image.jpg

I've been incredibly excited about the iPad Pro ever since it was announced at the Apple keynote in September. Many people have asked me why. The short version: For the last five years or so I've been through the wringer trying to find a device that I could sketch, write and draw with accurately. Not a single one has worked out for me.

I tried the Wacom Bamboo Stylus on an iPad with Penultimate many moons ago, which felt like drawing with the tip of a cucumber on a window. I've tried an Adonit Jot Pro, an Adonit Jot Script, and the Adobe Ink and Slide (with multiple apps like Procreate and Adobe Sketch) and all of them had horrible lag/latency (when they worked at all). All were more frustrating than useful and had a very irritating "clicky" feel when coming into contact with the screen, as if they would scratch it over time.

Last year I went balls-out on a Wacom Cintiq Companion - a shiny pearl in a long string of failures - it worked incredibly well until it needed to be RMA'd due to a faulty battery that wouldn't charge. It also weighed a metric ton and ran Windows, so I was inclined to leave it at home and grab my MacBook Pro nine times out of ten when I wasn't at my workstation.

I had toyed with the idea of trying a Microsoft Surface Pro, but the sun has officially set on my Windows days. We had one in the office a few months back and it seemed capable enough - but I don't ever want to go back to those constant updates and security holes every other week. My ecosystem is now 100% Mac and I couldn't be happier with how everything works together. 

So when the iPad Pro was announced I was intrigued but skeptical. Could this really be the holy grail? A lightweight(-ish) iPad with a stylus meant to draw and take notes, plus a decent keyboard? After a week with it, I can answer that with a resounding "Yes."

Ordering Woes - First World Problems

As it usually goes with early adopting, the road to ownership of a shiny new iPad Pro + Pencil was not smoothly paved. Apple waited until Monday the 9th to officially let the world know the iPad Pro would be available "online and in-store" on the 11th. It was also rumored that Apple wasn't manufacturing many to begin with (since it was a "niche market"). Constrained Supply - in other words, if you didn't get on the train early you might be waiting at the station a while for the next one.

Since no official "pre-order" time was given I decided to set an alarm for 3am EST to get my order in. Maybe. Bleary eyed, I lucked out and was able to order a 128GB LTE version and its accompanying keyboard a few minutes after 3:00am for pick up at the Christiana store later that same day. The pencil went live a minute or two later so I grabbed one of those too - everything showed available for in-store pickup. Sweet!  

The next morning I headed 90 minutes north to the mall without getting the "We're ready for you" email - I figured it would arrive at some point in the morning before I got there. Big mistake. The email never materialized and I ended up waiting in the Apple store listening to tales of woe - other people not receiving their emails and reports of the store not having any keyboards or pencils in stock. All the Apple employees I spoke with had very limited info about the new iPad Pro and claimed Apple had "surprised them" a day ago with a giant pallet wrapped in black shrink wrap that they weren't allowed to touch. Some didn't even know if they were available to order yet.

Without the "We're ready for you" email, the drones in the Apple store refuse to do much of anything for you, except tell you to wait. Everything is grayed out/disabled in their handheld units until your order is "flagged for pickup" from the mothership (or so I was told). So I waited. And waited some more. Noon came and went and then I asked to talk to a manager. The manager couldn't do anything from his end and advised me to call in to the Apple main support line. A very helpful and apologetic rep advised me that there was in fact a glitch with their logistics system and the reason my order was being held up was because there were no keyboards or pencils available for store pickup.

After an hour or more on hold she did some voodoo to push my order through and I was able to pickup my iPad Pro. Since there were no Apple keyboards available (and I wasn't super impressed with the ones they had in the store), I picked up a logitech "Create" keyboard. It's been fantastic so far and feels almost identical to the MacBook Air and Pro "black chiclet" keyboards. I was told that my pencil order was "on its way" and slated to come in by the end of the week, so I headed home.

As it is with my luck, the very next morning I received the email saying "Your Apple Pencil is ready for pickup!" so I had to drive all the way back north again after work to pick it up.

The Pencil

I'm glad I did too, because the pencil is really one of the things that makes the iPad Pro a different and worthwhile tool. Using it with the stock Apple "Notes" app is great. It syncs with iCloud and handwriting notes is fluid, on par if not better than my Cintiq Companion. For the first time, it feels like you're writing on a digital piece of paper. There's just the right amount of resistance on the pen tip (which I was surprised to read needed to be replaced after a while) and it charges up super fast.

Palm rejection was something I was skeptical of and worried about but they did it the right way. It's awesome and "just works". I don't know how Apple managed to pull it off but it works amazingly well, just as good as my Cintiq with no need for a switch to turn it on and off. It just knows when your hand is there. I haven't used them for hours on end yet, but so far Procreate and Adobe Sketch are both excellent for drawing and sketches with the pencil. 

