Three months with the 2018 iPad Pro

I’ve been using the new 12.9″ iPad Pro for a few months now, and I thought it was time to update my first impressions. Overall, it’s probably my favorite (and most used) Apple device right now.

A smaller big iPad

Compared to my previous 1st generation 12.9″ iPad Pro the smaller overall size is really noticeable. The new 12.9″ is much nicer to use in the hand as a tablet (as opposed to in a stand on a desk). The reduced size and weight mean it’s also easier to carry around. I’m finding that I tend to bring it with me more often than my old 12.9″. Some of this difference may be down to the excellent Sutter Tech Sling that I got at the same time as the new iPad Pro, but the smaller size and lighter weight of the iPad itself plays a role too.

Face ID

Much like my experience going to the iPhone XS from an iPhone 7, FaceID is really the headline feature. If anything it’s even better on the iPad. It works in any orientation, and I mean any. Not just the four cardinal directions, but even when holding the iPad at an angle.

The one annoyance with Face ID is that I sometimes wind up covering the camera with my hand. This is a particular issue for me as a left-hander since, in landscape mode with the pencil charger at the top, the camera is on the left. I wish Apple had just made this a landscape mode device and put the camera in the bezel of one of the longer sides. One thing I like is that when FaceID fails the iPad definitely does a better job than the iPhone telling you why it failed (usually it’s either distance or having my hand over the sensor).

Combined with the ability to double tap the keyboard1 to wake and unlock the device, FaceID makes the iPad the device I’m most likely to use when I need to hop on for a quick task.

Keyboard

I really like the Smart Keyboard Folio. I think it’s the best keyboard that Apple makes at the moment (though that may be damning by faint praise). While there’s nothing like a mechanical switch keyboard with lots of key travel, for a low-travel portable keyboard I think the Smart Keyboard Folio is quite good. While it is thicker than the old Smart Keyboard, it makes a much more solid stand. I think the fact that it’s the same thickness across the entire surface is an aesthetic improvement over the “thin part/thick part” design of the older model. However, the multiple angle options don’t really do much for me. I never really use the more upright angle; it’s just too steep.

Pencil

While I still use the keyboard the majority of the time, I’m getting far more use out of the new Apple Pencil then I ever did out of the old one. The old pencil was always buried amid all the clutter on my desk or stowed away in a bag somewhere, not worth getting out unless I had a big “Pencil job.”  Now, I make a point of grabbing the pencil every time I get the iPad out of my bag so that when I’m using it, the new pencil is always right there, magnetically attached to the top of the iPad. That’s the real game changer.

I’ve found myself using the new pencil quite a bit when editing text (which I have always felt was a weak point of iOS).  With the pencil I can double tap with the pencil to select a word, then use it to drag the blue dots at the end of the selection much more precisely than I can with my finger.  It also allows much more precise placement when dragging and dropping text or images.

I’m also using the pencil quite a bit for taking handwritten notes. I started out doing this in the Apple Notes app, but I think I’ve settled on GoodNotes for this role. While writing on glass doesn’t feel the same as using a pen and paper, it works well enough and the advantages of having my notes digitized from the get-go and not having to worry about filing them or finding them again later more than make up for that.

Display, battery, and USB-C

The display is excellent, but I can’t say I really notice improvements from my old iPad Pro like True Tone and Pro Motion in regular use. There are still some apps that haven’t gotten with the program and updated for the new resolutions, so they still display with a black border around them. It’s pretty seamless (just looks like the bezels are a bit thicker), but it annoys me that I’m not getting full use out of this display.

Battery life is excellent. I used the iPad Pro for notetaking at a conference last month, and despite heavy use, I really did get all day battery life out of it. Using chargers that support USB-C power delivery tops the battery off quite quickly.

USB-C on the iPad is still a story of unrealized potential. At this point, I’m not really using it for anything that I couldn’t have done with Lightning with the right set of dongles and cables. Even the quick charging was something I was doing using a USB-C to Lightning cable with my old iPad Pro. I really hope we get support for things like external storage in the next version of iOS.

The best iPad yet

If you just look at specs on the page, it doesn’t seem like the 2018 12.9” iPad Pro should be all that big a jump from the 1st generation 12.9”. It’s slightly smaller, swaps Touch ID for Face ID, and it gets a faster processor and a place to charge your Apple Pencil. In practice, I’ve found that the new iPad Pro is a significantly better device, one that’s changed how I use my iPad and how I divide different computing tasks among my various devices. I’m nowhere near ready to give up my Mac, but I do find I’m not using it as much lately, and that’s largely thanks to the new iPad Pro.


  1. This sometimes gets described as “double tap the spacebar to wake,” but you can do it with any key. ↩︎