Mobile Technology

iPad Pro 12.9 review: More like iPad Business Casual

The iPad Pro makes more sense as part of Apple's long-term business strategy than it does for present-day business use
The iPad Pro makes more sense as part of Apple's long-term business strategy than it does for present-day business use
View 14 Images
The iPad Pro makes for a huge tablet, but (at 713 g/1.6 lb) is pleasantly light for its size
1/14
The iPad Pro makes for a huge tablet, but (at 713 g/1.6 lb) is pleasantly light for its size
The iPad Pro makes more sense as part of Apple's long-term business strategy than it does for present-day business use
2/14
The iPad Pro makes more sense as part of Apple's long-term business strategy than it does for present-day business use
The iPad Pro with Logitech's Create keyboard cover (which we weren't particularly fond of)
3/14
The iPad Pro with Logitech's Create keyboard cover (which we weren't particularly fond of)
iPad Pro with Apple's Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
4/14
iPad Pro with Apple's Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
Split-screen mode on the iPad Pro
5/14
Split-screen mode on the iPad Pro
Typing is a solid enough experience on the OEM keyboard, but without a trackpad the best it can hope for is "faux laptop"
6/14
Typing is a solid enough experience on the OEM keyboard, but without a trackpad the best it can hope for is "faux laptop"
The iPad Pro (left) makes the iPad Air 2 (right) look like an iPad mini
7/14
The iPad Pro (left) makes the iPad Air 2 (right) look like an iPad mini
Typing an article works just fine on the iPad Pro
8/14
Typing an article works just fine on the iPad Pro
iPad Pro (left) with the Microsoft Surface Book
9/14
iPad Pro (left) with the Microsoft Surface Book
Sketching is a pleasure with the Apple Pencil
10/14
Sketching is a pleasure with the Apple Pencil
The $99 Apple Pencil
11/14
The $99 Apple Pencil
Closeup of the Apple Pencil's tip
12/14
Closeup of the Apple Pencil's tip
When you need to charge the Apple Pencil, just stick it in the iPad Pro's Lightning port – Apple says 15 seconds of charge time gives it up to 30 minutes of use
13/14
When you need to charge the Apple Pencil, just stick it in the iPad Pro's Lightning port – Apple says 15 seconds of charge time gives it up to 30 minutes of use
Pros and cons of the 1st-gen iPad Pro
14/14
Pros and cons of the 1st-gen iPad Pro

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a strange device. Like other Apple products, it has a premium, polished design and is (in some ways) delightful to use. But it also shows Apple playing the unfamiliar role of follower – and (in some ways) not doing a particularly good job of it. Read on, as Gizmag reviews the fun but slightly illogical iPad Pro.

Apple isn't pitching this first iPad Pro as a 2-in-1 that can rival the Surface; it's mostly people like us in the media that are doing that. But despite Apple's framing of the iPad Pro as an extra-immersive iPad that's great for artists, you'd be naïve to take that at face value: this is a huge tablet with keyboard and stylus accessories. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize this is a first step in transforming the iPad into a Surface rival.

Like a child taking its first steps, the iPad Pro shows the promise of what could eventually be. But as adorable as that moment is, the kid still has a ways to go before he can beat Usain Bolt.

As a tablet, the iPad Pro is huge but feels incredibly light in hand. If the iPad Air is like a magazine and the iPad mini is like a paperback, then the iPad Pro is like a newspaper. Lean back, take a sip of coffee and furrow your brow as your absorb the day's headlines (or the new season of your favorite show ... or your latest creation in Minecraft). "Immersive" sounds like a cookie-cutter description that every reviewer uses to describe any device with a bigger screen, but immersive it is. It's 12.9 inches of Retina glory.

The iPad Pro makes for a huge tablet, but (at 713 g/1.6 lb) is pleasantly light for its size
The iPad Pro makes for a huge tablet, but (at 713 g/1.6 lb) is pleasantly light for its size

Whether Apple succeeded at making a giant-sized, more powerful iPad Air 2 isn't the question. The question is why we need such a device in the first place, and whether it makes sense to spend over US$1,000 on it. That's where the iPad Pro starts to become a confusing – perhaps even bizarre – proposition.

A tablet this big and expensive only makes sense if a) you're a digital artist who wants a huge canvas for your creations or b) you can transform it into a laptop. The iPad Pro could be great as the former, but Apple doesn't launch brand new iOS devices just to serve the artistic community. Its long-term purpose is as the latter – rejuvenate the iPad as the harbinger of the post-PC era, and put the brakes on Microsoft's snowballing success with the Surface and Windows 10.

