First look: iPad Pro 10.5

Well, look here. It seems the iPad just might be making a comeback. In its recent quarterly report, Apple for the first time in a long time posted year-over-year growth for the iPad.

Apple sold 11.5 million iPads last quarter, which was 1.55 million more than the number sold in the year-ago third quarter. And that’s a very good sign for the embattled tablet line.

As I’ve written before in these pages, I’ve been very happy with my iPad Air, which I’ve had for almost three years. It’s lightweight, powerful, and versatile enough for many content consumption and creation tasks.

That sentiment has been true for a great many iPad owners who didn’t see the need to upgrade to a newer model. Thus, the diminishing growth curve for the iPad line. It’s not damning by faint praise to say that iPads prove to be very good devices for long stretches for many users. Many owners are still using iPad 2s, which have been around for over five years.

Unlike the iPhone, which sees its users upgrade on a more regular basis (every one or two years), iPad owners tend to hold on to their devices more in keeping with laptop or desktop computer replacement cycles.

And Apple, as has been its pattern, is gracious enough to support iPads with new software updates, typically for four or five years.

With that as the backdrop, tech-52 finally decided to upgrade to the latest iPad iteration, the iPad Pro with the new 10.5-inch form factor. And, we chose to go whole hog by including the Smart Keyboard and the Pencil in the deal. Total cost: $1007.

It will take a few posts to cover the iPad Pro experience. In Part 1, we’ll take a look at the hardware. Following that, we’re going to live dangerously and install the iOS 11 Beta on the device. So that’ll be Part 2.

New tablet form factor

Remarkably, Apple has managed to squeeze more screen real estate into a package that is just slightly bigger (.4 inches longer and .1 inches wider) than the earlier 9.7-inch model.

They did so by shrinking the edge bezels all around. The new 10.5-inch screen is roomier, brighter, and higher-resolution (2224×1668 pixels versus 2048×1536 pixels) than its predecessor.

As would be expected, the Apple premium fit and finish is evident. Otherwise, the iPad Pro is still the essential iPad experience. Apple continues to make the best tablets on the market.

Remarkably, Apple has left the headphone jack intact on this iPad. Unlike the iPhone 7, Apple understands that users will often want to keep the Lightening charger cable plugged in while also listening to music or other soundtracks.

That was a complaint from critics of the iPhone 7, but in my review of that device, the above-described use case is much less important in a smartphone.

Smart Keyboard

The accessory Smart Keyboard, although not mandatory the iPad Pro, is essential for anyone looking for the hybrid tablet/laptop experience.

As one would expect, the keyboard is well-built and highly functional. It features magnets that ease the process of connecting the tablet to the keyboard and holding it in place. It is made of a mesh fabric material that encapsulates the entire unit, which makes it spill-proof. That’s a plus for those of us who like to have our coffee, water, or other drink at hand.

The Smart Keyboard serves as a cover for the iPad screen when the device is not in use, but interestingly, it does not protect the rear of the iPad. We bought a third-party case that’s compatible with, and closely matches the color of, the Smart Keyboard

From a usage standpoint, we found typing on the Smart Keyboard to be very fluid. It might not be to the liking of some keyboard enthusiasts who are used to more travel and the clickity-clack of mechanical keys as they type.

Another thing to be aware of is that, when the iPad Pro sits in the keyboard assembly, it is limited to one position. Although the viewing angle is a good one, especially for table top use, we miss adjustability when using the iPad Pro in our laps. It sometimes feels a little too upright for optimal viewing. Having said that, it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

From a sizing perspective, the Smart Keyboard is exactly the width of the tablet in landscape mode. Which, by the way, is the only orientation in which you can use the Smart Keyboard with the iPad Pro. But like a laptop, that’s to be expected.

Apple has managed to find a near-optimal key size and spacing so that the keyboard does not feel cramped when typing. We were able to adjust right away to the keyboard, and our typing speed was right up there with a good laptop keyboard.

Unlike a laptop keyboard, the Smart Keyboard is missing the row of function keys one may be used to. And, curiously, there’s no Escape key, which is certainly no big deal.
Pretty much all the other keys you’d expect are available on the Smart Keyboard. It also has an emoji key, which displays the full array of emojis, a nice touch. Overall, we rate the Smart Keyboard excellent, if not perfect.

And it must be said that the hybrid form factor that Apple has realized in the iPad Pro 10.5 is eminently portable while upping the ante for productivity potential.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil was a bit of a mystery initially. We didn’t bother to read the documentation that came in the box, opting instead to look online for some basic information. Which, by the way, there’s plenty of.

Steve Jobs once famously said that, if you include a stylus with your device, you’ve already failed. But today’s Apple is not Steve Jobs’ Apple, and, let’s face it, there are a growing number of use cases where a stylus is important.

What Apple has done is provide a stylus that works near-flawlessly with the iPad Pro, and provided to app developers the necessary APIs to invent new ways to use it.

The Pencil does work in Apple’s Notes app, and that was the first place we tried it. We wanted to see if we could actually, you know, take notes.

Short answer: definitely.

Our handwriting isn’t the best, but the Pencil lightly applied to the iPad Pro screen enables fluid writing as good as, although subtly different from, pen to paper. Here’s a sample:

But what about drawing? We went to the App Store to find some free drawing apps. There are many, although most are basic versions that provide in-app purchases, or allow you to upgrade to a ‘pro’ version for extra cost.

After downloading a few and trying them out, we settled on two drawing apps that would help us test the proposition: Sketch.Book from Odyssey Apps and Sketch from Adobe. These are relatively simple apps that provide a variety of pencil/pen/brush shapes, colors, and objects (circles, squares, etc.). Adobe Sketch has the added capability to create and use layers.

We are not artists by any stretch, but in a very short time, we were able to approximate a third-grader’s artistic skills:

There’s much more to explore with the Apple Pencil. We think it’s a well-executed stylus that is a useful and necessary accessory for the full iPad Pro experience.

Conclusion

Apple continues to push the envelope with tablet devices. The iPad Pro 10.5 is a beautiful example, although pricey when you add in all the accessories.

Nonetheless, we could imagine it serving as the sole computer for a large segment of the population. Probably not tech-52’s sole computer, but certainly one capable of doing 90 percent of our required list of computer tasks.

Although there are some use cases for which the iPad Pro would not be ideal, there’s not a lot that you can’t do on this device. And that’s with iOS 10.

In September, Apple is expected to release its next major iOS version, iOS 11, which will offer features, such as access to the file system, that iPad critics up to now have keyed on as weaknesses.

We plan to install the iOS 11 Beta on our new iPad Pro. We’ll write about that experience in our next post.

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