Why Even Get an iPad?

That’s a great question, and one that I’m not even sure I have a good answer to. I guess it’s because it’s light weight, portable, convenient, compact, powerful, responsive, and extremely quick to navigate around and use – unlike a desktop OS. The newest 12.9” iPad Pro that I’m using to write this rivals many laptops in terms of computing prowess. However, using an iPad for anything more than basic tasks is an exercise in frustration, compromise, and one workaround after another. In this article, I hope to share my experiences, frustrations, and solutions from the most basic iOS shortcomings to more complex ones. After discussing the negatives, and there are a lot of them, I’ll also share some positive points. Plus, I’ll discuss the apps that I do use and recommend, but also will talk about their shortcomings as well. Let’s get started.

The Bad – Issues, Problems, Workarounds, and Shortcomings

Keyboard Case and Pen

Let’s face it, if you’re going to get a new iPad Pro (I’m using the 12.9″ 2018 model), you’re going to want to buy the keyboard/case and pen. The keyboard/case itself is functional. The keys work very well, and the way it attaches with magnets works great. However, the exterior feels like a cheap vinyl seat. The color is a drab grey. It also scratches and scuffs easily. Too bad Apple doesn’t give us any other material options. If there were an executive style brown and black leather option with a more premium feel, I would gladly pay more.

My biggest complaint with the keyboard/case is that you can only have your iPad at one of two angles – both of which are awful.

Most of the keys function as they would on a desktop, but not all. For example, you can’t delete! You can backspace, but there’s no function button to press along with the backspace key (labeled delete) like there is on an actual Mac. Thus, you can’t really use the delete key for deleting, only as a backspace. The keyboard/case is definitely better than using the onscreen keyboard though. I pretty much only use the iPad with the keyboard and have it in a laptop orientation the majority of the time I’m using it unless I’m editing photos.

How about that pen? Well, it would be fine if it could do everything your finger can, but it can’t. No kidding, you can’t swipe up to display the application menu with the pen – you still have to use your finger. You also can’t bring down the control center menu with the pen – only your finger. Why? Because Apple. Really, there’s no good reason why you can’t use the pen for everything – you just can’t. You’ll find yourself constantly using your fingers in addition to the pen to get simple tasks done. Also, the tip of the pen unscrews occasionally and then the pen stops working. I’ve had to manually screw the tip back in to restore functionality a couple of times now.

Browsing the Web

As you’re probably aware, the iPad uses Safari mobile. Now on an iPhone, that’s fine, but on a larger and more powerful screen like the iPad, you really could use a desktop class browser like a real version of Chrome, but alas, that’s a fairy tale at this point. On the plus side, Safari is quite responsive. However, there are a variety of issues that plague Safari mobile, but I’ve got some workarounds for you:

Sites recognize it as a mobile browser, thereby limiting functionality of various websites. Yes, you can enable desktop mode for websites, but it has to be enacted manually for each and every website – every time you visit. You can always use another browser, but I’ve found most of them aren’t that great.

Ads! The internet is so full of advertisements that it’s essential to use some sort of adblocking software. iOS and Safari are susceptible to numerous types of ads and pop ups that direct you to scammy apps, but there is a multitude of third party ad blocking solutions available. After trying numerous apps, here’s the ad blocker that I recommend and the one that I am currently using:

AdGuard – and it’s free! I mean really free! You don’t need to pay for their full version. There’s a ton of features that you can turn on and off too, here’s what features I’ve enabled and disabled:

These settings seem to work well for me, but I’ve had to disable AdGuard from time to time because it makes certain sites not function properly. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve found for iOS. In case you’re wondering why I haven’t enabled more filters, it’s because there is a maximum number of filters you can use, and I’ve pretty much hit that wall.

Another problem with Safari mobile is downloading. You want to download something? Inconceivable!!! Apple decided that you can’t download anything with Safari. Why on Earth would you ever want to download anything?!?!? Seriously, I have no idea what they were thinking. Fortunately, there’s quite a few third party programs out there that can indeed download files for iOS. That being said, you can’t use AdGuard with those other programs – grrrrrrrrr. If I do need to download a file though, the program that I use is Documents by Readdle.

