The iPad Pro is more like a laptop than ever before because of its bigger screen and optional keyboard dock. Here we explain the pros and cons of an iPad Pro versus a ‘proper’ laptop so you can decide which to buy.
The choice of laptops is much broader now than in years past, with hybrids (2-in-1s), touchscreen models and your basic non-touch laptop. There’s another category, too: tablets which become laptops when you connect a keyboard.
For many people this is an exciting prospect because you can do everything on one device, and you need only buy one device. With Microsoft’s Surface Pro and now the iPad Pro, is there any reason to replace an aging laptop?
As you can probably guess, there are pros and cons to each approach. Before we dive in, bear in mind that we’ve yet to spend any serious time with the iPad Pro, so this advice is based on what we already know about it and other similar devices.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Connectivity
If you’re used to using a laptop (Windows or Mac) for business you may struggle to get used to its lack of ports and slots. The iPad Pro is great at many things, but the fact it has no USB port nor HDMI output can make life difficult. It’s harder to connect an iPad to a projector, harder to print and harder to quickly share files with others.
All of these things are possible, but either require compatible peripherals or the cloud.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Productivity
The laptop’s greatest advantage used to be portability, but that went out of the Window when tablets arrived. Productivity – actually getting stuff done – is now its USP but even that is being eroded by upstart tablets.
Laptops, with their bigger screens, keyboards and touchpads, are still the best if you’re using ‘business’ applications such as Excel or Word. Sometimes a keyboard and mouse are the best tools for the job.
The iPad has a different skillset, and is by far the better tool if you’re doing anything that requires a touchscreen. The iPad Pro’s new screen technology allows it to respond to pressure from the new (optional) Pencil, and it’s a real boon for artists or anyone that needs to write, annotate or sketch.
You can also buy a Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro which takes power from the iPad and is just a few millimetres thick. We can’t yet compare it to a laptop keyboard but there is one compromise: you can’t adjust the angle of the screen as there’s just one a fixed position when the iPad is docked onto the keyboard. That’s going to be awkward for avoiding glare and when you’re limited on space, such as on a plane or train.
Third-party keyboards will be available, of course, and some are bound to allow you a variety of tilt angles.
For productivity, then, it depends on what you need to do as to whether an iPad Pro or laptop will be best for you.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Battery life
Very few laptops will last as long between charges as an iPad Pro. Like other iPads, it should get you through a working day with some power spare for the commute home.
Obviously, battery life will depend on what you’re doing with any computer, so using the screen at full brightness and running apps which hammer the processor could mean you wipe several hours off the maximum possible time between charges. And that applies to laptops as well.
You might need a power-hungry Core i7 to run that demanding 3D CAD program, but you’ll be lucky to get anywhere near a full day’s use from your laptop running on battery power.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Screen
The iPad Pro’s 12.9in screen may smaller than some laptops, but it’s almost an inch larger than the Surface Pro 3 (12in) and has a higher resolution of 2732x2048 pixels. It’s also bigger than the MacBook, which also has a 12in screen and a similar resolution to the Surface Pro 3 at 2304x1440.
If you need bigger and better than that, you’ll have to opt for a 4K laptop such as the Dell XPS 15: none of Apple’s laptops can match (let alone better) the iPad Pro’s resolution.
In fact, given that the Pro weighs roughly the same as the original iPad at 713g, it has one of the best screen size:weight ratios of any device.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Software
iOS 9 brings more new features to the iPad than iPhone, and multitasking on the iPad Pro is essential for it to feel more like a proper laptop where you can have more than one app open on screen at once.
You’ll still have more freedom in Windows or OS X, but iOS 9 is a slick operating system that only lacks a File Explorer-type app to make you feel more like you’re using a laptop. Again, iOS 9 helps out a little here by adding iCloud Drive as an app so you can see folders and files.
Another bonus of a tablet over a laptop is that it’s basically always on. When you shut a laptop, it’s essentially off until you open the lid. A tablet, on the other hand, is still on – only the screen is off.
That means you don’t have to wait for it to boot up, nor for apps to get the latest updates. You’ll also get notifications without having to wake up your iPad Pro. Such features are available with Windows 8 and Windows 10, but even if you do buy a new laptop you’ll still have to open the lid to see notifications!
The flip side of the software coin is apps. And no matter how many apps are in the App Store for the iPad Pro, there will always be a broader choice for Windows (and Mac). Things are getting better: even Microsoft has thrown its support behind the iPad Pro so you can run Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Adobe is also making more features from its Creative Cloud suite available on the tablet.
But there will always be a specific tool, program or utility that works only in Windows that means you can’t rely 100 percent on an iPad for everything.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Storage
It’s good to see that Apple has increased the minimum storage from 16- to 32GB for the iPad Pro, but it’s a long way short of the storage you can expect in a similarly priced laptop. Leaving aside traditional hard disks (with their large capacities but slow speeds) you’ll still get a 128GB or 256GB SSD.
You can buy a 128GB iPad Pro, but that’s it: there’s no way to upgrade it short of using the cloud or some hobbled external storage which won’t necessarily work with all the apps on your iPad.
iPad Pro vs laptop: Verdict
So which should you buy? If you’re an artist, the iPad Pro is a winner. If you want a highly portable device for editing video, the iPad is again a brilliant (and powerful) tool. Undoubtedly a desktop computer with multiple monitors and a big Wacom tablet or video editing hardware is still preferable, but when you need to do those things on the move, the iPad Pro is a great substitute.
It’s also a great choice for more general use including web browsing, games, editing and sharing photos, catch-up TV, movies and all the other things you already love to do on an iPad.
Laptops are – more than ever before – a business tool and a backup for times when you can’t do what you need to on an iPad – printing, filling out an online form, downloading files.
No longer do laptops win – in general - for processing power or screen resolution. Those laptops that do trade off portability and battery life.
Really, it’s a case of making a list of priorities and then choosing between a laptop and iPad Pro based on those.
Also see: Best new tablets 2015.