2015 iPad Pro (1st Gen): A Retrospective



Every once in a while, you find a device that is just a level above what you have used in the past. The original iPad Pro was one of those devices. It has been my most used device since I bought it in 2015, and as I sit here the day before my new 2020 iPad Pro is delivered, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I liked about it, and what is making me want to upgrade from the old one. I will compare it to other tablets I have owned, and also compare it to what is current now.


My history with tablets

Tablets have always intrigued me. I like to consume media, and a tablet, to me, is the best form factor for that consumption. I had a Windows 7 tablet, a Samsung Slate if I remember correctly. It worked great with a stylus, but the windows interface was not great for touch input at the time. I reluctantly sold it to wait for the upcoming generation of Windows 8 tablets. I chose the Surface Pro 3 for that, and it was a good computer, but it wasn’t great as a tablet, and the screen was a little small to use as a laptop, although I think that was more due to screen resolution and interface. Smaller devices do seem to be more usable these days. I ended up replacing the Surface Pro 3 with an iPad Air 2.


The iPad Air 2 was a phenomenal tablet. It seemed perfect for everything I wanted it to do, except for the size. It worked for novels just fine, but if I was trying to read tech books, or comic books (which were both probably my biggest uses for a tablet at the time), it was just a little too small. I had the 9.7” version, which was the largest available at the time. I don’t read comic books or tech books all that often anymore, but I would imagine I would still want a bigger tablet for those. I returned my first iPad Air though. I was using Android phones at the time, and I was still a pretty anti-apple person at the time, so I decided to try android tablets. I tried samsung and Nexus, and I think at least one more, but they just weren’t as good as the iPad, or even close for that matter.


Sometime during my Android tablet exploration, my wife bought an iPhone 6+. I bought another Air 2, and it was really easy to transfer photos between the iPad and my wife's iPhone. It was so convenient that. I ended up buying an iPhone 6s+ not too long after. I really enjoyed how well all the devices worked together, so I decided to try more Apple devices. I added a MacBook Pro and the topic of this post, the first iPad Pro. I have had a love hate relationship with the MacBook (after 5 years, I am just not going to learn how to type without moving the cursor with the trackpad, I give up), but the iPad Pro was an instant favorite. I never even considered another tablet until last month when I decided to try to turn a tablet into my only computer. I will discuss that in a bit, but for now, I want to talk a bit about my iPad Pro.


I never tried to turn this into an all in one device until recently. The MacBook was for computer things, and the iPad was for tablet things. The MacBook was almost always used with a 34” super wide monitor and a mouse. I found it to be unusable due to the stupid inability to toggle the trackpad, so my MacBook was pretty much just a desktop computer. I never tried a keyboard with the iPad until last month, and I never thought I would. I changed careers, and didn’t really need the software compatibility of a laptop anymore, so I wanted to just be able to write sitting on the couch. It took about 10 minutes of using the damn thing without a mouse to make me hate it again, so I started looking at other alternatives. I now have a Zagg keyboard to use with the iPad, and it is an absolutely wonderful keyboard to type on. It really needs a trackpad though, and since that wasn’t possible on an iPad, I decided to look elsewhere. this desire to find a new brand had a lot to do with my continued disbelief that there is still no way to toggle the trackpad on a MacBook. I really understand that this sounds like a stupid pet peeve, but it really makes me hate using the MacBook.


Maybe the chrome book?

There was talk of mouse support in IOS at the time, but it was an accessibility option, and it didn’t sound like it was very good. I had narrowed down what my current needs were, and what I really wanted was an iPad that could run a desktop browser, and also function like an iPad. It also needed to be fanless. I don’t want to listen to a fan anymore, and I don’t want a device that gets hot while I use it. The chrome OS devices seemed like a good possibility, so I decided to try a couple. I talked to the salesman at Best Buy, and he assured me that it would be acceptable and normal for me to buy and try a couple and return what I didn’t want, and that is what I did. I tried the Asus 2-in-1, and the Pixel Slate. I kinda like the 2-in-1 design, but the monitor wasn't great, and the 16:9 screen aspect ratio just didn’t quite work for me as a tablet. The next round of these is supposed to be considerably lighter, which I think will help them a lot. The screen just couldn’t compare to the iPad, or the Pixel Slate, so I decided to move on from that one. I should note that I was testing the C433 model, and the C434 model is much nicer, and has a more premium feel. I expect the newest batch (which is on hold because of the virus, so I should have been testing this one instead of the older stuff) should feel even more premium, but will also have a price to reflect that.


That left the Pixel Slate. I would have to say that this is potentially the best failed device I have ever used. I had read that Google had abandoned the tablet form factor in favor of 2-in-1s and laptops, so this was a pretty much one shot deal. It failed initially on launch, and I can see why. It was as expensive as an iPad Pro, and the software just wasn’t even close. The hardware was pretty impressive though. I bought it at $499 with the keyboard and pen, and it was a pretty good deal, I think. I really enjoyed using it, and I think I may even prefer the 3:2 screen ratio over the 4:3 on the iPad (I liked the 3:2 ratio on the Surface Pro 3 as well). I think the old (as in what was on my Pentium 3 laptop from decades ago)16:10 ratio would actually be the best bet. The pixel slate felt amazing to hold. It was just about the perfect size, and it just felt right. It was pretty functional as well. Chrome worked great. The android support was a little buggy, and the whole OS just felt a little unpolished, but it was better than the android and windows stuff I have used in the past. The keyboard was the best I have ever used. The trackpad could easily be toggled with a keyboard shortcut, but I found the trackpad was small enough that it was actually pretty hard to hit. I typed over 50 thousand words on the Pixel Slate, and only managed to move the cursor with the trackpad once, and I was intentionally trying to set it off.


