Normally once you get used to a bigger screen you don’t want to switch back to a smaller one, but that wasn’t the case with me and my iPad Pro.
My Use Cases and Device History
I initially switched from a laptop to an iPad Pro during the final semester of getting my masters degree. I really wanted the smaller form factor of an iPad and the ability to use an Apple Pencil, and with my college work winding down I figured the timing was right. That was over 5 years ago. I traded my 11” MacBook Air for a 12.9” iPad Pro and have been rocking the big iPad Pro every since. I have to say, getting rid of the 11” MacBook Air was hard, as it was by far my favorite computer of all time. There was just something about that form factor and sturdiness of the MacBook Air, I just really loved carting it around and being able to do so much with the device. But I really did want the writing functionality of an iPad and the ability to hold my computer in tablet mode and read with it. So I switched over to the 12.9” iPad Pro and never looked back…until very recently. You might be thinking I shouldn’t have to decide, on both a computer (laptop) and an iPad. But I already have a home computer (a family iMac) so three devices was overkill.
My use cases for the iPad Pro were pretty simple. I did and still do a lot of writing, both here at GeekDad and for my personal blog. I also spend quite a bit of time reading news and watching TV shows and movies. The Apple Pencil would come in extremely handy when I wanted to take some notes or I needed to sign a document. When my wife and I would go on the occasional overseas trip without our kids, we would give one of our parents power of attorney over our kids for medical purposes and that would require a notary. I quickly became a big fan of the online virtual notary service called Notarize, where in less than 10 minutes I could get a document notarized right from my iPad (see the GeekDad article I did on the service a few years back). One of the other reasons an iPad is such a good fit for me was that I travel a lot for my job. It was nice to be able to travel with both my work provided laptop and my personal iPad Pro so I could keep work and personal use on separate devices.
So What Changed My Mind About a Smaller Device?
Over the last year or so I had slowly been realizing that I didn’t truly need the full 12.9” inches of the iPad screen to do what I was doing with my iPad. The biggest use of split screen mode was having my writing app up and a web browser up at the same time and the split screen mode on the smaller 11” iPad Pro (while it would put the Safari web browser into a more limited mobile version of the app) it still had all the functionality I needed.
As I would travel I found that trying to open up a 13” MacBook Pro or even a 12.9” iPad Pro in a cramped airplane seat was very difficult. I could make the iPad Pro work but it was still hard, especially if the person in front of me was reclining their seat. The 12.9” iPad Pro is also a massive piece of glass. It gets heavy when handling it in tablet mode for much more than just a few minutes and getting it on and off of its Smart Keyboard folio case was a bit of pain, so I would end up not using it in tablet mode very often.
So when the combination of the new 11” iPad Pro and the new Apple Smart Keyboard came out I realized that there were several areas I could downgrade in capability if I were to get a new iPad and it would save me some money:
- Go from a 12.9” iPad down to an 11” iPad (a savings of $200)
- Go from 256 Gb of storage to 128 Gb (a savings of $100)
- Go from a cellular enabled iPad to Wi-Fi only (a savings of $150)
- Dump my cell company’s $10 monthly charge for access to my pool of data (a $240 savings over two years)
So there were certainly benefits for getting a new iPad Pro. I would get a two year newer iPad, with the new Smart Keyboard trackpad and backlit capabilities and another two years of Apple Care coverage (because I always opt for the Apple Care on my Macs and iPads). By the time I sold my used 12.9” iPad Pro and opted for the smaller 11”iPad with the less pricy options it only ended up costing a couple of hundreds dollars. For a device I use on a daily basis to get work done (and some entertainment now and then) that was a decision that made a lot of sense to me.
So the point of writing this article was to highlight why, at least in my case, I was able to go with a smaller iPad Pro with less storage and without cellular connectivity. You just might be able to do the same thing. So I’ll touch on each of those points.
Is the 11” iPad Pro Really Big Enough?
This is really only a question you can answer for yourself. But for me, the answer is a resounding yes. I’m hitting that age where its getting harder and harder for me to read things up close. I wear glasses or contacts for my distance vision but now I am starting to have to also use a pair of glasses (cheaters) to use when I read. But even with this new eyesight issue, the smaller form factor of the 11” iPad Pro is not an issue for me. In fact, I prefer the 11” iPad Pro over my 13” MacBook Pro (which is my work computer). The text on iOS is a lot easier on the eyes (its a lot harder to personalize font size across all apps and uses on a Mac laptop than it is on an iPad). So as a result I find myself having a lot more issues seeing things well on my Mac than I do on iOS. Another concern I had was for using my iPad as a sheet music reader. I play piano and use my iPad to store all of my sheet music and read from the iPad while playing. The 11” is definitely smaller than the 12.9” iPad Pro, but as you can see from the picture below the music is still very much readable. But keep in mind I can position my iPad right behind the keys on my keyboard/piano, but for other instruments the smaller screen may be more of an issue.
Why iPad Storage Isn’t So Important Anymore
I’ve owned every generation of the iPad Pro and each time I would opt to get a very large (if not the largest) storage option available. Being on the road so much for work I didn’t want to have to worry about running out of storage. I wanted to carry all my writing files, photos, movies and TV Shows with me wherever I went. But as it turns out I really didn’t need all that storage capacity. My writing files don’t take up a lot of space and all of my archived files are stored in DEVONthink and DEVONthink has an option to just access files in the cloud and not have to store everything locally, so that’s what I do there. Apple has a similar feature with their Photos app, so I opted to allow the Photos app to manage and minimize the local storage of photos on my iPad and that alone saved about 100 Gb or storage. No, all I really needed for storage is to have enough to keep a decent amount of movies and TV shows stored on my device for when I traveled and the 128 Gb of storage was more than sufficient for that task.
Cellular is Nice But Not Necessary
I never liked how the cellular companies charged me an extra $10 a month to access and use the data I have already paid for each month on my iPad. But, with as much as I travel I really liked the idea of not having to tether and just be able flip open my iPad and know I would have internet connectivity. But when faced with having to pay the extra $150 again for cellular connectivity plus the $10 a month fee to my cellular company I just decided the convenience was not worth the cost, at least not for me. I typically get free Wi-Fi at all the hotels I stay at and even if I don’t, tethering to my iPhone is quick and easy.
The 11” form factor for the iPad Pro, in my opinion, is the sweet spot form factor for a tablet. It’s just big enough that you don’t feel like you are compromising on size but it is enough smaller than the 12.9” that you actually want to use it as a tablet.
And now with Apple’s new Smart Keyboard you get a backlit keyboard and trackpad to use with your iPad Pro, so it feels a lot like a laptop…except when you choose to use it as a tablet. I haven’t been this happy about an Apple product since my days with the 11” MacBook Pro and my time spent with the iPad Mini (another great little device). I expect to get a lot of enjoyable and productive use out of my 11”iPad Pro setup for many years to come. So if you are on the fence about which size iPad Pro is right for you, think about your use cases and then ask yourself if the carrying around all that extra screen is really necessary.