Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What is it like writing on a shiny new iPad Pro?

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti
Angela's iPad Pro
One of the nicest things about surviving the December holidays—aside from the general relief of the holidays being over—is the fresh slate of a new year. A lot of folks take this as an opportunity to do their New Year’s resolutions. I am certainly among them! And as a writer, there’s certainly a lot I could say about writer-based resolutions in general, or about my particular writing plans for 2018. But it’s a bit late in the month for New Year’s Resolutions posts, and I’ve actually already written the “my writing plan for 2018” post over on my own site.

What I want to talk about in this post is actually why I like January: because it’s when I have my birthday! This year, thanks to a nice bonus from my day job, I’ve treated myself to a birthday present. I’ve gotten me an iPad Pro. I’m not going to review the device in full here; plenty of tech sites have done that in depth already. But I do want to talk about its probable uses for me as a writer!

First and foremost: one of the accessories you can buy for it is a Smart Keyboard. If you follow Apple tech news you may already know about this, a cover similar to the smart covers that older iPads have, which magnetically snap shut over the screen when you don’t want to use the thing, and which can fold in useful ways when you do. The Smart Keyboard takes that same idea and expands upon it. Now, in addition to the ability to close over your screen magnetically and fold in a couple of interesting ways depending on how you want to arrange the device, there’s a built-in keyboard.

As a techie myself, I’m interested in how the keyboard functions. If you’ve used mobile devices before, iOS or Android, you are likely already familiar with Bluetooth. This new keyboard is not actually a Bluetooth device. Instead, as I understand it, it makes a direct connection to the tablet via three little dimples along the side. And it’s not battery driven, which is handy on the general grounds of not having to remember to charge it.

There are three possible downsides for the casual user for this thing:

  1. It comes in only one color, gray, so if you care about that you may find it kind of boring looking. I would not be surprised at all if Apple starts shipping the thing in different colors later, given how the smart covers are in a variety of shades. But for now, your option is just ‘gray’.
  2. It adds a bit of extra bulk when you close it over the screen. I still find it slim and light enough to make it worth carrying around with me, but it’s something to consider nonetheless. Even with the extra thickness from the keyboard, the tablet still fits in the previous sleeve I was using for my older iPad, an iPad Air 2, so it’s all good for me!
  3. I have a long history of writing on my laptop while flopped over on the couch, with the laptop propped against my legs. With my older iPad, I have a hard shell for it made by HP that has a built-in Bluetooth keyboard, and I can do that sort of maneuver with it, too. But with this new iPad and the Smart Keyboard, I can’t, quite. The reason for this is the way that the keyboard folds up against the device, and how the device attaches magnetically to it. It’s very stable on a flat surface, like a desk or a table. But it would not be quite so stable propped against your legs when you’re lying on a couch.

None of these issues are particularly huge for me, though. And so I wouldn’t hold any of them up as reasons for a fellow writer to not get one of these things.

“That’s all very well and good, Angela,” you may be saying now, “but you’re a writer. How’s it handle for actual writing?”

Good question! I can tell you that I wrote the first draft of this post on said keyboard. I find it very easy to type on, though the various keys are a bit squishy compared to a larger keyboard—such as the one on my MacBook, or even the Bluetooth keyboards I’ve used before. But unlike with the laptop keyboard, there’s no openings under the keys on this thing that would allow for dust getting in under them, which I feel is a strong win. The really interesting question for me will be how it holds up to extensive use, though. I’m a fast typist, and I can give a keyboard a lot of work in the course of long-term usage!

For now, though, I’m finding it a pleasant enough experience that I’ve not only written this post on it, but some work on my actual work in progress, too.

Which brings me to the next thing to talk about: what apps to use when you’re doing actual writing on such a device.

I’ve written here before about being blown away by Scrivener. I continue to love, love, love me some Scrivener, and as an iOS user, I’m particularly happy that the program—essential for my writing—has been ported to that platform. I’ve got mine set up to save projects to my Dropbox, so I can easily work on the iPad, save, and jump over to the laptop as necessary. Or vice versa.

This post, however, I wrote in something called DocsToGo. This was an app I picked up in the early days of my iOS usage, back before Microsoft Office existed in app form, and even before cloud services like Dropbox became a thing. DocsToGo set itself up as an app you could use to sync documents back and forth between your computer and your mobile device, and, most importantly, included compability with Microsoft Office files.

Now, of course, we have official Microsoft Office apps that exist on iOS, as well as Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, and other cloud services. But for now, I’m hanging onto DocsToGo just because it’s an easy way to write up a short thing like a blog post without having to fire up Scrivener. I’m not a hundred percent happy with this as a writing experience, just because it seems to have some screen redraw problems when I select text and delete it. I’m also seeing a bit of flakiness with the app taking a few seconds to acknowledge the keyboard’s presence when I bring the device out of sleep.

Aside from the keyboard, I note for reference that I chose to get the smaller iPad Pro, since I felt that the larger one was too bulky for my tastes. If you are a fellow writer who might want to write on an iPad Pro, screen size will be a matter of your personal preference. I find that the smaller device gives me plenty of screen space, enough that for any given bit of something I’m working on, there’s enough context that I can do any necessary edits.

I will be posting more general details about the iPad Pro over on my own site, including my playing with the Apple Pencil that I bought with it! I invite Here Be Magic visitors to come on over to and look for my posts there.

Here, though, I’d like to open it up to the floor for my fellow writers who write on mobile devices! What do you use? Do you write on a tablet or a phone? Do you use an additional keyboard? What apps do you like, either iOS or Android? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Editing to add: Changed the post to reflect that the Smart Keyboard does not actually come with the iPad Pro; you do have to buy that separately.

In addition to being a writer of urban and epic fantasy, Angela is also a giant tech nerd, as you probably guessed. Come geek out with her about your favorite apps at, and oh yeah, check out her books while you're over there! Or, find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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