With the introduction of the iPad Pro and the subsequent unveiling of iOS 11, Apple has continually asserted that the iPad is the future of computing.

It has been a slow process getting to where we are now, but due to a few key developments, I chose this past summer to switch from my seasoned 13-inch MacBook Air to the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro for the bulk of my college computing needs.

I have done my best to optimize my workflow to fit this new mode of computing, and I am here today to let you know how this has worked out.

The hardware

For me and for many others, a usable comfortable keyboard is an absolute requirement for a primary computing device. It is not an issue for everyone, but my biggest gripe with past iPad keyboards has been how small and cramped they feel in practice. While it has not been the sensational game changer that Apple may have hoped, the smart connector combined with the iPad Pro 12.9-inch’s enormous screen has been a major factor in alleviating this issue.

The simple premise that the smart connector allows the quick detachment and attachment of a keyboard is a transformative idea that allows this tablet to operate in three modes that I call: entertainment mode, notepad mode, and productivity mode. Between these three modes, the iPad Pro can accomplish the vast majority of tasks college students perform every single day.

Productivity mode

Replacing a high-quality typing experience may seem like the most obvious hurdle to replacing a full-fledged notebook, and you would be right. This is the biggest weakness tablets have been trying to overcome for years, and now I believe there are two viable solutions for this. The Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Slim Combo. Both of these are worthy options, but for the sake of this article, I am going to speak about my experience with the Logitech case.

The Logitech Slim Combo features a hard shell with a foldable kickstand and a removable magnetic keyboard. While it will not replace the feel of your favorite mechanical key switches, the Slim Combo’s set of keys provide a solid and comfortable typing experience. I type all of my school papers and all of my blog posts on this keyboard, and I have not yet had an uncomfortable experience. The removable keyboard panel differs in design on the 12.9” and 10.5” models. The larger model sports a palm rest that can fold behind the keys for a more compact form factor while the small model combines the palm rest and keys into one unit.

The design of the larger 12.9” model causes a problem that you definitely need to consider. Unlike the smaller model, the keyboard on the large model can bend slightly in the middle of the keys. This should not be an issue, but since the media playback controls are toward the middle of the case, this causes unfortunate incidents of music spontaneously beginning to play when it is least desirable. This became apparent while, as I was exiting my Organic Chemistry class, Dancing Queen by ABBA began to blast on full volume from my backpack. The issue was caused by some of my textbooks putting enough pressure on the iPad that the Slim Combo’s playback keys were activiated.

This is not an issue on the smaller 10.5” version due to the inclusion of a rubber bumper at the top of the keys, and I am baffled as to why Logitech did not include a similar preventative feature on the larger model. While this issue is quite annoying, there are some steps you can take to minimize this issue. First, I always make sure the volume is always down before I put my tablet in any bag. Second, when carrying the iPad outside of a bag, I grip it on the side of the case away from the keyboard. Finally, I try to arrange things in my bag in a way that will minimize the pressure on the tablet.

You may think that this is a ridiculous list of concessions to make for a $100 plus case, and you would be right. Even so, I would still choose the Slim Combo over Apple’s Smart Keyboard due to the superior key travel and typing experience. That being said, if you are a fan of the shallow keys common on Apple’s new keyboard options, the Smart Keyboard is a very worthy alternative.

Entertainment mode

One of the big benefits of the iPad Pro is the ability to seamlessly switch between productivity and leisure. Both keyboard case options mentioned previously allow for easy detachment as a result of the smart connector, but the Slim Combo provides the benefit of allowing the use of a kickstand without needing the keyboard to be attached. Additionally, the kickstand of the Slim Combo seems like a much sturdier option than the tri-fold option on the Smart Keyboard.

Whichever case you choose, the entertainment experience is as top notch as it has been on iPad since its release in 2010. No matter if you choose a case with a kickstand or not, the handheld experience is still nice as long as you are in a situation where you do not have to support the weight of the iPad. This is more of an issue for the larger 12.9” model, but if you are sitting in a comfy chair, it is absolutely no burden to hold either model in your lap.

Notepad mode

In addition to the smart connector, the main advantage of the iPad Pro over other iPad models and a traditional laptop is the superb writing experience made possible by the Apple Pencil. The writing experience is as close to writing on paper as I have ever experienced on an iPad, and even at the high price of $99, it is an invaluable tool in my collegiate tool bag.

When preparing to move over to iPad Pro as my primary computer, the biggest convenience I anticipated was the ability to quickly switch from a solid typing experience into a high-quality notepad experience in the blink of an eye. The Logitech Slim Combo provides further convenience by including an Apple Pencil storage loop on the side of the case that is not available on the Apple Smart Keyboard.

Picture this: I am sitting outside of a Microbiology class typing up a lab report for my Chemistry class, and when the time comes to enter the class room and take notes, I can easily pop off the Slim Combo’s keyboard, pull out the Apple Pencil and start taking notes seamlessly in Notability, OneNote, or even Apple’s own stock Notes app. The ability to do this is quite cool in my opinion, and undoubtedly convenient. This ability to replace your notepad and your laptop is a key selling point of the iPad Pro, and it is just as nice as Apple would have you believe.

