iPhone and iPad Mac

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop?

Tim Brookes 05-02-2016

So you like the look of Apple’s embiggened iPad, and now you’re wondering if it can replace your regular laptop. Unfortunately there’s no simple yes or no answer — it all depends on what sort of user you are, and that boils down to how you use your laptop.


For the purpose of this article, let’s assume your laptop is your primary machine. We’ll examine what the iPad Pro can replace, the apps you can use to help you get stuff done, and the short-falls of depending on a mobile operating system full-time.

What the iPad Pro Can Do

The iPad Pro is a much larger tablet than the regular iPad Air, and the tiny-by-comparison iPad mini. Starting at $799, it comes with an optional (but essential) Smart Keyboard for $170, which doesn’t require batteries or a Bluetooth connection. It also folds relatively flat when not in use, and props the main tablet up in a non-negotiable typing position for getting work done.


In this respect, it’s like a much thinner version of your laptop with a touchscreen. Typing is comfortable, the keyboard is responsive, and it’s laid out just like a MacBook so there’s little to no adjustment period (for Apple users, at least).

It’s also an iPad, which means it crunches through the things that already feel great on your iPad. You also have the option of using many apps in true, 50-50 split screen mode which allows you to multitask properly for the first time. Take notes while you browse, chat with friends while you watch YouTube — you get the picture. So far, so laptop.


Web Browsing

The iPad was essentially born as a giant web browser, and this functionality formed a big part of the hype surrounding its launch. While many saw it initially as a bigger iPhone, it soon developed into a platform of its own with a proper touchscreen web browser that wasn’t confined to a tiny screen. The iPad Pro is more of the same.

Safari for iOS is still one of the most accomplished mobile browsers out there, integrating Apple’s share sheet and the many extensions it supports, and syncing with handy features like iCloud Keychain and Reading List across platforms. Apple even added support for ad-blockers in iOS 9, which means iOS Safari is nearly as capable as Safari on OS X.

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? ios9 1

Most web apps I’ve used play nicely with mobile Safari on the iPad Pro, and the 4GB of RAM under the hood mean it’s possible to interact with many tabs and other apps without having to reload pages all the time.


If you’re a Chrome user or you simply don’t like Safari, then there’s a multitude of iOS browsers What's the Best Browser for iPhone? 7 Apps Compared Safari is a fine browser for iPhones, but it's not the only option. Check out the best iOS browsers for something better. Read More out there for you to choose from (though split-screen multitasking will depend on whether the developer has updated the app to support it).

Email & Social

iOS comes with a fairly competent email client, and it’s now been optimized for the iPad Pro’s larger screen to use alongside other apps. This means you don’t have to stop what you’re doing in order to tap out a quick email. The full-size Smart Keyboard makes typing far more pleasant, allowing you to fire off messages quicker than ever before.

If you don’t like the basic Apple Mail client, iPad Pro-ready alternatives do exist like Microsoft’s accomplished Outlook for iOS, which is free to use and is highly regarded by users for its clean interface and raw power. It’s even supported in Spotlight, so you can search your Outlook mailboxes just as you would with the default Mail app. You can also check out a few of our other favourite Mail alternatives for the iPad here 8 Worthy Alternatives To The iPad’s Native Mail App The iPad’s native Mail app isn’t for everyone, so here are some alternatives that you may prefer. Read More .

One of the most common uses for a regular iPad is browsing Facebook and Twitter, and as you’d expect, the iPad Pro handles both with ease. At the time of typing, around two months after the release of the iPad Pro, Facebook still hasn’t updated their official app — it looks misshapen, and doesn’t support multitasking — but it’s only a matter of time (and the web app works like a treat). There’s no shortage of quality iOS Twitter clients Forget Twitter's Official iPhone App: Use These Instead Now that we've told you why everyone needs Twitter in their lives, here's one more piece of unsolicited advice: don't use the official Twitter app. Read More , either.


Office Applications

For use as a portable office, the iPad Pro has got a lot going for it. The aforementioned Smart Keyboard makes it possible to type for long periods, at speed, and make use of keyboard shortcuts for oft-used functions. The iPad Pro’s 10-hour battery life puts my MacBook Pro to shame, and if you need to sign and annotate documents, then the Apple Pencil might be worth the $99 asking price.


