I finally decided to buy an iPad Pro and see if it can replace my 12-inch MacBook for meetings outside of the office and for traveling. Last week, I had to go to Europe for work and decided that it would be the perfect opportunity for a showdown of iPad Pro vs. MacBook.
I bought the 12-inch MacBook when it was first released, with the purpose of complementing the 5k iMac I have in my office. At the time, the iPad wasn’t a reasonable laptop replacement due to lack of screen size, app support, and multitasking. When Apple released the iPad Pro about a year ago, I was intrigued by it, but it didn’t convince me enough to replace my 12-inch MacBook.
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MacBook: The good and the bad
I have used the ultra-portable MacBook for one and a half years, and there are many things I like about it, including:
- All-day battery life
- Beautiful design
- Gorgeous display
- Silent due to lack of any moving parts
But I have also noticed that the MacBook’s Intel mobile CPU quickly reaches its performance limits. I’m not talking about doing video editing or other CPU-intensive tasks. Just using everyday apps, such as Mail, Safari and Microsoft Office seem to be less responsive than what I’m used to from my iMac or even my iPhone 7 for that matter.
Plus, the MacBook’s keyboard is just a pain in the butt to type on. I tried to like it and get used to it, but I haven’t so far. As a result, I am not using my MacBook as much as I could and even around the house, I rather grab my iPad Air 2 than my MacBook.
That’s why I decided to give the iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard a shot. The first thing that popped into my head when I took the iPad Pro out of its box was: “this thing is huge!” Don’t get me wrong; the display is impressive, but because of its size and weight, it won’t replace my iPad Air 2, which is much easier to hold and to put on my nightstand when it’s not in use. As a result, the iPad Pro will probably not become my “go-to” device when I’m home and need to type a longer email real quick. Instead, I would probably just go to my (home)office. To me, that’s a key performance indicator (KPI) that determines how much value a given device has to me. The iPad Pro loses some points in this category.
The Smart Keyboard took me a day to get used to, but I like it better than the keyboard of the MacBook. It’s been a couple of days now, and I have no major complaints about it as far as typing is concerned. But there is room for improvement:
- The keyboard is relatively narrow, which makes me accidentally touch the screen with my right ring finger from time to time.
- It’s not backlit, which makes typing in the dark or dimly lit rooms more challenging.
- It’s not very sturdy, which makes it difficult to type with the iPad Pro on your lap.
I was surprised how many keyboard shortcuts would work in various apps, such as Control + Command + A to archive a message in Mail. That’s incredibly useful and dramatically improves my productivity. To see a list of keyboard shortcuts a given app supports, just press and hold the Command key.
What does not work on the Smart Keyboard is to long-press a key to get to accented characters. I type in English, German and occasionally, in Spanish and not being able to type umlauts and other special characters is a bummer. Fortunately, auto-correct works with multiple languages since iOS 10 and that mitigates the issue to a certain degree. For more information about how to use the Smart Keyboard, check out this knowledge base article.
It took me a while to figure out that there are two ways to fold the Smart Keyboard for typing and viewing. For our first FaceTime call, we stuffed a package of tissues between the iPad Pro and the folded Smart Keyboard to make it stand more upright. But it turned out, that you can fold the Smart Keyboard to make the iPad Pro stand more upright for watching movies or for FaceTime calls. I just wish changing angle would not take so many extra steps.
I ordered* an Apple Pencil as well, but I am neither an artist nor do I like writing stuff by hand. So I don’t think I’ll use it much. But I am amazed by the technology and how accurately and responsive the Apple Pencil was during my tests.
Apple claims the iPad Pro offers up to 10 hours of battery life under regular use. That’s the same as for the second generation MacBooks. The first generation MacBook, which is the one I have, was rated at 9 hours of battery life.
In my testing, the battery of the iPad Pro lasts longer than the battery of my MacBook. That’s maybe because I have more apps running on my MacBook than on my iPad Pro. Overall, I have no complaints about battery life on either device.
There is still a lot of room for improvements when it comes to multitasking and app switching. But thanks to the large screen and enhancements in iOS and various apps, working with two apps side-by-side is a breeze. You can even have two Safari windows side-by-side. But Apple’s approach seems a bit disjointed. For example, opening two Safari windows side-by-side works completely different to viewing other apps in Split View. Apple clearly has some cleaning up to do here.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is by no means a top of the line device and lacks some of the features of other iOS devices. That includes 3D Touch and the True Tone display of its 9.7-inch sibling. Those are not deal breakers for me, but I wish that Apple would combine those features into the top of the line iPad Pro.
More important than the lack of essential features, are issues that seriously hamper productivity. Unfortunately, I have run into a couple of such problems during the past week, during which I almost exclusively used the iPad Pro.
- Copy/paste doesn’t keep formatting: When trying to copy/paste between applications, you lose all formatting, including links.
- Individual web pages (web apps) don’t work properly. Examples include Grammarly or the WordPress backend.
- Limited file management: Despite the iCloud Drive and Dropbox apps, it’s still a pain to open a Pages document that is stored in Dropbox. Instead of opening it in-place, you have to export a copy and then save it manually back to Dropbox.
There are also some minor issues, such as lack of application support. The most notable ones are Parallels and Final Cut Pro X, but I can live without them while I’m on the road.
The one app I didn’t expect to be an issue was Grammarly, to check the text for grammar and style issues. Even worse than an absent mobile app, is a web page that doesn’t work on mobile without having top jump through hoops.
Tip: To make Grammarly work, use Chrome for iOS and choose “Request Desktop site”.
If you know of an alternative to Grammarly that works on iOS, please let me know.
Update: Grammarly has released an iOS keyboard extension that works both on the iPhone and iPad!
iPad Pro vs. MacBook
In comparison to the MacBook, the iPad Pro is more responsive, its battery lasts longer, it has Touch ID, its screen is bigger, and its keyboard is more comfortable to type on. The iPad Pro handles most tasks gracefully, and I would say, I can do 90% of what I usually do on my MacBook. Unfortunately, that 10 % it cannot handle, can get you into serious trouble if you are on the road without access to a Mac. After the experience I have made this past week, I’m hesitant to go on a longer trip without my MacBook. But I’m determined to figure out workarounds, especially for the copy/paste problem. Ultimately, I like the iPad Pro too much to return it.
What experience have you made with the iPad Pro and have you found workarounds to some of the issues I have described above?
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