When Apple announced their new M1-powered iPad Pro in April of 2021, I totally ignored it. I thought to myself, “Why in the world would anyone be willing to pay a grand for an iPad?! ?”
To me, the iPad was something that parents would give their children to entertain them. It was the item that grandparents shared on Facebook. The thing tourists use to take pictures of the city. In true Dunning-Kruger fashion, I underestimated the potential. I was an idiot.
Of course, I didn’t know that I was an idiot until later on that year when I played with one. Immediately, I recognized how powerful the M1 processor was and the more I explored the opportunities, the more convinced I was that this was something that would benefit my workflow, particularly when traveling. After a hectic summer, I wanted to share my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the iPad, as well as areas where there is still room for improvement.
While I travel less frequently now than when I was a full-time professional, I still travel often enough to appreciate anything that makes the experience a little better. Traveling with minimal equipment and clothing is something I try to do as much as possible. When I travel, I evaluate the purpose and consider any job requirements. If there are, then I pack what is necessary. Even with a pseudo-minimalist approach, arriving with your equipment intact at your destination can be a challenge. Those reading this who have experienced the unyielding joy of the TSA checkpoints in the United States or the every-man-for-himself approach to security standardization in Europe know this pain.
In general, I aggressively avoid checking my equipment. I love my Pelican 1510 cases because they fit in the overhead compartments and are practically bulletproof. My favorite case has a built-in laptop sleeve and padded dividers. This case is versatile enough to adapt to all my needs. The problem that I have run into is not what will fit in the Pelican case, but how much the case weighs, particularly once I switched to the GFX system from Sony and started using an assortment of Pentax 67 and Hasselblad V mount lenses. You can have bigger batteries and bigger lenses. Now the 22-pound maximum carryon weight for Ryanair is a real consideration.
What typically happens is that I am placing my laptop in my small backpack (Camelback Rim Runner 22) along with my other travel essentials. Although it fits, the laptop takes up valuable space and can be difficult to find if I need it. Pair that with the oversized charger required, and my perpetual social anxiety of being the moron holding up the line, and I wanted an alternative.
What I Loved
I debated which size and storage variant to purchase for longer than I care to admit. I ultimately purchased the M1 iPad Pro 11″ with 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. I also purchased their Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil bringing the total cost to a little over $1500. 00 USD. While the price tag is hefty, I found a surprising number of things I really liked about it.
Size and Weight
I was very concerned about ordering the smaller version of the two considering I am 6 feet 3 inches tall and have yet to find gloves that fit my hands well. My laptops have been 15-inch screens, and I imagined the 12. 9-inch was going to be a sacrifice. It was recommended by a friend that I meet with the one I wanted in person. The 11-inch has proven to be a fantastic size. It is small, but not uncomfortable to see or use.
The weight is 1. 3 pounds with the keyboard compared to the sizable 4. 8 pounds of the 16″ MacBook Pro. Although I’m not a backpacker that would cut off their toothbrush handle to lose weight, when running to the next flight my arms and shoulders are very important.
Battery Life and Charging Time
Apple claims “up to 10 hours for surfing the web or watching video.” I found this to be closer to 8 hours of surfing and about 6 hours of photo editing. I hate editing, so being limited to 6 hours is actually a pretty nice excuse! It charges very quickly, which has been a huge surprise to me. With the 20watt included charger, recharging averaged about two hours from the 20% mark. Battery life has not been an issue for me despite heavy usage due to the quick charging time.
While it has the same M1 chip as the Macbook Pro, iPadOS cannot fully utilize the power of the chip. I opted for the 8GB of RAM because the operating system for the iPad can only take advantage of 5GB of RAM max per application at this time. This may be changed in future updates. However, it is important to warn anyone considering this as a replacement for a laptop.
It is very fast for a tablet. It was fast and responsive. I didn’t feel frustrated with its power, nor did it make me wish for more. The device does a great job editing Lightroom, Photoshop and Affinity Photos. Your laptop may have more RAM, but it doesn’t offer the same amount. One more thing. The M1 MacBook Pro is a crazy fast and capable processor, so even if this doesn’t live up to that performance, the iPad Pro is still an incredible piece of hardware compared to where we have been in computing over the last few years.
Mobile Digital Asset Management
This was a huge factor for me. This was a major factor for me. I must be able edit and cull while on the move, but back up files is probably the most crucial function of a laptop when traveling. This is part of my daily ritual; every evening, I back up that day’s work to an external drive.
I purchased a small USB-C hub from amazon that allows me to copy files from my SD card and put them directly onto my Samsung T7 SSD. This pair of hubs allows me to quickly and efficiently meet my requirements. To make a second copy, I put the SD card with all files intact in the Pelican card case.
I have been very impressed with the traditionally desktop software options available for iPadOS. Both Lightroom and Photoshop are available and work in a similar fashion to what I am used to. Affinity Photo is also a very nice option and arguably a better experience if you have the Magic Keyboard than Photoshop. While they aren’t exactly the same in menu layouts and tool options, in my experience I was able to do most general editing with no major objections.
Until recently Capture One wasn’t available. At this time, it isn’t possible to telephoto shoot. This was originally a problem because I almost always use Capture One to connect to my computer when I’m in the studio. Capture One demonstrated this feature last month and it will likely be made available in a future update. Cascable is still a great option if your camera version is supported and you need tethered shooting.
