For the last couple of weeks, I've been travelling a lot, and I've been using Apple's new 10.5-inch iPad Pro just as much as I've been using my Surface Laptop. And it's been entirely up to the tasks I've asked of it. It's a fantastic piece of technology, and not just because it's got some fancy new features. It's a tiny tablet that actually can replace a PC.
What Is It?
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is Apple's newest tablet. It was introduced barely a year after the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and replaces it in the company's line-up; it and the larger 12.9-inch Pro sit in a funny niche between the regular iPad — made for browsing the 'net and watching videos and checking your Facebook — and the MacBook family — proper workaday laptops with comparatively massive batteries and larger brighter screens with more processing power. But when you're watching movies, you don't need a keyboard. When you're writing or drawing, you don't want a keyboard. When you're standing in line at the coffee shop or whatever, you can use a tablet when you can't use a laptop.
Tablets may not have the form factor that you're used to for computing, but they're every bit as useful. And the niche that the iPad Pro fills, I think, will become less of a niche in the coming years. The success of the tablet-meets-a-laptop Surface has spurred on other companies like Samsung to try and recreate its success, and it's a clear sign that computing is moving away from big, bulky laptops into more portable form factors — and ones that are more versatile. You don't need the keyboard on your laptop all the time that you're using it.
That Screen, That Perfect Screen
I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the 10.5-inch screen on the iPad Pro. They're all good. I like that it's the first iPad to reduce the massive bezel around the screen on every other model — you could make an argument for its existence, but not a strong one. I like that it's another one of Apple's True Tone displays, changing its colour temperature and white balance to always suit the ambient light of the room around it. But I really like that it's the first Apple screen to run at 120Hz, twice the refresh rate of previous units, and that makes a huge difference in terms of the comfort with which you move around its interface.
Importantly, though, this bright and detailed and contrasty LED-backed 10.5-inch LCD display also dynamically adjusts its refresh rate to suit the content that the iPad Pro is displaying. And that's a big, big, hugely cool thing for when you're watching a cinematic 24Hz movie or playing a game that's designed to run at 30Hz or 60Hz. Dynamic adjustment to any particular frame rate makes the content displayed on it looks much smoother than a fixed frame rate, and it also allows Apple to save a bunch of power — when you're reading an ebook, the iPad Pro doesn't need to keep refreshing the screen. I almost hate to use this phrase, but it just works.
Every Device Should Have Built-In 4G
I can't understate how useful it is to have the 4G-enabled cellular version of the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, even if you're in Wi-Fi most of the time. Because you can use it in a way that you don't use a laptop — you use it in the same way that you use a phone, albeit an especially large one — you take an iPad more places. And I took it across the world over the last month, and it didn't let me down — in fact, it As a frequent traveller, throw a Vodafone SIM in this bad boy and you can fly all over the world and not even worry about being out of touch with friends or family or colleagues.
I've gone through this before even on Windows laptops. Having built-in 4G is so much more convenient than using a battery-draining hotspot on your phone — and there's a very good reason for this. When you're sitting inside an event like Samsung's launch of the Galaxy Note8, the air is thick with competing Wi-Fi signals. The infrastructure wireless provided almost always dies, and a hotspot has a snowball's chance in hell of actually working. Inbuilt 4G does. It's just like using a phone — you take it for granted that you're connected to the 'net from the second you switch on the screen, and that's as it should be.
And It Actually Can Replace Your Laptop
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is a fundamentally different device to the Windows and macOS laptops that I'm used to. But that doesn't mean it's worse in any way. Working in Chrome for the most part, I jump between different tabs a lot — including a tab for Chartbeat to check on Gizmodo's real-time website stats. But there's a Chartbeat app for iOS, so I can just use that instead. I use GIMP on the desktop to resize and crop images; I use Photoshop Express on my iPad Pro. It takes some re-learning, but for the work tasks that I do, I can use an iPad Pro.
There's one big caveat, of course. You can only use the iPad Pro to type on its Smart Keyboard stand in a single orientation, and that means the screen sits on a single angle. If you're not putting it on a desk with a chair at the right height, or if you're trying to use it on your lap, there are better choices out there. You can get a Brydge keyboard with a built-in hinge that transforms the 10.5-inch iPad Pro into a laptop-equivalent device and for around the same price as you'll pay for a Smart Keyboard, but Apple's own first-party solutions are limited in their versatility.
Should You Buy It?
Do you need a new computing device? That's always the biggest question to rationally answer if you're entranced by any particular piece of technology. And for all its novelty and utility, the iPad Pro is an expensive piece of hardware for its size and weight class. It's not a heavyweight boxer made for video editing or batch photography work or for hardcore coding. Like the MacBook, it's a light-duty computing device that also happens to be exceptionally good at a few tasks that you wouldn't expect a tablet to be. But god, it's a surprise that it's as good as it is. The screen makes me hate the screen on any other laptop or tablet I use.
It's easy to default into that 'oh, I need a new laptop' mindset. I'm challenging myself not to be that way, after decades of using a PC whenever I want to do work, because it just feels like the right thing to do. I'll happily admit that I still use a desktop PC in the office every day, because it's comfortable and easy and familiar. But I don't think it's the future. If you do need a new computer, have a long and serious thought about why it necessarily needs to be a Windows or macOS laptop or desktop — think about whether it could be an iPad instead, with the advantages that that entails.