The everlasting question for anyone in need of mobile computing: should you buy a full laptop or should you buy a tablet and try to use it like a laptop? The second option is very doable with the latest iPad models.
The iPad isn’t a laptop, but it’s getting closer and closer. The latest Apple tablets work with keyboards and mice and have USB-C ports, and some even share the same system-on-chip as the latest MacBooks. In many use cases, an iPad can now completely replace a laptop.
Which iPad is closest to a laptop?
The iPad Pro is the laptop-like tablet that Apple makes. It’s available in 11-inch (from $ 799) and 12.9-inch (from $ 1,099) screen sizes, features Apple’s new M1 chip, and costs more than a single one USB-C connector like most new laptops.
The 10.9-inch iPad Air (starting at $ 599) costs a close second, but not quite the same level of performance. The Air has USB-C charging, but is powered by the slightly older A14 Bionic System-on-Chip. Both the Pro and Air range are compatible with the new Magic Keyboard accessory, which goes a long way towards making the iPad feel more like a laptop.
In 2020, Apple began migrating its Mac lineup to Apple Silicon ARM-based chips, starting with the M1. The M1 is practically a successor to the A14 system-on-chip that Apple is already using in its iPad and iPhone range. While the iPad Pro wasn’t the first to get the M1 chip in its name, the lines between it and the A14 are blurry.
Although the iPad Pro uses the same chip as Apple’s Mac range, performance is limited by the iPad’s lack of cooling and form factor. The 24-inch iMac and 13-inch MacBook Pro have fans that allow them to stay under load longer before the clock speeds drop. However, the iPad Pro relies solely on the aluminum case to dissipate heat.
Another possibility that the M1 iPad’s performance doesn’t quite match that of the M1 MacBooks is the way iPadOS manages memory. The iPad Pro 2021 has 8 GB of RAM or 16 GB on the 1 TB and 2 TB models. Currently, processes can only use 5GB of RAM regardless of which iPad Pro you have. This means that a single app can’t take full advantage of the iPad Pro’s performance, even though more RAM means better multitasking performance.
Which screen size you choose can also have a big impact. The larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers more screen real estate for better multitasking and is also ideal for artists who appreciate a larger canvas. The smaller 11-inch Pro and 10.9-inch Air feel more tablet-like, as they’re much better suited for handheld use, but they sacrifice pixels for that.
Add a keyboard or mouse to any iPad
Even if you have a regular old iPad, you can make it more laptop-like by adding a keyboard and mouse. You can do this with both wired and wireless peripherals that use bluetooth, provided you have the right adapters for the job.
If you have a USB-C iPad like the Pro or Air, you can plug in a USB-C mouse or keyboard, or use a standard USB-A to USB-C to customize peripherals with the older connector type. There’s nothing to enable or install, most keyboards should “just work” wherever you enter text.
A Bluetooth keyboard or mouse can also be connected. Just go to Settings> Bluetooth on your iPad, then put your keyboard or mouse in pairing mode. When you see it in the list, tap on it to pair it. In addition to normal Bluetooth mice and keyboards, Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 can also be used with iPadOS.
There are a number of handy iPad keyboard shortcuts that will help you use iPadOS faster than ever, including the usual copy and paste (Command + C or Command + V) and app switching (Command + Tab).
To customize the look of your mouse pointer, go to Settings> Accessibility> Pointer Controls, where you can change the pointer size, color, shape, and more. Apple has one List of mouse gestures that you can use with your iPad.
Get some iPad-specific peripherals
If you’ve got an iPad Pro or iPad Air, Apple is Magic keyboard (starting at $ 299) is one of the best accessories you can buy. Not only is it a full keyboard with a built-in trackpad, but it’s also a great stand that makes using your tablet a lot more comfortable on a desk or other flat surface.
The Magic Keyboard is comfortable to type and has a hinged design that allows you to adjust the viewing angle. It sits a little higher than the average laptop screen and folds flat to protect your tablet during transport. You also get a conveniently placed USB-C port for expansion or charging.
