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Stop Using a Laptop in 2017; It’s Time to Use a Tablet

A showdown between a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro.

Henry Phillips

In 2017, the personal computing device to buy isn’t a lightweight laptop, it’s a tablet. The switch happened in 2015 and 2016 — with the Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Yoga Book reaching full proficiency and the iPad Pro coming to market. But in 2017, the tech-savvy and the everyman should grab those thin slates and aspire to full tablet integration.

For the past month, I’ve played with four different computing sources: a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, 12.9-inch iPad Pro and iPad 2. I’m entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem, and operating inside Apple was my best shot at converting to tablet in the hours outside of the office. And, eventually, I did. But it took more than a week (or two).

The first step to proper conversion is admitting you don’t need a desktop OS — not all the time.

Any self-aware techie knows this: we are no longer patient. Tech has become so intuitive and our subconscious is so coddled by straightforward UE’s that we want to know systems instantaneously. We don’t want to figure something out — that’s a programming Mensa’s job in Silicon Valley. Plus, with years of use on a desktop operating system, no one wants to struggle with converting to a tablet OS. But I did, slowly and patiently, for the full duration of 14 days. And then, it was smooth sailing.

The first step to proper conversion is admitting you don’t need a desktop OS — not all the time. You do still need straightforward methods of storage (on iOS, the only way to do it is by the Cloud, which is functional, but takes practice); you still need an OS that works with all the programs that your specialty needs; and you don’t have time to entirely relearn your desktop habits. A tablet switch isn’t a whole-hog conversion, it is an additional part of the arsenal, and — I found — something that gradually became endearing. The tablet beautifully fills in at the corners of the workday (meetings, commute) and outside work time. At your desk, stick with the big beautiful screens and full-size keyboards and desktop organization and productivity. Everywhere else, turn to the tablet.

I’ll focus on the iPad Pro’s features as it’s Apple’s most competent laptop replacement, with an A9X chip and M9 coprocessor (combined, they’re faster than my current MacBook Air). After a month of use, it became apparent that I was the unimpressive one, rather than the Pro. In Apple press demos I’ve seen illustrators create blockbuster storyboards; I’ve seen architects design buildings and present them in full splendor; I’ve seen product designers lay out their next great product on the Pro. My usage — and, likely, yours — is a bit more rote. Email, web, movies, text, photos, a few drawings — and that’s about it. For that, I don’t need a $2,000+ full-spec MaBook Pro. All I need is Moses’ modern slate and some wherewithal to have that dynamic granite teach me some new tricks.

All I need is Moses’ modern slate and some wherewithal to have that dynamic granite teach me some new tricks.

My conversion timeline featured a few notable moments. At start, I had a smooth document transition since I use the G-Suite for nearly every file I have, making it simple to access spreadsheets and docs via the cloud (after downloading the G-Suite apps). iCloud and Dropbox also make the conversion simple, if you use those for file storage. A big revelation also came with the Pencil. At first, I thought it superfluous — and very easily lost. But quickly, I began using it exclusively. This is one of those Apple “secret sauce” things, where the sheer pleasure and precision of the Pencil draws you back to the device and makes you literally come to love it. By second week’s end, I kept the pencil handy no matter how much that perfect, thin cylinder wanted to roll away. (This may also be due to my obsessive pursuit of cleanliness and accuracy, which the Pencil plays well with.)

The Pencil proved key to embracing the iPad lifestyle.

The final conversion lightbulb blinked on when I started using the tablet as essentially a giant iPhone, camera included. All smartphone tasks — finishing email, watching Westworld, snapping a high-res photo of my neighbor’s cat and sending it to my girlfriend — all are better on a larger tablet, especially from the comfort of a couch or bed. This is the domain of the tablet, not the laptop, and it also signaled I was in “not work” mode, unlike when I flip open the laptop at home. The other perk is that the iOS system is part of a growing and ever-updating app base — more so, one could argue (in just a few thousand words), than the desktop system.

Yet the tablet world does come with a few flaws. When you really want to peanut-butter and jam on work productivity, iOS can feel cumbersome — not in processing power, but in usability. The tighter keyboard didn’t fit my big paws as well as a full-size board, and some keyboard shortcuts don’t transfer to iOS. Also, when adding the Smart Keyboard, the weight of the whole device isn’t that much less than a MacBook or MacBook Air. While essentially everything I set out to do can be done on a tablet, I found not everything should.

I also found that I don’t need the full 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and unless you’re using the tablet as a dedicated design professional, you likely don’t either. The iPad 2 was much more portable, which meant it was more frequently convenient. For the best of both worlds, I’d go for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It’s Pencil-equipped, features an improved camera (even over the 12.9-inch), is compact and easily portable, and at the distance of most use, the screen is plenty big. Plus, it shaves off some precious Benjamins from the overall cost.

Final assessment: I’ve neither abandoned the laptop nor mastered the tablet. But nearly every time I have the choice, I now reach for the tablet, and though I’m not as pro as the Pro, I’m still optimistic, given that the year of the tablet has only just begun.

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