It has a decent web browser and a nice file management system. However, typical shortcut keys like ⌘T do not open a new tab, nor does ⌘W result in closing of a window. The file management system within documents is OK, but not my favorites. Speaking of file management…

File Management

There’s many reasons to want to manage files on your iPad Pro. It could be something as simple as wanting to extract a zip file, moving photos to and from the Photos app, wanting to copy files to/from a computer on a local network or external WiFi enabled hard drive, downloading a theme for your blog and then wanting to upload it onto your server, etc.

iOS has a built in app called “Files,” but it’s lacking in many features, and it’s not very intuitive to use. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an app for file managemnt that does everything. You’ll inevitably end up using the Files app for a few things, but try to avoid it – you’ll be happier.

The largest problem inherent to all file management applications on iOS (even Files to a large extent), is that you can not move a file from one application to another – you can only copy them! Thereby having the same file stored in two separate apps. This has the disadvantage of eating up your free storage space, and then requiring an extra step of going in and deleting the files from the app that no longer needs them.

Previously, I mentioned Documents for downloading, and it does have some basic file management features, but I can not get it to connect to a locally networked machine – even though it’s supposed to. This causes numerous problems for my workflow. The app is free though, so I can’t complain too much. I still use it for downloading files from the web though

Other than Documents, there are two main programs that I do use for file management, and they are both made by the same manufacturer – Skyjos:

The fist app is called FE File Explorer. I use FE File Explorer for connecting to my local network / file server. It’s what I use to take my photos and videos created with the iPad and offload them to my main desktop PC or WiFi enabled external hard drive (specifically the Western Digital Wireless SSD Pro). FE is also a great tool for copying files off of all of those devices onto your iPad. This is useful if you want to load your iPad  up with movies for an upcoming trip, media that needs editing, LUTs for video editing, and any other file you can think of. It can also access the iOS camera roll, but it’s not a photo management solution. For that you need a separate, but similar app – Photo Manager Pro 5.

Photo Manager Pro 5 allows you to copy (not move) photos and videos from your camera roll to the app itself fairly easily. What makes this app so special, is that you can copy move your images into separate folders within the app. Thus, setting up and even maintaining a real organized file structure for your photos. Furthermore, you can batch rename your images as well! This is the only app that I’ve found for iOS that actually does this!

Skyjos really should just combine the two apps into one product, but it doesn’t seem like they have any plans on doing so.

Ultimately, file management is the biggest weakness of iOS. It’s the one feature that the iPad Pro truly needs in order to make it a “pro” device.

Photos / iCloud

iCloud storage for photos just isn’t worth it. The Photos app is too limiting from an organizational standpoint, and there’s no need to sync that many photos to every Apple device you own. Furthermore, your ISP even has a bandwith limit that will be eaten up by all the data synching across multiple devices.

The solution is three fold:

First, use Google Photos. I recommend paying $10 a month and having 2TB of online storage. You can access it from any platform, it’s fast, and it has the best search interface / results of any photo management software – bar none! Moreover, the facial recognition algorithms are even better than Facebook.

Second, back your photos up to a local network attached storage or PC.

Third, have a backup solution to number two.

YouTube Viewing Is a Problem

YouTube is actually a problem, but it’s Alphabet’s (fun fact, Alphabet owns Google and YouTube) problem with Apple. Unfortunately, the end user, namely us, suffers. The iPad Pro has a beautiful screen. Really, it’s awesome! The hardware is capable of playing 4K 60p HDR content easily. You know who streams 4K 60p content? YouTube! You know who won’t stream 4K content to your iPad? YouTube! Why? Because of some nerdy argument about formats and video compression. It’s BS, but too bad for us, because we have no other streaming alternative. So, enjoy 1080p YouTube videos with your fancy new iPad.

Want to play a YouTube video on a browser tab, or in the app in the background of what you’re doing? Perhaps you want to listen to a podcast, some music, a lecture, or speech. Too bad!!! YouTube want’s to charge you $10 a month for that feature! You can do that on a desktop browser for free!

