Monday 5 December 2016

Review: Apple blows up iPad in a bid to go Pro

Published 28/11/2015 | 02:30

Ronan Price with the new iPad Pro and smaller iPad Air for comparison
Ronan Price with the new iPad Pro and smaller iPad Air for comparison
The Apple Pencil
Apple iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

'Oh, WOW, check out the size of that iPhone," chuckled one wag as he clocked me unpacking the new iPad Pro.

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The same gag was levelled at the original iPad in 2010 but is even more wrong now than it was then. Yet the 12.9-inch Pro is many things Steve Jobs vowed iPad would never become - bigger and optionally controlled with a stylus.

My first reaction was open-mouthed amusement at the sheer scale of the thing, having become accustomed to a 9.7-inch device that now seemed half the size. Others in the office were less reserved. "It's the future," whispered one starry-eyed staffer, ignoring the fact several rivals have had jumbo screens for yonks. Samsung even has an 18-inch machine in the works.

Apple's giant tablet became available in Ireland just last week - following successive years of falling iPad sales that suggested the phenomenon had run its course. Of course, Apple was well aware that the public had been clamouring for larger screens, with its super-sized iPhones finally last year regaining the ground ceded to rivals. Bigger is better, consumers have firmly decided.

But Apple makes bolder claims for the iPad Pro. This one is a powerful replacement for a laptop - 22 times faster than the 2010 original iPad. Or it's a sketch artist's dream. Or a professional medical tool. Or a Netflix fan's ultimate machine. Maybe it's all of these at once, all from a tablet that, outwardly at least, just has a bigger display.

"Why would you buy a PC any more?" said Apple chief Tim Cook rhetorically on a visit to Europe this month, casually mentioning that he's ditched his laptop for an iPad Pro while travelling.

For the Pro to be truly useful, though, what goes unspoken is the requirement to buy a keyboard (up to €180 for Apple's slick foldable one) and/or the Apple stylus known as Pencil (€110). That's on top of the base iPad price of €940.

Painful on the wallet, yes, but only a little more expensive than Microsoft's similar family of Surface tablets.

Clamping the Pro to the Apple keyboard and wielding the Pencil like I knew what I was doing, this was undoubtedly a different experience to conventional iPad use. The familiar iOS system was unchanged but look! Keyboard shortcuts! Fast typing! Two apps at once! Draw moustaches on your friends' photos with the Pencil!

If you're not creatively challenged like me, you'll probably find the pressure-sensitive Pencil a tactile delight, capable of subtle artistry in drawing apps. Though it can be used to navigate the screen and annotate documents, the Pencil would be a waste of money if you've got no intention of sketching or illustrating.

Potential buyers may just be transfixed by the gigantic high-res screen, as big as that of many laptops and perfect for bingeing on video, browsing the web, immersing in games or gazing at photos.

The penalty for such horsepower and outsized display dimensions is, unsurprisingly, weight. Slightly heavier than the 2010 iPad at 720g without keyboard, the Pro feels too unwieldy for all but brief one-handed operation.

If you want easy portability, go for something like the iPad Mini. The Pro isn't for you. It's for those who appreciate raw power distilled into a glowing slice of glass.

Irish Independent

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