iPad Pro 9,7″ as a travel workhorse

Writing break in New York’s Bryant Park
I’ve been a Mac user for a number of years now, and I guess it’s been since like 2010 when I made MacBook my only machine — for work, as well as for private use.
Back in 2013 I flocked out a pile of cash, and got top of the line 13“ MacBook Pro: 500GB SSD, 8GB RAM, Retina display. It was expensive, and it was my first experience shopping online in the Apple.com with in—store pickup. I ordered the system from this side of the Pond, and then picked it up in the Apple Store San Francisco.

Apple Store San Francisco, February 2013. My first time in the USA :-)

It was the best computer in my life, and it still is at the time of writing: Apple never really made big refresh, so there was no reason/excuse to go after the new system.

After three years of lugging it all over the world, the battery wasn’t very strong after thousand cycles anymore. So I just went for a battery exchange — expensive at ~€400, but still cheaper than new system — and had a fresh life breath into my MBP.

This system has recently celebrated it’s fourth birthday, and is as good as ever.
Still, being a productivity-, and life-hacking buff, I’am constantly on the lookout for new stuff. Lighter office in this case. Especially for my frequent travels.

One option was 12“ MacBook, but that doesn’t really do much for me. So I started looking for alternatives, first time in years even out of the Apple ecosystem — worse: at the Windows machines.

Enter Microsoft Surface Pro.
If you’re in the market for a modern Windows device that doesn’t look like shit, or have all kinds of unnecessary crappy ports, or isn’t just a touch—screen version of a system everyone hated — then you got only one option: Surface Pro.

I admit: the more I looked at it, reading reviews, and testing it out in Polish stores (not available in Slovenia!), the more I loved it. Well designed, great looking, powerful, and it offers both worlds: full—blown desktop OS, as well as a touch-enabled, tablet with pen input. And with Office365 that I’m using, it seemed like almost perfect companion. With one major flaw: it runs Windows.

If you’ve been a Mac (ab)user for a number of years, touching the Windows OS feels like going back to 1999. And it’s not a party. Bring back bad memories of slow, virus-laden, unstable systems with frequent incidents of BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death).
Sure, Windows 10 is different than XP, stabler, modern, etc., but it’s still crap compared to MacOS.

So I had to go back into the fruity ecosystem, and there’s only one option: iPad.
I’ve had iPads since the first one came out. The day they were available in Europe, a friend bought it for me in the Zurich’s Apple Store, and I probably owned the first iPad in Slovenia.

It was a great machine, but it was not a work-machine. It was a consumption device. Great for browsing the web, reading stuff, sort of a big iPhone. And great for gaming.
Later on I got the first iPad Mini as it came out. Bought that one in the Apple Store Amsterdam, and my son is still using it to watch YouTube Kids.
I tried working with external bluetooth keyboards with it, but that was stupid — it made more sense to just connect that to my iPhone (Plus), and carry only one device. Plus the bloody keyboard. And nobody ever made a solid foldable iPhone keyboard, or at least I haven’t been able to find one.
Being touch-typist, good keyboard is very important for me. I can’t finger-type, that’s too slow, inefficient, unproductive. Lame.
iPad Pro keyboard (the original Apple one, as well as a number of 3rd party options) seems good enough, but the original iPad Pro is just a giant device, not appropriate for travel. It’s the iOS version of the 15“ MacBook — who would carry that around?
Enter iPad Pro 9,7“.

Form factor of the original iPad, probably half the weight, and just the right size for work, play, and — most importantly — for the useful keyboard. And the Apple Pencil support.

So here’s what I bought at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport:

  • iPad Pro 9,7“ WiFi 128GB (€799)
  • Logitech Create backlit keyboard (€129)
  • Apple Pencil (€109)
  • Mophie power station 6000mAh (came free with the purchase)

For a total price of €1.037,-. —Now, you can surely get a very decent laptop for this, and even a MacBook Air or something, but remember — that’s not what I was looking for.

Set my system up in the business lounge, and started enjoying my new, lighter, travel toolbox.

The first thing I did was commit to getting used to working on the iPad only. That meant I have to shut down my MacBook Pro, put it aside, and work only on iPad for one whole week. Seven days, both in the home office, and traveling, for ALL my tasks. That sounded challenging, and it really did require some getting-used to, but in the end it worked out.

So let me describe my own experience so far, after a few months (bought the system in February 2017). I’ll put things into certain categories, describe the apps I’m using, not using, why, what works, what doesn’t, etc.

I took the 128GB model as I assumed that will be enough for my work, and most of the stuff is cloud—based anyway. And it works — I still have more than half the space left after fully working with the system for a couple of months.

Why I chose Logitech Create over Apple’s own keyboard? —It’s much better for typing, feels like a real laptop keyboard vs. rubber, ZX—Spectrum-ish Apple keyboard.
It’s illuminated, which is important for my morning writing, as well as for frequent work in the airplanes.
I also love that it offers a place to store, carry, and hide the Apple Pencil. All in one.
And yes, it’s firm, and stable enough for use in the lap. Works flawlessly!
What’s more, it’s travel, and typing feel is much better than with the new MacBooks! —Major reason that prevented me from upgrading my MBP.

So, how’s the Apple Pencil, you ask?
Well, it’s a great accessory, and I’m no sketch artist, so I’m using it mostly for taking notes, brainstorming ideas, and signing documents. Plus some annotations now, and then.
I’m mostly using it with the Microsoft OneNote, which I love for it’s flexibility to combine handwritten notes with typed text, and all kinds of other things, like photos, documents, you name it!
The fact is, that I’m not using the Pencil every day, probably just a couple of days a week.
What I really love about it, is that it gives me the flexibility to sketch out ideas, and digitize all my notes. —My Moleskine has been left abandoned since February 2017, when I got this new device!
That’s the HW setup. Next time, I’ll write a bit more about the most used apps, and the pros & cons of using the iPad Pro for REAL work.