One workaround is you can split your screen and have YouTube running on the side and just ignore it, but that takes up a good portion of your screen unnecessarily.

Another option is that you can play a YouTube video on a tab within your web browser if you have the desktop page enabled, and then continue browsing in a separate tab. It’s an extra step, but works – only if you keep Safari open though.

Me? I typically opt for playing a video on my iPhone, and then putting the phone off to the side so I can hear it, and then continue working on my iPad as normal. I’m not going to pay $10 a month for YouTube – no way.

YouTube Posting is a Problem

It’s impossible to use the app to upload a video in the original format without recompression. You can however use a desktop enabled tab of Safari and upload it through the web interface though. Just annoying – there’s no good reason for this.

Lack of a Headphone Jack

Just get a Bluetooth headset already! I fought this for the longest time, but finally bit the bullet. After seeing this review of the Sony WH1000x M3 Noise Cancelling Headphones on YouTube, I am so happy I made the switch. The noise cancelling is amazing and unlike any pair of headphones I’ve ever used. The audio quality is great too. It might not be the best sound reproduction ever, but the noise cancellation definitely enhances what you’re hearing.

Battery Life Claim

Apple’s own website states: “Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music.” It’s complete nonsense. The only time that I’ve experienced battery life like that was when I was on a long flight. The iPad was in airline mode, and I was watching videos that I downloaded to it previously. Other than that, it’s no better than any other laptop.

Tons of Garbage Apps

There are so many apps out there that are utter garbage, don’t work, and are seldom updated. I’ve actually contacted Apple before and demanded a refund for some apps that are just complete trash. Unfortunately, Apple is greedy and is making it harder and harder to contact them and get your money back if you’ve truly bought a lousy app. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to ask them for a refund. I highly recommend you email them and spread this email address around – [email protected]. There needs to be a way to hold these “developers” responsible for their bad wares and protect us the customer as well.

The Good – Recommended Apps (and their deficiencies).

Photos – Included with iOS

When importing and culling files, this is the easiest and fastest way to cull on an iPad. It even supports RAW+JPEG pairs. The problem with RAW+JPEGs is that you cannot select which RAW or JPEG you want to use. By default it always selects the JPEG for copying to another program, but the RAW files are there too, just not easily accessible by other programs (except RAW Power – to be discussed later).

I’m finding that if I know I’m going to be post processing, it’s easiest to just shoot RAW only, and import just the RAW photos.

Shortcuts – Included with iOS

This app has limited functionality, but I am finding it useful  for batch file conversions like resizing images or changing PNGs to JPEGs. It’s not great for image compression though.

Google Photos

See above, but I will reiterate that it’s great app. The only real con is that it relies on an internet connection for storage and retrieval of your photos.

VSCO

This app is worth their annual fee of $20. It does such a wonderful job of film emulation that I honestly prefer it to most desktop photo editing apps! This app alone is one main reason to use an iPad for photo editing. It also supports RAW photos and video files.

There are definitely VSCO though:

  1. It heavily compresses photos on export.
  2. Limited editing options that often require you to preprocess in another app prior to bringing it into VSCO in order to get the best images.
  3. Photos are shown in VSCO’s library in a completely random fashion with no way logic or way to sort your images at all.
  4. No select all button. You might not initially think this is a big deal, but let’s just say you have been working on a large number of images. You’ve exported the JPEGs and you no longer need them residing in VSCO as well. You need to manually select each photo and delete them that way. It can be a cumbersome process.
  5. Inconsistent behavior with cutting and pasting. Sometimes you have to select a photo, then another photo, and then back to the original for cutting and pasting of settings to work. It’s a weird bug, but one that can be replicated.
  6. Video output is limited to 1080p and is heavily compressed.

Despite its numerous faults, I really like VSCOs filters and will continue to use the app for some time.

Lightroom CC for iPad

Lightroom is probably the best RAW conversion tool available for iOS, but you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to Adobe. I use it for quick adjustments and conversion of RAW to JPEGs, and even though you can do some complex edits with it, it’s a pain to use – not as comprehensive as Lightroom for your computer.

