The iPad Pro is the best and worst iPad I’ve ever owned [Opinion]


3D Touch shortcuts now work on the iPad.
My iPad Pro has been nothing but trouble.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The 2018 iPad Pro is an incredible machine. It’s powerful. It has a screen so good that it’s hard to look at anything else after seeing it. Face ID was made for the iPad, and is way more suited to a tablet than a phone. And the physical design is beautiful. It’s thin, the bezels are small enough not to notice, and the iPad Pro’s USB-C port is far more useful than I imagined.

And yet this is the worst iPad I have ever used. It has been buggy. It can’t do basic tasks with any consistency. Audio drops out. And until I updated to iOS 13, the screen would freeze a few times a day.

Oh, and once I bent it without even realizing.

Almost all of my iPad Pro problems relate to audio. The tablet is absurdly capable. And, thanks to the latest iPadOS 13 update, it can now connect to even more devices via its USB-C port. What’s more, that powerful port puts out enough juice to power most devices that you might plug into it.

iPad Pro audio problems

But in use, this iPad is the most frustrating Apple device I’ve ever touched. Here’s a list of problems I’ve had, over and over. Some are designed in. Others result from either bugs or ignorance.

  • The iPad drops its connection to USB audio interfaces. You can be recording a guitar part, or just listening to music, and suddenly the audio interface just isn’t there any more. The only (semi-) reliable way to reconnect is to power-cycle the connected mixer. Which also means power-cycling the amp/speakers, because you don’t switch mixers and audio interfaces on and off with speakers connected, unless you want to break something.
  • The iPad Pro can’t handle multiple apps. I have one setup where I run two instances of the same synthesizer app at the same time. This is easy for the iPad Pro, which has a processor more powerful than the chip in many Macs. And yet it crackles and stutters. If I open another app — a recording app, say, or just a web browser page — the whole iPad starts to suffer. This is partly because of the way the iPad runs music apps. They don’t usually take advantage of the device’s multiple cores. Instead, they saturate a single core.
  • The lone USB-C port is great, but there’s only one. The lack of a headphone jack really hurts the iPad for making music. While a headphone jack’s audio quality is nowhere near what you get from a proper USB audio interface, sometimes all you need is to monitor some audio, or to do a quick-and-dirty recording. In these cases, AirPods don’t work.

Never-ending iPad Pro problems

I could go on and on. In fact, I will. MIDI, a standard way for music gear to talk to each other since the 1980s, is usually rock-steady on iOS. But not always. Recently, I’ve had to reboot my iPad just to get it to see my MIDI hub. And of course, this happens in the middle of a recording session — and sometimes just after I’ve managed to fix the disconnected audio.

This is not all about audio

Good luck using the iPad Pro for making music.
Good luck using the iPad Pro for making music.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

You may be thinking, “So what? It’s just a bunch of esoteric audio stuff.” And that’s fair, except none of these problems occurs with my first-gen iPad Pro, which is almost 5 years old now. And the iPad Pro is supposed to be a pro machine, for professionals, doing “fancy” stuff like recording audio.

The bottom line here is that my $1,500 pro Apple computer fails at even basic tasks. I love the iPad, and I use mine for almost everything. I write on it. I read on it. And until this past year, I recorded, produced and mixed music on it.

But if Apple finally fixes its MacBook’s keyboards this fall, I’m going back to a laptop. This isn’t some mercurial tantrum, either. Over the past year, I’ve slowly lost all confidence in the audio capabilities of my iPad. Every time I try to use it, something happens to screw with the session. Instead of making music, I’m troubleshooting connections. Inevitably, I give up. I’ve been using my ancient iMac instead. It’s way, way better — and a thousand times more reliable than the brand-new iPad Pro.

Apple’s latest software sucks

The reason people use Apple products used to be the software. Macs might have been slower than PCs, but they ran OS X. They were superior, rock-solid and easy to use. Now, the hardware is streets ahead of the competition, but the software is worse than ever. This is supposed to be pro-level hardware. It’s supposed to be reliable and predictable.

Instead, the iPad Pro is like the world’s fastest muscle car, with seatbelts that stick and a gearbox that only works some of the time.

And that time I bent it? Who knows what happened. My iPad leads a coddled life, but one day I saw a window reflected in the screen and saw distorted reflections. Maybe I picked it up wrong, but it had a bend in it. I bent it back, and have babied it ever since. Pro? No.


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