iPad Pro 9.7" Review

Introduction

This week I received my new 9.7” iPad Pro from Apple. It came with the new keyboard case and the Apple Pencil. It was a replacement for my sadly dying MacBook Air (sound gone, microphone gone, one broken USB port). My original plan was to get another MacBook, but examining my mobile computing needs more closely, I realised that the new iPad might be a feasible replacement.

iPad Pro

Unlike most of my colleagues, software development is only about 20% of my workload, the majority of the rest is project management, administration, meetings and planning, so I’m using things like email, FaceTime, Skype, Google Docs, MS OneNote, OmniFocus 2, and of course, igeek’s own project management database, written in FileMaker Pro. All of these now run on the iPad and all of them as well (if not better) than their ‘big brother’ counterparts, so could the new ‘Pro’ iPad really do the job?

My computing experience began in 1983 with a Sinclair ZX81 and following a brief flirtation with Atari’s ST range, I got my first Mac in 1992. Over the years I’ve owned more than 15 including IIs,Quadras, Power Macs (G3s, G4s), iMacs, Mac Minis, PowerBooks and MacBook Pros /Airs. In all this time I’ve never used anything other than a desktop class operating system for my daily computing needs. Will iOS meet my computing requirements (at least when I’m mobile)?

Pictures of older computers

The Hardware

If you’ve owned any full-sized iPad, the 9.7” iPad Pro at first appears to be almost exactly the same, with identical dimensions and build quality. The only thing that’s visually different is the four speaker grilles that sit, two on each side (when the iPad is in landscape mode). Battery life is similar to previous iPads too, at 10 hours.

In use the first thing you notice is the speed - previous iPads were hardly slow, but everything on the Pro seems instantaneous. This is due to the double size ram (2GB) and the 64-bit A9X (‘desktop class’ in Apple parlance) CPU. The second thing is the sound: previous iPads were somewhat lacklustre in this area, but the iPad Pro benefits from a much better sound system, that means it can create room filling sound (although, of course, not as bass-y as a real music system).

I ordered my iPad with the Apple Keyboard case and the Pencil (it’s not a stylus!). The keyboard case is another marvel of Apple design: it’s incredibly thin and as a case it’s only slightly thicker than the standard magnetic case and as a keyboard it has a nice textured feel and enough travel to make it pleasant to type on. I have small hands for a tall bloke so I find the keyboard really easy to use - I’m not sure I’d want to write a novel on it, but for day-to-day work use, it’s fine (and yes, I’m writing this review with it). Those of you endowed with hams for hands might want to look elsewhere (or try one out in an Apple Store first). I must admit I haven’t had much cause to use the pencil, but it’s well made and is easy to use. I’m planning to use it for diagrams and scribbling in meetings…more on that in a later post.

Software

The biggest difference in the OS compared to previous versions is the multi-tasking, which enables you to run two apps side by side (either 50/50 or 1/3 or 2/3). For me this was the missing feature that’s enabled the iPad to be used as a real productivity device for the first time. I often need to refer to messages or documents whilst writing or communicating with colleagues or clients and this makes a massive difference. It’s easy to use too - just slide your finger from the right of the screen and the second app appears. Want to switch apps? Just drag down from the top and you get an app switcher with all open apps visible in icon form - then tap to switch.

Other apps run just as you’d expect and in the last few years lots more work based apps have become available - for instance MS Office for iPad and Google’s Drive & Apps combo, the former requiring a subscription from MS and the latter being a free download.

Apple’s own iWork suite continues to improve so all are perfectly usable for document creation/editing on the iPad. My go to apps are FaceTime, Skype, iMessage, Slack, 1Password, Google Docs, FileMaker, OmniFocus, Xero, Google Hangouts, and MS Office. All of these run natively on the iPad and all work well. In fact I’d say that OmniFocus works better on the iPad than it does on the desktop, it’s that well designed.

All in all, the software on the iPad has made huge strides and has (in many cases) reached parity with the desktop equivalents. Certainly I’ve found no major omissions in my usage (your mileage may vary).

Conclusion

Overall I’m very impressed with the iPad Pro. In fact I doubt I will go back to a notebook, it’s that good. The two things that have really changed my mind are the new keyboard case and the split screen multi-tasking. I often use the iPad sans-keyboard, when sofa-surfing for instance, but for work the keyboard is an essential addition - the on-screen keyboard isn’t quite good enough when you’ve got writing to do.

Limitations? Obviously as a part-time developer, you can’t create FileMaker databases on the iPad - FileMaker Go works fine as a client, but doesn’t have script editing features. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, as in an emergency I can use Remote Desktop client to connect to one of our FileMaker servers and run FileMaker Advanced like that - I don’t want to do development work on a 10” iPad anyway.

So if you’re a road warrior with the need for a full-featured, reliable, virus-free, notebook replacement with 10 hour battery life, look no further - your answer is right here.



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