Editors' note, March 18, 2019: Apple has announced two new iPads. Starting at $499 (£479, AU$779) for the 64GB model, the new iPad Air features a 10.5-inch Retina display, an A12 Bionic processor and support for the Apple Pencil. It replaces the 10.5-inch iPad Pro from 2017, which is no longer sold. The new iPad Mini, starting at $399 (£399, AU$599) for the 64GB version, also has the A12 chip and Pencil support, but is otherwise nearly identical to the iPad Mini 4 it replaces. The iPad Pros that Apple announced in 2018 remain, unchanged, in Apple's tablet lineup; the original review of those devices, last updated on Dec. 14, 2018, follows.
Traveling with an iPad Pro isn't new to me. I've used the previous iPad Pro as my main commuter computer and, before that, other iPads. They're great for quick reading, communicating, writing on a keyboard, and... for me, that's about it.
The new iPad Pro, released in November 2018, is a story of impressive hardware and untapped potential: A device that still hasn't taken the final leap into being the "everything" computer for my needs. It has a great keyboard case, though it could use a trackpad. It's got a big, laptop-like screen. It's more portable -- and far more powerful -- than the last version. But it doesn't solve the final few things I need to make it a true laptop. Is the iPad Pro even the computer of my dreams? Not quite yet -- and not until the iPad version of iOS gets a fairly major overhaul.
Welcome to the 2018 iPad Pro: a half-step forward.
Update, Dec. 14: An earlier version of this review posted on Nov. 5. It has been updated with final thoughts, benchmarks and full ratings.
The new iPad Pro definitely bags some huge wins over its predecessor: It's shockingly fast, has USB-C, a far better Pencil design, easy login with Face ID and there's more screen real estate crammed into a more compact design. From a pure hardware perspective, it's a knockout -- and drop-dead gorgeous, to boot.
But the iPad Pro just isn't flexible enough, yet. The browser is not the same as a desktop-level experience, which can make it hard to work with web tools. No trackpad on the optional keyboard and no support for mice makes text editing cumbersome. Furthermore, iOS hasn't changed enough. It's way too much like an evolution of the iPhone, instead of a fully evolved computer desktop. And the current crop of available apps don't yet exploit this awesome new hardware. A true version of Photoshop is on deck from Adobe, for instance, but it won't be available until 2019. (I got an early peek and it looks great, but it's not here yet.) Mostly, the iPad Pro's software story feels iterative, not transformational, versus what was available previously.
Those drawbacks notwithstanding, this new hardware is going to cost you -- a lot. The iPad's price has gone up, to $799 for the 11-inch version with 64GB compared with $649 last year for the 10.5 inch. The 12.9-inch version costs $999 for 64GB of storage. My top-of-the-line review unit, with a crazy 1TB SSD and cellular data, is $1,899. Add in the new and improved Apple Pencil (increased in price from $99 to $129), that new fancy Smart Folio keyboard case ($179 or $199, up from $159), and new USB-C dongles and headphone adapters you'll need, and that's one expensive iPad.
|iPad Pro 11-inch (64GB)||$799||£769||AU$1,229|
|iPad Pro 12.9-inch (64GB)||$999||£969||AU$1,529|
|Smart Keyboard Folio 11||$179||£179||AU$269|
|Smart Keyboard Folio 12.9||$199||£199||AU$299|
Right now, the iPad Pro echoes the familiar pattern of Apple's 2018 iPhones: Faster, larger screens, higher prices. Six or 12 months from now, if Apple and third-party developers continue to invest in evolving iOS and expanding the universe of available accessories, it could very well unleash the full potential of this amazing device. (WWDC 2019, likely in June, will be a key waypoint.) There's no reason why this hardware couldn't allow greater possibilities.
In the meantime, this is more of a niche product for artists and creatives willing to live within its bounds, or for those who can take a splurge on a seriously nice tablet. If you'd like a hint of the creative possibilities at a much lower cost, I'd recommend the far less expensive entry-level 9.7-inch iPad (which works with your old Pencil or the Logitech Crayon, too).
The new iPad Pro looks like a large iPhone X. And, in a lot of ways, it really is like a large, super powerful iPhone X or XS.
