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How to Turn iPad Air into iPad Pro and Save Over $360



Apple’s new 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks like a great update to the iPad Air 2 or the larger iPad Pro with the 12.7-inch display. The power and flexibility that Apple introduced in the 12.9-inch iPad display with Apple Pencil support comes to the smaller more manageable iPad Air 2 form factor. iPad fans may want that power and flexibility of the new two new iPad Pros with the great Apple Pencil stylus for inking and drawing and the great Smart Keyboard support, but they can’t afford the extra cash.

If you want the iPad Pro functionality without the extra cost, then consider our tips below. We’ve got suggestions to replace the new Apple Pencil with a third-party stylus that will give users a similar kind of pressure sensitivity and accuracy. We’ve also got excellent options for keyboard cases that can give users more flexibility than the new Apple Smart Keyboard cover. Throw in a few apps to mimic some of the ways users can draw or write on the iPad and you’ve got a knock-off iPad Pro for less money.

iPad Pro WiFi LTE

Any one interested in using an older iPad like an iPad Pro should know that the 3rd party stylus options they can buy will not work with the iPad as well as the Apple Pencil works with an iPad Pro. Third-party stylus makers can only mimic the new pressure sensitive 3D touch screen on the iPad Pro. Also, the older iPads don’t use the new magnetic connector that lets iPad Pro owners connect a keyboard without using Bluetooth.

Please see 4 Ways the Surface Pro 3 Beats the Apple iPad Pro

Apple Pencil Replacements

adonit jot dash writing

The best fine-tip stylus comes from Adonit. They make a number of excellent writing and art tools for iPad, but their latest is the Adonit Jot Dash ($49.99).

adonit jot dash and charger

The Adonit Jot Dash comes with a USB charger that plugs into a port and magnetically attaches to the top of the stylus. Press the button on the top of the pen to turn it on and it starts to work without any Bluetooth connection.

adonit jot dash power button

The Dash only works on iPad Air and iPad Air 2 works on all iPads and but it works great. I can draw and write with precision. I take a lot of notes on my iPad in a number of note taking apps, including Notability ($5.99), the best note-taking app for iPad.

A second option is  “Pencil” from fiftythree ($49.99 on sale at present), the makers of the beautiful art/drawing app Paper (Free and now on iPhone). It looks like an old-fashioned art pencil with flat edges and thick pencil-like tip.

Like the Apple Pencil, when a user works inside supported apps like Paper, the person drawing can use the tip for a finer point and angle it for a wider, softer drawing point. The other end of the Pencil by fiftythree works as an eraser. Press harder on the drawing tip for a darker mark. Use a finger to blend or smear, like one would with a regular paper and pencil. In the Paper app there’s palm rejection while using the Pencil by fiftythree.

The app is free and works on both iPad and recently they added support for iPhone.

Apple Smart Keyboard Replacements

The Apple Smart Cover connects to the iPad Pro using magnetic connectors along one of the long edges of iPad Pro. No iPad Air or iPad Air 2 keyboard will work like this, but after the user connects the keyboard via Bluetooth, it will connect when the iPad Bluetooth is on. To save battery life leave it off when not using they keyboard and turn it on using the slide up iOS Control Center.

Please see How to Connect a Bluetooth Keyboard to Your iPad.


Using an external keyboard requires Bluetooth. To turn on Bluetooth, tap on the third button from the left in the top row as seen above.

To type on a Bluetooth keyboard, the user must first pair the keyboard with the iPad using the instructions included with the keyboard. Once the person pairs the keyboard with the iPad, it will should reconnect every time the user turns on their iPad’s Bluetooth and the Bluetooth keyboard.

The first choice comes from Logitech. The Logitech Keyboard Folio ($99.99) case works similarly to the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard. It protects the iPad with a thin cover and adds a Bluetooth keyboard as well.

logitech Keyboard-Folio-Cses

The Logitech Keyboard Folio charges using an included USB cable. It connects via Bluetooth and lasts up to three months on a single charge.

Inside the cover are hidden magnets that hold the cover closed while also turning on the screen when the cover opens.

The case/keyboard holds the iPad at a comfortable viewing angle while typing.

Logitech also makes another iPad keyboard cover called the Logitech BLOK ($129.99). It looks a little like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 design because it’s a keyboard that opens and has a kickstand on the back to prop it up.

The BLOK offers more rugged protection with impact resistant edges that compress if the owner drops their tablet. It also protects against regular bumps and even spills. The BLOCK comes in multiple colors and the detaches like the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover.

Apps for iPad Pro-style Functionality

As we said above, the Pencil by fiftythree works best with Paper, the company’s beautiful drawing app. It’s not the only app that takes advantage of the pressure sensitivity that comes with Pencil. The company lists a few others and here are a couple of recommended iPad apps.

  • Adobe Illustrator Draw and Line – Free. Works better with a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC), which starts at $30/month for the entire suite using an education discount or $50/month for the full suite.
  • Adobe Photoshop Sketch and Mix – Also free but work best with CC
  • Astropad Graphics Tablet – $19.99. Designed for art pros, this app turns the iPad into an art tablet for your computer. You’ll also need to get the companion app for the computer.
  • Procreate – $5.99. Turns the iPad into a fantastic artist’s illustration tool
  • Noteshelf – $7.99. I prefer Notability mentioned above, but my second choice for handwritten note taking on iPad is Noteshelf.
  • Autodesk SketchBook – Free. One of the first drawing tools for iPad comes from Autodesk. It’s a beautiful art app with complex and powerful drawing/painting tools.

Apple made a big deal out of the new version of iMovie available on iPad Pro. Get that power on other iPads with Pinnacle Studio ($9.99), a multi-track editing app.

pinnacle studio ipad app for movie editing

Pinnacle Studio includes some advanced editing features on iPad. This includes things like storyboard, precision cuts between clips, pro-level transitions and effects plus a soundtrack feature.

