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7 things I’ve learned from a year of using the iPad Pro

iPad Pro
iPad Pro (Image credit: Future)

Since I started with TechRadar I’ve tested products I’ve loved, and others I’ve hated, but there are only four I find myself consistently using - my Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones, the Anker Prizm II projector I tested, the fantastic Honor Magic Watch 2 smartwatch, and the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 2018 model that I’ve been using for over a year now.

You can learn a lot using a phone or smartwatch for a week, and testing it for a month can give you insights you wouldn’t have otherwise. After using the iPad Pro tablet for about fifteen months now, I’ve learned a lot more about the slate than I have about other products.

I stand by what I said in the review - Face ID is pretty horrendous to use, the tablet really could have done with a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the speakers and screen really are great to create a little home movie theater, and it’s great for productivity and creativity. 

In fact, since the Covid-19 lockdown began I’ve found myself using it as my work device most days. Thanks to a year of daily use, using the iPad Pro for watching movies, doing work, writing notes, gaming, video calling, creative writing and more, I’ve learned a few more things about the tablet. 

(Image credit: Future)

1. I'm begging for better battery life

I criticized the iPad Pro’s battery life when I first reviewed it, and went so far as to list it as one of the main issues with the tablet. Now, I have a more nuanced understanding of the issue, and can say that not everyone will mind it.

On days off, I used to go to coffee shops and write. After several hours of writing and listening to music, I can still go home with enough charge to check social media now and then through the rest of the day and maybe watch a movie before bed. If your lifestyle is anything like that, you’ll find the iPad Pro battery life fine.

The tablet certainly won’t last you multiple days of that kind of use, and if you like your tablet for gaming you’re going to have issues. Only a few hours of Old School Runescape, my current hobby, will obliterate the iPad’s battery. Some other tasks really drain it too, like video or photo editing.

I’m not sure, though, if this new, more lenient view of the iPad battery life is because I’ve stopped finding its battery life too short, or if I’ve actively started planning my days around the knowledge of how long it’ll last.

I don’t have a non-work computer, so I use the iPad for lifestyle and professional endeavors, and this might be why the battery was zapped as quick as it was. Perhaps if I had a proper laptop as my main device, I wouldn’t be so disappointed.

I’ll stand by my charging speed comments though. It takes too long to power up, so much so that I sometimes have to plan my day around when I know it’ll be out of action. When the top smartphones can power up in minutes, Apple should really work on faster charging tech so it takes less than an hour to get the iPad Pro to full.

(Image credit: Future)

2. This isn't a gaming device

With its top-end processor and huge, good-looking screen, you’d expect the iPad Pro to be a great device for playing mobile games, but I’ve started to realize the 12.9-inch screen is just too big for what I want.

When playing popular shooters like PUBG Mobile and Fortnite, I’ve been having real trouble using on-screen controls, as I can’t reach all the buttons or icons. I certainly can’t wrap my hand around the device, like I would do for a smartphone.

For non-shooting games it’s not so bad, but there’s a real deficit of those on mobile devices. The iPad doesn’t have enough PC-style strategy and city-building games. I’ve already written about how Apple Arcade seems to largely forget iPads exist, and I believe there aren’t enough bespoke games which make the most of the iPad.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Variable framerate beats fixed

Many smartphones now have 120Hz and even 144Hz screens, and their respective manufacturers make a big thing about it, but I think Apple does it best with the variable refresh rate in the iPad Pros. 

The tablets work out what the best framerate is for the task you’re undertaking, up to 120Hz, and change it when you switch to a different task.

In that aforementioned coffee shop working situation I can, in a single minute, flip between Spotify, Final Draft, one of a number of note-taking apps, various social media channels and Safari, and the iPad’s variable refresh rate makes them all feel buttery-smooth and easy to scroll through.

