iPad Pro review: Is it a desktop replacement?

BY Gautam Prabhu

Published 25 Nov 2015

iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard

When I wrote my first impressions of the iPad Pro, I wasn’t convinced that it was a desktop replacement. But I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so over the last few days I have been using the iPad Pro almost exclusively.

I used the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard to write posts like this one, check Twitter, be on top of emails, draft and print documents and lots more. Here’s what I think of the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement.

Smart Keyboard

To use the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement you need a keyboard case like Apple’s new Smart Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard is based on the design of the Smart Cover. It attaches to the iPad Pro with magnets, but unlike the Smart Cover, it has a physical keyboard attached to the left side of the cover, which folds into the cover so you can carry it around with your iPad just like the Smart Cover. It took me some time to figure out how it worked, but you should get used to it after trying it a few times. When the keyboard is folded behind the cover, it results in a slight bulge, which doesn’t look very good. But since it allows you to carry the keyboard with the iPad Pro in such a compact form factor, it seems worth the tradeoff.

The iPad Pro includes a new three-pin Smart Connector, which is used to not only pair the device with the keyboard to exchange data, but it is also used for charging. It is quite clever, as it means that you don’t have to go through the hassle of pairing your device using Bluetooth or replace the keyboard battery. Apple has achieved this by etching a thin sheet of nylon with metal to create a conductive material that allows a two-way flow of power and data.

Unlike the traditional keyboard, there is no gap in the keys, so the keys don’t have as much carry as say Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. I thought I liked clicky keyboards with a lot of travel and lack of it could be another deal breaker, but I got comfortable with the Smart Keyboard quite quickly.

Since the Smart Keyboard is not made of a hard material, it feels like the iPad Pro is going to fall off when you place it on your lap, but you get used to it, and is actually a lot more comfortable than a laptop because of the material and weight of the iPad Pro.

Overall, I really liked the Smart Keyboard.

iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard

Lack of a Trackpad

One of the main reasons I initially felt the iPad Pro couldn’t be a desktop replacement was the lack of a trackpad on the Smart Keyboard like Surface Pro’s Type Cover. The need to use the touch screen to navigate on the iPad Pro while using the keyboard, I felt would be a deal breaker. But I was wrong on that count. It takes some time getting used to, but I was quite comfortable using the touch screen in conjunction with the Smart Keyboard. The fact that the apps on the iPad Pro are optimized for the touch screen makes it a lot easier. There are times such as switching between tabs in Safari where you do find using the touch screen inconvenient especially if you need to switch tabs after a short period of time.

iOS 9’s Split View feature is absolutely killer on the iPad Pro when it is used as a laptop replacement since you can easily switch to the secondary app, which is not possible on a Mac.

The same applies for the Touch ID. As I mentioned in my first impressions, I thought Apple should have included Touch ID in the Smart Keyboard but once you get used to using iPad’s touchscreen to navigate, using the Home button to unlock the device isn’t inconvenient. I can now appreciate why Apple didn’t find it important to include the trackpad and Touch ID in the accessory.

Limitations and issues

Here are just some of the issues or limitations I encounted while trying to use the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement:

  • The Smart Keyboard does not come with the Home button and the function keys for media controls, which is available in other third-party keyboards. As a workaround, you can use the Command + Space bar to jump to Spotlight, and swipe to the left to go to the Home screen.
  • I think keyboard shortcuts to access the Control Center and the Notification Center would have also been quite useful since you have to swipe up and down from the edge of the screen.
  • It is also odd that you can use the keyboard shortcut to access Spotlight, but you cannot use the arrow key on the keyboard to access the search results.
  • My biggest grips about the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement was to do with the limitations of iOS. I couldn’t use the iPad to complete the posts as you can’t do basic things like renaming the name of the image file. The lack of a full-fledged file manager in iOS which allows you to easily access and organize files becomes even more evident when you try to use it as a replacement for your laptop or desktop. I understand the merits of sandboxing, but Apple needs to figure out a secure way to address this limitation in iOS 10.
  • One of the issues that I hit multiple times was that iPad Pro’s Home button became completely unresponsive when I was using the Smart Keyboard. The only way to resolve it was to restart the device or use the workaround mentioned above. At times the keyboard becomes unresponsive, and the only way to get it to work is to undock it (from the slot in the case, and not from the Smart Connector) and dock it again.
  • iPad Pro has 4GB RAM, which is twice the RAM of iPad Air 1, so multitasking experience is a lot better as the apps or tabs didn’t reload as often as the iPad Air 2. But there were a few times that it did reload the Safari tab, which can be quite annoying as I don’t face the issue on my MacBook Pro.
  • Since you can use the iPad only in landscape mode, you can forget about using iPhone apps (apps that are not designed for the iPad) with the Smart Keyboard as they run only in portrait mode.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the only time when I found using the touchscreen to navigate a little annoying was while switching tabs in Safari as you have to first tap on the navigation bar at the top and then tap on the tab to switch to it.
  • You can use the iPad with the Smart Keyboard only in one angle, so there is no way to hold up the iPad at an angle so that you can type on the software keyboard, reading or watching videos. If you like to use the iPad in that position then you would need the Smart Cover.
  • For some reason, the Cut/Copy and paste functionality does not work in the WordPress Visual editor. I had to switch to the Text editor to get it to work.


I was quite dismissive about considering the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement. But after using the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard for almost a week, I must admit that I was wrong. There are lots of things that I really liked about the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard. I liked how iPad Pro allowed me to focus on one task, and gave me the option to access other apps using the Split view and Slide over multitasking features. One of best things about using the iPad Pro as a replacement for your laptop or desktop is the quality of iPad apps available in the App Store. They are significantly better than the Mac apps. Many people will be very happy with the iPad Pro as a replacement for their laptop or desktop. But at the same time, it does not make sense for people as there are still things that you can’t do on the iPad Pro, like use apps like Xcode.

Can the iPad Pro replace my MacBook Pro? Not yet, as I can do most of the things a lot faster on my MacBook Pro and lots more. But if Apple addresses some of the software limitations, and enhances the Smart Keyboard, then I might even consider switching to it. I also prefer using the iPad Air 2 as the tablet over the iPad Pro, as I find it too heavy and big to carry it around.

Have you used the iPad Pro? Let me know what you think about the iPad Pro as a desktop replacement in the comment section below.