Review: Are Apple's iPad Pro and MacBook Air good for families?

The 2020 iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard and MacBook Air.
The 2020 iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard and MacBook Air. Photo credit: Newshub.

Oh, the joys of working and schooling from home and living almost 24-7 online. The last few weeks have been quite the eye opener for my household, I can tell you.

Luckily, the lockdown hasn't led to too many squabbles over screen access, as I've been road-testing some new Apple hardware and trying out some new apps for kids.

2020 iPad Pro

First up, the new iPad Pro, Apple's top of the range tablet with either an 11-inch or 12.9-inch screen. 

As to be expected, this year's model got an improved processor and better cameras. 12MP wide and 10MP ultra wide for the rear and an integrated LiDAR rangefinder for improved portrait mode photos and better, more accurate augmented reality apps. 

Features like Smart HDR, Quad-LED True Tone Flash, wide color, and 4K video recording at up to 60fps are included.

There are five studio-quality microphones to the iPad Pro and four speakers. It's improved the whole video conferencing experience, that's for sure. 

With the A12Z processor, battery life is good with iPad Pro lasting for about 10 hours with fairly heavy use. 

Apple's own tablet operating system, iPadOS, has mouse and trackpad support built-in which delight many users and for those of us who do like using their iPads with a keyboard, Apple has come out with a new, albeit pricey invention for the iPad Pro - the Magic Keyboard. This keyboard accessory, coupled with the new iPadOS 13.4 software, makes the iPad Pro more like a laptop than ever before.

The floating design of the new Magic Keyboard accessory enables the new iPad Pro to be tilted.
The floating design of the new Magic Keyboard accessory enables the new iPad Pro to be tilted. Photo credit: Newshub.

The stand, trackpad and backlit keyboard are combined in the one unit which instantly pairs to the iPad Pro when the Smart Connector magnets align and snap together. 

The floating design allows you to tilt the iPad so you can see it better, key travel is good and the trackpad is responsive. It's a little heavy but that's no real biggie. The downside is that price - an extra NZ$549 - but probably worth it for those who like that proper laptop feel. 

Like all current iPads, it can also be used with the optional Apple Pencil, if you want to sketch or draw on the tablet. The iPad Pro will set you back at least $1499.

For those who have an older iPad Pro model it's a worthy upgrade with its improved processor, 6GB RAM, WiFi 6 and that LiDAR Scanner for enhanced AR.

Augmented Reality apps for families

If you haven't got into the wonderful world of AR apps, you really need to start. Of course, you can do this on other iPads, not just the iPad Pro, but are some of my top picks for kids of different ages if you're keen to explore.

Pre-school students:

My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR - With AR you can see the caterpillar and you can still see the world around you. Watch him appear in your living room, on your kitchen table, in your garden, or anywhere you want to play with him.

Thomas & Friends Minis - Create your very own train set piece by piece and bring it to life with Thomas and all his friends. 

Primary school students:

Math Ninja AR - Explore every nook and cranny of the 3D ninja world to find the villager with the correct answer to the maths question.

AR-Kid: Space - Take an amazing trip to space in AR with 'Cosmo' the robot-guide.

Trying out the AR-Kid Space app on the iPad Pro.
Trying out the AR-Kid Space app on the iPad Pro. Photo credit: Newshub.

Wonderscope - Interactive AR books for kids. 

ARcheology - Dig Up History - This app puts a museum in your pocket. You can now stand next to the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex or the enormous Brachiosaurus.

High school students:

Human Anatomy Atlas 2021 - Offers thousands of models to help understand and communicate how the human body looks and works and includes textbook-level definitions. 

GeoGebra Augmented Reality - Includes several examples of 3D math objects that you can place on your table, floor or any flat surface around you. Guided activities lead you to discover math in the real world by taking screenshots from different perspectives.

Reality Composer - Easily prototype and produce AR experiences directly in AR with no prior 3D experience.

It's not all about AR. There are plenty of other good choices, For parents with very young kids, Apple has used Digital literacy advisor Joanne Orlando to give her top picks available in the App Store for those between two and five and five plus. She considers them safe, fun and educational apps, It's worth checking out. It has kept my young family entertained.

Apple Macbook Air 

If you just want to keep things simple and you're in search of a new laptop that can be shared around the family for work, school and play, the best Mac laptop for family use is, in my opinion, the MacBook Air. 

Apple uses its revamped scissor key switch mechanism for the 2020 MacBook Air.
Apple uses its revamped scissor key switch mechanism for the 2020 MacBook Air. Photo credit: Newshub.

The 2020 version is great. It's more than fast enough for the things most people use a computer for, including web browsing, working on documents, and light photo and video editing. It also has a beautiful 13.3-inch high-resolution screen, a much-improved keyboard (not more flat keys) and enough battery life for an entire workday. 

There are some downsides though. After Zooming, Skyping and FaceTiming my way through every day I'm not so impressed with the webcam. It could definitely be better. There's also no way to upgrade the RAM or storage after purchase. As usual, there's no SD card slot or USB-A port so you'll need plenty of USB-C cables and accessories.

If you're wanting the laptop for good all-round use, it's important to buy the right configuration so for a little bit extra, it's probably worth buying the MacBook Air with the Intel Core i5 processor. Prices for the 2020 MacBook Air start from NZ$1799 for the basic model. 

Both the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air are available at an education discount for uni students and parents buying for uni students and teachers and staff at all levels.