer replacements. They featured extremely impressive hardware but were crippled by their software; the same iOS found on iPhones. As a result, they never truly became what everyone wanted them to be:

A product that actually made sense.

That all changed when Apple refreshed the iPad Pro in 2018 giving us a fresh new design and most critically creating a separate OS for the iPad called iPad OS. Finally, the iPad and its place in a professional workspace were starting to make sense. With powerful chips, the revolutionary Apple pencil, and proprietary keyboard and mouse support, you could finally make the case that the iPad could replace your laptop, a suggestion that would have had you laughed out of tech circles nationwide. It still might so exercise caution.

With the new 2020 iPad Pro being a slight refresh of its older brother, I was intrigued to get my hands on one. But, after finding a great deal on the 2018 version (which I will be referencing every time I use the term ‘iPad Pro’) I decided to pull the trigger and see how I could fit the iPad into my workflow as a software engineering student and writer. To my surprise and delight, the iPad has become an incredible part of my workflow and I think it can do the same for everyone. Pro or not.

Design

The iPad Pro’s design is gorgeous. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s angular sharp edges blend seamlessly with the rounded bezels. The aluminum construction is light yet makes the iPad feel strong and robust. Its case is impossibly thin and as a tech nerd, it makes me giddy with excitement to realize how far we have come from the thick blocky iPads of old. It is truly a sight to behold.

The Apple Pencil is a must-have accessory for the iPad whether you use it for drawing or not. It has a beautiful matte finish and has a reassuring weight to it. It feels very high quality. It attaches with a reassuring ‘clack’ on the iPad’s side rail and does not budge. Seriously, I tried. No amount of shaking and jerking will dislodge it, though you might want to be careful with it in a bag.

I also used the Apple Keyboard Case. If you intend to do any sort of writing on the iPad then this is a must-have too. The case when attached is surprisingly svelte and does not add a lot of bulk. The keys are mushy but still firm enough to provide a good typing experience. More on that later.

Performance

This device absolutely screams when it comes to performance.

I won’t bore you with benchmarks as I find them to be an unnecessary test of performance as most people will never max their devices like that. But it is fun when you have nothing better to do. Long story short, I have never in my life experienced fluidity, speed, and responsiveness to this extent before and I doubt any other company could implement it as well as Apple did here.

Apple’s in-house A12X chip is a powerhouse and I can guarantee that the iPad Pro will handle anything you throw at it without breaking a sweat. The 120 Hz refresh rate makes every animation, every movement buttery smooth.

A warning though. Any device you use after this one will feel and look like a stuttery mess. I couldn’t believe how laggy my iPhone XS felt after using the iPad!

I mostly used the iPad for drawing, editing photos, web surfing, school research, typing quick documents, stack overflow, jotting down notes, or as a second display for my Macbook (more on that later). My drawing experience was responsive and felt very good especially with the matte screen protector I had on it. I’m by no means an artist, but if YOU are then you will love the tools and apps that the iPad has to offer.

The keyboard case provided what was generally a nice typing experience. It’s a little small as I have the 11" version but the feedback from the keys is good and you can definitely get serious typing done on this thing. It’s just the editing and exporting document workflows that may be a hassle.

Like I mentioned the iPad didn’t skip a beat and took everything I threw at it and then laughed at how easy it was. It really is extraordinary.

The battery life is also great. It’ll comfortably last you a day or a two depending on what you’re doing and the inclusion of USB C means my laptop and tablet can use the same charger. Good stuff. The headphone jack is missing but as someone who hasn’t used anything other than his AirPods for the last 3 years, I didn’t miss it.

Software

With iPad OS, Apple has finally brought the iPad into the future. Multitasking, drag, and drop file support and external drive compatibility mean that you can finally get work done on the iPad. There is a big caveat though.

Professional software like the Adobe Suite doesn’t work, so if you rely on those to get your work done or to earn a living then this probably won’t replace your current workflow.

One feature Apple introduced with Mac OS Catalina is ‘sidecar’. This essentially enables your iPad to work alongside your Macbook as a second display and let me tell you.

This is a GAME CHANGER.

Having a portable, powerful second display has taken my productivity through the roof. This feature alone is worth the iPad’s cost.

With sidecar, I can have my research open on my iPad while I’m typing on my laptop. Similarly, I could have my app documentation open on one while I work in code editors on my laptop. The possibilities are literally endless. The connection is rock solid and as corny as it sounds, it really does work like magic.

If you have a MacBook and are looking to get an iPad Pro or otherwise I highly recommend you do it for this feature alone. Trust me.

Conclusion

The iPad Pro has come into its own.

As the forgotten companion of its flashier cousins, it is finally getting the respect and attention it deserves. In my opinion, the iPad is the only product that Apple is seriously innovating in. Its design, its performance, its seamless integration with the pencil and keyboard are all revolutionary and its competitors aren’t even close.

With discounts, you can pick up the iPad Pro 2018 for around 500 USD new and as low as 350 USD used. That’s a fair price and very worth it if you ask me.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I absolutely love the iPad Pro and it gets a resounding recommendation and thumbs up from me.

It’s useful for almost everyone and even if you won’t appreciate the ‘Pro’ features, you can still marvel at its performance, smoothness, and incredible usability.

Will it replace your laptop? Probably not. But its closer to doing it now than it ever was before and I think a lot of people might just be able to.

And if you see anyone at your local coffee shop using sidecar on their Mac and iPad, go give them a pat on the back.

They deserve it.

An optimist trying to make sense of the world. Also, Pie > Cake.