How the iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard totally replaced my Macbook

Last September I wondered if an iPad - with iOS 11 and the Files app - might replace my MacBook. Since then I've acquired a 10.5-inch iPad Pro and Apple's Smart Keyboard. Any trade-offs? I was surprised.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

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The debate over iPads as a laptop replacement dates back to their introduction. It wasn't possible for me until the Files app came out in iOS 11. But what about the other differences?

Despite Window's many advances - and some Apple screwups - I continue to prefer the reliability of Apple hardware and the ease of use of iOS and macOS. So I've watched the iPad-as-notebook-replacement debate with serious interest over the years.

As a writer and analyst, I am an information junkie, and I still wasn't sure the iPad would cut it. Have I been surprised! TL;DR version: The 10.5" iPad Pro with Apple Smart Keyboard (ASK) is my new favorite; my MacBook is gathering dust.

The good

I've been using my 10.5 iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard for two months, and after some learning curve issues I've stopped using my top-of-the-line 2016 MacBook. What are the goods that made that easy?

Performance. It's fast! Benchmarks say that the iPad Pro is about as fast as 13" Retina MacBook Pro, and the highest spec i7 2017 MacBook as well, both of which cost more than twice as much. Apple says the iPad Pro is as fast as most laptops, and they're right. The iPad Pro is generally responsive and can even edit 4k video in iMovie.

Keyboard. I prefer the feel of the ASK to that of the early 2016 MacBook. I thought I'd adjusted to the limited play of the MacBook, but my hands tell me that the ASK is more comfortable. To be fair, the mid-2017 MacBook has a new keyboard that is supposed to be better, but I didn't notice much difference trying it for a few minutes.

Trackpad. Palm rejection on the 2016 MacBook trackpad is too flaky. On the iPad Pro the screen is the trackpad, so no problem.

Cellular. I got the iPad Pro with cellular connectivity, a real convenience. I again thought I was good with coffee shop Wi-Fi - and mostly still am - but cellular service means I don't have to think about whether or not my cloud services will be available. Also, some coffee shops are VPN unfriendly; the cellular connection moots that.

Size. The iPad Pro + ASK is lighter than the MacBook, at about 1.5 lbs, and the physical dimensions are smaller - 6.8" x 9.8" - than the MacBook's 7.74" x 11" footprint. It feels much more portable than the already very portable, 2 lb. MacBook.

Management. Like an iPhone, the iPad Pro has very little management overhead. Kvetch about Apple's "walled garden" all you want, but after decades of fiddling with system management, I'm happy not to.

Battery. Although both machines are spec'd at 10 hours battery life, the iPad Pro's battery life seems to be much better than the MacBook's. The iPad is much more aggressive about turning off when ignored, usually without losing the VPN connection. Also, the iPad Pro's 30w/h battery charges faster than the MacBook's 41w/h unit.

Office compatibility. Clients often have MS Office docs they want to share. It turns out that Apple's iOS Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps do a fine job with basic docs, with functions like change tracking working well. Fancy PowerPoint animations or Excel macros don't translate, but if you are editing those there's Office 365.

The not-so-good

But the iPad Pro isn't perfect. The downsides haven't stopped me from preferring the iPad, but you might have different priorities.

File handling. File handling is clunkier on iOS. The split screen option is OK, but I prefer a window with multiple tabs that I can leave open behind the current app and then foreground as needed. iOS 12?

Passwords. The built-in password manager on macOS - Keychain Access - is more functional than its counterpart on iOS. That occasionally means going to Settings, opening Passwords, copying, and pasting.

Screen. The iPad is a touch screen device, which means fingerprints soon desecrate the Retina display. I keep a microfiber cloth to polish it as needed. My workaround is an Evach Active Stylus, at 1/3 the price of an Apple Pencil, which keeps my mitts off the screen.

Keyboard. The ASK is not backlit and some people - not me - have problems typing on a lap. Also, iOS has an annoying, slow, fixed key repeat speed. Again, iOS 12?

FTP. I maintain a few websites, so FTP was a concern, especially after Panic, maker of my favorite Mac FTP app, cancelled its iOS version. But I found a functional replacement - FTP Client Pro - for $4. It isn't as refined as Panic's Transmit on the Mac, but it gets the job done. If FTP is a big part of your work, you'll want to make sure iOS has a suitable replacement.

I/O. No standard USB ports. It's not an issue for me - my clients are all remote - but it might be for you.

The Storage Bits take

Three months ago I couldn't conceive of dropping my MacBook for an iPad. It felt like there would be too many trade offs.

But despite the annoyances I've noted, I find the total iPad Pro/ASK experience to be markedly preferable to a MacBook. The iPad Pro 10.5" is smaller, lighter, cheaper, easier, and just as fast.

I do keep a 27" Retina iMac for heavy lifting such as Final Cut Pro, and as a hub for my 30TB of storage, and the iPad Pro won't replace that. But as a mobile computer, I've found it superb.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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