Julie’s gadget diary – The iPad Pro isn’t going to be my next travel companion after all

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There seems to be a disturbance in the Force because I haven’t been able to bond with any new gadgets that I’ve tried in the last couple of months. First, it was the iPhone 7, which I tried for a few weeks and ultimately returned to Verizon. Next up was the Google Pixel XL which I also returned. Then last week I decided to order an iPad Pro to see if it could become my next travel companion. I received the 12.9 inch iPad Pro last Friday. Guess what? It’s already boxed  up to ship back to Apple tomorrow. Am I having a gadget crisis or what? 

I don’t think it’s an actual crisis as much as the fact that I know what I want, how I want it and I don’t want to settle for anything less. When I tried the iPhone 7 back in September, I loved the look and feel of the hardware but didn’t love the operating system. So I sent it back. With the Google Pixel XL, I really loved the camera, performance and battery life, but I didn’t like the look of the device and more importantly the price. It just wasn’t a worthy update to my Nexus 6P which I’ve been happily using for almost a year.

Now most recently I decided to give the 12.9 inch iPad Pro a shot as I’m looking for my holy grail of travel devices. When I was on vacation last month, I took a laptop, a tablet, my phone, a Roku stick, my notebook, a tiny snapshot printer and cables for each item. It all added together to be a burden on my shoulder when walking through the airport.

I always take a laptop because I need the full Gmail experience with multiple inboxes, labels and stars so that my email stays organized. A messy inbox stresses me out and I don’t like being stressed. While I was on vacation I happened to discover that I could get the full desktop Gmail on Jeanne’s old iPad 2. That’s what led me down the Apple rabbit hole and ultimately caused me to order the iPad Pro. But then once I got it and started playing with it, the same problem that I ran into with the iPhone 7 cropped up. I love the hardware, but I hate iOS. I used to love iOS years ago, but now I don’t. At all.

I tend to beat a dead horse trying to make things work the way I want them to, but after several experiments trying to use a tablet with a mobile OS as a computer, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that while that may work fine for others, they don’t work for me. I think that tablets are fantastic for reading ebooks, playing games and quick email work where I just need to read or reply to something. But if I need to do real work like email triage, image editing and image uploading for Gadgeteer post, I have to use a laptop because it is much less frustrating and faster. Less frustrating and faster means less stress which is important to me.

My current full-time home computer is an almost 2-year-old 13″ MacBook Pro because I prefer the Mac OS. I don’t like to take the MacBook Pro with me on trips because it’s too important to me to risk damage, theft, etc.

My next trip isn’t until next spring, so I have plenty of time to decide what device will be coming along on the trip with me. I do know that it will be a laptop that doesn’t weigh much more than 2 pounds and it won’t be one of the new MacBooks because they cost too freaking much for what they are. My 13″ Dell XPS will probably do the trick as long as I find a smaller bag for it and the rest of my gear. The Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer bag is contributing to the problem because it’s way bulkier than I need.

I’ll continue to update you on devices I try until I find my holy grail travel device… I hope to find it soon!

56 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – The iPad Pro isn’t going to be my next travel companion after all”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Have you tried the Microsoft Surface Pro 4? I have a Surface Pro 3, and I really like it. It’s not my main machine because most of my software is macOS-based and I don’t want to buy everything all over again. However, the Surface Pro has the benefit of being a lightweight full computer and tablet, all in one.

      1. I have purchased a number of items from the Microsoft online store and returned them. I have had no problem at all with them accepting a return. The time before the refund arrives is quite long. On average I would say 2 weeks. But the monay always arrives back into my account.

    1. I too was looking for my “holy grail” of gadgetry. I thought I had it with the Surface 3 (10.8inch screen). It was fast and I thought I could use it as an iPad replacement, jut pick it up to browse and to create and study. But, while I really like Win10 on my 13.3 inch laptop, on the smaller Surface some of my apps are not really optimized for a touch screen. The title bars were smaller than I wanted and even with some configuration I could not get the balance. I sold it and went back to an Android tablet as my grab and go-to for quick browsing and study look-ups. My laptop does the heavy lifting. Perhaps the 12 inch Surface will be better, but I have not found my convergence device:

      Phone – Nexus 5x (5.2inch screen, Android)
      Tablet – NVIDIA Tablet 2 (8inch, Android)
      Laptop – Dell (13.3inch, Win10)

      With night mode on my tablet, I might even ditch my Kindle Voyager 6inch e-reader.

  3. I tried a similar shift with a Samsung Tab Pro tablet as a replacement for a laptop. Sadly, as hard as MS tried to make Office-Android work with real MS Office files, Android comes up short. I enjoyed the lightness but I could not do all my work with the tablet. I am now looking at a Surface as this looks to be the closest and lightest tablet that has the weight issue resolved. As you can tell, I am not an Apple guy. I can only imagine there are software trade-offs with an iPad just as there with Android at least if non-Internet connected mode of working is a way of life.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Actual experience beats PR news every time.

