Apple iPad Pro review: Apple's belated but impressive hybrid debut

ipad-pro-main.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $639.99

Pros

  • Attractive 12.9 inch display
  • A9X processor delivers impressive performance
  • Elegant, slimline design

Cons

  • Long recharge times
  • Lack of USB limits storage expansion options
  • Considerably heavier than other iPad models

When Apple first launched the iPad back in 2010, it was quite emphatic that the emphasis for this new category of device was on content consumption rather than content creation -- entertainment rather than work, in other words.

But, of course, iOS versions of apps such as Microsoft Office and Adobe's Photoshop have proved that the iPad is a very capable device for content creation too. The success of Microsoft's Surface Pro has also demonstrated that there is a demand for hybrid devices that can function as both a tablet and a laptop. And with iPad sales falling in recent months, Apple has clearly decided that the time is right for an iPad update that puts productivity front and centre.

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The 12.9-inch screen of the iPad Pro dwarfs its 9.7-inch and 7.9-inch counterparts (left). Like the other iPad models, the iPad Pro is available in silver, gold and 'space-grey' (right). Images: Apple

Screen machine

The hardware design of the iPad Pro is as elegant as you'd expect from Apple and, of course, centres around its 12.9-inch screen. The first time you see the iPad Pro up close, it seems to dwarf the current 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 and certainly looks like a device you could use for some serious work.

The iPad Pro measures 220.6mm (8.7in.) wide by 305.7mm (12in.) high, which is around two inches taller and wider than the iPad Air 2. It's still very thin, at just 6.9mm (0.27in.) compared to 6.1mm (0.24in.) for the iPad Air 2, but at 713g (1.57lbs) it does weigh quite a bit more than the 437g (0.96lbs) iPad Air 2. You can still pick it up with one hand, but it feels more comfortable held in two hands, or resting on your lap or a desk when you're ready to get down to work.

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The split-screen mode in iOS 9 is ideal for multi-tasking productivity apps on the iPad Pro. Image: Apple

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The screen resolution is 2,732 by 2,048 pixels -- the same 264ppi pixel density as the iPad Air 2 -- and delivers a bright, detailed image that's well suited for displaying high-definition video or working with photo or graphic design apps. There's also a more practical aspect to the 12.9-inch screen: in landscape orientation the screen of the iPad Pro is almost twice the size of the iPad Air 2's screen in portrait mode, which means that you can use the split-screen viewing mode introduced in iOS 9 to display two apps side-by-side quite comfortably. That will be ideal for business users who often need to switch between apps such as Word and Excel, or who want to keep a close eye on their email inbox while working.

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The iPad Pro's larger screen provides room for a more extensive on-screen keyboard. Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

Pro performance

The larger screen obviously requires a decent processor to drive it, so Apple has equipped the iPad Pro with its new A9X chip. Running the Geekbench 3 test suite on the iPad Pro confirms that the A9X runs at 2.16GHz and is equipped with 4GB of RAM; it also produces very solid scores of 3,226 and 5474 for single-core and multi-core performance respectively.

That's well ahead of the 1,810 (single-core) and 4,477 (multi-core) scores we recorded in our review of the iPad Air 2. The iPad Pro also outguns the 4,633 multi-core performance of Apple's slimline 12-inch MacBook and the 4,863 achieved by the entry-level version of Microsoft's new Surface Pro 4, both of which use Intel Core M processors. Those scores also put the iPad Pro on level terms with the 1.6GHz Core i5 processor in my trusty MacBook Air -- despite the fact that the iPad Pro has a much higher resolution display.

In other words, the iPad Pro delivers the performance of a pretty respectable laptop, and is more than capable of running Microsoft Office as well as more demanding graphics and video applications. With that in mind, Apple has also backtracked on its traditional opposition to accessories such as keyboards -- which was based on its argument that the iPad was never intended to replace a laptop.

