The Gear You Need to Make Your iPad Your Only Computer

There are two types of people in the world: Those who just know they could never get away with using an iPad as their only computer, and everyone else. And the odds are you’re one of those true believers.

The truth is, you can (probably) totally do this. Unless you spend your days in Photoshop or Premiere, or you absolutely need some kind of esoteric accounting software, you don’t need all the computer you have. You’d be happier with something simpler, friendlier, and more attune to how you work.

Ditching your laptop for a tablet brings big benefits. A tablet is thinner, lighter, and you can leave it in your bag when going through airport security. (And leave it on during takeoff!) The battery lasts much longer, and the charger’s smaller too. You have more access to all the apps you also use on your smartphone. You can read in bed, watch Netflix in the car, and hammer out a spreadsheet on the train, all on one device. Theoretically, this is true of any tablet. You enjoy most of the same upsides with something like a Surface Pro 4, although it’s more of a tweener than a tablet. In pure tablet terms, the iPad’s really the only game in town.

Still, the iPad needs a little help to reach its full potential. You’ll need a few accessories, a little training, and some time to adjust to your new normal. Trust me when I say it’s a good thing that you can’t have 46 apps running simultaneously, and that you’ll only miss your super-duper file explorer app for a few days. You’ll soon realize that your computer doesn’t have to be complicated or clunky after all.

Buy Right

Before you plunk down your plastic, ask yourself a few questions. First, which iPad? I suggest the new Pros, since you’ll want to use this machine for years to come. Next: 12.9-inch or 9.7-inch? I find the smaller Pro more versatile, but you might be willing to trade some portability for screen space. You can’t go wrong either way. (Which color to get is up to you, even if space gray is clearly the best.) Finally, storage. This one’s simple: Get as much as you can afford. No one’s ever complained about having too much space.

Finally, if you can swing LTE, get it. You don’t pay for the service unless you’re using it, and cell connectivity raises the ultra-portable feeling to another level. Plus, you can get a week’s worth of data for 10 bucks.

Accessorize

Look at your laptop. Now look at your iPad. What’s missing? A keyboard! If you intend to truly Get Things Done, you’re going to want one. The moment you attach a true typing accessory to your tablet is the moment working on your tablet starts feeling normal. The Logitech Create keyboard case is the best. If you’re into clackier keys, try Razer’s case. Want something that doesn’t attach to your tablet? Apple’s Magic Keyboard is tough to beat. All are better than Apple’s smushy Smart Keyboard.

Beyond that, the list of accessories you absolutely can’t live without is probably small. An Anker PowerCore+ 20100 provides plenty of backup juice, and a Seagate Wireless Plus external hard drive is clutch when your 3-D modeling habit gets out of control. You’ll occasionally need to plug stuff into your iPad, which is what Apple’s Lightning-to-USB adapter is for. (Ignore the fact that it’s called a “Camera Adapter,” it supports basically anything.) If you’re someone who likes to print everything because you’re pretending it’s still 1999, an AirPrint-enabled printer like the Brother HL-L2340DW instantly connects to your iPad. Rather go to Kinko’s? The Transcend JetDrive Go and the Lexar Jumpdrive C20i thumb drives have Lightning on one side and USB on the other, so they’ll plug into anything.

A good wireless controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus turns your iPad into a pretty solid gaming rig, and if you buy an Apple TV your iPad can also be your universal remote. Most of these things work with your iPhone, too—if you’re already bought into iOS, adding an iPad into the mix is incredibly simple.

The New Ways

Once you go all-in on an iPad, the time will come, probably on the first day, when you want to fling your tablet through a window and retreat to the comforting embrace of your laptop. Don’t give in! This works, but takes getting used to. Embrace the focus that comes with seeing just one or two apps at a time. Learn to reach for the screen rather than the trackpad. Take the trouble to fine-tune your notifications so you aren’t bombarded with ESPN alerts while finishing that quarterly report. Mostly, just give it time. Breathe.

A few things make the transition easier. Before you even start, go nuts with cloud storage—Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, whatever. Keep everything there, and stop worrying about which device things are on because everything is everywhere. Master the iPad’s keyboard shortcuts (long-press the Command key in any app to see them), so you can do more without even moving your hands. Install an automator app like Workflow, so that you don’t have to do all the repetitive copy-and-pasting paperwork an app can do for you. Download Launcher, and put your essential contacts and apps right there in the notification pulldown. The most common knock on the iPad-as-computer idea is that the tablet makes it too hard to use a few apps at once and move things around. With a little elbow grease, you can speed things way up.

No matter what, this switch will take some work. Going from the powerful flexibility of a Mac or Windows machine to the more restrained world of iOS will make you rethink a few things. You’ll need new apps, new systems, new workflows. But if you mostly live in a browser and like the idea of working from anywhere without having to hunt for outlets or pay through the nose for crappy public Wi-Fi, it’s totally worth it.