Which iPad for heavy Notability/PDF users


macrumors member
Original poster
Mar 4, 2016
Planet Earth
I currently have 10.5” iPad Pro and am thinking of switching to the new 3rd gen 12.9” since most of my usage is PDF viewing/annotation and taking notes with apps like Notability and PDF Expert and I would like to have a larger display.
One thing I’m worried about is its portability because I carry my MacBook Pro 13” and iPad everyday and the new 12.9 would be still heavy with Smart Keyboard/Folio on it.
Any other heavy Notability/PDF Expert users? Which iPad do you have?


macrumors 6502a
Nov 2, 2014
I use Notability every day. I have always carried the 12.9" iPad Pro which has worked great for me. The one difference though is that I don't carry a laptop with me as well. There is a bit of a weight different and the new folio cases do add a bit of weight to the newer models. I'd try it and see what you think, you can always return it if it doesn't fit your needs. You'll need the new pencil as well (if that's what you use) as the new model isn't backwards compatible with the older one.


macrumors regular
Apr 25, 2017
The 12.9+pencil. Scientific articles have very small font sizes and I do not like to zoom too much as it takes time. I do not carry a mac which makes it an easier choice.
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macrumors member
Oct 31, 2007
I currently have 10.5” iPad Pro and am thinking of switching to the new 3rd gen 12.9” since most of my usage is PDF viewing/annotation and taking notes with apps like Notability and PDF Expert and I would like to have a larger display.
One thing I’m worried about is its portability because I carry my MacBook Pro 13” and iPad everyday and the new 12.9 would be still heavy with Smart Keyboard/Folio on it.
Any other heavy Notability/PDF Expert users? Which iPad do you have?
I use both apps, and OneNote. I only carry my 12.9” and pencil. Works flawlessly for my day-to-day needs (meeting minutes, emails, articles, notes, etc). Only occasionally have I used the keyboard, so I tend to carry with the folio instead given the reduced size/weight, and swap to a keyboard when I have a specific need. That being said, I don’t find the keyboard that much more bulky to be honest.

The 12.9” has transformed my daily workflow.
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macrumors 65816
Aug 16, 2007
I use notability daily as well. I had the 2017 12.9 iPad. The thing I hated was it was impossible for me to write on without getting arm smudges everywhere. Because your arm is much larger than the side of your palm and the device is so large there really is no good placement. Writing landscape was uncomfortable, writing in portrait felt awkward. Mostly cause your hands end up all over the glass. Reading on it wasn’t very comfortable on the couch either. Carrying the device around was awful to. This year I feel they fixed the last part.

The nice things about the 12.9. Multitasking with split screen! Full size Smart Keyboard. My wife is an artist so she likes the 12.9 for the screen real estate. The rest is really personal choice.

Both devices have a purpose. For me the 11” was perfect. It’s small enough to still feel like a tablet and usable without sacrificing to much. I find it more comfortable to write and read PDFs on in portrait view. While the split screen isn’t as great, it’s not bad either. If portability is a factor. Spend a good hour in the store with equal time on both models. The new 12.9 isn’t as bad as last years. But after a year with the 2017 model. It left me wanting something more portable.


macrumors 6502
Sep 9, 2011
I use notability for note taking - rather than annotating pdfs - and find the 11 fine.

There is a lot of talk that the 12.9 might be suited to more people now because of the smaller footprint - this is very true. What is also equally true is the extra 0.5" on the 11" does make a difference as well. The 11" is a really nice size I'm finding (for everything) and of course it has the advantage of portability compared with the 12.9" - and I'm not saying the 12.9 isn't portable.

