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Apple iPad Pro 11 Review: Can You Get This Instead Of A MacBook Air? You’d Be Surprised

Apple iPad Pro 11 Review: Can You Get This Instead Of A MacBook Air? You’d Be Surprised

An Apple iPad Pro 11 is an ideal debate alongside the lightest MacBook, as long as you're okay with the fine functionality differences between iPadOS and macOS.

How much can an Apple iPad Pro 11-inch change in the space of 12 months? The answer is—a lot. In fact, the iPad Pro line-up which has for long been part of Apple’s extensive and varied arsenal of portable computing devices, is now at par with the latest MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Air. The A-series chips make way for the Apple M1, which means this is by far and away the biggest power jump that the iPad Pro 11 and indeed the iPad Pro 12.9 have ever seen. Mind you, they have seen their fair share of serious upgrades year on year, over the years. That parity should also put at ease those as-yet-undecided buyers who are contemplating between an iPad Pro and a MacBook. The power is ticked off equally in both, the subjective use case will define the choice.

Power, power and more power: When Apple announced the big transition from Intel chips to the Apple M1 last year, the focus for many seemed to revolve largely around the Macs and how that’ll change the MacBook and the iMac, for instance. To be fair, the iPad Pro getting parity with the M1 was considered an eventually, but not something I imagined that Apple would tackle with immediacy. That’s exactly what they have done, switching the iPad Pro to the M1 and that simply means a serious performance as well as battery life upgrade is ticked off. It is the same 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, so nothing’s been sliced off. That’s 50% faster CPU performance than before and 40% more graphics grunt. Multi-tasking and gaming? Both scenarios now give you an even bigger performance headroom, something that apps and games will be able to adopt too in due course. The 128GB, 256GB and 512GB storage variants get 8GB RAM while 1TB and 2TB variants get 16GB RAM. This is definitely a new approach from Apple, since they are actively talking about RAM for the first time in the iPad’s evolution cycle. Why the differences and what to make of it remains to be seen in the longer run, but there is no doubt more RAM is what power users, such as video editors, may find very relevant.

Ready For The Future, Which Is Good News For The Present: The good old USB-C port, that you most often interact with when plugging in the iPad Pro 11 for charging, is more capable than ever before. This is now fully Thunderbolt ready too. Specifically, this is upgraded for Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40Gbps), USB 4 (up to 40Gbps) and the second generation of USB 3.1 (up to 10Gbps). That means faster speeds if you have one of the newer external storage drives and can hook it up with an external display. I was able to get USB-C drives working on this, including the SanDisk Portable Extreme SSD (prices start around Rs 8,000 depending on any offers or deals you can find), and they showed up in the Files app. For all the power and the versatility with the new USB-C ports, the iPad needs support for dual display—right now, an external display will simply mirror your iPad interface. That is where perhaps the MacBook still has an advantage for power users who need a multi-screen setup, and in a way defines the fine differences between the two platforms and device lines.

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The Wait Is On For iPadOS 15: I often say that the price tag of a product does magnify certain aspects of the overall experience. I’d like to add power to it. With the Apple M1 under the hood, can the iPad Pro truly stand up to the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro 13 and claim to be a worthy alternative for someone who would prefer the convenience of a compact 11-inch screen instead? The thing is, iPadOS 15 will unshackle the iPad Pros a bit more for productivity and multitasking, when it arrives later this year. This is where the differences between a touchscreen supported interface and one that isn’t, do dictate Apple’s philosophy towards things. For instance, Files app on the iPad isn’t visually similar to the Finder in macOS. It often means that even things that could have been consistent between both platforms, aren’t. Mind you, a lot of iPad users would have a Mac too, and vice versa. And therein is a slight learning curve. Yet, cool new additions such as Universal Control are really going to bring together your Macs and the iPad.