Apple's unwillingness to market this 1st-gen iPad Pro as a 2-in-1 tells us that the company realizes it isn't ready to fight in the Surface's weight class. iOS isn't yet a legit rival to Windows 10 as a 2-in-1 operating system (not by a long shot) and, despite some fun highlights, we think the iPad Pro's hardware is also inferior to Microsoft's latest Surfaces. It's a seed planted for developers to make the apps that convince us all that desktop operating systems are a thing of the past.

Those may be ingredients for an interesting product, and a conversation-starter about the future of computing. But they aren't the ingredients of a product that we recommend buying right now. Not for $1,060 or more, when you include its keyboard and stylus (erm, Apple Pencil).

Typing an article works just fine on the iPad Pro
Typing an article works just fine on the iPad Pro

It's not that the iPad Pro can't work as a laptop replacement for some people. The problem is that those people are, more or less, the same people who could already replace a laptop with an iPad Air. The iPad Pro is bigger and faster than the Air 2, but other than that, doesn't stretch much closer to being a legit laptop rival.

Let's break down some of the things that an iOS-running faux laptop doesn't give you:

  • no trackpad or mouse/cursor input of any kind
  • no direct access to the file system (which means getting content from one app to another is clunkier and slower ... if possible at all)
  • no windowed or staggered apps – it's either one app in full-screen or two in split screen, with nothing in between
  • no apps that can roam beyond their own Apple-sanctioned sandbox, making system-wide third-party tweaks (like text expanders or app launchers) an impossibility
  • no browser extensions (though iOS app extensions in Safari do come close)

Maybe you don't need any of that stuff. But, again, if that's the case then you probably could have been using an iPad with a keyboard as your laptop for the last few years. The 1st-gen iPad Pro doesn't redefine the iPad as a laptop killer, so much as it gets a little better at being the same "laptop killer for some people" that the iPad has been since the second or third models arrived, back in 2011-12.

"Pro" means different things to different people, but many things I do for my work are impossible on the iPad Pro (not the least of which is working with many-layered product comparison templates in Photoshop). The iPad Pro assumes that a "Pro" product requires little more than a keyboard, desktop-class performance, office suite and the ability to retouch photos. If that's you, then the iPad Pro may work for you. If that's not you, then we recommend looking into something like the Surface Pro 4, Surface Book or (a "Pro" Apple product that does live up to its name) the Retina MacBook Pro.

Sketching is a pleasure with the Apple Pencil
Sketching is a pleasure with the Apple Pencil

Apple's iPad Pro stylus, the awkwardly-named Apple Pencil, is very good. In sketching apps, you can write with nearly imperceptible latency and great pressure sensitivity, making it feel a lot like writing on real paper. It also makes for a good tapper/pointer device when scrolling through apps or web pages.

But you know what else does all these things? Microsoft's Surface Pen. And it happens to be tied to devices that make sense in all the ways that the iPad Pro doesn't. There are some differences, like the Pencil's ability to do shading while scrubbing at a nearly horizontal angle, but those are niche use cases. On the whole, the Apple Pencil is a nice accessory that doesn't present enough of an advantage to justify the iPad Pro's other shortcomings.

iPad Pro (left) with the Microsoft Surface Book
iPad Pro (left) with the Microsoft Surface Book

Apple's Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro fits with the same theme. Well-made for what it is, but what it is still doesn't make a lot of sense.

When you aren't using the device, the keyboard folds over to protect the screen – and it folds over a second time to prevent the keyboard from touching the display. The keyboard provides a solid enough typing experience with its island style keys, though they do feel a bit squishy and we prefer the Surface Pro 4's latest Type Cover.

Again, though, the big omission is that there's no trackpad, which means the most the iPad Pro can hope to be is a great faux laptop. In our book, to remove the "faux," you need a touchpad.

Typing is a solid enough experience on the OEM keyboard, but without a trackpad the best it can hope for is "faux laptop"
Typing is a solid enough experience on the OEM keyboard, but without a trackpad the best it can hope for is "faux laptop"

If you do decide to buy the iPad Pro, you may notice that Apple's keyboard is nearly impossible to find at the time of publication – and may be tempted to get Logitech's Create keyboard cover instead. Despite its great (and backlit) keys, we don't recommend doing that, as the Logitech cover is heavier and makes it very difficult to remove the iPad when you want to use it in tablet mode. And if you leave the cover on for tablet mode (we're assuming that's what Logitech expects you to do), you just killed one of the iPad Pro's only killer features: its crazy-light weight (for its size) in tablet mode.

Battery life is solid enough. In our video streaming test (with brightness set at 75 percent), the iPad Pro dropped 14 percent per hour. For comparison's sake, the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 each dropped 9 percent per hour in the same test.

