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Hands on: The iPad Pro -- It's a laptop! It's a tablet!

Ken Mingis | Nov. 13, 2015
Deciding whether Apple's new super-sized tablet suits you really depends on how it'll be used.

Note: You can't get a 32GB iPad Pro with cellular; the entry-level model is Wi-Fi only. You also can't get an iPad Pro in Rose Gold, the new iPhone color Apple rolled out in September. The iPad Pro comes in Space Gray (with a black bezel around the screen), Gold and Silver (both of which have a white bezel). I have a Rose Gold iPhone 6S Plus, and yes, I'd have gotten my iPad Pro in that color if it were offered.

I settled for a 128GB Wi-Fi-only version in Space Gray. That turns out to have been a popular choice among early buyers. Shipping times for that model are now delayed almost two weeks.

For many buyers, picking which iPad Pro you want is just the start. What sets it apart from its predecessors are the new "Smart Keyboard" and a stylus -- Apple calls it the Pencil. The iPad Pro without them is just a tablet. But with those two accessories, it becomes more of a true hybrid, 2-in-1 device like the Surface Pro.

Laptop by day in the office, tablet by night at home.

three screens 
A 15-in. MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro (rear, right) and an iPad Air 2. Credit: Ken Mingis

I'd like to tell you how well the Smart Keyboard and Pencil work, but I can't. Although the iPad Pro was available Wednesday if you ordered online early and opted for pick-up at the closest Apple Store, neither accessory was in stock. Buyers will be waiting about three weeks for both to arrive, according to the shipping times offered on the Apple online store. (Logitech keyboards are available, but I'd prefer to wait for the Apple-designed version.)

Neither accessory is cheap: The Pencil sells for $99, while the keyboard is $169. Doing the math means that a top-of-the-line iPad Pro with accessories totals $1,247. That's almost MacBook territory and definitely more expensive than a MacBook Air.

So if you're eyeing the new tablet, you'll have to ask: What does the iPad Pro offer that a MacBook Air or MacBook doesn't?

Weighing the possibilities

If you really, really love iOS 9 instead of OS X, then OK, it's tablet time -- especially if the apps you need are already available on iOS or you're just a flat-out tablet junkie who thinks laptops are soooo 2010. But most users aren't head-over-heels in love with an operating system and they rightly see tablets as ancillary, not primary devices.

If ultimate portability is priority one, then, of course, the iPad Pro delivers in spades. It weighs less than the smallest 11-in. MacBook Air and has the screen real estate of the larger 13-in. Air. But neither Air has the gorgeous Retina display. (You could opt for an iPad Air 2 or even the iPad mini 4 -- both are smaller and lighter and cheaper. But the whole point here is a laptop-size screen, right?)


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