      1. Julie –
        I’m in the same boat. I have a work computer (boat anchor) that I should do personal work on. So I tend to carry a second computer every day to work and for travel. I have an aging Acer tablet that isn’t horrible, but its keyboard drives me batty.

        Best Buy is having a Black Friday deal of a Surface 4 w/ keyboard for $599. It’s a Core-M processor, but for a travel device, the reviews seem pretty positive.

        I’m waffling between that deal or Galaxy Tab Pro S. The new Pro S (currently on sale at BB for $799 with keyboard) has more memory and storage space with the same Core-M processor. The real decision point for me on these two devices is the ports. The Surface 4 has a standard USB; the Galaxy Tab Pro S has a USB-C.

        Oh the decisions.

  4. I didn’t really like the surface 3 or 4. I have to set them up for Office Execs (and of course “TEST” them first). I did fall in love with the Lenovo X1 Tablet. That one I kept for myself.

      1. Yes, that is it. The Power adapter is Bulkier than I would prefer. But smaller than my HP and Dell. It’s USB-C, so I hoped I could just bring the ONE charger I had, but it requires (I just found out this morning) 20v 2.25amp USB-C DC mode. I found a charger that supports that, so I will test it when it arrives on sat.

        I also have the productivity module attached. which adds about 3 hours of run time, an extra USB 3 port HDMI out, and the super port for docking station.

        See pictures. http://imgur.com/a/akeAy

          1. It’s a little on the heavier side for a tablet. But it does have a metal case/frame, not cheap plastic one. (I just went to shipping and weighted everything)

            Tablet = 1.6lbs
            Charger = .6lbs
            Productivity Module/Ex-Battery = .6lbs
            Keyboard = .4lbs

            Total=3.2lbs As configured for me.

            I forgot to weigh the stylus. LOL about the same as a sharpie.

    1. That’s a good question. It’s been a long time since I had a hackintosh. I think that might be more trouble than it’s worth. I can deal with Windows 10 for a week while on vacation 😉 It’s fine… just not my favorite OS.

      1. Yes you can, and it’s not worth the pain, or risk of suddenly being stuck with a broken machine because some tiny apple update snuck in and broke it once again.

        1. That was kind of what I was thinking too. I’ve done the whole hack thing with laptops and phones which is fun for awhile, but more trouble than it’s worth when it’s all said and done. I just want something that works.

          1. I still hack, I just hack things like Game consoles, and other toys. I need my computers/phones/tablets to work perfectly.

  5. Jules;
    Have you looked at the Tom Bihn Ristoretto? Mine is slightly larger than my Bihn Cafe bag (main EDC Bag) but has a padded pocket for computers/tablets. My XPS13 fits nicely, and the overall size forces me to abandon the “kitchen sink” approach to traveling with mobile computing.

      1. Just a comment on iOS, I have to agree. I received a notice of a comment on my previous thread, clicked on the link and was taken to your Gadged Diary, but was unable to get to the comments. That was until I got back and accessed it in Windows 10.

          1. I was using the Gmail app on an iPad, not the gmail within a browser, so maybe. Clicking on the comment link from within the gmail app opens the link in Safari, with the articles arranged so you scan horizontally. Cannot find comments at all.

            Why do OS’s have to be soooooo helpful these days?

    1. I’ve used the asus transformer for a couple of years now

      it’s fast and the battery life is quite good (however it takes a very long time to recharge), the touchscreen actually works well

      this year in Alaska I attached an antique gps dongle to it and in conjunction with offline MAPS maps was no longer lost

      all in all it’s adequate for the purposes I use it for (writing, basic photo manipulation, email and browsing)

      regarding Costco…they double your warranty life on computer gear

  6. I have similar dilemma as you Julie. I love the iPad hardware but hate the iOS software. Mainly because there’s no “file system” which I’m so used to in Android and Windows/Mac. I understand you like it small and light with a keyboard. Have you ever tried using the Macbook 12″? I personally use it as my everyday to-go laptop now. It’s just as light as a larger tablet but of course running MacOS. I have it dual boot with Win10 as well. The thing that surprises me is that it’s a very capable laptop that’s not running a powerful processor. It has no problems running my business apps, emails, quickbooks, adobe suites, etc. Only real slowdown I’ve experienced is if I game on it or do heavy video editing. Other than that it’s a very great laptop. I’m still using the 1st gen one and I have no complaints with it at all.

    1. I’m not sure I’ll buy another MacBook at this point. I just feel like the bang for your buck ratio is not high enough anymore. That said, no. I’ve never tried the 12″ MB. I had a MBAir a few years ago though.

      1. I would also recommend the Macbook 12″. its super light, pretty fast and not much more expensive than an iPad Pro. Its also fanless which makes it totally silent.

  7. Julie, I am sure you did, but did you try the Gmail app during your experiment?

    I am planning on getting one of these devices in January, and I think I can make it work, since with macOS Sierra, I can very easily sync Mac files/folders to iCloud and work from both devices, but you are making me wonder if there are too many compromises to make it all work without too much effort.