Closeup of the Apple Pencil's tip
Closeup of the Apple Pencil's tip

The iPad Pro is a fun device today that may be planting seeds for great products a few years down the road. Once developers follow Apple's lead and make iOS apps that are better suited for this kind of device and once Apple (presumably) adds a few features of its own in iOS 10 and 11 that make it a better 2-in-1 operating system, the iPad Pro could eventually be a true Surface rival. Maybe.

Right now this is a niche device that we only recommend to a select few. If, before the iPad Pro, you've already been able to use an iPad as a laptop replacement – and simply wished you could have the same device with a bigger screen and faster processing power – then the iPad Pro will fit all your needs and be a pleasure to use.

iPad Pro with Apple's Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
iPad Pro with Apple's Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil

For everyone else, though, this is a product that's more about meeting Apple's long-term ends than it is meeting your ends today.

Why buy the iPad Pro today when there are much better 2-in-1s out there already? The Surface Book is just as big, light and "Retina" as a tablet, both it and the Surface Pro 4 run software that's already excellent for 2-in-1s and they both have trackpads and ports for your accessories. They live up to the "Pro" branding for nearly anyone.

Pros and cons of the 1st-gen iPad Pro
Pros and cons of the 1st-gen iPad Pro

The fun but slightly illogical 1st-gen iPad Pro is available now, starting at $799 for the huge tablet by itself. The Apple Pencil adds another $99 and the OEM Smart Keyboard rings up for $169.

Product page: Apple

9 comments
christopher
If only they made their Macbook screens work for touch...
Michaelangelo
I agree, IF Apple just made their laptops screens TOUCH and fold back to be more 'Pad' like they could have had a contender. Also no file system as yet and frustratingly, not a full iOS. I am a huge Apple nut but I am finding them frustrating… then on the other hand, how long will 'Pads' be around?
martinkopplow
If only they added USB ... If only they had a decent file system access ... ... I'd have bought one just yesterday. I'm the designer and scribbler type of user who could really make good use of this thing, if it only was less of a golden cage. As things are, it is still too much consumer and too little pro.
Fredfx
I've side by side tested the Microsoft Pen and the Apple Pencil. The lag on the Microsoft pen is, well....pretty bad compared to the Apple pencil. Talk to ANY artist and that will drive them CRAZY. It drove me crazy and I only used it for two hours..... As an art tool, there is no comparison. As a laptop....the Surface Pro wins hands down.
Tom Green
I played around with one of these at the airport the other day and thought it was amazing. I'm a windows/android fan so that's a big compliment coming from me! However the lack of removable storage is an immediate deal breaker, I'm using a Galaxy Note pro at the moment and the ipad pro is a much nicer machine in hand. Unfortunately the it l just can't compete without an sd card slot, I produce far too much data on a day to day basis.
Dave Allen
i regret buying the ipad air. NO connectivity. No sharing files with friends family or collegues. apple need to wake up.
Timelord
@Dave Allen, You can't share files? I do it all the time with iCloud, Dropbox and other services. Personally, I wouldn't use a Galaxy Note Pro or any Android device because you just don't know what's being shared. An MIT study only last week showed legitimate Android apps were secretly "phoning home" and only half of that data was analytics. They couldn't tell what the other half of the transmitted data was. I'm wouldn't trust anyone not to steal personal data from my devices.
neutrino23
I just picked up my iPad Pro this morning and am totally loving it. This is the iPad I've wanted since the beginning. The Pencil is fantastic. I'm not an artist, I work in science and engineering, but I can use this to annotate photos of samples, take notes during lab sessions and to illustrate ideas while teaching. Just viewing PDFs is so much better. Reading the newspaper is a whole new experience compared to my iPad Air.I wish I had had one of these when I was a student at the University. I'm not sure what the earlier poster was getting at when talking about the need for storage. Nowadays there are many ways to store things off of the device and to share with others. Dropbox and Airdrop are just two. At home we plugged in a USB thumbdrive to the router and use it as NAS for sharing files between iPhones, iPads and the Macs. You can also get WiFi drives that talk to iOS devices. That just scratches the surface. I see people complaing that this doesn't run OS X or that it can't perform something they perform on their desktop or laptop. That will always be true when a new device comes out. I think one should instead find what is possible with the new device. I love my MacBook Pro and there are things it does I can't do on the iPad Pro. On the other hand, the MBP isn't as portable, the battery doesn't last as long, the speakers aren't as nice and it doesn't have a touch screen and it doesn't work with the Pencil.
MarkStephenson
That Keyboard is ugly, it reminds me of a ZX spectrum.
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.