I think the new design works for both devices. I think you have to test them both since Apple allow you to do it. Get them both and try each for a week and see what you think at the end, im sure you will have a preference.
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macrumors 6502a
Mar 19, 2005
Benefits of larger 12.9" iPad Pro:
  • I like to read PDFs in two-page mode, not always but frequently, and the 11" isn't ideal for that but 12.9" is
  • The 11" feels a little cramped for some PDFs, and a little cramped for drawing/illustrations and even note-taking
  • Anything the 11" can do, the 12.9" can do better, in terms of display and viewing comfort
  • All your "professional" apps breath better on the 12.9, including Photoshop, Lightroom, iMovie, Notes, PDF readers and editors, writing programs like Scrivener, not to mention...
  • With professional endeavors you tend to need to multitask (eg. Research between Safari and writing a report). This is where a 12.9" is a no-brainer
The main benefit of the 11" is
  • It's less expensive, at $799 instead of $999
  • It's lighter for 1-handed use
But my rebuttal to that is, if you're using the iPad in 1-handed use, that means you're likely just laying around watching Netflix or reading an Ebook. Which means you should be buying the $329 iPad, or a used iPad Air 2 for Netflix and Ebooks. Chances are you already own a smaller iPad. For example, I'm keeping my iPad 4 by the bed for ebooks and occasional Netflix, but buying a 12.9" for my work desk and couch sketching.

  • Anatomy varies person to person, so if you're a shorter woman with small hands, the 11" is accentuated as a more comfortable size even for productivity, because a 12.9" to you would be like a 16" to me. I say this to say that screen size value is relative to the individual's anatomy and thus perception. There's a lot of people in this forum stating the 12.9" is too unwieldily, as if objective fact, and as if anyone stands-up, up-right, to take notes while holding an iPad with one hand. Guess what, amigo? No-one (commonly) stands up to take notes with one hand. I don't do that with a pad of paper. Who does that with an iPad, unless you're a factory floor-manager walking the rounds.
  • I feel like people are so self-absorbed they aren't able to categorize use-cases, and then talk about that. They instead have to imagine their own Netflix use-case and express how large or small something is. So it's no help (when making buying decisions).
    • Instead you have to ask: what's my goal?
    • Then ask: what is constraining my goal?
    • Then take action on what will help.
If note-taking, reading, and annotating PDFs is constraining on a smaller device, a 12.9" will eliminate that constraint greatly.
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macrumors regular
Jan 27, 2011
I’m an academic in the humanities.
I read and annotate pdfs and student essays and I write using Ulysses and scrivener.
I keep going back and forth between smaller iPad Pro and laptop and larger iPad Pro only. When the first 12.9 was announced, I used it as an only computer for a year and a half, then I got bored and switched to a 13”MBP+9.7iPP. Then I mixed things up for a year or so and right now I have a beautiful 2018 12.9iPP with SKF and Pencil and a 13” MBP which is about to land on eBay.

But I’m not conflict free. What keeps pulling me back towards laptop is the keyboards (mostly the feel and the adjustable angle), and to some degree the wild multitasking capabilities.

In iOS I feel like I have to be very focused, because the OS is so focused. One swipe the wrong way and your work day could turn into a play day. MacOS is less dynamic, the desktop environment more prone to becoming a reflection of your (messy) brain — and sometimes that’s a nice thing.

On the other hand I find macOS to have become quite buggy in recent years, and battery life sucks. With my iPad I usually go LTE which, combined with an iCloud text editor like Ulysses means your work literally always safe.

On the other hand those same keyboards I like on the MacBooks are what makes them vulnerable to coffee spills...

Anyway, sorry I’m hijacking the thread. In short, I can see the lure of the 11” sometimes, esp when paired with a MBA or MBP for dual tasks. But as others have said, some PDFs really render best on the 12.9, anyway. And carrying both an iPad (whether 11 or 12.9) and a MBP all day is just unrealistic for me. Whenever I have that set up I dream of carrying both and then in the morning I make the decision to leave one at home (usually the iPad) and later regret it.