Unfortunately, the Magic Keyboard is an expensive accessory that is difficult to justify. If you’re on a tight budget, check out this from Logitech Combination touch for 11-inch and 12.9-inch Pro models. It features a Surface-style keyboard and trackpad, and a built-in folio-style stand that also protects your iPad.
IPad docks are also available that allow you to connect many more devices to your iPad Pro. To the example, the Anker PowerExpand 6-in-1 for iPad Pro contains a media card reader, a 3.5 mm stereo jack, a USB 3.0 Type-A, an HDMI output and a USB-C passthrough for charging or other accessories. It’s small enough to be carried around or even attached to your tablet permanently.
Use your iPad with a monitor
Laptops are valued for their portability, but can be just as useful as desktops when paired with an external monitor. iPads can also be used with external displays, although their usefulness in this regard often depends on what you’re doing or what app you’re using.
To the example, connecting an iPad to an external display will largely mirror the screen of the iPad. In apps like iMovie, you can choose to show the timeline on the display or just use it as a monitor for project output. Photos will transfer pictures and videos to the monitor, which is a handy feature for editing.
Unfortunately, the iPad is only displayed in 4: 3 aspect ratio when connected to an external display. This can look a little strange on a standard widescreen monitor as black bars appear on both sides of the screen.
If you want to use your iPad with an external display, there are three options:
- USB-C to USB-C: If both your iPad and monitor have USB-C ports, use the USB-C cable that came with your monitor to connect. If your monitor has USB PD, it will charge your iPad.
- USB-C to a suitable port: You can take a cable from the USB-C port on your iPad to an adapter suitable for your monitor (like the Anker PowerExpand 6-in-1 ).
- Lightning Digital AV adapter to HDMI: If your iPad has a Lightning connector, Apple’s is its own Lightning Digital AV adapter enables connection to an HDMI-capable display.
These iPadOS features help too
iPadOS has moved away from the iOS form as Apple migrated features like the Mac Dock to the iPad to make it a more productive workspace. These features make it a lot easier to use your iPad as a laptop, especially when it comes to multitasking.
You can use up to three apps at the same time on your iPad: two open side by side with Split View and a third floating with Slide Over. To do this, open an app, then swipe up to show the iPad dock again. Tap your second app and drag it to the side of the screen you want it to occupy.
In this mode, you can grab the middle divider to decide how much screen real estate each app gets. You can then add a third app by swiping up to reveal the dock, then tapping the app and dragging it onto the middle dividing line between the other apps.
While you have two apps open side by side, you can drag and drop them between them. For example, you can drag an image from Photos into a new message in Mail, or drag a file from files into a Cloud-Upload storage service like Google Drive.
The dock is also very handy for getting things done. You can tap and drag to remove items or add apps by grabbing the app icon and dragging it to the Dock. The portion of the dock to the right of your pinned items shows recently used apps for quick access.
App replacement and other flaws
iPadOS has become significantly more laptop-like over the years, but you could turn to app replacements for some tasks. While Safari on iOS is a full-fledged web browser, not all websites work well. One example of which uses a content management system like WordPress which navigation can be a chore.
Web apps that are designed for traditional browsers (and not for touch browsers) can also behave erratically. There are app versions of the most popular web apps that do the job well, but that requires you to juggle lots of apps instead of simply using a browser as is preferable on a laptop.
Apple’s approach to the iPhone and iPad restricts the operating system in ways that macOS doesn’t. Ordinary system tasks like formatting a USB stick cannot be performed on an iPad, nor is it easy to download apps from sources other than the App Store.
The selection of apps available to you in the App Store may determine what you can use your iPad for. Things are a lot better than they used to be with Adobe a proper version of Photoshop finally to the iPad, but the range of software you’d find on macOS or Windows just doesn’t exist.
No laptop yet
The iPad is not quite there when it comes to a true laptop replacement and may never quite reach it due to the restrictive approach Apple has taken with iPadOS.
However, if you only use your laptop for web browsing, note taking, word processing, and other light tasks, an iPad can probably replace your laptop 99% of the time. Find out which iPad is right for you with our iPad buying guide.