Review: Apple’s iPad Pro.
I’ve been using the iPad Pro 12.9 128gb model for storyboarding and designing characters and I absolutely love it.
Ever since using an old Wacom Bamboo tablet, I have always used tablets for design work. Using a mouse just feels strange and wrong. As I tried each device, there was one thing that always frustrated me – the fact it didn’t feel quite as accurate or natural as drawing on paper. In previous blog posts, I explored other tablets on the market. When the iPad Pro was released I completely shunned it. Why on earth would I want to use a tablet running iOS? Surely this is just another device aimed that the ‘prosumer’ market? Then, Claudine O’Sulivan-Lester, an incredibly talented illustrator in London, recommended the iPad Pro to me. Claudine has a remarkable hand-drawn style and so if I was going to listen to anyone it would be her. So, I went ahead and ordered the 12.9-inch model.
The overall design
I’ve owned an iPad Air for years and so the design of an iPad doesn’t get me excited. So when I went to open it I had very low expectations. Wow, I was wrong. This thing is beautiful! Yes, I know it’s just a large iPad but it looks and feels fantastic.
Also, after using a Cintiq for so long, it felt incredible being truly mobile. With the Cintiq, there were way too many wires and I could never justify the insane cost of the Cintiq Companion (now called the Cintiq MobileStudio Pro, which uses pretty dated tech for the price). As long as I’m not charging, I can literally use this ANYWHERE. On the train, on my sofa at home, when I’m travelling, at the coffee shop. Literally anywhere and that feels amazing.
There is one huge design flaw with this product and it sticks out (get it) like a sore thumb – how on earth did anyone think plugging the pencil into the lightning port connection was a good idea? Not only is it incredibly clunky and looks terrible but it’s an accident waiting to happen. Jony Ive, you should be ashamed of yourself! To be honest, it’s not so bad. It reminds me a little of the awkward way Apple designed the charging for the Magic Mouse 2 – ie instead of waiting to really perfect the best way to charge it they just rushed it out. Fortunately, there’s an adapter in the box that allows you to charge it like you would a phone. It is a stupid design flaw but it’s not a deal breaker.
The iPad Pro’s screen is simply stunning. The colour looks fantastic and everything is pin sharp. It is absolutely stunning to use and colour representation is perfect (as far as I can tell). When using ProCreate (more on that later) it was just gorgeous to use and there wasn’t any parallax or lag. Previously, I had been using a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and the colours looked slightly more muddier and dull. Part of that is down to the matt screen but when adding colour to images it was nice to know I was selecting the right colours. There’s nothing worse than moving it from one device to another, only to realise it looks washed out or the colours are not what you expected.
The only downside is the fact it’s a fingerprint magnet but then again anyone that uses a smartphone (pretty much everybody, right?) will be used to this by now. I just always keep a cloth nearby. This definitely isn’t a big deal at all.
This may sound odd but with the Wacom Cintiq, it never felt like I was drawing on the screen due to the fact it was just mirroring my computer screen. It felt more like an out of body experience and certainly didn’t feel like I had picked up a sketchbook or a piece of paper to draw on. The iPad Pro does and I’ve found myself replicating techniques I use when drawing in real life.
The Apple Pencil
I’ve used Wacom pens since day 1 of using a tablet and so I was highly sceptical of using the Apple Pencil at first. There are no buttons and you can’t use the end as an eraser. The simple design actually feels very comfortable to use and I haven’t found myself lamenting the lack of buttons.
Unlike a Wacom pen, you do have to charge it but a 15-second charge can power it for 30 minutes, which is a brilliant feature. In day to day usage, I’ve not found the battery to be too much of a drain (sorry) on my workflow.
In terms of pressure sensitivity, Apple are pretty secretive about it, which is a little odd as this is a pretty important factor for any professionals looking for a tablet. Compared to the Wacom Cintiq 13HD, it feels just as good. There certainly isn’t an obvious difference.
How I use it in my workflow
I mostly use the iPad Pro for storyboarding and character development and this thing shines with both. For storyboards, I use ProCreate and create each frame and then import them into Photoshop. Then, I use a script to export them as still images and import them into InDesign. It’s by far the smoothest process and the benefits of creating better and clearer storyboards is worth it over just using Photoshop in the first place.
When designing characters, it’s great to be able to quickly sketch ideas out and then import them into Illustrator on my PC or MacBook Pro and this is the best thing about it. Instead of having to set the Wacom Cintiq up every time (I hate having wires everywhere) I can pick the iPad Pro up and within 10 seconds I can start drawing out ideas. When I’ve finished, I can put it away in my desk drawer and it won’t hog any desk space.
Since these were first mentioned on MacRumors, I hoped they would ship with the full version of macOS but I must admit I’m ok with it running iOS. Since the release of iOS 11, their mobile OS has only gotten better and the Files system is pretty sweet, although not perfect.
One thing I really DON’T like is the cost of accessories. When I bought the iPad Air, the case and smart cover was one item. With the iPad Pro, Apple sells them separately at a total cost of over £116!!! You read that right, over £116 for a case that protects the screen. The iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard costs over £169, which is just scandalous. I realise Apple products aren’t cheap but how can they really justify this sort of cost for a keyboard? If you own a Mac already, simply connect the regular wireless keyboard to it and you can type away to heart’s content.
Don’t let these prices put you off getting one. Also, I bought my iPad Pro from Apple’s refurbished site. It comes with a full 1-year warranty and has no cosmetic marks and looks brand spanking new. On average, you can save between 10-20%.
Another thing to think about with cost is whether or not investing in this machine will pay off compared to if you bought a Surface Pro or a Wacom Cintiq etc. I use a custom PC and a MacBook Pro, so getting either of these will mean I’d have to buy another license for Creative Cloud, as you can only install it on a maximum of 2 machines.
When I first bought it, I downloaded a tonne of apps to try out but ProCreate won me over straight away. So much so that I haven’t even bothered trying out its competitors. Also, AstroPad was recommended to me and I was going to check out the Studio version but I can’t justify the high subscription charge when ProCreate is so damn good.
Using ProCreate is just such a joy, I can’t recommend it enough. The only downside is the layer limit. If I’m making storyboards in 1080p I have a layer limit of 120 layers. Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of commitment but until the client has signed it off, I don’t want to flatten all my layers for each frame. It’s not a massive problem and hopefully, as Apple upgrade the RAM in future models, this will be ironed out.
Overall, I love my iPad Pro. The 12.9” screen is phenomenal, the fact I can use it anywhere and it’s wireless is an incredible experience. The Apple Pencil feels so nice and natural to draw with and apps like ProCreate are great to use in my workflow. Just don’t be a fool like me and buy the case and smart case as they are a con.