I'm giving the baby iPad Pro another chance

9.7-inch iPad Pro
9.7-inch iPad Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Since early Spring, I've been without a Mac laptop. As a result, my 12.9-inch iPad Pro has become — for better and worse — my main laptop computer.

There's a lot to like about having an iPad as your primary work machine. My photo editing workflow is faster, for one, and I love the lack of visual noise that comes with writing on an iPad. But it's far from perfect. My keyboard case makes the iPad weighty and awkward-looking, and activities like podcasting are all but impossible without extra devices and apps.

In short: While I've found many sweet spots for iPad productivity, I miss having a Mac. The lack of major iPad updates coming to iOS 10Swift Playgrounds aside — has only cemented that feeling.

But I like the flexibility of having an iPad. After the Pencil, I can't go back to sketching or image correcting on a Wacom, and editing quick 4K video is still much faster on my iPad than my one-year-old iMac.

So I'm not willing to give up an iPad, I need a Mac, and the 12.9-inch iPad is just too big to dual-carry alongside a new laptop. That means that when I get a new MacBook Pro, my baby Pro needs to come out of living room retirement and become one-half a daily driver.

To ease myself into the process, I've been forcing myself to get used to the baby Pro. It's (surprisingly) working.

Small is strange

In portrait, the 9.7-inch iPad feels like plenty of screen real estate. In landscape and with Split View enabled, my first thought was "CRAMPED."

It's not surprising: Split View on a 9.7-inch iPad is the equivalent of two fatter iPhone Plus screens, while the 12.9-inch model offers two slightly-smaller-than-normal 9.7-inch iPad-in-portrait views. I'm losing a quarter of the space, and I feel it.

Mostly, I notice it when doubling up Safari alongside 1Writer (opens in new tab) or another notes app. In Split View on the baby Pro, Safari renders as a large mobile screen, not a small desktop screen, and unfortunately, many websites still look stretched and awkward in that view. It's a little trippy on the eyes.

But as I keep reminding myself, I'm not using the baby Pro to do the jobs I'd do on my 12.9-inch iPad. It's going to be a supplemental device alongside a Mac laptop. That means a lot less Split View, and a lot more single-screen tasks. And when viewing apps full screen, the 9.7-inch screen is a lot more tenable.

In addition, the more time I've spent with the baby Pro, the more I've gotten used to those smaller screens — after a few weeks with the 9.7-inch, going back to the 12.9 felt almost like too much screen real estate. It reminds me a lot of my switch between the 15-inch MacBook Pro and the 11-inch MacBook Air: I was horrified at the screen real estate of the latter for about a week, then refused to use anything else because of the weight and portability. The baby iPad transition has been much the same

Adjusting to the intricacies of the Smart Keyboard — and reveling in the new Logitech Create

So far, I've been using the baby Pro largely for writing. I wrote the entirety of my watchOS 3 preview on it, and I'm writing this article, too. It's surprisingly comfortable to do so, though the Smart Keyboard (opens in new tab) is a necessary accessory, especially with the smaller screen real estate for the virtual keyboard.

I'll be the first to admit: I don't like this keyboard nearly as much as the Logitech Create. It has some benefits, to be sure; it's not nearly as heavy to tote around, and the material is flexible enough that I can tilt the iPad to a better screen angle than the Create's — which had a tendency to give me migraines if I worked from my lap too often.

I do find myself missing the function row. I used the brightness and volume toggles daily, and the Lock and Home buttons allowed me to trigger Siri or take screenshots without ever lifting my hands from the keyboard. The Smart Keyboard's texture also leaves something to be desired, though I'm hoping that will wear down a bit as I use it more. And while it has a better viewing angle than the Create, a fixed angle is never going to be the best for working at long periods of time. Everyone's desks, laps, and necks are different.

Once I got over my initial gripes, however, I found writing on the baby Pro quite pleasant. I'm nearly as fast on the Smart keyboard as I am on my iMac's Magic Keyboard or the Logitech Create, and though I get a little bounce on the iPad's screen while writing on an unsteady surface (laps, cars, couches), it's manageable.

More than manageable is Logitech's 9.7-inch Create (opens in new tab) case: I've only been using it for a short time, but it's already replaced my Smart Keyboard for all things typing. The viewing angle is better than its big sibling, and best of all: It has a sleeve for my Apple Pencil, and an artist's drawing angle. Winning.

Of course, distraction-free writing is what really sells working on this tiny iPad. I was able to bring the baby Pro to my fiancé's roller derby practice and write on the benches with nothing but the tablet, Smart Keyboard, and glorious Bose QC35s (opens in new tab) blocking out exterior noise.