Software

Everything mentioned previously is very nice, but the biggest hurdle for many users considering a switch to iPad Pro is the limited software experience of iOS. This is a valid concern, and definitely something you should think about before switching. In my experience, the only issue I have had with software is that one web application for one class requires Flash. Luckily, I kept my old MacBook Air around and it handles this with ease. Flash is being phased out, so this should not be an issue for much longer.

That being said, if you require any apps that require macOS or Windows to run, then everything up to this point is moot. iOS cannot run these apps, and unfortunately that means you probably should not consider replacing your laptop with an iPad Pro or any iOS device.

However, make no mistake, there is a wide selection high quality iOS app equivalents for your most important desktop apps. Need a solid photo editor that will cover the needs of most non-professional users? You’ve got Pixelmator. Need a full office suite? Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all available in very useful iOS versions.

The iOS App Store is absolutely chock full of high-quality apps, and there are too many to create an exhaustive list. Luckily, iDB already has a short hand-picked collection of excellent iPad Pro apps for students to get you started.

Last but certainly not least, iOS 11 was an absolute game-changer for iPad and the only reason I considered switching to iPad Pro in the first place. The ability to have multiple apps on the screen at one time is more limited than desktop multitasking, but it is certainly workable and it has worked for me in every scenario so far. Drag and Drop is a useful feature that allows you to drag various items from app to app. I do not find myself using it regularly, but it is certainly nice in certain situations.

The verdict

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to make this massive switch to an iOS device from a traditional desktop operating system. As mentioned previously, the first factor you should consider is whether or not any of the apps you need require Windows or macOS. If this is the case, you will either need one of these devices available for use or decide not to make the switch.

The problem with making concessions for the iPad by having a desktop alternative is that the iPad Pro is as expensive as a laptop. The total cost of the iPad Pro (base model), Logitech Slim Combo, and Apple Pencil combined is approximately $880 for the 10.5” model and $1,050 for the 12.9”. These are full-fledged laptop level prices, and due to this, it is especially imperitive that you consider all of your factors and make absolutely sure that iOS will work for you or that you have a desktop alternative.

If you decide that iOS will work for you like it has for me and that the cost is not prohibitive, then I would absolutely recommend switching over to iPad Pro for your studies. The versatility provided by Apple’s top notch tablet combined with the powerful features in iOS 11 is too strong of a contender to overlook without at least some consideration.

Are you already a full time iPad Pro user? Are you considering a switch? Let us know in the comments.

  • Valinor

    Tried using my ipad air 2 as a laptop with a bluetooth keyboard, did not like it. Also having no mouse sucks.
    Nothing beats pen and paper. Works way better.
    I use pen and paper for everything and my ipad for searching up information quickly.
    And if need to write essays etc a laptop is way more useful.
    Rather have a laptop and ipad air 2 than having an ipad pro

  • Aric Bolf

    I have an iPad pro 12 inch model with the hard shell Logitech case. I don’t have any bending issues. It’s definitely a different model than what you bought. I’m hoping that with iOS 11, i will be able to sort my pictures out and stop having duplicates and originals when i really only want the final product of my editing.

    • Jonathan Hodgetts

      I use a 12”9 IPad Pro for everything while out of my office. Absolutely love! For me it is a much better experience than using a MacBook Pro. The touch screen is so much more natural than operating a mouse or touchpad. I agree the Smart Keyboard and pencil are also a game changer. What is often not said is the iPad Pro in many respects can do a lot more that a laptop with its built-in SIM, camera front and back and ability to use in portrait. I am a musician and use my iPad Pro to also put on stand and play music. Another great use!

      • A-thought

        Hysterical..Apple user base for 5 years mocked the use of a touchscreen in a laptop, everything from its non-ergonomic to downright objection”no one wants to tap a screen in a laptop orientation”..that was while Surface was doing it but Apple wasn’t. Now that the iPad Pro is out, touchscreen is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

      • ex2bot

        Remember that the entire Apple user base isn’t a single hive mind. That’d be scary. I tried a touch screen with Windows a bit, and it seems like it’s a nice thing to have. Sometimes, it makes sense to reach out and tap a button or whatever. A secondary thing.

        Apple should build it in to macOS.

        And the iPad Pro IS the greatest thing since sliced bread. For me. Others may not have the same experience.

      • Jonathan Hodgetts

        For me the iPad Pro is the best mobile computer I have ever used – it does virtually everything I want and is a pleasure to use. It is not perfect, but that is down to software shortcomings. iOS 11 is a major advance, but I think someone at Apple should go through all the capabilities of the MacOS and ensure iOS can do all those too, at least in Apple’s own software. For example there is currently no facility for setting up rules in Apple mail on iOS as there is on Mac and in Numbers I miss the facility for conditional highlighting. Also there should be facility to have two spreadsheets open side by side. As that is capable of two tabs in Safari, surely it would not be impossible in Numbers? Maybe all these will be corrected with iOS 12? But for now I enjoy using my iPad Pro and work around any software shortcomings – while my MacBook Air is hardly ever used. When I do, it seems a dated way of working by comparison.

