Premium laptop-class performance; Long battery life; Amazingly bright, speedy display; Improved Pencil input; Stellar, booming sound; iOS 11 has a lot of promise
Smart Keyboard needs a touchpad; Lengthy recharge time
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro boasts the best screen and performance we’ve ever seen in a tablet, but we’d suggest waiting for the final version of iOS 11 to arrive before you splurge.
The tablet Apple claims can replace a PC laptop is finally living up to that promise. The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro (from $799; $1,067 with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil) boasts a superbright ProMotion display that wows, and its A10X Fusion processor is so speedy, it leaves many premium laptops in its dust. This is a nearly perfect productivity tablet, and the upcoming iOS 11 will provide an even more computer-like experience than its predecessor. But there are still some reasons not to ditch your notebook yet.
Design: More of the same, in a good way
A massive slab of machined aluminum and glass, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is just as intimidating to pick up and hold as last year’s model. You’ll notice only two small design changes in this year’s model: The reception bar at the top of its shell is no longer black, and there’s now a flash below the rear camera.
On its own, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 1.5 pounds and measures 0.23 inches thick, making it heavier than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (1.1 pounds, 0.24 inches) and lighter and thinner than the Microsoft Surface Pro (1.7 pounds, 0.33 inches).
As a laptop, with its optional Smart Keyboard ($169) attached, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 2.3 pounds and measures 0.55 inches thick. That’s similar to the Microsoft Surface Pro (2.4 pounds, 0.54 inches with Type Cover) and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook (2 pounds, 0.54 inches) and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro with its Smart Keyboard (1.6 pounds, 0.56 inches).
While it can’t match a laptop port for port, the connector selection in the iPad Pro is pretty standard for a tablet. This 12.9-inch slate features a headphone jack on the top, Apple’s proprietary Smart Connector on the left and a Lightning connector on the bottom.
ProMotion Display: Just wow
The vivid colors, smooth scrolling and amazing brightness in the iPad Pro’s screen make it probably the best panel I’ve seen in a product to date. For starters, the opening credits of Netflix’s GLOW looked fantastic on the slate, with pink, blue and yellow neon popping off the inky black background.
Its super-hi-res, 2732 x 2048-pixel display is just as lovely. When I watched the 4K film Tears of Steel on the tablet, I noticed teeny-tiny details, including the hairs of a fur collar and the fine print on a crumpled newspaper.
Apple’s new ProMotion technology is the cherry on top, using a 120-hertz refresh rate to allow for some of the smoothest scrolling I’ve seen on a mobile device. After seeing web pages and apps move so smoothly, I don’t think I’ll buy another device unless its panel can match this speed.
According to our colorimeter, the iPad Pro can reproduce 122 percent of the sRGB spectrum, matching the reading from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (122 percent). That’s more than the 110 percent tablet average and the 117 percent rating from the MacBook, but less than the 140 percent mark from the Surface Pro.
The iPad Pro reproduces those colors accurately, as it scored 0.2 on the Delta-E test (0 is perfect). That’s tied with the 0.2 from the MacBook (0.2) and the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and better than the 0.5 from the Surface Pro.
This iPad Pro features one of the brightest screens we’ve ever seen in a tablet or a laptop, emitting up to 555 nits. That beats the 422-nit tablet average, the 477-nit 10.5-inch iPad Pro, the 396-nit Surface Pro and the 340-nit MacBook. Because the display is so bright and its surface isn’t too reflective, images stayed true at up to 75 degrees in every direction.
Smart Keyboard: A little lacking
If you want to use the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, you need to get used to its Smart Keyboard first. The biggest learning curve for me was getting used to the shallowness of its keys, which feature just 0.5 millimeters of travel (a third of the 1.5-mm minimum we hope to see). While the 78 grams of required actuation force (we look for at least 60 grams) helped to make up for it, I needed to adjust the way I typed, so I clicked the keys more softly to avoid mashing my fingers against the base.
My favorite part of the Smart Keyboard is that when it was attached to the iPad Pro, the device felt stabler in my lap than any detachable 2-in-1 I’ve ever used. It does this by balancing the weight in the center of the keyboard (rather than toward the back), using a fold-flat folio (rather than a kickstand) and being wide enough to cover the width of my lap. All of these factors made it easy for me to use the iPad Pro in my lap to take notes by touch typing during a meeting.
The biggest issue with the Smart Keyboard is that it has no touchpad. Considering iOS doesn’t allow for a cursor, that’s not the biggest surprise, but I constantly found myself wishing I didn’t have to reach across to the screen to tap. If iOS 11 can bring the dock over from macOS, why can’t it sneak a cursor in, too?
Lastly, snackers may need to treat the Smart Keyboard with care. Its fabric coating snagged tiny flecks of the snack-size mozzarella bites I was eating. I had to apply some force to rub them out of the keyboard.
Apple Pencil: Better than ever
Despite not changing the hardware of its $99 Pencil, Apple made it work a whole lot better with the new iPad Pros. Thanks to the iPad Pro’s ProMotion display, writing feels more realistic than ever, as the company cut latency down from 40 milliseconds to 20 ms, beating the 21-ms latency shown by the Surface Pen (though I doubt anyone would notice the difference between the two).
I had the best Pencil experiences in apps such as Notes, Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop Sketch, where doodling with the Pencil (as well as my finger) resulted in nearly instantaneous responses. Not all programs seem to be optimized for the latest and greatest tech, though, as I observed lag in the Paper sketching app.
