The iPad Pro range arrived in 2015 for those who might be prepared to pay more for premium hardware. Now in 2018, the third-gen iPad Pros are here – and we've been testing out the new 11-inch iPad Pro to see what's new, whether it's worth your money, and whether it can really replace your laptop.

Selling tablets remains a tough job for manufacturers, and even market-leader Apple is struggling to get users to upgrade as often as it would like. Shifting the iPad Pro in serious numbers is even tougher, considering the 9.7-inch iPad (also refreshed in 2018) offers almost the same functionality for around a third of the price.

Into this difficult market comes the 2018 iPad Pro. It's been given a substantial redesign, with a flatter frame, a display that stretches almost right to the edge, and the removal of the Home button – Touch ID makes way for Face ID, as it has on the new iPhones.

There's no doubt it's a beautiful piece of equipment. Get your hands on an iPad Pro and you'll find it looks even more gorgeous than it does in Apple's press photos. As on previous models, the LCD screen is just fantastic – bright and crisp and responsive.

For the 11-inch model we tested, you get a 2,388 x 1,668 pixel display, which is upped to 2,732 x 2,048 pixels for the 12.9-inch model, but both have the same 264 pixels-per-inch rating. From digital sketching to high-definition Netflix, it's a brilliant screen, and one reason you might choose this over the entry-level iPad, which doesn't have all the extras like ProMotion (variable refresh rate) and True Tone (adjustable color temperature).

In terms of design then, it's hard to fault the new iPad Pro. It's also blisteringly fast, with Apple's latest A12X Bionic processor and 4 GB (11-inch) or 6 GB (12.9-inch) of RAM. Most apps simply race through their operations, and it's easy to believe Apple's claim that the performance of the iPad Pro can beat many laptops.

But part of that is because the iPad Pro is also running a stripped-down operating system in the form of iOS. Apps like Spotify, Safari, Twitter, Word, iMovie, and all the rest are all sleek and slick, but they're also all cut-down versions of the full, desktop editions – you just can't do as much with them as you can on a laptop or desktop computer.

Recent updates to iOS mean the iPad software gets a dock, and the ability to run two apps side by side. These features really come in handy on a bigger screen, so Apple is trying to close the gap between iOS and macOS. For us though, it's just not quite enough to ditch the laptop just yet.

We tested out our iPad Pro with the official Smart Keyboard Folio from Apple. Typing is a pleasant, easy experience. It's a real bonus for any kind of text entry, whether you're searching for something in the App Store or writing out an email. It also doubles up very nicely as a case, fitting more snugly than the keyboards for the 2017 iPad Pros.

If you need to power through a lot of text on your iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard Folio won't let you down. Is it as comfortable as a laptop? No, but it exceeded our expectations.

The Apple Pencil has been given an upgrade too, with the main improvement being the way it charges. It now attaches to the top (or side) of the iPad Pro with magnets, wirelessly charging and pairing effortlessly. The same instant and sensitive response that the first Apple Pencil had is here again, making this a perfect pointing accessory for those using their tablets for digital artwork.

Battery life is good too, right up to the 10 hours promised by Apple in our experience – you can definitely take this out on the road for the day without worrying. Don't expect too much from the USB-C connector though. It does do video out (mirroring, not extending, the iPad screen), and can read photos and videos from memory cards, but you can't plug in external hard drives.

In the time we've spent with the iPad Pro we've been hugely impressed with the look of the tablet, its performance, the Apple Pencil and keyboard accessories, and indeed the whole package. It's no doubt the best iPad Apple has ever put out. There are only three caveats that we would put forward as reasons for not buying one.

Firstly, it's not going to replace a laptop for most people, as we've alluded to already. iOS apps are still too limited (even if Apple is promising a "full" iPad version of Photoshop next year), and iOS multitasking is still too basic for that to happen. And while the Smart Keyboard Folio works really well, you still don't get the fine control and shortcuts you do with a proper pointing device like a mouse or trackpad.

The second caveat is Apple's other iPads, specifically the entry-level iPad. It's much cheaper (from US$329), it runs iOS 12 just as well as the iPad Pros do, and it even has Apple Pencil support now. The screen isn't quite as good, the bezels are a bit thicker, and there's no official keyboard accessory, but that's not much of a worry for all the money you're saving. It's a little slower too, with an A10 Fusion chip, but not to the extent where you're going to notice a difference most of the time.

Thirdly and finally, the price – the 11-inch 64 GB iPad Pro starts at $799 and goes up and up and up from there as you add more storage, cellular connectivity, and accessories. The 12.9-inch version costs even more. At those prices you'd better be sure that you're going to get an awful lot of use out of this iPad – more than occasional Netflix viewing or email sending – to be able to justify the price.

And that really sums up the iPad Pro, 2018 edition. For those who are going to make full use of an iPad, it's the very best iPad there is, and we've loved using ours during our review testing. For everyone else, the cheaper iPad is almost as good – or maybe you don't actually need a tablet at all.

The name really is in the title. It's a tablet for professionals who are going to use it every day for work, whether that's sketching out artwork or computing on the go. We've said it won't replace your laptop, but if you get a model with cellular connectivity for always-on internet access it'll work better than a laptop in some situations when you're on the move.

The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 with 64 GB of storage, with more storage and cellular connectivity costing extra. The 12.9-inch models are $200 more expensive at each price point, with the most expensive model in the range a hefty $1,899. Silver and space gray are your color choices.

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