Draw time

As an artist's tablet, the baby Pro is the perfect size for a digital sketchbook. It's small enough to hold in one arm while sketching or writing, and the True Tone screen actually makes it a little better at outdoor drawing than the 12.9-inch. (Not by much — this is still an LED screen we're talking about — but it's enough in most situations.)

I thought I'd miss the extra screen real estate when drawing, but instead, I just spend more time zoomed on the digital canvas. The display is still large enough that my palm isn't falling off the side of the iPad while I'm sketching, and there's no discomfort drawing with the Apple Pencil or other third-party styluses.

All the apps I regularly draw inside work well on the baby Pro's screen, including feature-heavy programs like iFontMaker (opens in new tab).

My tiny iPad future

I don't think I'll ever use the baby Pro as a full-time work machine — the screen size is just too small for me to enjoy doing so comfortably. But as a writing and sketching tablet that can pinch-hit for my laptop, I'm liking it more and more.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • I switching to the baby IPad Pro also but ended up keeping and using the larger models Smart Keyboard. Was surprised that it worked but the extra space really helps.
  • At first I wasn't impressed by the baby Pro. Then I changed its home from my nightstand, where I'd occasionally remember to grab it when I went out, to my bag, where it's always with me. I barely even noticed the weight difference, and the number of times I've gone 'Hey, I've got my iPad, I can do this real quick' is incredible. I use it a million times more than when I used to carry my macbook pro around, in case I needed it. Now unless I KNOW I'm going to be working a significant amount, the macbook pro stays home, and the baby Pro handles anything that may come up while I'm out and about. Plus I can draw when I get bored. I don't think it will ever replace my macbook pro, and that's ok. It's become indispensable to me, it just took a while to find it's place in my heart.
  • So Serenity, I'm interested in your thoughts about chrome books running android apps. Kinda the same as a baby pro but more MacBook hardware style integration? Sent from the iMore App
  • Sounds like you need a touchscreen laptop like a surface pro ^_^
  • I'm sorry but a surface pro/3 and iPad 9.7 do not compare. I'll take actual programs vs apps which often aren't as full featured with hardware that actually can do more vs limited hardware. Sent from the iMore App
  • **** just the simple usb port makes the difference
  • Yeah, they don't compare. Battery life on the iPads is *much* better.
  • For her needs, probably a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. Can be spec'd up to a quad core i7. Stylus latency might not be as low as the Apple Pencil, but it's low enough for professional use, and the selection - Art Pens, Airbrush Pens, etc - is unmatched. She'll need to get used to Windows obviously, but the upside is the ability to run full desktop class apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Painter, etc.
  • I've tested both Cintiq Companions and hate using them, sadly. And the Surface is great! But not for me.
  • I looked at the 12..9 for a long time and always had the consideration for carrying it on a daily basis wherever I went as to where I would ever put it down when I needed to. My iPad is like the American Express ad and I don't leave home without it. I had an iPad Air 2 but liked the added features on the Pro so gave my wife the 2 and sold her Air and I decided on the 9.7 and I love it. Think the 12.9 would be great for office work only but too large to carry on a daily basis.
  • It baffles me that Logitech STILL hasn't made a Create keyboard/folio for the Baby Pro. Sure, there are bluetooth keyboards out there that will work, but only Apple's keyboard works seamlessly (i.e., uses the smart connector, matches up correctly with the magnets to enable sleep/wake when opening/closing, etc). I tried the Apple keyboard for two weeks and ended up returning it. It was decent, but I really missed the function row of my old Logitech Type+ -- not to mention how much faster it was to open and place in typing position (the Apple keyboard always seemed to fold out the wrong way, and I'd have to manually adjust the folds to get it to sit correctly). ...And the Apple keyboard is oddly LOUD when you type on it. I wanted to love it because it is so slim and light, but there were just too many trade-offs. ****, if the magnets matched up correctly for sleep/wake to work (and if the smart connector didn't make the iPad fall out of place when trying to type), I would have just stuck with the Type+. That was a great keyboard case, and seems like the perfect template for Logitech to tweak to work with the Baby Pro.
  • Zagg slim book is the best keyboard case !!!
  • I've been looking at that one, but have never tried it. It looks awesome, but does it support sleep/wake on the Baby Pro (i.e., turn on the iPad when you open the case, and put it to sleep when you close it)? Most of the bluetooth cases I've looked at don't support that because the magnets are in a slightly different position than on the iPad Airs. If it does support that, then I can certainly tolerate the fact that it uses bluetooth instead of the Smart Connector -- especially since the previous case that I really liked was also bluetooth...