Face ID hits the iPad, without the notch: It has Face ID, and the same TrueDepth front-facing camera. Whatever you could do with the iPhone XS, XS Max or XR and its front camera, you can do here. Depth-based portrait mode photos look as good as the iPhone, and it can do Animoji and Memoji and other depth-sensing AR. Face ID is nearly invisible. The camera now fits seamlessly into the narrower bezel around the edge. It's hard to even remember where it is sometimes.
The camera works in landscape and portrait and recognized me quickly. Face ID feels like a better fit for tablets, and even better for laptops, but Apple hasn't introduced it to Macs yet. I had to bend over or lift the iPad up occasionally for logging into an app, or paying for something on iTunes. That's where Face ID can get annoying over Touch ID.
Also, Face ID is only designed for one user. It highlights the still outstanding lack of multiuser support on iPads. For families, or anyone sharing an iPad, there's no way to store multiple logins, short of convincing Face ID to accept someone else's face as an "alternate appearance."
Gorgeous makeover: No doubt about it, this iPad's pretty. Both new sizes fit more screen in less space, in different ways. The 11-inch Pro fits a larger display into a similar-sized body to 2017's 10.5-inch version (that one remains on sale, at least for now). The 12.9-inch shrinks down the body of last year's larger Pro and keeps the same screen size, and the difference is dramatic. The bezels are nice and small, and Face ID blends in. It's a perfect look... except for the lack of a headphone jack.
An amazing screen: The iPad Pro display is lovely. It's LCD, not OLED, and its curved corners are engineered similarly to the iPhone XR's LCD screen. The display can reach 120Hz ProMotion like last year, which pays off in smooth scrolling, and sometimes in games and animation. It's bright and colors look great. Technically, the iPhone XS OLED bests it in detail, but this is just as good or better than the iPad Pro's display last year. And having a thin tablet that's nearly all screen makes for an eye-catching upgrade.
But there's one downside that's popped up over and over: non-optimized apps show up with an extra black bar letterboxing the display and basically adding extra bezel. It's something I didn't even notice much at first, since the iPad Pro's got a pretty massive display, and the black bezels hide the extra black bar a bit. But it's annoying, and never happened with 2017's iPad Pro. (When apps are updated, the black bar problem can go away...but that depends on how fast app developers update their apps.)
Booming audio: The speakers sound fantastic. Crisp and loud. Last year's iPad sounded great, too. Now the speakers boom so loud the entire iPad vibrates at full force. It's like holding a speaker cabinet. If nothing else, the iPad Pro is a killer TV.
USB-C in, Lightning and headphone jack out: Yes, it happened. As rumored, Apple dropped its Lightning connector on the new iPad Pro, and subbed in USB-C. This means an accessory transition that's both frustrating and potentially game changing. More on that later.
But Apple also followed its worst iPhone design instincts and dropped the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. As with the iPhone, you can buy a $9 dongle (USB-C to 3.5mm), but then you'll have cut off the only port. And because the iPhone still uses Lightning, you won't be able to swap headphone adapters between it and this new iPad Pro.
The iPhone X swipe gestures are now on the iPad, mostly intact. Swiping up goes to the home screen, swiping down from the corner brings up Control Center. The previous iPad OS had some similarities. Now a few new wrinkles pop up. You bring up the app dock by swiping up a bit and holding, which can get confusing. Swiping up further brings up all open apps, including some that stay in split-screen pairing, just like before. Because the iPad version of iOS was already hinting at where the iPhone X gesture language would go, the continued leap here isn't jarring at all.
But would I have liked some more new moves to make the iPad Pro feel even more PC-like? Yes, I would have. Multitasking keeps getting better year after year, but it's still not as fluid as I'd like for my workflow.
Speaking of workflow, let's talk about Shortcuts. What used to be called Workflow is now Apple's own Shortcuts app, offering ways to build macros and link actions together and tie into Siri commands. I think Apple is aiming for Shortcuts to be the way to make productivity smoother, do things better, and not feel as limited by iOS. I don't spend a lot of time in Shortcuts -- I'm not a big macro-user, or IFTTT (if this, then that) programmer. But it could help produce some interesting results, if you're creative and patient. I'd prefer it if iOS could just allow me to lay more things out simultaneously, show more on the home screen and multitask that way. The iPad Pro promises so much power, but it doesn't give me an easy way to access that power.
