An Academic’s review of the iPad Pro

As I transition into the post-PhD life, I decided that it was time to drop some of the weight that I had been carrying for the past 4 years, aka my laptop in my bag at all times. So, I decided to create a desktop setup in my office and try to leave my laptop there all the time. This meant that I needed a more portable device that I could carry with me.
I had 2 options: a 13” MacBook Pro and a 12.5” iPad Pro.
I’m very familiar with the MacBook, as I’ve had one for the past 5 years. So my concern was whether I’d be able to do my out-of-office tasks in the iPad.
I had two iPads in the past and honestly I did not use them as I wish I had. Indeed I ended up selling them and my iPad-less life didn’t feel weird at all. Anyways, since the iPad Pro promised to be rather different than the previous models, I decided to consider it as my portable option. (I must admit that part of my motivation for considering it is that it is an absolutely beautiful device. So I might have been a bit biased by the coolness factor of the iPad).
I made my pro-con list, but I figured that I wouldn’t know for sure unless I tried it. Thanks to the great return and refund policy of Apple, I bought my iPad Pro, knowing that if after 14 days it doesn’t work for me, then I could put it back in the box and get my money back.
Anyways, there was an additional compromise on my part: I should really use it as I intend to on a daily basis. This meant that I should leave my laptop at the office and just carry my iPad around. Luckily I had another chance for a trial run, which is attending an academic conference. Would it feel ok to just rely on the iPad and not on my MacBook? I was really full of questions when I started this.
I should add that I bought the iPad and all its add-ons, meaning the Apple Pencil and the keyboard.

So here’s a list of the pros and cons of the iPad, after having tested it for full 7 days:

Pros

• My bag feels absolutely lighter. Note that after my phd years, I’ve been having a bit of back issues and carrying a lighter bag is much appreciated.
• The iPad Pro is more beautiful when you have it in your hands than when you try it at the Apple Store. (My heart made me write that pro. It’s not an entirely professional point of view, but let’s be honest, it does count).
• For general work purposes, I rely on Microsoft tools such as Power Point, Word, Excel. The iPad apps of these programs are really nice. Of course they are a bit limited when you compare them to the functionality of their laptop versions. HOWEVER, the limitations are not something that would discourage me from using them or make me absolutely go back to my laptop. In the case of Power Point, it becomes a bit tricky to work with the animations, but I think that would be more related to the iPad learning curve than problems with the app itself.
• Pages, Numbers and Keynote work very nicely and well, these are apple apps, so they’ve been optimized for the iOS.
• My calligraphy practice is absolutely stunned with the capabilities of the Procreate app. I don’t see it fully replacing my paper + pens, but is a great, and very powerful, alternative.
• There is a LaTEX app that has good reviews. (I have yet to try it, and as soon as I do, I’ll update this post)
• I can use the iPad for teaching. Plugging it to the projector is pretty straight forward (as long as you buy the corresponding adapter), and the best part of it is that you can make annotations with the pencil while presenting which I find extremely useful.
• The battery lasts much longer than that of my laptop. This becomes a great perk when attending conferences and places where outlets are a scarce commodity.
• Speaking of conferences, I’ve managed to survive two days without my laptop and I’ve been able to edit my slides, read some papers and go over the material that I need to prepare my classes.
• The split screen of the iPad is very practical. I tried it in the following way: I was watching a video on YouTube and writing comments with the pencil on Notes. It worked perfectly.
• I don’t miss using the mouse or the trackpad. Making use of the touchscreen is actually pretty cool. The disclaimer here is that in general, even in my laptop, I prefer to learn keyboard commands than using the mouse. So the absence of a mouse can be a problem for some people and that should enter in your pro-con list.
• The keyboard is very comfortable and portable.
• The Apple Pencil makes the whole writing on a screen experience so smooth that you can actually enjoy it. It almost feels natural and I say almost, because I’m the type of person who loves writing down things on paper.
• Did I already say that I love the Procreate app? I think that’s where you really exploit the capabilities of the Apple Pencil.
• The pencil charges VERY fast. At first I was not that happy about the fact that the pencil is yet another thing to charge, but so far, it has not felt like a burden. Being able to charge it on the iPad becomes very practical. Also, it does not “eat up” much of your iPad battery while charging.

Cons

• The iPad is an iOS device, so the operating system is in itself limited when compared to macOS. I’m looking forward to the changes announced for iOS 11, as they seem to improve your working experience in the iPad.
• For my technical work, I normally rely on MATLAB, Python, R and other modeling tools. I cannot use them directly on the iPad; however, there are a few solutions for that, such as using Remote Desktop apps that seem to work fine for such cases.
• Most of the apps that are optimized for the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil are paid. So, at that point you need to decide if the price is justified to cover your needs. My debate is generally: do I really need this app or I just think it’s cool? If the latter is true, there is a chance that I’ll use it for a bit and then it will be just using space on my iPad (it’s happened before).
• Unless you have a way to present using Apple TV, you cannot use a pointer to switch slides. I’m sure there is a solution for that, but I have yet to find it.
• To get the full experience of the iPad, you actually need to get all the “toys”. This increases the price that you’ll end up paying and the iPad in itself is not a cheap device. As most Apple products, their price can be prohibitive some times and there are other alternatives in the market. My choice for the iPad is that I already live in an apple ecosystem and I’m pretty happy with it. My preference for the apple world can actually be the subject for a different post.

In general, I am very pleasantly surprised with the performance and capabilities of the iPad. So far, I feel like the pros outweigh the cons, at least for the tasks I’ve tested and I already feel like I’ve used this iPad more than my two previous iPads combined. I’ve been able to overcome the withdrawal effect from leaving my laptop at the office and I’m seriously thinking about keeping it. I don’t want to make a formal statement on that just yet, but unless I find “a deal breaker” in the next few days, I’ll be welcoming my iPad for the long term.

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