  • In laptop mode big Pro wins.
    In tablet portrait mode baby Pro wins.
    In tablet landscape mode big Pro wins.
  • Since, Serenity brought up photo editing, I do admit that I love editing photos on my iPad Pro, however, the fact that I can't change metadata such as location and date irks me to no end. I get a lot of photos from other peoples cameras when I'm at a big event and not having the correct dates makes keeping photo's organized a night mare. Hoping beyond hope this will be fixed in iOS soon and photos will have near identical functionality between the Mac and iPad.
  • Coming in iOS 10, or so I hear. ;)
  • That would be fantastic! Thanks!
  • It really depends on your use case. For me, the big Pro has replaced my hulking, heavy 15" Retina MacBook Pro (which I sold, and used the proceeds to purchase a 5K iMac -- which does all my "demanding" work). Compared to rMBP, the 12.9" is a breeze to carry around. Yes, it's heavier and bulkier than the baby pro, but I'm not using it mainly for reading books and other pleasure activities (iPhone 6s Plus fills that bill).
  • I have both the 12.9 and 9.7 Pro's (yes I know!) and I find the baby pro generally a better overall device for me - that really means taking to meetings, client presentations, emails, notes, calendar and tasks on the go, then browsing, reading. It's just such a nice device and the screen is great for reading (particularly in bed - my wife hasn't once complained how bright it is when she is trying to get to sleep - and that was a constant problem with the iPad Air 2 - though I guess Night Shift would have helped on the Air too there). However I really enjoy the 12.9 if I have more intensive work particularly when I am using split screen to say write a document (sort of obvious); for me that may be in the lounge or on a train. And the smart keyboard on the big iPad is much more sturdy and comfortable than the same for the baby Pro for me, particularly when using on my lap. Strangely I feel more creative using the iPad Pro than the iMac - probably something to do with the fact I use it away from my office desk and I end up being more productive on it when I need to think like that. Oh and my 13" MBP has not been used at all since I have had the iPad Pro 12.9 and has been donated to my daughter :)
  • What you are working towards is what I'm currently doing. I carry the MacBook + iPad 9.7. Great combination providing for flexible workflows. Sent from the iMore App
  • hey serenity,...professionally speaking, you should use less personal info (e.g., "my fiancé")...in a review that the rest of the world is reading or hearing....and what does it have to do with the product?...just saying...
  • I disagree. First of all the "gadget blog" format which became very popular in the late 90's and early 2000's with sites like Engadget, Gizmodo, Wired, and the early Mobile Nations (i.e. Smartphone Experts) sites have always been way more personal than traditional journalism, both in the subjective opinions of the writers and in them sharing their personalities and lives to connect with their readers. This is a big part of what has made the format so popular. This isn't the Wall Street Journal and most readers don't want it to be. There's are tons of people who show up here every day not only because they are interested in the tech, but also because they are fans of and feel a connection to the writers.
  • Soooo I want to know when they are getting married, already!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • We'd like to figure that out, too, when we have a spare second. :)
  • It has nothing to do with the product: It has everything to do with who's reviewing it (me). :) I can't really write a real-world review of the product without talking about the real world!
  • Love the review and I am struggling withe the same choice (other than I use the Apple Smart Keyboard with ODB 12.9 Pro and love it). How is it going over the last week? I find myself grabbing the Baby Pro more and more, but when I open the ODB Pro (my name for the 12.9") I fall in love all over again. I actually love using iOS as my go-to daily writing and procutivity tasks. The Pro series has sold me on the "app-fixation" of computing and I find the distraction free canvas enlightening.
  • I am ready to go to the iPad Pro. I really want the 12.9, but the specs on the Baby Pro are so much better. This bothers me. I am wondering if there is any possibility of the 12.9 getting upgraded in the Fall to match the Baby Pro. I really feel stuck, because I want the bigger screen. Will I miss the better specs of the Baby if I pull the trigger now?
  • I got a work-issued baby iPad Pro to compliment a 15" MacBook Pro and over the past 2 months is becoming my main machine. I haven't used the 12.9 iPad, so don't know what I'm missing. What I can say is that with the iPad Pro with Apple keyboard and pencil, I can finally leave the MacBook stationary at the office and using it only for long term writing projects and video editing. The only reason I don't leave the MacBook at the office is the risk of theft. The iPad Pro has changed the way I compute so much that when it's time to replace the MacBook, I'm even considering an iMac instead because the iPad Pro covers most of my needed tasks.