      • Simdude

        The problem wasn’t having a touch screen but rather sticking it on an OS designed for keyboard and mouse use. Remember, the first Surfaces were not the lightweight designs of today nor did they run a great os. The new Microsoft Surfaces with Windows 10 have improved this greatly but they approach the merger as adding touch to a desktop interface. Apple takes the approach of trying to add desktop capability to a touch interface. Depending on what you primarily do, you could argue either approach is good. I’m not sure why people in the Apple or non-Apple camps that are happy with their machines feel a need to explain to the other side why they are wrong.

  • Boomer0127

    You mentioned microbiology – do you happen to write any reports that require a long list of references? If so, have you tried drag-and-dropping references from a reference list like EndNote or Mendeley into a word document? Does it by chance drop a formatted reference into Word? Or maybe you can’t drag-and-drop individual items out of a list? Here’s hoping – This is the last issue for me making the switch, but I haven’t been able to find out if it works. Thanks in advance if you have time to try it!

    • ex2bot

      I don’t use Endnote, but I downloaded the iPad app and made a reference to try it out. It looks like drag n drop doesn’t work because Endnote doesn’t support Split View, that’s what Apple calls the mode where two apps share the screen side-by-side.

      There is another mode (Slide Over), But it looks like drag and drop only works with Split View. (I could be wrong.)

      It is possible to copy the *unformatted* contents of a single reference to the clipboard and then paste that into Word (or any text editor). For a full list, the only way I could find to export it would be to send it by email. That looks like it puts the *unformatted* text into the body of an email message.

      The iPad version of mobile Endnote works well enough as a companion to the desktop app, but I don’t even see a share button to take advantage of iOS 8 and later style sharing.

      • Boomer0127

        Thanks for looking into it for me. I will have to hold onto my 2007 17-inch MBP a little bit longer I suppose.

      • ex2bot

        Yes. The iPad is so so close to being good enough for general computing across the board. I don’t even use my Mac anymore. Then again, I don’t depend on Endnote.

  • Cerberus The Wise

    I switched to a 9.7 inch iPad Pro for school this year. I was able to buy the iPad, Logitech Smart Keyboard, Apple Pencil, and Logitech charging stand Preowned on eBay for a total of $500. I figured I’d use it most for typing essays since it has more key travel than my 2015 MacBook. The iPad was so good it ended up doing 90% of my school work and note taking. It is so much better to hand write notes and notability just makes it easy and even fun, and split screen feels better to use than on my MacBook as well. The only thing I use my MacBook for now is to run one specific coding application for my coding class, and it collects dust pretty much otherwise. I enjoy it so much I actually plan on upgrading to the 12.9 inch iPad Pro soon.

    • A-thought

      That final 10% can prove to be expensive, needing a whole laptop too in order to get it all done…

      • Cerberus The Wise

        Ehh, not really. I’ve gone to just using the computers at my school for that one coding class. Maybe it would if you like to do everything closer to the deadline, but I finish things early. Not once this entire school year have I been in a situation where I regretted using an iPad for everything.

      • BAiNZy3

        That’s awesome man , I am glad the set up is working for you

  • zorkor

    Even though I am an Apple user, when it comes to taking notes and power, I will go for the Microsoft Surface lineup as they provide true computing and tablet features along with Note taking capabilities with the pen.

    • Callea

      Surface is not very good as a typical tablet and not very good as a typical laptop.
      iPad has the excellency on tablet experience.

  • A-thought

    Absolutely ridiculous to see that bulky case just to have a kickstand. Get a Surface – kickstand included for far less bulk, fulfills all the productivity/notepad statements of this article, and the significant statement in the article of “if your class needs apps on macOS or Windows, everything here is moot” goes away.

    • ex2bot

      The iPad’s have 10 solid hours of battery life and there’s a huge library of iPad screen-formatted Touch apps. Plus, there are many, many different keyboard cases at different price points. Apple’s, for example, is very very thin. I don’t use a keyboard unless I’m writing long form.

      That’s not to say that there are lots of use cases for Surface Pro. It has very different advantages, namely, access to Windows software.

    • Robert Christopulos

      Does the Surface have a SIM slot

  • Robert Christopulos

    I love working with my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro. It has an S Pen included and an excellent on screen keyboard that does wonders for productivity. Multi-windowing, adding multi-tasking are a breeze, and performance is wonderful. This is truly a replacement for a laptop. I keep my office on board, am also a musician, with plenty of storage for all of my sheet music (last count, more than 4,000 songs). I use it for research, for teaching, as well as for entertainment, besides which I’ve used it to replace my phone as well. What more can you ask.

  • Bruce Weeks

    Well written and informative article.