How the iPad Pro Replaced My Laptop

How the iPad Pro Replaced My Laptop

My old personal laptop was due for a refresh around the time the iPad Pro was announced. While I still really like it, the previous four years of abuse are starting to take their toll on the poor thing, with the display doing flickery things no display ever should and the battery starting to last less than three hours. I guess four years is a good run for a laptop these days.

I went browsing for a suitable replacement when I noticed that I really only ever do three things with it: Use a web browser, SSH into things to work and watch videos. Apparently I'm not a power user, because all of these things are quite doable on an iPad, other bloggers' assertion that it's "not quite ready for power users" notwithstanding.

Turns out it's just a big iPad, and that's all it ever needed to be

1.2k USD and several weeks of waiting for the thing to ship later, I'm actually finding myself liking this thing a lot more than I thought I would. Yeah, it does sound expensive when I'm putting it like that, but to be honest that's the same price range as the Chromebook Pixel 2, or any other decent laptop at that.

I have the iPad Air 2, and while I really like that a lot, I never got over the feeling that it's merely a toy. Now that I have this oversized big cousin of it, I realise that may just have been because the display is waaaay too small for a would-be laptop.

This 13" version, on the other hand, is pretty much the same size that my old laptop was so that's not an issue. Which means that it's just the right size to have two VIM windows side-by-side in tmux, without feeling cramped. Well, once you find a decent terminal emulator with SSH, anyway.

The Apps are mostly there - but really only mostly

It's been surprisingly hard to find a decent terminal emulator with SSH. Or a code editor. Also the GMail App is entirely rubbish - there's something broken there that makes it think you're running it on a phone, with everything being huge and hard to use. Inbox works decently, but it's not been updated to fully work with iOS9 and iPad Pros yet.

How do I know? Well, for starters the transparent top bar is written in a larger font when you're in Apps that haven't been updated. Also the on-screen keyboard reverts to the one shown on other iPad models, which kind of blows as you can't easily type a lot of things that way and the Smart Keyboards are in very limited supply everywhere.

So which Apps do work fine? Not sure about the SSH client, to be honest. The best I found was "Serverauditor." It's not been updated yet for the iPad Pro, but it does allow for selecting very small fonts and you can go into a kind of full-screen mode - much unlike my previous favorite, "Prompt 2," which works great except for having an always-on tab bar that's taking up valuable screen real estate. I should probably find some time to write up a proper review of SSH clients, as most of them are almost perfect, but none of them are quite there yet.

As for typing things up, I rather like "Working Copy." It seems to have a decent GIT client with GitHub integration - perfect for writing articles for this here blog. On a plane, if need be. :3

My iPad Pro all set up and ready to go. I'm writing this article on an Aer Lingus flight to Paris.

That new smart keyboard is the duck's nuts

I had a hard time getting ahold of the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard. I didn't think it was a big deal at first - I just used one of the Apple Magic Keyboards instead, and seeing as how it's exactly the same keyboard that I'm using with my work laptop I was quite happy with that at first. But it IS surprisingly clumsy to use the iPad on my lap with that. Something about the keyboard not being attached to it makes it that way. Also the Bluetooth would sometimes lag a bit, which was annoying.

Earlier today I did finally find a store that sold one of the Smart Keyboards. At an airport, no less. It's awesome. People complain about its keys on the net, but I find I actually like how they feel. They kind of have the same click to it that my favorite old Logitech keyboards had, which is pretty awesome. The only nit I have is that it doesn't have an ESC key - which would be handy in VIM, but then I got used to just using CTRL+[ with previous tablet keyboards that I owned.

The lack of function keys is another thing often cited as problematic, but since my main use cases for the keyboard are a browsing the web and SSH, that never actually came up. Function keys on Bluetooth keyboards do work fine, though.

On a related note, people complain about the lack of a pointing device to use in combination with the keyboard. I'm not quite sure why. The keyboard shortcuts work exactly the same as on a Mac, and they seem to cover just about every use I'd have for them. Some Apps could probably make better use of them, but I don't see how a trackball, touchpad or mouse would help with that.

LTE and Batteries

I managed to get my grubby hands on the WiFi/LTE version of the tablet. It's awesome. It's quite beyond me why it's so hard to find laptops with an LTE modem. In fact, the other option to upgrade my laptop was a Chromebook Pixel 2, which failed the test specifically because they stopped making an LTE version with the Pixel 2. The Pixel 1 with LTE would otherwise have been perfect, but I'd much rather have gotten the newer version for the USB-C connectors and the specs allowing for two external monitors.

Yeah I know, people tether these things to their phones. That usually works. Except I travel a lot, and having something that'll take a local SIM while not changing the phone number on my mobile is entirely awesome. Especially if it's not yet another thing with a battery I have to keep charged. I'm lazy like that.

Speaking of, the battery on this thing is amazing. I don't think I've ever gotten it below 40% just yet. It does take a while to charge, though. Also not entirely sure what would happen if I tried to charge it off a mobile battery bank. I should test that.

Some things are indeed still missing

This thing is 99% perfect. But there's always something missing. For me, that's having a really good terminal client... and a compiler.

You can't write Apps for this thing unless you have a Mac to write them on. This would've been a bigger problem in the past, but these days I only write console programmes anyway, so I'm okay with it for now as I tend to have a battery-powered Raspberry Pi with me.

So, not a show-stopper for me, but it might be for you. Otherwise it makes for a great laptop. Kudos to the engineering team putting this thing together.

Now if someone would please come up with a 13"+ Android tablet kthxbai? Just to keep Apple on their toes. Or, better yet, a 13"+ ChromeOS tablet. I could really get behind that since I don't like how Android is all Java and thus the only platform you can't easily port C++ programmes to.

Last Modified: 2015-12-22T20:22:56+01:00

Written by Magnus Deininger ().