So: be a radical, get the 12.9 and do everything with it.
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macrumors 6502
May 24, 2010
That being said, I don’t find the keyboard that much more bulky to be honest.
If you are doing a lot of PDF markups you owe it to yourself to check out liquidtext. It is extremely nice, especially for larger documents. https://www.liquidtext.net/

What lmyers said in this quote I agree with and it actually surprised me. I went with the keyboard folio since Apple didn't offer what I had on my old iPad (just the front smart cover) and was only offering folios. I figured if I was going to have a back cover I might as well try out the keyboard case. Comparing it to my wife's smart folio, I don't really find the keyboard folio to be all that much of a disadvantage. It is bulkier, but not by enough to make the tradeoffs not worth it. And really, not all that much more.

I'm not sure I personally go along with the concept the 12.9 isn't as portable, is too big and heavy, etc. etc. I suppose if you are in the habit of laying in bed and holding your table up with one hand (get a kindle ;) ), or you want to carry it in a purse, have really small hands, etc. then maybe. But I think a lot of people that carry iPads do so in larger bags where the weight/bulk won't matter. I find myself, and have mostly witnessed, users of iPads either propping them up on pillows, on tables, or resting in laps. In those scenarios, I don't see how the larger size is a disadvantage.


macrumors 68000
Oct 29, 2006
I’d say 2nd generation or later 12.9 is the best for heavy PDF annotation and note taking - ProMotion really makes the pencil sing and the larger screen is a huge benefit here


macrumors member
Jun 16, 2017
Pasadena, CA
I am an academic and also bought the 12.9 for the purposes of reading and marking up PDFs (as well as doing handwritten math). I also own a 10.5, which I really enjoy, but the screen just wasn't big enough to do any real work. It is an ideal consumption Ipad, though. I have always wanted an ipad with the form factor of the 12.9, and now its here. It is a beautiful device with a futuristic feel.

That being said, I am not 100% sure I will keep it (although I am leaning yes).

(1) I am still not very handy with the pencil; my handwriting is significantly messier than with pen and paper.

(2) I am not entirely happy with the keyboard folio. I want a keyboard with a device of this size, but it is heavy. And, it does not have a position that is slightly tilted up from the table, with the keyboard tucked away, that is ideal for drawing (like my 10.5 folio does).

(3) The combined weight at well over 2 pounds with the folio is in fact significant, and since I am not comfortable with the device as a laptop replacement I often want to carry it around with a laptop. Unfortunately, my laptop is a specced out and extremely expensive 2017 15” MBP. The two together pushes up the weight to the point of discomfort (while 13”Air + 12.9 iPad or 15 MPB + 10.5 doesn’t really).

(4) The device (without the folio) is still a bit too heavy to hold in one hand for large periods comfortably (at least for me). I had hoped to use the device to hold my lecture notes in one hand while I write on the whiteboard with the other, and stop printing so much. It sort of works, but gets uncomfortable pretty quickly, I find myself doing a lot of cradling and other maneuvers to tolerate it, and I am afraid of dropping it.

One thing I do like is the feel of the keyboard folio itself. Remarkably, the key travel is more tolerable than on my extremely expensive MBP. It is also quieter. There is no obscenely oversized trackpad that I am constantly hitting with my palms, with mediocre palm recognition, which has forced me to turn off my beloved tap-to-click. And I prefer the chiclet style keys that I grew accustomed to on older Apple devices.

Overall, I am not sure what is the ideal laptop/ipad combination for people who need to do serious work/writing, but also place a high value on a letter-sized reading device with serious annotation capabilities. Apple really does not make the perfect device for an academic anymore given what's possible with their technology today. I find the MPB line to be particularly unsatisfying, as do most of my colleagues. Maybe I should own a Surface, but I have been in the Apple ecosystem for so long now that I haven’t even considered it.
[doublepost=1542347117][/doublepost]Reading what I wrote above, obviously I should have both folios, since it is dumb to carry two devices with keyboard. But, I am tired of giving more and more money to Apple, and it also sounds like a hassle to manage two cases.