There’s also a plethora of issues that plague Lightroom for iOS:

  1. You can’t apply a preset to multiple photos! Why? The iPad Pro has such vast amounts of computing power, but Adobe won’t enable this feature.
  2. Cropping is unnecessarily complicated, because every time you go to crop an image, you have to change the setting to free form crop. Otherwise the default is always the initial aspect ratio of the image.
  3. Cannot export multiple RAW files at once – only one at a time. Such a stupid limitation!
  4. Limited export / resize options. You can have JPEGs for export, and either full size or small – that’s it, nothing else.

I wish there was some real competition for Lightroom for iOS, but sadly the competition just can’t compete with the RAW adjustments that Lightroom can perform. I’m always looking for something better though.

RAW Power

Improving all the time, is RAW Power by Gentleman Coders. The app is getting better and better, and I hope one day it can be my go to RAW converter. It has the ability to copy the RAW in RAW+JPEG stacks (before editing) to another app – no other app I have found can do this. It also makes a high quality JPEG from a RAW file. Another thing, is that it can access and make edits to RAW files directly from the camera roll – no need to import and then export images like Lightroom.

Of course, like all things for iPad there are some minuses too:

  1. Highlight recovery is nowhere close to the performance of Lightroom.
  2. Cutting and pasting settings to different photos can cause inconsistent and sometimes problematic results.
  3. Sliders often are missed. You’ll tap and drag, and nothing happens.

I’d say this app is worth a try. I played with again this evening while typing this review, and it has definitely improved from when I used it a couple of weeks ago. It still has the issues I mentioned, but the performance does seem snappier than last time. It’s got potential to replace Lightroom, but not yet.

Apple Music

Apple Music is simply the best audio quality and most integrated music streaming app for iOS. Definitely better than Spotify or Amazon Music.

Anyone who claims this app is expensive didn’t have to buy music albums to listen to their favorite artists. In comparison, you could easily have spent over $17 for a new music album over 30 years ago! Today’s streaming music services are a veritable bargain!!!

iA Writer

This I the typing app I’m using to write this article. It’s distraction free writing and cross platform compatible. It’s expensive for Windows and Mac though, and you have to buy it on each of the respective platforms. $29 on the Mac and $20 on the PC. Still, it’s a one time purchase and very efficient for writing. Don’t expect to use it for advanced formatting – it’s purpose is to get your ideas out as fast as possible. Personally, I like it!

LumaFusion

A great video editing app that seems to be all the rage. It is actually quite speedy at encoding and grading 4K footage too. It works well enough, but has some issues:

  1. Lack of keyboard shortcuts.
  2. The ability to select multiple clips at once.
  3. Confusing interface, but gets the job done.
  4. Lacks the ability to automatically determine the source material’s frame rate and dimensions.

Final Thoughts

I’ve used the 2018 iPad Pro 12.9” for almost a month now as my primary device. I’ve used it for video editing, photo processing, writing this article, managing this website, setting up a virtual machine on the web, logging into that server with SSH, managed files with FTP and SFTP, watched videos, listened to music, shopped online, done online banking (although, I’d rather do that on a full blown desktop web browser), managed and transferred files from the iPad to my NAS and the web, brought it to the pool, to a hotel, on a cruise, on a plane, to a restaurant, kitchen, etc. It’s a great portable device!

Is it a laptop replacement? It can be, albeit it a less effective and annoying one. For me, I actually just bought a new 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to use as my daily driver. Why? I want full control of the file system, of the apps, a full blown web browser, the full Twitter and Facebook experience, proper adblocking, etc. If I had to just pick one device – an iPad or MacBook Pro? Hands down – a MacBook Pro. Still, I’ll enjoy using the iPad too.

In closing, soon I’ll be traveling for business. I’ll want to watch some videos on the plane. I’ll have a couple of days of sightseeing / photographing before the class I’m attending. I’ll want to edit some photos and do some social media. Perhaps log into my work computer remotely. Maybe write something for my blog. Listen to some music. FaceTime and message my family in the evenings. Lastly, I’ll want to do some light web surfing. All in all, nothing to serious, but some casual computing. Which machine will I take for all that? My iPad Pro.