A designer’s take on the iPad Pro

It’s all about the apps

The reviews are out on iPad Pro, and they address how big it is, whether it’s worth the price, and whether it can or can’t replace a laptop for average consumers. But as a design director at Vox Media, I was more interested in whether I could run all of the apps I normally use on it.

In a lot of ways, the computing devices I use have to feel like extensions of me. I’m always sketching, creating, and ideating on my MacBook Pro. And I don’t regularly use an iPad for work, so the promise of iPad Pro as a device for creatives was particularly intriguing.

I had high hopes that this new iPad would transform me into a rockstar designer. I mean, something this big should be life-changing… right?

iPad Pro review (EMBARGO)

After using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro at work for a few days, it exceeded my expectations. It's a high-performance device, for sure. The ability to move from app to app with ease, or use multiple apps at the same time, was key. The way the accessories integrated with the device made it a more useful iPad.

But I wasn’t able to perform all my day-to-day tasks on it, and ended up reverting back to my laptop apps on more than one occasion.

A typical day for me revolves around various Adobe Creative Cloud applications. So when I got the iPad Pro, I immediately downloaded Draw, Sketch, and Comp. These are mobile versions of the heavier desktop apps that I normally use, but I wanted to try integrating my current projects and tasks into the various apps.

Then, I started on a bunch of new projects, using Draw to iPad Pro Trump Sketch , Sketch to put pen to tablet for a rough sketch of an infographic, and Comp to create mood boards and wireframes for a site design. I was able to easily share these with one of my designers to further flesh them out.

I particularly liked using Adobe Comp on the Pro. I could work this app into my daily workflow, for sure. Creating a wireframe was simple and fast. You just draw a box and quickly make an "X" in the middle and it instantly turns into a shape that you can move and adjust as well as fill with an image. Next, when you need a few lines of copy (what designer isn’t in need for a few quick lines of Greek?), you just draw a couple parallel lines and end it with a dot. This instantly turns into placeholder text. Images are easy to pop in and manipulate.

Another plus is that once you're logged into the Creative Cloud, you can send a fully editable file via the app to your desktop. I wasn’t expecting CC to be this seamless between devices.

But I wasn’t quite as impressed with some of the other iPad Pro versions of the Adobe apps. For someone trying to do simple sketches or wireframes, the apps work. Anything heavier, I found too cumbersome and complicated to do, and ended up reverting back to my laptop programs. There were other things that I missed, too, like being able move shapes or control bounding boxes that I just couldn’t manage in these apps.

I also found that shortcuts I use in Adobe Illustrator (which isn’t available for iPad Pro) didn’t work in Adobe Sketch or Draw. A lot of my design work takes place in Illustrator, and I was really hoping that the various apps would allow me the same flexibility as the desktop programs do.

iPad Pro

On the other hand, Apple Pencil worked really, really well. I’ve tried a few different brands of styluses in the past, and never have I been wowed like I am with this one. It’s comfortable in the hand, it’s incredibly precise, and it felt natural. Using it with Apple Notes has virtually no lag. It’s fast and keeps up with my messy writing, almost making it better.

I did notice that there was a little bit more latency when writing in other third-party apps, like Paper by FiftyThree and Adobe Sketch. But overall, using the Pencil to make a quick sketch saved me time. Usually, I’ll make a sketch for one of my designers on paper, take picture of it, email it, and then explain what some tiny squiggle is. Now, I just sketch with the Pencil and instantly email it from the iPad Pro.

A lot of designers might be curious how the iPad Pro handles both multi-touch and a stylus. You can easily switch between Pencil and your finger, and the iPad knows the difference. Also, due to solid palm rejection software, there is little issue with your palm being on the screen as you write and sketch. I did notice the screen would pick up tiny marks from my bracelets, but there were no markings from my palm on the screen at the same time I was using the Pencil.

iPad Pro review (EMBARGO)

I initially thought the size and weight of the iPad Pro might be too much, but it didn’t really bother me. If anything, it made me feel like I was holding a substantial device, whether I was holding it up like a slate or had it propped up on my desk with the accessory keyboard.

The Smart Cover Keyboard surprised me, but mostly in a good way. A lot of people have pointed out that it’s not backlit, and doesn’t offer different viewing angles. But to me, it felt very similar to my laptop keyboard, minus the sound that normally emanates from the keys. I find it really easy to type on. I’ve purchased other accessory keyboards before, and they feel bulky and are just not aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, they sometimes require Bluetooth connectivity and a separate charger. It just gets to be too much. This is easy; the iPad Pro just snaps into the new Smart Connector, and you are off and typing.

The display is amazing. Every site or image I open on it looks bold, bright, and crisp. The split-screen feature on iPad Pro was also something I appreciated as a designer. This is not only available on the iPad Pro — it works on other large iPads running iOS 9 — but on the iPad Pro, you actually can look at two full-sized apps running side by side. Think of it like having two iPad Minis running simultaneously. It’s helpful for when I’m trying to do research and take notes or draw a quick sketch.

For designers, there are limitations — but within them you can still do amazing things

The iPad Pro does come equipped with both front- and rear-facing cameras, but I just don’t see myself using it. The quality is subpar to an iPhone 6S Plus's, and holding up the giant iPad Pro feels silly.

Overall, I was really impressed with the iPad Pro. The additional screen real estate and processing power, coupled with the accessories, made me actually consider using an iPad for work. The apps that did work well for me, Apple Notes and Adobe Comp, could make my day-to-day more efficient and productive.

For designers specifically, there are definitely limitations around working with mobile creativity apps, not fully powered desktop versions. But I hope the apps will continue to improve and match the desktop experiences that I have now. I’m not there yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one day I swapped my MacBook Pro for something like the iPad Pro.

Read next: Our iPad Pro reviews by Lauren Goode and Walt Mossberg