If it’s a multimedia experience you’re after, get an iPad pro

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We’re impressed by the iPad pro, apple’s hefty new tablet – but if it’s a laptop replacement you’re after, you’d better look elsewhere.

Here are some people who see the iPad Pro as Apple turning its back on its past. “It’s got a stylus!” they cry, frantically waving the picture of Steve Jobs on stage laughing at using a pen input.

Except they’re entirely missing the point of what Apple is trying to do with the iPad Pro. This isn’t the iPhone replacing the blocky PDAs business people the world over were forced to use. This is Apple finally jumping into the laptop-hybrid category to bring a new level of ability to its tablet range.

The iPad Pro will batter you in the face with one feeling when you pick it up: it’s a big iPad. There’s no easier way to describe it, but where the iPad Air 2 was mostly capable of helpful things like editing video and pictures, it wasn’t necessarily adept at it.

Compare that to the iPad Pro, which is easily the most powerful tablet Apple has ever created. There’s no doubt that it can handle any task an app can throw at it, easily rubbing people out of pictures with Photoshop precision in microseconds while letting you watch the latest blockbuster from the comfort of your sofa.

And therein lies the challenge of reviewing an iPad Pro: what’s this thing actually for? The Smart Keyboard, the cover Apple is pushing, would hint at a laptop replacement. Then again, you can also pick up the are-you-sure-this-isn’t-a-spoof? Apple Pencil, which is a hugely powerful stylus for creatives, artists and the more tappily minded to use.

But before we properly dig into that debate, let’s check out the display. Boy, that 12.9-inch screen is huge! Seriously, it’s hard to convey how big it really is until you hold it in your hands. The weight of 713g is on the limit, too – it’s possible to hold the iPad Pro in one hand for a while, but it’s much more comfortable to use two palms or cradle it with your arm.

That’s not to say it’s cumbersome – the Pro is well balanced, and the expansive screen will draw you in with the sheer amount of content available. Whether it’s watching a movie (an immense experience thanks to the four discreet speakers shooting rich audio from each corner) or using the split-screen mode to take notes while browsing the Web, everything just fits. The iOS 9 double-app mode didn’t make sense when it launched, but now we get why. The interface is identical to the smaller iPads, though, which in turn is very similar to that found on the iPhone. This isn’t a substitute for the Mac’s El Capitan, it just adds new tricks to what’s already there.

Penciller or ’Boarder?

Try to forget that it’s called the Apple Pencil; this new stylus is rather well thought out and actually a very capable thing to have around. Annoyingly still only available as a separate purchase (the iPad Pro would have been a much more compelling proposition with it in the box), the levels of sensitivity make it easy to start sketching or jotting stuff down using the in-built Notes app.

The level of precision is startling where before, our efforts have been equivalent to a drunk toddler using his least-favorite crayon, now we can shade, highlight and sign our name with accuracy. Even the latency (the speed with which the ‘ink’ appears on the page after you touch it with the Pencil) is impressive. It’s a lot more like putting pen to paper than smearing plastic on glass.

OK, the Pencil lacks the tactility of using an actual pencil, but short of making the screen mottled, there’s little Apple could have done here.

The Pencil is an incredibly sensitive tool, and will definitely impress your friends the first time they pick it up and (inevitably) use it to draw a phallus on your smart new purchase. Some will even look rather artistic.

When you start to add in things like Adobe’s Photoshop fix, unleashing the power of the iPad Pro’s A9X chip onto image processing, the effects are startlingly good. And the great thing is that this is only going to get better as more developers get their creative little fingers on the Apple Pencil’s capabilities.

The Smart Keyboard is an odd accessory, and will definitely give some pause on first use. It’s essentially a fabric-covered set of keys, which feels alien the first time you pick it up and start tapping away. In fact, there’ll be little sound coming from your attempts to create the next

War And Peace – the travel on these keys is low and takes a lot of getting used to. The accuracy is great after some practice, but if you’re coming from a laptop you’ll yearn for a little more depth with each key press.

The good news is that third parties are already sprinting to get something exactly like that wrapped around your new tablet – Logitech, for example, has already created a Mac-like keyboard that feels much more like the ‘real thing’.

Pro by day, iPad by night

In day-to-day use, the iPad Pro is a weird one. We’ve found that we definitely use it more as a big iPad, gravitating instantly to the media, Web browsing and gaming that already make Apple’s tablets so compelling. That sounds obvious, but we were expecting to be instantly watching the laptop gathering dust in the corner as we started doing reams of business on the Pro with gay abandon.

That’s not to say you can’t do loads with this device. The keyboard is great for bashing out text using apps like Apple’s Pages (available as a free download, along with Excel and PowerPoint rivals from the Apple stable) or Google’s Docs app, which is again free. In fact, you can even use Microsoft’s Office Suite on here, which is more fully featured if it’s a decent word processor you’re after – although you’ll maddeningly need an Office 365 subscription to create and edit documents.

The keyboard is really slick, for a couple of reasons: the Smart Connector on the side of the Pro uses three magnetic dots to clip into accessories and instantly supply power and data, meaning you don’t need to worry about pairing or batteries in the typing add-ons. They also double as great stands and can be used to instantly open apps using the same shortcuts as you’ll find on the MacBook keyboard.

The thing is, iOS isn’t El Capitan or Windows 10. This is a glorified phone operating system, albeit one that’s supremely well set up for dashing in and out of apps or having them running side by side. Real creatives that depend on the tablet for their livelihood will probably see this as an accessory rather than a dedicated replacement for their home set-up – at least until the apps offer the same level of power and functionality.

What lies beneath

So what about the Microsoft-branded elephant that’s sitting nursing a drink in the corner? There will always be comparisons to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, given that both have a large 12-inch+ screen, a stylus and plenty of power, but in reality they’re not really rivals. The Surface Pro 4 is a laptop replacement, offering the same operating system with a higher level of power than that Lenovo computer you’ve been eyeing at PC World.

The iPad Pro can, largely, match it stride for stride in terms of what you can make it do, but you’ll need to work hard to set it up in the right way, and know exactly which apps you’ll need to make it functional.

For this reason, it’s better to think of the Pro as a brilliant multimedia device that’s hugely capable of letting you do some writing, spreadsheeting or presentation-making on the go. In other words, a decent alternative when you’re not going to be hunkered over your desk all day.

But the real selling point for this larger-than-life iPad is media handling. Playing music or movies through its impressive speakers. Learning to sketch with the millions of apps that will appear soon. Playing insanely powerful games with a wireless controller, thanks to the level of grunt inside; all of these are amazing on Apple’s new big fella.

If you’re looking for a laptop replacement that can still merrily munch through any task you throw at it, you’ll likely be disappointed by the iPad Pro – despite its claims. But this 12.9-inch device is a power tablet, the superhero of the iPad range. If you’ve looked at, and been tempted by, an Apple tablet in the past, loved the idea of the apps and media experience but felt it wasn’t quite enough for you, the iPad Pro should put paid to all those qualms.

Source: T3me magazine

 

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