Comparing iPad Pros

The 12.9″ should be thought of as the 15″ MacBook Pro is on the MacBook lineup.

I remember being a kid when our family got a new kitten. We had two other cats at the time and this kitten made those full grown cats look like giants. That feeling came right back when I picked up the iPad Pro 12.9″ when it was launched. There were moments when I would pick up my new iPad Pro and just start laughing to myself at the sheer size of the thing.

It was so big in comparison to my iPad Air. The entire thing felt absurd — it’s even bigger than my MacBook. But unlike with my cats, the smaller iPad never grew larger to normalize things. Instead I just got rid of the iPad Air and my 12.9″ iPad felt normal after a bit.

But then I decided to add the 9.7″ iPad Pro to the mix, just what everyone needs. Who needs two iPads?

When I picked up the iPad Pro 9.7″ the other day I was taken right back to those kitten moments and when I first got my larger iPad Pro. The 9.7″ model just feels so tiny now. At one point I thought I was holding our old iPad mini and not the new iPad Pro — the size difference is one I am still trying to get used to.

It’s all relative, but make no mistake about it: these two devices have massively different size implications.

I’ll be posting about these two devices more, but this post serves to answer the question I am most often asked: which iPad Pro should I get? I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on this, but now having used both enough, I have some thoughts to relay.

For me which iPad depends on just one thing: do you want the iPad Pro to be your only, or main, computer? If your answer to that is yes, then you need the 12.9″ and not the smaller sibling.

The two reasons for this are: screen size and keyboard size. Both are bigger and easier to use with the larger iPad Pro. I personally cannot imagine trying to use the 9.7″ iPad Pro as my only machine, it can be done, but no thanks.

However, if you don’t want the iPad Pro to be your main computer, but perhaps just a backup to your current computers, then the 9.7″ iPad Pro seems like it would be a fantastic fit there. It’s like the 11″ MacBook Air: sure some people use it as their only computer, but it makes for a far better second computer.

The Trouble with the 12.9″

The first problem with the 12.9″ iPad Pro is also its primary selling feature: it is big. While the size is great for productivity and for replacing a laptop, it’s not a great size for replacing traditional iPad usage: casual computing, gaming, reading. This is never more apparent than when you try to use the iPad on an airplane. I’ve taken my iPad on many flights and I have yet to comfortably be able to use it on those flights, as I worry about elbowing the person next to me as I wrestle the device.

The only way to use it is on a tray table, as you would a MacBook. That’s insanely frustrating when all you want to do is use your $20 wifi to read tweets and slog through RSS, while also boasting that you have internet on an airplane. If you can’t brag about in-flight WiFi, do you really have in-flight WiFi?

The 12.9″ iPad Pro also has fantastic battery life, and yet I still manage to kill it daily. At the end of my day, the iPad Pro has close to 10% battery remaining. This isn’t at all a complaint about the battery life — all it needs to do is make it long enough that I am not inconvenienced by recharging it. Yet, that’s the disadvantage of the larger iPad: it takes forever to recharge because it has such great battery life. Even if you use a USB-C MacBook charger to increase the recharge speed: it still takes quite some time. It’s never enough to worry me about running out of battery during a normal work day, but it is enough that I know I need to recharge it during dinner to finish out the day using the device.

The last knock against the larger Pro is that it can be tiring to use. This is a combination of both the size and weight, as well as iOS apps not being designed to be operated with one hand on the iPad, or via keyboard shortcuts. Playing games, surfing around the web, it can all get a bit tiring on the largest iPad. Your hand is constantly moving all around the screen, and you can never quite find a great position to rest the iPad when you settle into reading a book.

Tiring, that’s what it can be.

All of the above are the biggest downsides of the largest iPad Pro, but by no means do they make it a bad device. It’s just a different device than your standard iPad.

The Trouble with the 9.7″

After reading the last section, you might realize that this section is going to be a bit of a repeat of the above, just referencing the smaller size. But the first issue with the smaller iPad Pro is the RAM. You have twice the RAM on the larger machine, and you can tell. Not always, but there is a difference in how much is kept in active memory and I notice it. This makes multitasking, or even just moving between many apps often, a bit less fluid feeling.

If you can accept the lessened RAM, then you need to know about the constraints the smaller size of the device pushes on you. While I find the smaller size to be perfectly acceptable, or even great, for a secondary computer — I wouldn’t be able to use this as a full time computer.

The smaller size makes the split-screen productivity of the larger iPad Pro, a lessened experience. Additionally the smaller keyboard — both onscreen and Smart Keyboard Cover — reduce the typing experience noticeably.

You are picking the smaller iPad Pro because you want portability over usability. Because you want an iPad more than you want a computer. I could certainly work only on a 9.7″ iPad Pro, but I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about it as I am with the 12.9″.

Pick One

They both feel natural as iOS devices. They are fast, and I can see the appeal of both. I still think that if you want the iPad Pro to replace a Mac, then you need to buy the 12.9″ model. Whereas if you are just looking for a great companion device to your main computer, the 9.7″ iPad Pro is a logical choice. However, so too is the iPad Air 2.

But, honestly, owning both and ditching all your Macs is really where the magic happens.

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