All iOS devices come with a free copy of iWork for iOS, which means you can create and edit text documents with Pages The 10 Best Word Processing Apps for Your iPad You can use your iPad to edit documents, compile notes, or even crack out a novel. Here are the best word processors for the iPad. Read More (including those in Microsoft Word format), perform spreadsheet tasks in Numbers, and create presentations in Keynote (which can then be pushed to an AirPlay receiver The Best AirPlay Receivers Cheaper Than Apple TV The Apple TV is great but it's expensive. Here are several other awesome AirPlay receivers that are much cheaper. Read More ). You’ve also got the ability to keep everything in-sync between devices (including other Macs) using iCloud, though you may need more storage Is It Finally Time to Buy More iCloud Storage? Now that iCloud storage costs considerably less than it used to, it might be time to upgrade beyond 5GB. Read More if you’re going to make heavy use of Apple’s cloud service.

If you’re used to Microsoft’s way of doing things and you absolutely can’t live without Office, then you’ll be relieved to know that fully-functional versions of Microsoft’s work suite are available for the platform. The only drawback is that you’ll need an Office 365 subscription in order to use the apps on an iPad Pro, because Microsoft treats devices larger than 10.1″ like standard desktops (Office is free on regular iPads and iPhones).


Note-Taking & Drawing

Paired with a multitasking-ready note-taking app (Evernote is a good choice 10+ Apps that Are Better on the iPad Pro While the iPad Pro can run any iPad app, some are better than others at taking advantage of all that the Pro offers. Read More ), the iPad Pro is a born note-taker. Pin a window to the right of what you’re working on and use the Smart Keyboard to type notes or grab whole sections of text using two-finger cursor control and paste using keyboard shortcuts. Assemble blog posts while researching, plan school or business projects while consulting PDFs, chat to team members in Slack or via Messages while taking minutes — all with enough screen space to see what you’re doing.

It’s surprising how focused an environment the iPad Pro creates. Unlike OS X, with its cluttered system tray and row of dock icons all begging for your attention, iOS strips everything down to the barebones. All you see are the two apps you’re interested in, with intermittent notifications at the top of the screen (disable these for an even more productive workspace).

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If you’re the sort of person who still prefers handwriting your notes, then you’ll love the Apple Pencil with its incredible degree of accuracy and automatic palm rejection. Evernote is another app that works well with handwritten notes, though it’s also a good place to sketch your ideas if that’s your thing too.

It should go without saying that the iPad Pro is an accomplished digital canvas for illustrators and anyone else interested in drawing on their tablet. The Apple Pencil is twice as sensitive as your finger in terms of input, can be used to shade when coloring thanks to a built-in accelerometer, and it’s pressure sensitive to boot.

Best in class apps like Procreate ($6) and Paper (free) have already been updated to support the first-party accessory. Pixelmator ($5), one of our favourite Mac image editors The 8 Best Free and Paid Image Editors for Mac Here are the best free and paid Mac image editors, whether you're a professional professional or amateur shutterbug. Read More , recently got an iPad version, and it incorporates many of the mainstays you’d expect from a powerful image editor, including layers. You simply won’t find a better stylus-and-tablet combination out there.


Provided you’re into mobile games — and somewhat limited re-releases of console and PC classics — you’ll find that the iPad Pro has plenty to offer you as a gaming platform. About 50% of apps available on the iOS App Store are games, but don’t expect to be playing the latest triple-A releases. Pair it with a decent iOS controller Game Controllers & iOS: Here's What You Need To Know Read More for best results, and play through the likes of GTA: San Andreas ($7) and Knights of the Old Republic ($10) like you’re 14 all over again.

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? steelseries

Where the iPad Pro Struggles

While the iPad Pro handles the above common tasks with ease, there are a few things that you may find the tablet-hybrid struggles with — particularly if you want to depend on it as your only machine.

Movies & Music

Depending on your media, you may be able to watch videos and listen to your favorite tunes on your iPad, but if your files are on external drives, then you may have problems accessing them. VLC for iOS handles just about any media file that iTunes won’t, but mounting external hard drives isn’t something the iPad supports. That means you’re still tied to a Mac or PC for storing media files.