Pinnacle outputs to 1080p with built-in export to YouTube, Facebook and Box.

The app works with the advanced consumer-level Pinnacle Studio video editing apps for desktop. That way the user can edit on their iPad and then export to their computer for finishing touches.

Thanks to the Apple Camera Connection kit connected to the iPad’s Lightning connection, users can work with any media on their iPad as well as media on an external flash card. They can also import media from services like Dropbox, Vimeo, Box, Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive (this requires an in-app purchase).

adobe premiere clip

Users of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite will prefer Adobe’s mobile apps. Adobe Premiere Clip works like iMovie or Pinnacle Studio, but syncs up with Adobe Premiere CC. It’s my favorite iPad video editor.

Premiere Clip users can quickly import their media, fix lighting, add transitions or slo-mo effects and then punch it up with some sound tracks. They can edit the volume of the video’s audio and make all the clips sound the same with simple normalization tools.

When finished, it’s easy to share the clips to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube or send them to Adobe Premiere Pro CC for more editing.

Other Adobe mobile apps make it easy to work with pictures or video before importing them into Clip.

Save Money Compared to iPad Pro

Using the above accessories and apps brings iPad Pro functionality up to the iPad Air or iPad Air 2. It also saves a lot of money. Here’s why:

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 while the iPad Air 2 starts at $499. That’s a $300 savings to start. An Apple Pencil will cost $99 while the Smart Keyboard costs $149. That adds up to $248 for a total of $1,047 for the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.

Buyers of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will pay $599 plus $99 for the Apple Pencil and $149 for the Smart Keyboard. That’s a total of $847.

The most expensive of the two keyboards above plus one of the two styluses adds up to $178 ($129+$49). Add that to a $499 iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi only for a total of $678.98. That’s a savings of $368.98 over the larger iPad Pro and $168.98 over the smaller iPad Pro. Considering many people already own an iPad Air or iPad Air 2, they can save even more by only adding about $180 worth of accessories to get iPad Pro functionality.

The iPad Air or iPad Air 2 plus a stylus and Bluetooth keyboard obviously doesn’t compare to the power and complete functionality of either of the iPad Pros plus their Apple accessories. But many buyers do need to ask if the iPad Pro brings over $169 to $867 worth of functionality over the iPad Air.



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  3. Ian

    02/05/2017 at 11:31 am

    I recently purchased an ipad pro 9.7 with 128 GB at an insanely good price of $500 during the holiday season. I also got an apple pencil, and a smart keyboard, both 10% cheaper than the regular price. However, my ipad air 2 was only about a year old. It still worked great for most thing, only I was really coveting the apple pencil. But did that really justify spending about $800 after all the cases and accessories. I held onto my pro, unopened in the box, and decided to try out a couple of peripherals. I really liked the idea of a slim, portable, and OPTIONAL keyboard. So I tried out the logitech keys to go keyboard, which is about as slim as apple’s smart keyboard. I actually really like the tactile feel to it, and it took me very quick to get used to it. The bluetooth connects instantly, and it’s been over a month since I bought it, and I haven’t had to purchase it once. It beats the apple keyboard, if only because I can position it however I want in relation to the iPad. I found myself using my iPad much more, and opting for it rather than lugging out my laptop. So far, so good. But what about drawing fucntions… I bought the Pencil by 53 when I first got my iPad. And though it’s gorgeous, truly a pleasure to hold, and just plain pretty, it never gave me the precision I needed to do real artwork. It was just too buggy with any app other than Paper. And my true love is Procreate when it comes to art apps. So I was only using it as a dumb stylus. I recently tried out the Jot Pro, which is so simple, yet worlds better than the 53 Pencil in terms of precision. I was a bit scared off though by reviews complaining of scratches to the screen. I actually tried out a screen protector, and I hated the downgrade to my retina screen. Then I decided to try out the Adonit Pixel. It was not love at first try. But then I actually gave it a real try. I played around with it. I allowed myself to adjust to it. I found the correct settings on Procreate. And I’m suddenly able to draw on my iPad (close to) how I have been wanting to. Does it really compare to the Apple pencil on the pro? No way. But at a savings of $800, and for a price of less than $100 (for the keyboard and Pixel together), I am extraordinarily please with my “Faux Pro”.

    • Ian

      02/05/2017 at 11:35 am

      Correction: regarding keyboard: haven’t had to CHARGE it once.
      And end of story: I returned my Pro purchases, and am enjoying my Faux Pro. I figure it’s worth waiting for the Pro 2 at this point anyway, and with these significant upgrades to the Air 2, I imagine I can get my money’s worth out of my current device pretty happily.

  4. jazz

    06/13/2018 at 2:50 pm

    This was sooo useful… I have an Ipad Air 2 and… wanted to get an electronic planner… obviously the apple pencil that I’v purchase didnt work, had to rtn back to apple…got an stylus pencil adonit jot dash… Thank you for your info!!! really appreciated :)

  5. Brooke

    03/14/2019 at 2:00 am

    I have an iPad mini 4 and also an iPad Air which i picked up second hand and I have been annoyed that I can’t access writing apps to do certain technology tasks for Uni. I was debating about where I could muster a $2000 from to buy an iPad pro and Apple pencil and today after digging I found the Adonit Pixel Stylus which should work on both iPads I already own(and probably on my iPhone 6s too). I haven’t used it yet (initial charge) but I am really hoping it will save me from pining for an iPad Pro for a while! I don’t really want to get rid of my iPads but it’s ridiculous to keep hoarding so much technology we already have too much! If I can use what I’ve got then I can avoid being an over-consumer!!

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