Back to the iPad

So if the Pixel Slate was so good, what made me return it? Timing mostly. It was a couple of years old, and it only offered about a year or two of guaranteed updates from the time I bought it, and that is not even close to comforting. It was also a dead device from Google, so I would have nothing to upgrade to in a couple of years. I was also really disappointed in the WiFi. Sitting on my couch, the internet was twice as fast on my iPad and MacBook. All 3 of the chrome books I tried were half the speed of the Apple devices which were 3-4 years older. I also started hearing rumors that the iPad Pro was going to get full trackpad support. I decided that I would sit and wait to see the new iPad Pro before making any other decisions. The new iPad Pro was surprise (at least to me) announced about a week later, and now almost a week after that, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new iPad tomorrow.

I mentioned that one reason I looked at Chrome OS was that I wanted a full desktop browser. I have since learned that Safari is the full desktop version on the iPad, so I am trying to get used to that now. I have been using Chrome for a long time now, so it feels weird, but not bad at all. I think it will work fine for me. I still have to wait a month or two to really test the trackpad support since the keyboards with trackpads won’t be released until late April or May. I don’t know if I will get the Brydge keyboard, or the apple one yet, but I think both will be great. I also tried the Brydge Keyboard on the Pixel Slate, and I liked it a lot. That floating keyboard is damn cool looking though, and it may be worth an extra month wait for it.

The new iPad will have even faster WiFi with wifi 6, and I already have a router that supports it, so I am excited to test that out. I think the new LiDAR scanner will be cool, but I don’t really expect it to be terribly useful for me for a while. It will be fun to play with though, and I hope to see it really advance AR before too long. Basically, I don’t think the new iPad is going to feel too much different than the one I have. This almost 5 year old tablet still runs like new, and I have never tried to do anything with it that even made it struggle to keep up. It still feels almost overpowered, but the new one will give a lot of headroom. I kinda like the idea of owning a tablet for 5 years and never have it feel slower than it was when new. The only complaint I have is that the battery is fading a bit. I think I still get 5-6 hours of use with it, but I do miss the 9-10 hours I used to get. If the new trackpad keyboards would work with this one, I would probably replace the battery for $100 and use this for a couple more years. At the same time, I am a little excited for the smaller bezels, and the upgraded hardware.

I bought the 128Gb model the first time, which was the highest option. This time around, I am also buying the 128Gb version, but now it is the lowest end model. I am all in on cloud storage, and have no desire to pay the ridiculous price for additional storage on these devices. I still have 73GB available on my iPad after almost 5 years of use, and i don’t expect to use much more on the new one.


I am also really looking forward to the new(Er) Apple Pencil. the 1st Gen pencil works great, but having to plug it into the lightning port to charge and pair is not great, and I will be glad to move past that. I used a case for quite a wile that had a pencil holder, but that caused the pencil to drain constantly. It was usually dead whenever I wanted to use it, so I had to charge it everytime. It wa a small inconvenience, but I will be glad to not have to deal with it anymore after today.


Is the new iPad Pro better than the original?

Yes. Yes it is. Strangely enough though, I didn’t notice it much at first. It is smoother, and a little faster. Well, it is actually about 4 times faster according to the benchmark I tested. It was not awe inspiring at all though. It was more just a nice little upgrade. The pencil is so much better! It still does the same thing though. It has a little less lag, which makes the lag not really noticeable at all. It already performed great, so now it just feels pretty much perfected. It is so nice to always have it charged now! The Magic Keyboard isn’t available for the old one, so that is a definite plus of the new one.

I didn’t notice how much of an improvement the new one is until I went back to the old one to test it. It just feels slow and a little clunky now. It still runs the apps just fine, but the UI is really slow, and a bit jittery compared to the newer 120hz refresh rate. that smoothness really is a game changer. I can’t wait to see if the difference will still be as noticeable if we ever get a 240hz refresh.


So, after seeing how slow the UI felt, I wiped the old one, and got it ready to sell. I didn’t do anything to actually sell it for a while, and have sense picked it up again. It doesn't compare to the new one, but it still works just as well. As just a tablet, not a drawing pad, not a laptop replacement, I think this almost 5 year old tablet is still better than any other tablet available besides the newer iPad Pros. It is really cool to still have such a functional device after getting this many years of use out of it. I am impressed! I am also having a hard time convincing myself to sell it. I think I can get about $400 for it, but I am not sure it is worth giving up what it can still do for that price. It really is still that good. I am investigating using it as a Bluetooth midi controller to pair with the new iPad. It seems possible after initial tests, but I still have some things to figure out.


Conclusion

The 2015 iPad Pro was a game changer for tablets. This is the real deal, and nothing can come close to it except for newer versions of the iPad Pro. When was the last time you owned a device that still felt just as good as new after four and a half years? I can’t think of anything I have ever owned that I can say that about. The 2015 iPad Pro was the best purchase I have ever made, until I bought the 2020 iPad Pro. I am sitting here typing on the new one using the absolutely incredible Magic Keyboard, with my faithful 2015 model sitting next to me (charging again since the battery is still old, lol), and I like owning them both. I may not actually have enough use for it to keep it for long, but I am not in a hurry to get rid of it now.


If you want to use the pencil, or you want to use a keyboard and trackpad, buy the 2018 or 2020 model. They are better. If you just want a really nice tablet, try to find a good deal on the 2015 model and truly enjoy using a tablet!


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