A Laptop Or An iPad Pro 11? That You Must Answer: It is this differing philosophy that also dictates multitasking on an iPad. It is lined-up for a significant overhaul with the incoming iPadOS 15, but even then, there is still a learning curve with iPadOS 14. Or maybe that’s just me, because comfort with interfaces is quite subjective too. Split View, Center window and a new Shelf are incoming, but I seem to be the only one demanding more macOS-like multitasking on the iPad. The thing is, once you do get the hang of all the swipe gestures, getting things done in a jiffy is very much the norm. Since you probably wouldn’t run synthetic benchmarks every day to feel good about how much power your iPad has, the focus remains on real-world usability. The M1 is succeeding a supremely powerful A12Z Bionic chip, which didn’t really have a match in the world of chips that are made by the likes of Qualcomm and MediaTek, for Android convertibles. You’ll probably not realize any real-world speed difference for most usage scenarios. There was a lot of power before, and there’s even more now. With so much grunt, it is often quite easy to forget how many apps and browser tabs you’ve opened and carelessly left them in the background. No, the iPad Pro 11 doesn’t slow down or start hinting at any complaints, but you’ll realize how inefficient you are when you need to start assessing and closing these one by one.

Center Stage Puts You In The Center For Video Calls: The 12-megapixel front facing camera on the iPad Pro 11 gets this rather cool party trick that is called Center Stage. You’d not immediately realize how good this is to have. First and foremost, head to Settings > FaceTime and toggle Center Stage to on. It is the sensible thing to do. Now, for FaceTime calls, and indeed some other apps that support this, the iPad’s TrueDepth camera will be able to track you as you possibly move around while on a video call. No calibration is needed, you don’t need to tell the iPad how wide your room is ad so on. It simply works. I have been able to test this in WebEx calls as well and it works. Google Meet and Zoom also support this mission to keep your face in the frame during a video call. That being said, I am still wondering why Apple hasn’t switched the camera position from the top of the display when in portrait mode to top of the display when in landscape mode. After all, the iPad Pro with so much power will probably be used by someone complete with the Magic Keyboard, and that makes the placement a bit off—and you’d be looking off-center when on a call.

Are You Comfortable With An 11-inch Display? This is a question you seriously need to ask yourself. Particularly if this is going to be your primary computing device. The fine balance between size and portability is quite subjective, and I can’t really prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution. While the larger iPad Pro 12.9 gets a new display tech called the Liquid Retina XDR, you really wouldn’t be complaining with the Liquid Retina that the iPad Pro 11 gets. It is more traditional in the comparative stakes, yet this should be more than enough display for most users. This has ProMotion which does the adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, the support for True Tone, rated at 600 nits of peak brightness (which is a lot of illumination) and is all said an done, really good to look at. You can always start nitpicking by saying that a Liquid Retina XDR could theoretically reproduce deeper blacks, but really, how often would you notice the really fine difference between the two? It’ll be something that certain professionals would notice considering their line of work, but for the rest of us, you’ll not be able to make out much difference in the day-to-day scheme of things. Colours look a bit richer, and I know my eyes aren’t playing tricks with my mind.

The Last Word: Apple iPad Pro 11-inch Instead Of A MacBook Pro Or MacBook Air?

When you buy a MacBook, you know you’re buying what’ll mostly be a work machine. A laptop in the stricter sense. With the iPad Pro, and indeed the iPad Pro 11, there is a lot more that’s in the mix. It is versatile, it can be a downtime screen for you for entertainment, a quick creative burst with the Apple Pencil or simply get down to editing some of those photos and videos that remain pending from your previous vacation. And you’d be getting this because you want to get the best iPad out there right now—the iPad Air and indeed the entry-spec iPad don’t have the M1 just yet. If your workflow allows for it, go right ahead. It is worth the money. Just be sure about this point though, because hitting a brick wall can be very irritating—I often did with our content management system on Safari, Edge and Chrome on the iPad Pro, and I don’t blame the iPads at all for that.

Therein comes the small matter of the comparative pricing. The iPad Pro 11 prices start Rs 71,900 and add the Magic Keyboard for Rs 27,900 (get the white colour option if you think you can maintain it, that’ll look gorgeous) and you’ll be paying upwards of Rs 99,800 depending on the spec you choose. That’s whereabouts the MacBook Air pricing, which starts Rs 92,900 while the MacBook Pro 13 is priced upwards of Rs 1,22,900. If you feel that the apps you regularly use and your workflow in general can seamlessly switch to an iPad and indeed iPadOS, the versatility and portability really do add weightage to the discussion. A smaller display will also means tremendous convenience, which will be priceless when you start traveling again.

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first published:July 05, 2021, 12:00 IST