I recently went on my first week long vacation since I started Tom’s Guide. At the airport on the way back, the port agent announced: The airline offered $ 400 to anyone willing to take another flight. The number crept up to $ 600, then $ 800 and hit $ 1,000. And not just in airline credits; the agent also offered gift cards from major retailers.
It was a tempting offer. But after taking five days off from work, plus a vacation, I thought I should not skip another day. I did not have my MacBook Air on this trip, but I had brought an iPad Air (2020). Can I use it to work, take the offer and come home the next day?
TL; DR ̵
What I was wearing
For my trip, I brought with me an iPad Air (2020), a review device I had borrowed to test out some music production apps. It works like a dream and deserves full recognition as “one of the best iPads ever”, as my colleague Henry T. Casey wrote in his review of the model.
In the month I’ve had it, the iPad Air has delivered lightning-fast performance. I had seen it switch smoothly between GarageBand and Moogs Model D without hiccups. For work purposes, it needed to do even less.
Along with the iPad Air, I had a magic keyboard and an Apple pencil. I did not really need the latter for work, but the Magic Keyboard would be the key to using the iPad as a replacement for a laptop. In fact, Casey fantasized that “Magic Keyboard support means the iPad Air is finally a laptop.”
Maybe it’s true in some situations or for certain people. For myself, that was just not the solution to the $ 1000 offer.
Why the iPad ultimately did not work at work
As a writer, I do not need a lot of specialized programs to do my job. I need email, Chrome, Slack and an image editor like Photoshop Elements or Affinity. And since I cover streaming, I also need to be able to watch Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, etc.
All of these apps are available on iPadOS, so I started downloading them right away at the airport. Then I opened the apps and logged in to see if I could possibly work with some skin of normalcy.
IPad Air again had no problem loading or even switching between apps. The problem is that the iPad version of some apps is just not as good as the macOS versions.
Take Chrome, for example. On an iPad, Chrome only sucks. There are no extensions, and access to bookmarks is a drag. I often use an incognito window for Google questions, and it was a nightmare to use one in the Chrome iPad app. It is kept separate from regular Chrome tabs; Switching back and forth takes valuable time. All of this may be because the iPad version of Chrome is not really Chrome: Apple is forcing all browsers on iOS and iPadOS to use its own WebKit rendering engine.
I also had trouble using Slack. On the laptop, I keep Slack open in the background while navigating between different Chrome windows, Photoshop, text editors and other applications. When I receive a notification, I can quickly look at it and decide to address it immediately or later. On the iPad, however, it’s annoying to switch between apps to check every Slack alert. The split-screen feature on iPad does not help, as it makes my Chrome window too narrow.
The other software related issue I had was downloading images. I use press sites to get pictures of shows and movies, like The Witcher or Black Widow. One site allows me to tap my finger on the image and copy it to the Photos app. But another forced me to click a download button – and the image went … somewhere? Into the airwaves? I did not find it anywhere on the iPad.
(I’ve since learned that it’s a Files app where it’s stored, but Chrome did not do a good job of explaining it.)
Not so magical keyboard
Beyond the differences in apps, I was not thrilled with the Magic Keyboard. The shaft switch and trackpad are fantastic. However, it was not really designed for lots of writing. First, it’s much narrower than the MacBook Air M1 keyboard.
Even using the keyboard for 20 minutes at the airport was a trial period (and full of typos). As a writer, my job is basically to write. So if it is difficult to type or takes more time / energy, then magic or not, this keyboard is not ideal for work.
One more thing … Having to use a combination of trackpad and touch gestures on the screen almost broke my brain.
A big plan gone
There I was at the airport – downloading apps, gesturing on the trackpad and writing furiously for about 20 minutes. After reading the glowing reviews from the previous generation iPads, I thought certainly Air could do the job. Please, for the love of $ 1000, let’s do the damn thing.
Unfortunately, as fast and powerful as the Air is, as promising as the Magic Keyboard is with it, they just weren’t enough. I imagined that I broke through the job the rest of the day, barely got anything done (and when I came out of a week’s vacation, there was a lot to do). And then I did not march up to the portagent’s desk and volunteered.
Someone else must have since the plane started boarding. I took a seat, opened the iPad Air and started watching a downloaded Netflix movie. Maybe an iPad can not replace a laptop, but it’s still damn good at something.