If you’re used to using Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music, or other similar streaming solutions, then you’re in luck. But for locally stored media, including optical formats like BluRay and DVD, you may be in trouble.

Music Production & DJing

iOS is the mobile musician’s platform of choice A Quick Look At The iPad As A Music Production Tool When deciding whether one can justify the purchase of a tablet, rarely does "music production" factor into the decision-making process – but it should. Read More — there’s absolutely no doubt about that. Apple has strived to keep audio latency to an absolute minimum, and that’s why so many third party software and hardware developers have embraced iOS with open arms. There are hundreds of quality apps for music creation on iOS — from Apple’s own GarageBand, to professional synthesizer apps like Animoog and iMS-20 ($30 each).

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? animoog

That said, as a professional you may find your choices are somewhat limited. DJs will be delighted to see that Algoriddim’s djay has grown into a professional package with the arrival of djay Pro [No Longer Available], but transferring music can be a hassle, and support for obscure platforms like FLAC still isn’t there. You can’t plug in an external hard drive to access your tunes, and the iPad Pro only comes with 128GB of memory — which means a lot of file juggling. If you want a top tier DJ package, you’ll still need something like Traktor Pro or Ableton Live The Best DJ Software For Every Budget Good mixing software can make all the difference in your performance. Whether you're using a Mac, Windows, or Linux, every level of skill and budget is catered for if you want to start DJing. Read More on a Mac or Windows PC.

Unfortunately the same is true for music production. While iOS is full of synthesizers, drum machines and the occasional DAW 5 iOS Digital Audio Workstations For Producers On a Budget So you've transformed your iPad into an endlessly evolving musical instrument, programmed your own tight drum beats and discovered the huge potential of AudioBus. You've sacrificed disk space for samples and your bank balance for... Read More , there’s no iOS version of Logic Pro, Reason or specialist trackers like Renoise Making 8bit Music: An Introduction to Free Chiptune Music Trackers Here are all the tools you need to create your own chiptune music. Read More . For now the best of the bunch are Auria ($25, powerful, but not particularly nice to use), FLStudio Mobile HD ($20, a stripped-down mobile version of its desktop counterpart) and Cubasis ($50, probably the best of the lot).

Photo Editing & Serious Art

Photoshop Lightroom for iPad is free and great — it provides you with an almost-identical set of tools as those provided in Adobe’s cherished Camera RAW tool provided with the full version of Photoshop, and it even handles RAW files. Most cameras can be mounted by the iPad Pro, which means you can import images straight from the source and work on them in the field. For quick edits and occasional shooters, it’s a fantastic tool to have at your disposal.

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? adobelightroomipad

Unfortunately if you’re doing more than a bit of tinkering, the iOS version of Photoshop Lightroom doesn’t quite cut it. While you can tweak various parameters using sliders, you can’t apply selective adjustments to certain parts of the image. You can’t correct for lens distortions using preset profiles, nor can you perform more detailed color adjustments. The killer for me was not being able to perform batch operations, like exporting a series of edited photos to JPEG for sharing on the web. Everything needs to be done step-by-step, which is a shame because the iPad Pro’s hardware can probably handle it all.

The same argument can be made for serious artists. Procreate and Pixelmator are exceptional tools considering they cost less than $10, but if your workflow depends on Adobe Photoshop or another top-tier graphics editor like Corel Draw, you’re going to be left hungry for features. The iPad Pro doesn’t support peripherals like graphics tablets, though interestingly, the iPad Pro and Pencil can be used as a graphics tablet for your Mac using an app called AstroPad ($10).

Video Editing

The iPhone now shoots 4K video, and as a result, Apple’s iPad Pro can also be used to edit 4K video via the wonders of iMovie for iOS ($5, but also free with every iPad Pro). One of the main problems here concerns space — the iPad Pro can only house 128GB of data, and if you’re transferring 4K (and even HD) video for editing, you’re going to burn through that pretty quickly.

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? imovie ipad

iMovie itself is only a hobbyist’s video editor. It’s a polished and user-friendly bit of kit, and the latest version even supports keyboard shortcuts if you’ve plugged a Smart Keyboard in, but it’s never going to replace Lightworks, Final Cut, or Adobe Premiere Pro. If you want to get serious about your video editing, you’re going to need a computer, some external hard drives, and a powerful non-linear video editor to learn and master.