It is large - but that's a good thing

To be fair, the iPad Pro is fucking huge. It's almost the same size as the lid of my 15" MacBook Pro but it's pretty damn thin and doesn't feel excessively heavy. With any drastic change like this it's taken some time to get used to but has really, really grown on me. The more I use it, the more I like it.

 iPad Pro sitting on the lid of a 15" MacBook Pro (mid 2012, w/Retina) 

iPad Pro sitting on the lid of a 15" MacBook Pro (mid 2012, w/Retina) 

Adding the Logitech Create keyboard case does add significant weight, but it can be unsnapped in a hurry if you need to go commando. The wrap-around protection it provides is worth the weight tradeoff in my opinion and is one of the big reasons I chose it over the stock Apple Keyboard.

Response time is immediate when typing, too... there's absolutely no lag or delay like i've experienced with other keyboards that connect via bluetooth. It's exactly like typing on a laptop. The direct connection to the keyboard is also nice because if you want to fold the keyboard around the back and use the case "reverse book-style" it turns off immediately when disconnected - you don't have to worry about hitting keys because it disconnects right away.

Expansive viewing: The size of the iPad Pro is a necessary evil to house such a huge screen. It is by far though of the most contrasty, crisp, sharpest screens I've ever seen - easily rivalling the Retina display on my MacBook Pro. Every webpage, app, photo or video I've seen on it looks absolutley stunning. Every time I open an app for the first time on the iPad Pro it just looks better. Bigger. Clearer. More realistic. The brightness is insane too - you can really crank it up on this thing (not that you'd really need or want to except maybe outside - have yet to try that). 

It takes forever to charge

Sweet jesus, it takes a long time to charge. I haven't timed it yet, but it's hours. Several hours. Like four to go from 20% all the way to full using the stock 12 watt charger plugged into the wall. I haven't tried it with a 2amp powerbank yet, but I'm guessing it'll be tough to find one that will fully charge it. I've read that the battery is a 10,300mah monster. The tradeoff here is that the battery life is stellar, lasting every bit of the 10 hours claimed by Apple (as usual, depending on how hard you're pushing it).

It's Fast

The iPad Pro is the most responsive iPad I've ever used, and I've used them all - end of story. It feels like a mid-grade laptop. Every app opens immediately and runs lag free, as do webpages, photos and videos. Fuck benchmarks, it's a tablet with plenty of horsepower. Unless something drastic changes, this thing will have all the horsepower you need for things you'll be doing on a tablet. It's snappy. 

The speaker situation

I wasn't stoked to hear about the "revolutionary four speaker" system that was all new in the iPad Pro, but after listening to some music and watching videos on it, it definitely sounds good. Not "game-changing amazing" but good. It'll never replace your stereo but it's a nice touch to be able to crank up the volume and actually hear some non-tinny/somewhat decent sound coming out of an iPad (finally). 

Should You Get One?

My opinion is biased and specific. For me, this was a no-brainer - but I've already got a killer Mac Pro workstation, a 15" MacBook Pro and an iPad Mini. The iPad Pro fills a unique gap for me - it's a tool that lets me draw, take notes and consume content in a way that my MacBook Pro doesn't. It won't replace my MacBook but it will definitely lessen the amount I take it out of my bag (or even take it with me).

It finally feels like an evolution of the iPad that I've always wanted - a "digital notebook" of sorts. I've been carrying around old paper notebooks for years wherever I go because, well, they're notebooks and they're easy to sketch, brainstorm/whiteboard in and take quick written notes in meetings. The iPad Pro lets me do that digitally, plus normal day-to-day computing stuff like email, blog posts, network tools, and more - all with it's own mobile LTE internet connection. The only time I'll really have to bust out the MacBook is if I need to use Illustrator, Photoshop or some other full-blown desktop app.

If you're the run of the mill consumer who just likes games, browsing the internet and entertainment, the standard flavors of iPad Mini and Air/Air2 will probably satisfy your itch for a lot less money. If you're a creative professional though - someone who creates content, writes, draws, photographs or edits work on the go, you may want to give the Pro a hard look. The screen size, keyboard + pencil additions really turn it into an effective creative tool in my opinion.   

There are also rumors of new adapters coming out for the lightning port on the iPad Pro that will support USB 3 - I can only assume these may allow you to hook up a card reader or external drives. Time will tell, but these would be great features to allow creative types to get their files in and out of the iPad Pro for editing/work. Right now it's kind of limited to cloud based file transfer or the old Lightning -> SD card reader kit.

I'm happy so far - a definite two thumbs up from this guy :)