So I just came back from South Korea from teaching at the GyeongJu Sketch Festa 2023. My sketching workshop was conducted with traditional media but for the other days I actually sketched on the iPad Pro 11.
For this trip, I had purchased a secondhand iPad Pro 11 specifically because I did not want to bring along my iPad Pro 12.9. The main reason was for the lighter weight and better portability.
In this article I will share with you the usability experience of iPad Pro 11 vs 12.9 from the perspective of an artist, graphic designer and urban sketcher who enjoys sketching outdoors on location. I'll also tell you why after using the iPad Pro 12.9 for more than 5 years, I'll be switching over to the smaller 11-inch model for good.
By the way, if you have intention to buy the iPad Pro, consider using the Amazon affiliate link for your purchase to support my blog.
Much of what's written below was actually covered in this video (above) that I made a few years ago. It's still relevant today.
iPad Pro 11 has a huge advantage with weight
iPad Pro 11 (2022) weighs 466g to 470g, and the iPad Pro 12.9 (2022) weighs 682g to 685g.
The weight difference of the 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro is around 216g.
FYI, the 2018 and 2020 models of iPad Pro 12.9 weigh 633g and 643g respectively. Those models without the mini-LED displays are slightly lighter.
When I sketched this at GwangJang Market in Seoul, I held the iPad Pro by the left bezel so that my left hand could access the tools while I draw with the right hand.
It's not very possible to hold the iPad Pro 12.9 by the bezel while drawing without setting that tablet down on a surface. You can try but your thumb muscle will cramp up real fast. If you set the iPad Pro 12.9 against your lap while on your sofa, sure, no problem.
The takeaway point is this, the iPad Pro 12.9 is a table-top tablet and is best used on a surface for most comfort. The iPad Pro 12.9 is still very compact and easy to bring around compared to the smaller model, but when it comes to one-handed usage, the experience with the iPad Pro 11 is significantly better.
If your workflow involves using your tablet on a table at home, office, school or cafe, on the pull-out tray of the train or plane, or on your lap, you should have no issue with the iPad Pro 12.9 since you have a surface to work on.
A few minutes after I started sketching in the market, I removed the tablet case on my iPad Pro 11. I was standing while I was sketching and I really wanted to have the tablet as lightweight as possible. Even if I could sit and sketch, I may also remove the case so that I can bring the tablet higher to chest level for a more comfortable drawing position.
I also found myself switching from the side grip to the underhand grip so that I could rest my thumb muscles after a while. But doing so means my left hand won't have access to the tools by the left.
This is the type of usability issue you probably won't think or experience while testing the tablets at the Apple Store. Most people don't talk about this because most people don't hold their tablets with just one hand while they stand and sketch more more than an hour.
Those tablet cases have weight too
When you account for the iPad cases, they weigh even more.
The iPad Pro 12.9 is considered light for a tablet its size, but iPad Pro 11 is much lighter. When you add a case, the iPad Pro 12.9 becomes much heavier. A big tablet case weighs more than a small tablet case.
The extra weight with the added case (200g++), believe it or not, is the deal breaker. The iPad Pro 11 with case is still manageable but iPad Pro 12.9 with case becomes more unmanageable unless of course you set it down on a surface.
The larger display provides a better drawing experience in the sense that you get to see your work larger, and there's more resolution for the UI, and the UI takes up a smaller portion on the display.
Many drawing apps actually have UI designed to take up minimal space or will hide automatically to get out of the way of drawing.
The drawing experience on the smaller 11-inch display is still pretty good and I definitely have no complaints. There was not a single occasion where I wished the display was larger while I'm using the iPad Pro 11 outdoors.
An 11-inch display is still much larger than an A5-sized sketchbook as you can see above. You can still rest your palm on the display while drawing without covering much of the display.
Split screen mode or multi-tasking on the iPad still sucks. That's just my opinion. So it doesn't really matter which size you go for. The iPad workflow is mostly designed for use with one app at a time.
If I want a reference, I'll just have my phone show the reference by the side.
Web surfing on the iPad Pro 11 looks fine and very satisfactory.
The launch prices for M1 and M2 iPad Pro 11 are USD 300 lower than the iPad Pro 12.9. The price difference has increased from $200 to $300 due to the mini-LED display.
Anyway, the iPad Pro 11 provides more value for money simply because it's cheaper. You can use the money saved to increase storage capacity and get an Apple Pencil. And if you don't mind getting refurbished units direct from Apple, you can get even more savings (10 - 15% off retail prices).
Still confused which size to get? Here are some questions to help you decide.
QN: Will you set your tablet down on a table or surface while drawing?
The iPad Pro 12.9 is a tabletop tablet and requires a surface to work on. If your workflow requires you to hold the tablet in hand without support, get the iPad Pro 11.
QN: Is portability an important criteria?
This is a trick question. Both tablets are portable. If you are to bring the tablets around and set them on top a surface to use, you can go with either sizes. But as mentioned earlier if you need to hold the tablet in hand without support, get the iPad Pro 11.
I've a friend Rob Sketcherman who has an iPad Pro 12.9 and iPad Mini 8.3. I personally do not recommend the iPad Mini because the UI scaling makes the fonts and buttons look smaller.
Going with the medium sized tablets, such as the iPad, iPad Air and iPad Pro 11 really provides a good compromise against drawing usability, experience and portability.
QN: Is your iPad your main drawing device?
If you use your iPad as your main drawing device, this would suggest you will be drawing several hours a day, and that means you're likely to draw on a table or a surface. So you can go with either sizes.
At the start of the article, I mentioned I am switching to the iPad Pro 11 for good. Yes, I will be selling away my iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) but I still have the iPad Pro 12.9 (2018). Once the old iPad breaks down, it will just be the iPad Pro 11.
I hope this article is useful. If you need specific reviews for iPad models, visit this link: https://www.parkablogs.com/category/tags/ipad