Sometimes on smartphones with a fixed high refresh rate, things can seem unnecessarily janky, or a little too fast or slick, and this can also really harm the battery life too. On the iPad Pro, I barely notice the refresh rate and this is meant as an absolute compliment. In fact, it has me wishing smartphones would start doing the same.

(Image credit: Future)

4. Remember to use protection

My iPad Pro has been through the wars since I started using it, and I really wish I had something to protect it when it’s in my bag or being carried around my flat, but the Keyboard Folio just isn’t that protective.

The Keyboard Folio is a sort-of case that you wrap around the tablet, and it lets you unfold the iPad Pro into a makeshift laptop as it also works as a stand and provides a keyboard for you to type on.

However, this ‘case’ is made of a fabric-like material that doesn’t last well - my Folio is scuffed on every edge, has strange stretch marks over most of the flat part of the body, and on one part has puffed up in a large blister-like way, and I’ve no clear idea why.

Not only is the case looking raggedy, but it hasn’t totally spared the iPad either, and now the corners and some of the edges of the device are a bit dented or scuffed. Bear in mind I haven’t been playing contact sports with the tablet, embarked on any extreme sports with it tucked under my arm, or even dropped it on a hard surface - it just needs better protection.

(Image credit: Future)

5. I don’t need a mouse

In iPadOS, Apple introduced mouse support for iPads, and the newer-version iPad Pro 2020 models can use the Magic Keyboard peripheral which has an actual trackpad like a laptop. I just don’t need this.

Not once in my year with the iPad Pro have I wished I could use a mouse with it. Touch control is quicker and easier for every task, from gaming and writing to video editing and scrolling through social media.

In fact, I often find myself accidentally trying to use my finger on my work laptop screen; that’s how natural touch-screen input is. I have trouble picturing a use case where a mouse would be more convenient than touch screens. Perhaps some of you reading this would prefer mouse support, and that’s great that Apple is giving you that, but I think Apple’s ideas that everyone using an iPad Pro wants a mouse, is misguided.

Apple Pencil

(Image credit: Future)

6. You can't de-pen-d on the Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil 2 is great in that it charges by magnetically clipping to the top of the iPad Pro, so it’s super easy to pick up and use when you need it, but re-attach it to the iPad when you don’t.

This totally falls apart when you go to transport the device anywhere though, because not once have I ever put the iPad Pro in my bag, only for it to remain attached when I take it out later. The Apple Pencil is always falling off, and I can’t count the times I’ve lost the thing in among loads of clutter at the bottom of a bag.

It got to a point about six months ago where I gave up on using the Apple Pencil because I couldn’t be bothered to keep rooting around in my bag for it, or where it’d fallen off the device as I was packing it. Maybe this reflects my laziness or forgetfulness, but I’d call myself an average user so I can’t be the only person who gave up on the Apple Pencil.

(Image credit: Apple)

7. iPadOS isn't the messiah, it's a very naught OS

I was a little disappointed when the original iPadOS was unveiled, as there were no clear meaningful changes from iOS save an annoying sidebar on the main menu which stole space from the apps I actually wanted to use.

Well, after using the software for almost a year (since the beta rolled out in mid-2019) I can say I was certainly right, as the OS hasn't had a major impact on the way I use my tablet.

I don’t have a Mac so Sidecar mode is useless, I haven’t found the split screen mode demonstrably different in any way (since split screen already existed and I haven’t found any apps save Safari that let me view two windows at once), and as previously mentioned I don’t see the need to use a mouse.

Well, there are two useful features. The fact Safari defaults to desktop versions of websites is nice - I've only found this particularly useful for accessing WhatsApp Web, and even then you could switch it to desktop manually, but it saves a few seconds every time I want to respond to messages. 

Secondly, there's the ability to plug in external hard drives via the USB-C port. This is a feature I have used exactly once and didn’t even realize was a feature of iPadOS until researching this piece.

Hopefully, iPadOS 14 brings some more meaningful ways to improve iPadOS over what iOS had already introduced to tablets.