Again, the iPad Pro probably has the raw power to handle a serious video editor like Premiere, but its current maximum capacity of 128GB holds back its potential for serious projects — particularly if you want to use it for other things too.

“Serious” Gaming

As noted, the iPad Pro isn’t a full-blown PC or console. It won’t be seeing the latest first person shooters or epic RPGs, but it will probably see plenty of indie games. It doesn’t make the ideal emulator either, though you can build your own emulators using xcode 7 How to Install Emulators for iPhone Using 4 Easy Methods Here's how to get emulators on iOS using several methods, plus the best emulators for iPhone. Read More if you’ve got time and patience. You can’t use DOSBox to play your old retro favourites, and controller support is limited but growing.

Other Things to Consider

By now, you probably have a pretty good idea if you can ditch your laptop in favour of an iPad Pro, but there are a few more considerations to make. Even if you’re not a serious artist or photographer who produces music on the weekends and is thinking of starting a YouTube channel, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’re going to be limited if ever you do require a bit more oomph in these departments.

If you’re dependent on any old or specialist software that’s unavailable on iOS, you’re going to have to work around it either by using web apps (which can behave erratically at times) or by finding (and potentially buying) more software. Many iOS apps do feel like “dumbed down” versions of their OS X or Windows counterparts, and many (like the WordPress app) offer even less in terms of features than comparable web versions.

Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? ipad pro setup61

You’re also going to have to depend on a machine that, by design, is restrictive in terms of what you can and cannot do. Unlike Windows and OS X, which still afford a relatively high degree of customization to the user; iOS is Apple’s most-guarded fortress. You can’t change your default web browser, there’s no Finder or Windows Explorer equivalent for browsing files, and you can’t escape Apple’s grip by installing another OS.

These aren’t all necessarily bad things. iOS is an incredibly easy operating system to get along with, and it’s speedy in terms of workflow. Spotlight continues to get more powerful, and app support is the best of any mobile operating system. Overall the iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that’s a joy to use, so weigh up the pros and cons and decide for yourself — just ask yourself a few important questions first Should You Buy an iPad Pro? 6 Things to Consider Feeling tempted by the pull of Apple's newest tablet, but not sure if you should bite? You're in good company. Read More .

Will you be replacing or supplementing your laptop with an iPad Pro?

Related topics: Buying Tips, iPad Pro, MacBook.

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  1. MrX
    February 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm


    Any article that use a question as its title usually can be answered no and is a sign of bad journalism. It's also a sign that the journalist doesn't believe in the story or isn't knowledgeable enough to truly answer the question.

    Look up Betteridge's law of headlines

  2. Anonymous
    February 6, 2016 at 1:32 am

    Is there some kind of device-wide filesystem access on iOS yet? No? Then it's still just a toy for media consumption.

  3. Cellular Barn
    February 5, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    We are getting closer to the transition from laptops to tablets, as the article stated, some time ago tablets were mostly used as web browsers and now they are capable of much more. Give it a little more time and current laptops will look clunky compared to smooth and thin tablets capable of doing basic office work to more demanding creative work.

    • Hildegerd Haugen
      March 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      Will never leave my mac.

  4. A-thought
    February 5, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    It actually is a simple yes or no answer if you change the device in mind. Watch:

    Can the surface replace your laptop?


    Simple, see?

    Also..PC classic games? I play them all native on my Windows tablet. Shoot I run MAME emulator on my tablet which gives me the actual classic arcade games like PC man, donkey kong, mortal jim at..do that on your iPad pro.

    Oh..and you get the pen with your surface too.

    Surface..Simple answer to tyour question. You're welcome.

    • A-thought
      February 5, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      Meant *Pac Man..Mortal Kombat" in above post. Thank iPhone autocorrect for another well done job.

      Oh and btw..Surface and similar Windows tablets are darn good tablets too, provided you define "tablet" as "a touch device for both basic consumption and expandability for serious work." If however you define tablet as Apple and Google say you should define it, as "touch device confined to limited App Store apps for simplicity", you obviously won't agree with me.)

  5. Anonymous
    February 5, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    It could be, just look at Microsoft Surface Tablets for example.

    • nolongerapple
      February 5, 2016 at 10:43 pm

      Nope. Doesn't run full OS like Surface.