So six months ago I started an experiment forgoing an iPad and MacBook for a Microsoft Surface 3. It didn't go well for me. The hardware was great. I loved taking handwritten notes directly on the screen - it changed how I work on a daily basis. So how did it all fall apart? The Surface wants to be a computer and a tablet. At the former it excels at but the latter it struggles - because the apps just aren't there. Sure, you can open up a Windows program and get the job done, but there was no quick loading and clean touchable UI for most of my workflow like I was used to on an iDevice. So with the release of the iPad Pro and Pencil, back to Apple I went buying a 12.9" tablet. Now I have my handwritten notes and my apps. Enough about work though... the question Nomad Gamer readers will want answered is "What about gaming?". In short, it's glorious.
Starting with the obvious... the screen is gigantic. Consuming any media on it is a fabulous experience. Netflix, iBooks and YouTube look great. Games though - My God are they are amazing. Tabletop games especially shine here. Ticket to Ride, Small World, Hearthstone and even Scrabble have room to breathe and show off the detail in the game's graphical assets that are lost on a teeny tiny phone screen. Pass-and-play board games feel like their cardboard counterparts. This is a screen for sharing experiences and you can plop it down in the middle of a table and gather around it to play. Perfect for nomadic gamers traveling with the family. Sound is much improved too with four stereo speakers directionally switching to pump out the audio. It's crisp and loud - again perfect to share with a group. Motion controls can be a bit tough in a small space, but the trade-off is that games with controller support feel like you are playing on a (last generation) console. An experience that is tailor-made for vacation or a hotel room when travelling for work.
This is (still) the fastest iDevice ever made and it shows with its 2.26Ghz A9X processor and 4 GB of RAM chewing up and spitting out anything the App Store can throw at it. It weighs about a pound and a half - more than an Air and its 9.7" sibling, but it is a fine trade off for the size and in a reality check it is about the same weight as the first generation iPad. Not too shabby. I don't find the size to be unwieldy - in fact I love the fact it is just bigger than a sheet of actual paper. When writing notes on it it doesn't feel cramped - it feels like an actual legal pad. Microsoft Surface still shows some refinement that the Pro lacks. Their pen enabled software is more robust. OneNote completely trumps Apple Notes. Cupertino needs to get on that. Pencil support has not come to Safari, so annotation of web pages is a no-go. The pen is mightier than the Pencil. The pen's design is great with the button/eraser on top serving as a quick launch for OneNote (on click) and as an eraser when turned 180 degrees. The pencil by comparison has a useless cap that covers the awkward lightning connector (why is this not retractable?) and I am still turning my pencil around trying to erase instead of selecting the eraser tool. Hopefully Apple will fix this with Pencil 2. As an aside, the keyboards for both devices are great. Both have a nice feel and keypress. The apple connector is a bit nicer with the smooth flat surface over the keyed connector that Microsoft uses. It's not a big deal either way, but the Apple connector feels like it could have a more universal application while the Microsoft connector feels decidedly proprietary for the keyboard.
If you are looking for a "laptop" replacement then the 12.9 is your best bet. With 4GB of RAM its also more future-proof than the rest of the line. As someone using the big Pro for work, play and art it is a perfect fit for me. I think tabletop game lovers and families will find this model to be their best fit as well. It does seem overwhelmingly big at first, but after you have used it for a week or two I think you will find it a perfect companion for on-the-go gaming.