For comparison, I quickly hopped on an old Chromebook to save some file attachments, fill out a form, write back to someone and attach the files. Just some quick everyday work. Simple on a Chromebook, but it feels harder to do the same thing on an iPad Pro. In fact, the Google Pixel Slate shows Chrome's work advantages clearly, even though the Pixel Slate also suffers some multitasking and UI oddities.
After using the iPad Pro for a longer span of time, it's increasingly clear that Apple could do with an even greater iPad-focused revamp and enhancement of iOS, targeted at multitasking specifically.
The first Apple Pencil was great to use, but had a host of annoyances, especially its awkward "jam it into the iPad's Lightning port" charging methodology. The new Pencil has finessed the solution with elegant magnetic inductive charging. It snaps right onto a panel on the edge of the iPad Pro. By giving it a place to charge, much like the AirPods, it means your Pencil is likely to be ready when needed instead of rolling around somewhere and probably depleted. New, too, is a double-tap capacitive sensor on the iPad's lower third, which makes a single action happen. Apps need to activate it individually: iOS 12 doesn't make use of it, except in the Notes app. There are some individual apps that use it, but not a ton...and even then, its uses are limited.
Notes are one thing, but the iPad shines as a digital art tool. How is the new Pencil for drawing and sketching? Earlier this fall, I met up with New Yorker and CBS News cartoonist and journalist Liza Donnelly to see what she thought. She's worked with the iPad and 53's Paper app to do live sketches during news moments, creating on-the-fly sketch-based journalism. Watching her work on it, it impressed on me how good Pencil continues to be.
The Pencil's accuracy and latency are the same as last year on the iPad Pros, but according to Donnelly, she felt more "drag" on the new Pencil-to-iPad-Pro display. Ultimately, that's a good thing. It made the experience more paper-like and tactile, but it also took some getting used to.
For me, the whole experience and new ease of charging now makes the Pencil more likely for me to use, instead of ignore. It feels like a part of the iPad, now. Oh, and the new Pencil ditches the cap you always lost, and its one flat side means it won't always be rolling off the table -- both great little design improvements.
But it's a Faustian bargain. First, it's more expensive now ($129). Also, it doesn't come with the iPad -- even though it should, it really should. And older Apple Pencils don't work at all with the new iPad Pro. The new Pencil doesn't work with older iPad Pros, either. Now you need two Pencils, if you have two generations of iPad Pros.
I hate that. But I love pretty much everything else about the new Pencil.
I'm a writer. So, for me, a computer is something I can write, edit and publish on. The iPad Pro doesn't do that much more for me than previous iPads in that regard. The new keyboard case Apple makes is much better designed, closer to what my favorite keyboard cases from Logitech have been. It locks strongly into one of two viewing angles, and it's reasonably lap-friendly. On New Jersey Transit, I perched it on my knees and wrote this section you're reading now.
But it's not ideal. The iPad's display ratio is a little odd for writing -- too tall, maybe. The 12.9-inch version feels too big, somehow. More than ever, I want windows or multiple panes to hover around the screen freely. The iPad can still only multitask two split screens at once.
The separately sold Apple Smart Folio keyboard, though, is good ($199 for the 12.9-inch version). It's good enough that I was able to write this review, and do it on the train, and do it on a desk or in my lap. The keys and key feel is not much different than last year, but if you've never used an iPad to write, the experience is better than you think. The keyboard base is far more solid, the keys feel sturdier, and I can type away on my lap without worrying.
Editing, though? That's another story. I use a trackpad to edit. Apple allows a virtual trackpad in iOS 12 using the onscreen software keyboard, but there isn't an option for the physical keyboard. Yeah, I can touch the screen to make edits, but it's an odd flow. It seems like it should be simple to add a trackpad: Microsoft Surface and the Google Pixel Slate have it. Why not the iPad?
The keyboard's not backlit, either. Third-party solutions might add that, but I'd like to have seen it in Apple's keyboard.
The keyboard folio covers the iPad Pro snappily, but doesn't offer a ton of protection. The edges of the iPad are exposed. It wouldn't be a pretty scene if I dropped the iPad Pro with this folio case on. It's best as a general home-and-in-a-padded-bag type of accessory.
So, is it something I can write on? Yes. Is it a writer's computer? No. (And hey, maybe that's where the new MacBook Air comes in?)
But, as I keep using the keyboard, I do at least appreciate its versatility between lap and desk. Google's Pixel Slate keyboard and the Microsoft Surface Pro keyboard are made for desk use.