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Apple's Smart Keyboard positions the iPad Pro as a potential replacement for a laptop (top), while the pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus is ideal for designers and other creative users (above). Both accessories are extra-cost options. Images: Apple

Along with the iPad Pro, Apple offers an optional Smart Keyboard (£139 inc. VAT, or £115.83 ex. VAT) similar to Microsoft's Type Cover for the Surface Pro (although lacking a touchpad). The slimline keyboard panel does feel quite firm and responsive, but we found the keys themselves rather small, and not ideal for typing at high speed.

And, of course, Apple has been mocked for reinventing the pencil, by releasing an optional stylus accessory called the Apple Pencil (£79 inc. VAT, or £65.83 ex. VAT). However, the pressure-sensitive Pencil works well, and is likely to prove popular for design and graphics work -- even if it does annoy Adobe, which already produces its own Ink & Slide stylus (and ruler) for the iPad.

Battery life

The larger screen obviously places stronger demands on battery life, but it also means that there's room inside the iPad Pro for a larger battery. The Li-ion battery in the iPad Pro provides 38.5Wh capacity compared to 27.62Wh for the iPad Air 2, and Apple quotes battery life of up to 10 hours for wi-fi web browsing, video or music playback.

We managed to run the battery flat in about 5 hours and 15 minutes, but that involved continual streaming video at full brightness, interspersed by a number of intensive benchmarking tests, so we'd agree that you should get close to 10 hours for general day-to-day use.

Our only concern here is that recharging the battery takes a long time. It took a full four hours to recharge after we ran it completely flat during our tests, and it's even slower if you need to use the iPad while it's charging. That could be a problem if you need to charge it up quickly ahead of a meeting, or when you're travelling away from the office. You'll definitely need to remember to charge it up at the end of each day, or risk running out of juice the next day.

Pro pricing

There are, of course, dozens of Android tablets that are more affordable than any of Apple's iPad models. However, the iPad Pro's strong performance means that it's actually quite competitive when compared to the Windows-based tablets that are preferred by many business users.

Admittedly, the entry-level model isn't a bargain, as that costs £679 (inc. VAT, or £565.83 ex. VAT) and only provides a meagre 32GB of solid-state storage. That probably won't be enough for business and creative users who need to store large amounts of work files -- especially if you're working with high-definition video or photos. And, somewhat cynically, Apple doesn't provide a 64GB option for the iPad Pro, as it does with the iPad Air 2, which means you have no option but to step right up to the 128GB model, which costs £799 (inc. VAT, or £665.83 ex. VAT). And if you need mobile broadband you'll find that option is only available with the 128GB model, and pushes the total price up to £899 (inc. VAT, £749.17 ex. VAT).

Those are high prices for a conventional tablet, but not for a hybrid device that could, potentially, also replace a laptop. The entry-level Surface Pro 4 is slightly cheaper, at £749 (inc. VAT, or £624.17 ex. VAT) with wi-fi and 128GB of storage, but the iPad Pro has a slight edge on both screen size and performance, so it can certainly earn its keep for business users.

Upgrade options

One thing that the iPad Pro can't match is the greater range of upgrade and connectivity options that are available for the Surface Pro 4. The iPad Pro only offers SSD storage up to 128GB, whereas the Surface Pro goes up to 512GB, as well as offering additional RAM and CPU upgrades. The iPad's lack of USB also means that there's no way to quickly connect a low-cost hard drive or memory card in order to add some extra storage. There are a number of specialized adapters and storage devices available for the iPad, but these are always more expensive than just using standard USB storage.

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The iPad Pro has a Lightning port and a Smart Connector for the keyboard, but no USB port. Image: Apple

The iPad Pro does have one interesting feature here, though. On the side of the unit are three little circular electrical contacts that Apple calls the Smart Connector. This is primarily designed to provide power and data for Apple's Smart Keyboard, but it can be used by third-party developers as well, and has already given rise to keyboard alternatives such as Logitech's CREATE keyboard (which we rather like). Apple also told us that the Smart Connector could be used to develop docks and other devices, which might alleviate the limited internal storage and lack of USB.

File management

As well as the closed-box hardware design, there are some limitations in the iOS operating system. The app-centric iOS may not require a counterpart to the traditional Windows desktop or the Mac Finder, but the limited file-browsing and file-management capabilities of iOS may feel restrictive to business users needing to share files with colleagues on a daily basis. Apple's iCloud service does make it easy for you to sync emails and other files between devices that you own, and which are logged into your personal iCloud account. However, the ability to share files with other people depends very much on the file-sharing options that individual third-party developers choose to build into their apps.

