Can Apple's latest iPad Pro replace your laptop?

By Anthony Caruana, November 22 2018
Can Apple's latest iPad Pro replace your laptop?

For decades, business travellers have considered a laptop as part of their arsenal. Those laptops have slowly become slimmer and lighter, while gaining more power and longer battery life. But in the end they're still laptops.

The latest generation of tablets are trying to change that, and from what we see at airport lounges and in business class cabins, they're making some headway. Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface are on the front line of this shake-up, and Apple has been particularly vocal on the laptop-slaying prospects of its 2018 iPad Pro series.

So last week, I put that to the test. I gave my MacBook Pro laptop a holiday and relied on the Apple's 12.9 inch iPad Pro for everything my laptop would usually do.

To start with, transforming the iPad Pro into your new notebook relies on more than just the tablet itself. You'll want the Smart Keyboard Folio, which adds a wrap-around keyboard cover to your iPad Pro: that's $119 or $149, depending on what size iPad Pro you have.

You'll also want the Apple Pencil – believe me, this is such a great device that you will want it – which is another $199.

And for total freedom on the move you'll be looking at the iPad Pro with 4G.

Most business travellers will lean towards the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, as this is closest in screen size and thus keyboard size to a 13-inch notebook – the smaller and marginally less-expensive 11 inch iPad Pro is more convenient but less practical if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard. 

This means you're looking at the 12.9 inch iPad Pro with 4G and 256GB of storage (enough for most business travellers) for $1,969, with the keypad and stylus boosting the total price to $2,317.

Yes, that's a lot for a tablet – but the iPad Pro is a lot of tablet, and suitably kitted up it's ready to take on your laptop and probably win, and in ways that may surprise you.

Large laptops just don't fit into the world of meeting rooms and conferences. They create a barrier between participants and results in everyone playing peek-a-boo over their screens. The iPad Pro changes that dynamic: it looks like an elegant meeting compendium and lets you easily read and annotate documents, take notes and quickly access information, with two screen angles available when using the Smart Keyboard Folio.

The iPad Pro can run familiar office suites from Microsoft and Google, or even Apple's own apps if you desire, and tap into cloud services such as OneDrive, DropBox and Google Drive equally well.

Some very specific apps for your business might not exist on the Apple's iOS platform, but almost everything a business traveller would need is out there, including support for corporate VPN services.

For travellers, another critical feature is the iPad Pro's dual-SIM feature. The conventional nanoSIM slot is paired with a digital eSIM module (think of its as a virtual SIM card). You can drop a 4G SIM from an Australian telco into the slot and use the eSIM when travelling, activating it with a local carrier plan in each country; or pair the eSIM to your Australian number as a second device and buy a SIM card in each country you visit. 

Back at your desk, the iPad Pro can easily connect via Bluetooth to a regular keyboard while the new USB-C connector – which replaces Apple's long-favoured Lightning port – can hook up to an external display. You may need an HDMI dongle for this but that's also the case with many slim laptops.

The updated Apple Pencil is pretty much a mandatory extra if you want to extract full value from the iPad Pro. It flows smoothly across the iPad Pro's beautiful display and is easier to use than any styli I’ve encountered with notebooks and convertibles on the market.

There's something incredibly natural about taking notes on the iPad Pro by writing instead of typing, perhaps because you're not limited to typing – you can draw arrows and sketch diagrams, do mind-maps, mark up notes.

The only issues I encountered where my MacBook Pro would have worked better were in working with a client's content management system for which I had to write some articles and upload some images. That was more about the CMS than the iPad Pro, and if I pushed it there probably could have been (kludgy but do-able) work-arounds.

For most people, this is where the iPad Pro vs laptop battle will be won or lost. If the iPad Pro can run your apps and play nicely with the rest of the world, then it might just be time to put your laptop out to pasture.

Additonal writing by David Flynn

Anthony Caruana

Technology expert Anthony Caruana spends almost as much travelling as he does at home, and on each trip balances his early-morning runs with a search for the best hamburger (Lori's Diner at San Francisco is his favourite to date).


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 951

I'm struggling to justify replacing my 9.7 pro at the moment, it really doesn't do a lot for me at the except movies and songs. I'm actually looking at the Surface Go LTE that way I do have a laptop file structure to work.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Oct 2017

Total posts 35

You've just nailed the only issue I can think of as to why not run the iPad standalone - file saving structure (plus some software dilemmas but I'm sure in time that'll be sorted).

Get a Surface Pro in black, I can't justify Apples hyped up price to be honest.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

23 Nov 2018

Total posts 1

I find MS Office products lack enough functionality on the iPad (particularly Word and Excel) for me to be truly productive - I get by, but my work-provided Surface Pro is better. Also my postgrad studies course content has difficulty with both Safari and Chrome.

But I love my iPad Pro for pretty much everything else.


02 Nov 2012

Total posts 48

I've a Dell XPS 13 with an i7 processor which seems to get 12 plus hours from a charge. How would the battery life of the iPad compare with that?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2013

Total posts 4

I think the issue is iOS. It just doesn’t have the same flexibility that desk top versions do. I run a design business and LOVE my iPad Pro for things like designing and notes, but when you need to do simple things like uploading files to Xero, or even moving files around your own server, it just physically can’t do it. I had to buy a new MacBook which is super light and and can now run 1G cad files easily, but it doesn’t have a touch screen. I have to carry both to get full functionality, which defeats the purpose a little. Apple haters will talk about the Surface, but the stylus is really awful and the keyboard feels like typing on a cardboard box. So my solution is two screens, which allows you to set up a bit of a workstation anywhere, but is probably not ideal if you just want one device that does everything,

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Sep 2013

Total posts 26

For me, lack of mouse support is the deal breaker. I just can't use the pencil or just touch with the same efficiency.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 112

Got the new iPad Pro 11 the other day, upgrade from my 10.5 iPad Pro.

I love it! Much faster, better, crisper screen. Don't have the pencil (yet), they didn't have any in stock.

Still need a case (none in stock).

Got it the first day they were available in my market (we had to wait) and got the last one the shop had.

Have a older Logitec bluetooth keyboard which works as well as it always has.

Was there anything wrong with my old iPad? No, but we use a hand me down system in our family and my daughters iPad mini needed replacing so she got mum's old iPad, mum got my old iPad and I get the new one.... ;p

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