We review the 12.9in iPad Pro, Apple’s giant, big-screen iPad, and find it impressive – and confusing. The specs are stunning, the processing power superb, and the build quality excellent. But the price tag is high (especially after the price hike), and we’re left to wonder who exactly this product is aimed at.
Extreme processing power
Audio power and rebalancing
Costly (especially with price hike)
Range of pro-level creative apps for iOS remains limited
iPad Pro 12.9in review
Welcome to our iPad Pro review, in which we review, evaluate, test and rate Apple’s new big-screen iPad Pro and its new features, design, tech specs and UK pricing. As you will see, the iPad Pro is an attractive, monstrously powerful big-screen tablet that impressed us throughout testing; but while it’s perfect for artists, illustrators and other creatives, there remain questions as to its appeal to a mainstream audience.
Our iPad Pro review is based on rigorous speed, graphics and battery testing and many hours of hands-on time and day-to-day use by our team of experts (and incorporates the thoughts of a digital illustrator, Pete Fowler, who reviewed the device’s creative capabilities for our colleagues on Digital Arts).
Yet no review is ever truly definitive, and we will continue to revise and refine our thoughts on the iPad Pro as it forms part of our daily routines throughout 2016 – and as more rival products emerge and the market changes around it. Bookmark this page for a regularly updated analysis of the iPad Pro’s pros (no pun intended!) and cons.
Does the 12.9in Pro still make sense to purchase, even after its dated launch? Are there better alternatives? Should you get the 9.7in version instead? We look to answer all these questions below.
iPad Pro review: Build and physical design
The iPad Pro follows the general design principles of the iPad Air 2, but on a significantly larger scale. Its general layout, material, edging and so on all match, while the positioning of the buttons, the Lightning and headphone ports and the Touch ID-equipped Home button are the same as on the smaller iPad Air 2.
The buttons aren’t proportionally larger than on the iPad Air models, however: the Home, power and volume buttons are all the same size as on the smaller tablet, and we found the power button smaller – and closer to the righthand edge of the device – than we expected at first. There are speaker grills to fit in on the top edge, however (more on audio improvements), which may have influenced this positioning.
The Pro may be taller and wider than any previous Apple tablet, but it remains pleasingly thin and light; while it’s very much a two-handed device, it can be held reasonably comfortably with one. Despite its large size, the build and design works well for those who are interested in iOS gaming and those who like to use the iPad 12.9in for designing.
Aside from the increase in screen area, there are some key design differences, each corresponding to a functional difference.
One is that there are four speakers, as opposed to the twin speakers on the iPad Air 2 (and those positioned too close together to have any real beneficial effect). This results in far more volume output, of course, and Apple says the device is also smart enough to adjust audio balance between the four units to maintain a consistent performance as you hold the iPad in different ways.
There is a new type of connector on the lefthand side of the iPad Pro. Apple calls it the Smart Connector, and it’s designed to fit the new Smart Keyboard accessory. We don’t yet know if third parties will produce their own accessories to fit the Smart Connector, but we’d have thought it’s distinctly likely.
iPad Pro review: Screen
The iPad Pro comes with a 12.9-inch display, compared to the 9.7-inch display on the iPad Air and the 7.9-inch display on the iPad mini. That’s 78 percent more screen space than the next-largest iPad.
A diagonal measurement of 12.9 inches makes for a device that is both sharply differentiated from the smaller iPads and a convenient size in terms of productivity and ease of use. The iPad Pro’s screen is also pleasingly sharp, with a massive screen resolution of 2732 x 2048, the largest resolution ever seen on an iOS device. That’s the same pixel density – 264.68 pixels per inch (ppi) – as the iPad Air 2, stretched across a much bigger screen.
With a total of 5.6 million pixels on show, Apple boasted that the iPad Pro has more pixels than the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. And it’s supposed to be power-efficient too, with the ability to adjust refresh rate as and when the movement on the screen warrants it. “For the first time in any of our devices,” says Apple, “iPad Pro knows when the content on your screen is static and cuts the refresh rate in half, to 30 times per second instead of 60. This means that the screen isn’t just big, beautiful and bright. It’s also incredibly energy-efficient.”
iPad Pro processing power & speed tests
The iPad Pro gets a super-powered A9X processor chip, one that Apple claims is close to twice the speed of the iPad Air 2’s A8X.
“The iPad Pro is far and away the fastest iOS device we have ever made – its A9X chip beats most portable PCs in both CPU and graphics tasks,” said Apple marketing boss Phil Schiller.
We’ll address this more later in this article when we ponder who the iPad Pro is for, but it’s worth mentioning briefly that this kind of power is going to be overkill for most users, at least in the near future. Very few apps are available that can push the iPad Pro anywhere near to its limit.
iPad Pro review: Battery life
Apple claims the iPad Pro will last for 10 hours (of video play or web use) between charges; that’s pretty much standard for Apple tablets, and exactly the same as is promised for the iPad Air 2. The company is generally scrupulously honest when stating battery life for its devices – if anything they tend to be an underestimate – but we naturally put this to the test as as we got hold of a review sample.
GeekBench 3 battery benchmarks (abstract ratings, higher is better, plus time lasted in test conditions to go from 100%-1%):
iPad mini 2: 3990 (06:39:00)
iPad mini 4: 3975 (06:37:30)
iPad Air 1: 4340 (07:14:00)
iPad Air 2: 4601 (07:40:10)
iPad Pro: 6865 (11:26:30)
You shouldn’t necessarily expect your tablet to last exactly that amount of time in real-world conditions – there are far too many variables – but we’d be inclined to expect better battery performance than with Apple’s other tablets. This performance is based on a 38.5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, a far larger unit that the 27.3-watt-hour battery in the Air 2.
We’re impressed by the iPad Pro’s processing muscle, its screen technology and the design skills that have squeezed such a big display into such a slim and lightweight package, but there remain many questions – such as the audience to whom Apple is going to market this device.
If you’re a digital artist looking for the best creative-focused tablet out there, this is it. Business users may be interested too, although the lack of really strong hardware keyboard options – there’s still no UK layout option for Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and third-party alternatives are relatively ugly – are a potential concern. For a mainstream audience, the price will almost certainly be a killer.
We love the iPad Pro, which is a beautiful and classy product, but we suspect that it may remain a niche interest for the time being.
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