The iOS versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint do have their own built-in file-sharing and collaboration features, but you'll need a subscription to Office 365 in order to get full functionality from these apps. Other apps may not be so sophisticated, and with no USB ports available for quick file transfers you may find that other types of files and documents just have to be sent via email.

Conclusions

There's little doubt that that the iPad Pro will have instant appeal for creative users in fields such as design, graphics and photography. However, its larger screen and enhanced performance also offer business users a genuine alternative to a laptop when running Microsoft Office and other productivity apps.

There are flaws, most notably the iPad's limited storage and external connectivity. But in terms of price and performance the iPad Pro is a serious rival for hybrid Windows devices such as Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. Although Apple is merely catching up with the rest of the PC industry with this late entry into the hybrid category, few hybrid PCs combine style and substance in such an attractive fashion.

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Specifications

Display
Resolution 2732 x 2048 (264 ppi)
Touchscreen Multi-Touch
Multi-Touch Display Yes
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Technology TFT active matrix
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size 12.9 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 32.8 cm
Native Resolution 2732 x 2048
Pixel Density (ppi) 264
Miscellaneous
Features AirDrop, AirPlay, iBeacon microlocation, parental controls, AirPrint, Apple M9 motion coprocessor, AssistiveTouch, Dictation, Family Sharing, MIMO technology, VoiceOver screen reader, charging via USB
Color space gray
Color Category gray
Processor
Processor Apple A9X
Type A9X
64-bit Computing Yes
Manufacturer Apple
Memory
Storage 32 GB
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Camera
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features 5-element lens, 8-megapixel iSight camera, Timer mode, autofocus, backside illumination sensor, face detection, photo and video geotagging, tap to focus, video stabilizer, Burst mode, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Hybrid IR filter, Panorama, Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode
Networking
Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Input Device
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Multimedia
Audio Two microphones, four speakers
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Min Storage Temperature -4 °F
Max Storage Temperature 113 °F
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 10 sec
Run Time Details Web browsing over Wi-Fi: up to 10 hour(s)
Video playback: up to 10 hour(s)
Audio playback: up to 10 hour(s)
Capacity 38.5 Wh
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro
Model Wi-Fi
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Expansion and Connectivity
Interfaces 1 x headphones
1 x Lightning
1 x Smart Connector
System
Platform Apple iOS
Handheld Type tablet
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Flash Memory
Installed Size 32 GB
Digital Camera
Cameras (for SD) rear camera + front camera
Rear-facing Camera Yes
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features 5-element lens, 8-megapixel iSight camera, Timer mode, autofocus, backside illumination sensor, face detection, photo and video geotagging, tap to focus, video stabilizer, Burst mode, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Hybrid IR filter, Panorama, Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode
Audio Output
Type four speakers
Audio Input
Type two microphones
OS Provided
Type Apple iOS 11
Power Device
Type power adapter
Battery Life Details
Run Time (Up To) 10 hour(s)
Usage Mode audio playback, video playback, web browsing over Wi-Fi
Interface Provided
Interface Lightning, Smart Connector, headphones
Qty 1
System Requirements
OS Required Apple MacOS X 10.7.5 or later, Microsoft Windows 7 or later
Cable Details
Type Lightning to USB cable
PDA Software
Type App Store, Calendar, Mail, Maps, Messages, Music, News, Notes, Notification Center, Photo Booth, Photos, Podcasts, Camera, Reminders, Safari, Siri, Spotlight Search, Videos, iBooks, iCloud Drive, iTunes Store, Clock, Contacts, Control Center, FaceTime, Find My Friends, Find My iPhone, Game Center
Dimensions & Weight
Width 8.7 in
Depth 0.3 in
Height 12 in
Weight 25.15 oz
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included phone consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days

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Where To Buy

Apple iPad Pro (space gray, 32GB)

Part Number: ML0F2LL/A

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