Audio: May this Force be with you
The iPad Pro’s four high-fidelity speakers (one in each corner) get loud. How loud? At work, the tablet produced enough sound to fill our open-floor office, and at home, it could drown out the noisy traffic leaking in through my bedroom window. It also sounded great, from the clear piano keys and crisp drums of rapper Action Bronson’s “Let Me Breathe” to the growling vocals and ferocious guitar riffs of alternative band FAITH/VOID’s “Messy, Isn’t It.”
Performance: Bigger, brawnier, more productive
The A10X Fusion processor and 4GB of RAM in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro make it so fast that full-featured PC laptops blush in shame. I saw nary a stutter or sputter when I split my screen between Safari with 13 tabs and the YouTube app streaming a 1080p video. The machine stayed responsive when I opened the Affinity Photo image editor, where I (a novice) easily applied a series of alterations to a selfie and ended up with a warped and wild kaleidoscopic portrait.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the speediest Apple tablet to date, posting a phenomenal score of 9,414 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test. That demolishes the 6,853 from the 12-inch MacBook (Intel Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM), the 8,652 from the Surface Pro (Intel Core i7-7660U, 8GB of RAM) and the 6,066 tablet average. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which also features the A10X chip and 4GB of RAM, scored 9,233.
The A10X Fusion chip in the iPad Pro makes it the most powerful iOS device for graphics. The tablet took home a 54,198 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, which is above the 52,353 from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (which also uses the A10X) and the 21,520 category average. The Surface Pro scored a much higher 109,678, thanks to its speedy Intel Iris Plus 640 GPU.
Battery Life: Better, but not the best
You can definitely leave your charger at home. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro lasted a fantastic 12 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which is longer than the 8:51 tablet average, as well as the runtimes from the MacBook (9:29) and the Surface Pro (7:30). The 10.5-inch iPad Pro posted a more impressive runtime of 13:55, possibly because it has a smaller screen to keep aglow.
That whopping battery life requires time and effort to maintain, as I noticed 4 hours of charging (from it being dead) only refilled 40 percent of its charge.
Cameras: Great viewfinder
The massive 12.9-inch iPad Pro feels awkward to hold as a camera, but its excellent images and video do not disappoint. Its 12-megapixel rear lens (the same as in the iPhone 7) captured the vibrant hues of purple flowers and green ferns, as well as the juicy pink tone of watermelons in an ad on the side of a truck. It reproduced detail just as well, including the crevices and seeds of those fruits and the veins of the petals.
This iPad Pro is no slouch on video, either, as it recorded 4K video at 30 frames per second and 1080p video at up to 60 fps. If your hands aren’t supersteady (mine are not), you might want to use the 1080p and 60-fps setting, which I found best for recording animated subjects such as an adorable dog ambling up Fifth Avenue.
The selfie-shooting 7-MP FaceTime HD camera is solid as well. My skin tone and the colors of my s shirt looked correct in the portraits I took, and I could see every hair of my stubble clearly in the photos, reminding me to shave.
iOS 11: A multitasker’s dream
The iPad Pro ships with iOS 10, along with improved Photos, Music, Maps and Messages, but the preloaded operating system felt like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s on the horizon.
iOS 11, coming this fall, looks to make the iPad Pro more laptop-like by adding several multitasking tricks and interface adjustments. Most notably, it adds drag-and-drop functionality, the Files app and a dock.
I installed the iOS 11 public beta on the iPad Pro, and my favorite feature is work spaces, which keeps apps paired together after you place them in the split view.
This way, I don’t need to re-pair the apps I always use in tandem (Tweetbot and Slack; Safari and the Bear writing app) after opening another one.
Also, the option to pull up a third app in Slide Over mode helps me briefly check my email or the news and keep my work up in the main screen.
Just know that iOS 11 changes how split-view multitasking works, moving from swiping in from the right side of the screen to dragging apps up from the dock.
Configuration options and accessories
Every 12.9-inch iPad Pro, including the $1,099, 512GB model we tested, comes with the same A10X Fusion CPU and 4GB of RAM. The entry-level $799 model includes 64GB of storage, and the $899 middle sibling packs 256GB of storage. Cellular connectivity costs an additional $130.
You’ll need to spend more to get the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard cover ($169) and Apple Pencil ($99) accessories, which brings you up to a starting price of $1,067.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro makes a case for bigger truly being better, with its jaw-dropping display, fantastic performance and powerful sound. And it will be a heck of a lot more practical as a laptop replacement once iOS 11 is released. Unfortunately, it’s facing two small hurdles: the lack of a touchpad and the weight of its price tag.
If you want a more complete desktop operating system, you can get the 12-inch MacBook, but it doesn’t last as long on a charge and, at $1,299, costs $232 more than the iPad with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. You can save some change and work in the Windows world with the entry-level Surface Pro, Type Cover and Surface Pen for $1,059, though that machine packs an Intel Core m3 processor, which is puny by comparison. (The model we tested costs $2,459 with a stylus and keyboard.)
But if you’re good with a tablet, each iPad Pro offers its own merits. Get the 10.5-inch version if you want the best battery life. But if you want the brightest display and the best performance, opt for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro; with iOS 11, it will be a solid candidate to replace your laptop.