‘But it’s just a bigger iPad, I don’t get it’ – this has been my reaction ever since Apple first launched the original 12.9” iPad Pro a couple of years ago.
I’d seen them at the Apple Store. I’d seen journalists from other publications using them. And I’ve never got the point of them. But after getting the chance to use one of the new, revamped 2017 12.9″ models, I have to admit I was wrong.
This isn’t just an iPad which happens to be a bit bigger, it’s an iPad which is big enough that it opens up whole new levels of usability and enjoyment.
While I have an ageing iPad Mini which I use to read ebooks, my regular iPad is a first generation Air. It’s a good way to surf the web, read emails, watch some video, tweet and play games.
At a pinch you can write an article in Word or Pages (Apple’s in-house word processor which comes free with every Mac and iPad) but while I’ve done so many times, it’s never been a great experience.
But the far larger screen of the iPad Pro changes that.
The screen is big enough that several decently sized paragraphs of text can be visible even when using the onscreen keyboard which, unlike those on smaller iPads, features symbol and number keys just as an external board would.
In addition, the Pro allows you to display apps split-screen so that you can more easily copy quotes and lines from an email to your word processor – a pretty standard requirement for most journalists – without having to endlessly switch through apps.
I didn’t get to try the optional Apple Smart Keyboard, but much of my remote working requires me to type on my lap and my experience with keyboard cases is that they’re never stable enough to allow you to bash away and produce enough content fast enough unless you’re working at a table or flat surface.
However I found it was possible to comfortably and accurately write long articles using the onscreen keyboard both when the iPad was propped up with the standard Apple Smart Cover and when just resting flat on my lap.
If you’re considering the wallet-busting £169 keyboard case I’d suggest holding off until you’ve used the iPad without it because you may decide it’s an unnecessary expense.
Browsing the web on the 12.9” Pro is a markedly less fiddly experience than on smaller models thanks to the bigger screen which reduces the amount of scrolling you need to do and totally eliminates any need to zoom in.
The extra space is also welcome when composing emails but not really transformational in my opinion.
However when it comes to watching videos and reading magazine & books all that extra space really does make a difference.
Viewing content from Netflix, iPlayer or Amazon Prime on the 12.9” screen is a glorious experience, not just because the picture is bigger – which counts for a lot given the iPad isn’t widescreen so content has black bars top & bottom – but also because the screen quality is better than on many of the smaller TVs you might buy for a bedroom or second room, or those you typically find in lower budget hotels.
Watching The Man in the High Castle or The Grand Tour on the iPad leaves you in no doubt that Apple’s boasts to have created the most responsive and immersive screen on any portable device are based on far more than marketing hot air.
Colours are rich and vibrant and motion is dependably smooth, thanks to the auto-adjusting frame rate which is capable of refreshing the screen up to 120 times per second.
As someone with less than perfect eyesight I’ve always found reading digital versions of magazines unsatisfactory due to the difference between the size of the printed page they’re really designed for and the size of tablets.
However the 12.9” Pro is basically the size of a magazine, eliminating this mismatch and, in my case, making it possible to read content without having to switch to text-only mode or zoom.
Apple’s iBooks app also benefits from the larger screen.
It’s true that in portrait mode a standard 9.7″ iPad is about the same size as a hardback book and that in the same mode the Mini is roughly the same size as a paperback. However the problem with reading in portrait mode is that its single page per screen approach means lots of extra page turns and isn’t really like a book at all.
But the 12.9” Pro in landscape mode solves this. In this orientation the screen is as wide as a paperback book when it’s open so it’s big enough to comfortably display pages on both sides of the screen and read as if it’s a real book.
Yes, smaller models also offer this mode but their size forces a compromise on the reader who has to pick between two abnormally small pages or one normal sized. No such trade off is needed with the Pro which makes it great for reading.
If you combine the Pro with the optional Apple Pencil you can also annotate PDFs, add hand drawn diagrams to documents you create in Word (though bizarrely not in Apple’s own Pages app) and take handwritten notes in a range of apps.
There’s also a growing number which also allow you to draw and paint, provided you have some underlying talent!
But there are some things the Pro isn’t really great for – for example it’s pretty poor if you want to Tweet or text away one-handed because the physical size of the device and the distance of the keys is just too great for comfort.
And despite Apple boosting the camera quality it’s a pretty poor way of taking a photo because the size makes it unwieldily.
But when it comes down to it, these aren’t aren’t the intended main uses for the device which successfully blurs the lines between a laptop and tablet and will lighten the bags of many professionals without reducing their productivity.
During my use battery life was pretty much bang on Apple’s claimed 10 hours, an impressive feat which means a single charge will suffice for an entire day’s work – something very few laptops can manage.
There’s no doubt the 12.9” iPad Pro is an impressive and high performing device and many professionals who need to regularly work away from the office will find it does all that they need it to while also allowing them to spend their downtime reading or catching up on favourite shows.
But, and this can’t be stressed enough, it is an expensive, premium end product with a starting price of £739 for the base 64GB model and is massively over-specced if all you plan to do is surf, email and update Facebook.