While it has taken some time to get used to, I have really enjoyed having native applications like Amazon or Netflix. Although I open Chrome frequently to navigate to these sites, this habit is slowly fading. The wave of mobile-first design has impacted desktop UX/UI. These applications often offer a simpler experience. They have given me a boost in productivity that I didn’t expect.
The Apple Pencil is amazing. It is expensive at $129 but works extremely well. The trackpad is too cumbersome for editing, even though I love the Magic Keyboard. If you use masking software such as Photoshop, the Pencil allows for Wacom tablet control.
Outside of editing, note-taking with Nebo or Concepts has become an indispensable tool for me. To give my screen a more analog feel, I bought a PaperFeel protector. I absolutely love it. As a Moleskine fanatic, it has been a difficult transition for nostalgia’s sake, but having organized notes that are converted to text is incredible.
I feel confident in saying that most people despise emails and bookkeeping. This is the one thing that I have not found better with my iPad. But, it’s not like I could do this without someone else. It isn’t made better, but the Office Suite and Google Docs work as well as on a laptop. If you access cloud-based software, I have been pleasantly surprised to find the desktop pages are typically fetched automatically and work seamlessly.
I was surprised at how simple it is to translate speech into text. Although it was possible with desktops or laptops, the overlay on the screen at the bottom has the microphone button and makes this easier.
What I Didn’t Love
The configuration I purchased was around $1500 and currently, this is almost the same price as a 13″ Macbook Pro with similar storage and ram. The iPad is not a more cost-effective option than a laptop. When it comes to performance, the iPad is not a replacement for a laptop. So, if you are weighing purchasing one or the other, you would need to decide whether you need greater portability and the pencil, or greater performance. I don’t know that I could recommend the iPad Pro as the only device for a photographer to have right now, while it is good, the price is quite steep. The M1 iPad Air came out after I purchased the iPad Pro and that might be a reasonable middle ground worth looking into for some.
No Color Calibration
Currently, Apple does not support the creation of .icc profiles like a traditional desktop or laptop would. This means that while the colors of the iPad are nice to look at, they may not be entirely accurate. If you or your customer’s main utilization is for digital display, this is not the end of the world. If you are creating work that will be printed in physical form, you may want to wait to do any critical editing until it can be done on a profiled device.
This seems really ridiculous to write, but it is one of the things that annoys me about the form factor. It is light and thin, but the combined weight makes it top-heavy. It often tilts over when I change my weight, whether it is on a sofa or a chair. Not the end of the world, but it does annoy me.
Sometimes Clunky Software
Because I am typically working with files on an external drive and not stored on the iPad, not all software has a simple way (or any way) to navigate to the external drive. Additionally, you should not expect that all software is laid out the same or has the exact same features as you might be used to. For me, the benefits outweigh the re-acclimatization process, but not everyone might feel the same way.
Lightroom CC Only
In the spirit of not all software being the same, this applies to Lightroom specifically. Lightroom CC is the only available version. Lightroom catalogs are usually used in my workflow. They are saved on an external drive. This ensures that the catalog and the files are always together and minimizes any re-linking required.
This is not an option in Lightroom, and it takes away something that I consider to be the most important. Although I do not edit final images on my iPad, it would be great to make general adjustments or cull images using this format factor.
Less Than Great Video Editing Options
This may not apply to everyone reading, but not having access to Adobe Premiere has been a little aggravating. Although I didn’t initially expect video editing to become an option, I was surprised at the processing power. The problem is not the processor, in this case, it is the software. Adobe Premiere Rush has a terrible reputation for instability. LumaFusion, while a viable alternative to Adobe Premiere Rush, is plagued by some time-management issues that make it difficult to use. I don’t expect to be able to edit feature-length films here, but doing quick promos for social media distribution would be handy.
No Floating Windows or Apps
At this moment, iPadOS 16 has not come to my device, but when it does it will mitigate one of my greatest aggravations with multitasking. To speed up everyday tasks such as checking balances on invoices and researching places with Maps, floating windows would be great. Once version 16 is released the new Stage Manager application will help tremendously with this, but at this moment, a bit of an aggravation.
I am thankful that I can utilize the USB-C Hub for HDMI out, charging, card reading, etc… I did struggle to find a hub that worked well for my needs. Not all hubs are created equal, so when you are looking for one that fits your needs, pay attention to the reviews and consider verifying with Reviewmeta.com or a similar service to make sure you are getting a good product.
No Extensions for Chrome
I am a Chrome Extension junky. From popup blockers to full-screen text grabbers, I love extensions. Currently, there is no option for extensions for Chrome. Although extensions are available for Safari, there is not currently any. I do have a collection of plugins that work really well and they make me miss Chrome.
Even though I feel like the price tag is quite high, I am truly happy with my decision. I do not consider myself to be a technology futurist, but at the current trajectory, I do wonder what mobile computing will look like in 5 years. It seems that Apple has poured substantial resources into the iPad ecosystem and with cute taglines like “your next computer is not a computer” I do not envision them moving away from this direction.
This does not necessarily mean that you should choose this product. While initially interested in a travel computer alternative, I find myself reaching for this more times than my laptop. Everything from client and colleague meetings to hotel rooms and the couch at home — it works well for me. I would encourage anyone on the cusp of a new computer purchase to carefully evaluate your needs 3 years from now and be certain that whatever you buy now will help you then as much as now.