    1. The Gmail app works great IF you don’t use stars (other than the yellow one) and only use a few folders/labels. Then you can scroll through the list to file things. But I have 100’s if not 1000’s of folders and labels because I make a folder for every company that sends product samples so I can keep track of each review that we do.

      Using a tablet to edit images is also another potentially frustrating workflow problem for me because it would take more effort to edit, crop, resize, rename and save images using a tablet than a computer.

  8. I share your opinion of the iPad Pro. I brought one home as a replacement for my MacBook 12″ Retina while the latter was being repaired by Apple.

    I disliked the Apple keyboard; using touch input for Microsoft Office (not my choice, but my employer’s); and using iOS to perform tasks in apps that were crippled compared to the MacOS version of the same app. Bottom line, I enjoyed the iPad when I had one for media content consumption, but my MacBook is vastly superior to any iPad for getting real work done, and it is about the same size and weight.

    I’m waiting for a really good sale to buy a 2016 MacBook and will use my 2015 as a backup. No more iPads, Pro version or otherwise.

  9. I travel almost every week. The combination that works for me is:

    Dell XPS 13
    iPad Mini
    Nexus 6P

    I find this combination works best. I have gone through three other full size tablets, and three other cell phones.

    I have contemplated the surface pro (and have gone into best buy a few times to look at it) but the issue is that on an airplane you need a laptop that can support itself on your lap and during turbulence. And I do not need handwriting input, I would only use the keyboard.

    For reading documents or Kindle I use the iPad mini, which is a good size, I find the standard Kindle reader too small.

    Finally the Nexus 6p is great. It’s big enough that I can write off emails on it. And when exploring new cities it’s great because of its battery life, large screen and decent camera. I have also thought about getting a dedicated camera. But the bulk just isn’t worth it, cell phone cameras are fine.

    1. I have all three of the same devices that you have. I don’t use the iPad mini much at all anymore though. I’m saving it for my dad if the regular sized older iPad that I gave my dad eve konks out. On my last vacation, I took the XPS 13, Nexus 6P and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.5. I barely used the Tab so that device will not go with me on my next trip. I can read books just fine on my phone which I also use as my camera.

  10. I would consider trying a Chromebook. Inexpensive, don’t weigh so much and have Gmail integration. In recent years they also work well offline.

    1. I’d have to see if the Chromebooks show the full desktop version of Gmail with multiple inboxes and easy label/folder search. But these days I’m pretty convinced that I want a regular laptop. It just has to be a light weight one.

  11. Hi Julie. Have you considered an Android hybrid? I use a Sony Xperia Z4 tablet (with the Bluetooth keyboard, which comes packaged with the tablet as standard here in the UK but I think is a optional extra in the States). It’s *incredibly* thin and light, and has replaced my laptop as my main travelling device. It also supports MHL, so I can plug it in to hotel TVs and use the keyboard as a remote.

    Admittedly Office and Gmail on Android tablets aren’t quite at feature parity with the desktop versions, but they’re pretty close, and if I need to do any really heavy lifting I can use it to remote desktop back into a PC back home.

      1. I’ve used it on the bus before, on my lap. It worked pretty well in that context. It is fairly large, though. That said, it turns itself into a tablet and has the ability to run pretty much anything, so it can replace a lot of other devices by itself.

  12. Depending on how often you travel, have you considered buying a refurbished MacBook/MB Air of the same vintage as your current workhorse? I’ve been seeing them on Woot for $300-$600 depending on RAM/SSD size.

  13. Many years ago I gave up on laptops and went to tablets – Windows tablets with styli. My current tablet is a Dell Venue 8 Pro 5855 with full 64 bit Windows 10 (I got Home, Pro is available), an Intel x5-Z8500, a Wacom stylus, 4gb of RAM, 64gb of storage, and a 1920×1200 8″ screen all for under $500. It weighs 0.83 pounds and can charge off of USB-C (charger included) or off any charger/battery with a USB-A to USB-C cable. I love mine.

      1. Windows itself is relatively tablet friendly. Some older Windows desktop programs (and desktop websites), not so much. Still, I find that most of the time my finger selects what I intended.

        But when accuracy is needed, I recommend a stylus over a Bluetooth mouse. I find it as accurate as a mouse for cursor positioning, equipped for finger selection of right/left click, and capable of activating hovering. If you’re working with graphics, it’s far better than a mouse for things like outlining an irregular crop. It also allows for handwritten notes and annotations (and even handwritten input which is amazingly good at translating my chicken scratches to text).

          1. Maybe I’m just used to the 8″ form factor after several years of daily use or maybe the Dell’s digitizer is more accurate than the Teclast but I don’t normally find that a problem. You can adjust the size of controls i in Windows and in some desktop programs but maybe you tried that unsuccessfully.

  14. Buy a refurbished 11″ 2013 MacBook Air direct from Apple.
    Inexpensive, light-weight, lighted keyboard, 1-year warranty, Mac OS.
    Buy a padded envelope from Staples for a case.
    I take mine everywhere.

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