It's hard to judge the real-world power of an iPad Pro, because a lot of its raw speeds depends on the apps you use on it. But know this: the new iPad Pro might be one of the most powerful little tablet-computers I've ever seen. The octacore A12X processor powering the new iPad Pro delivered a Geekbench 4 single-core score of 5,019, which is 28 percent better than last year's iPad Pro, and a whopping multicore score of 18,149.
Let's put that multicore score in perspective. That's 95 percent faster than last year's iPad Pro. Faster than a Razer Blade 2018 with a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor. A tiny bit faster than a 2017 MacBook Pro with a 2.9 GHz Core i7. Yes, really. The 2018 Core i9 MacBook Pro is still faster.
Speed is one thing, but what does it translate into in graphics, sustained performance and everyday use? There aren't many killer pro video editing tools on the iPad Pro. Apple only makes iMovie for iOS, not Final Cut Pro X. Art tools are plentiful, and as mentioned above, Adobe is looking to bring powerhouse "full" Photoshop and other promising Creative Cloud apps to the iPad Pro in 2019.
This speed promises that the iPad Pro can be an engine driving all sorts of possible apps and workflows...provided the software arrives. And, performance is not just a factor of raw speed...the limits of iOS for multitasking and quick tasks can often feel like a bottleneck, still, making the effective "get things done" power of the iPad a bit less than what it could be if it were really unleashed via a more versatile OS. But wow, it's got possibilities.
Games, meanwhile, can look terrific. The iPad Pro is clearly a killer graphics machine, but I struggled to find titles that could even push it to its limits -- the potential is sky-high. But even an entry-level iPad is is really good at most current games. The new free-to-play NBA 2K game is, as promised, stellar-looking. But its controls suffer, because you're relying on a touchscreen. Ultimately, I don't think anyone is going to spend upward of $1,000 just to play games on this thing. If you want gaming, I'd get a console. Or get all three consoles: You can buy a Nintendo Switch, an Xbox One and a PS4 for the price of a single iPad Pro, after all.
USB-C has replaced Lightning as the single port on the new iPad Pro, not counting the functionally limited magnetic smart connector on the back and the side magnetic inductive charge zone for the Pencil. It sounds exciting: At last, compatibility with more accessories, and things that used to be hard to plug into an iOS device!
Some of that is true. USB-C chargers and battery packs can now be used, which is great. The iPad can also charge other devices, which is pretty wild. You can use the iPad Pro to charge an iPhone with the proper cable or USB-C adapter dongles, a Pixel 3 and a Nintendo Switch. They all started juicing up when connected.
In theory, the iPad Pro can connect to cameras, USB thumb drives and SD cards (via adapters or proper cables), but the Lightning iPad Pro could, too, with dongles. But don't expect plug-and-play support for storage and accessories here as you would with a Mac or Windows PC -- or even a Chromebook. Accessories are generally supported with individual apps. A GoPro supports GoPro's app and so on.
The same too goes for external displays, where an app could allow up to a 5K monitor to be used as a second screen. That's great, but in general iOS 12 on the iPad Pro doesn't do these things across the whole system. Unless an app supports extra monitor modes, all a monitor can do is mirror the iPad's resolution on a second screen. It works either with an HDMI cable or with a direct USB-C cord. (The iPad Pro works with USB-C monitors that work via DisplayPort, according to Apple. Otherwise you'll need to connect via an HDMI cable or adapter.) FYI: The USB-C charge cable in the iPad Pro box is USB 2.0. You'll need to buy a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable to connect directly to a USB-C monitor.
One hopes there's a future where you plug in a hard drive full of 4K video or photos, and the iOS Files app pops up and lets you start accessing directories, moving and opening files at your heart's content, without the need for a gaggle of proprietary apps. The same goes for tethering cameras, microphones and everything else that content creators use in their daily routines.
Likewise, USB-C could work with docks, enabling the iPad to become a display-connected, mouse-and-keyboard-and-trackpad machine that sits on a desk and becomes a complete, everyday computer in a heartbeat. It could, but so far it doesn't. Changing iOS to allow plug-and-plug peripherals would be the breakthrough here, but who knows when -- or if -- that's coming.
Meanwhile, adding USB-C also has a major drawback: Lightning and the headphone jack are now gone. It means the iPad Pro no longer works with any of Apple's wired headphones via 3.5mm or Lightning. AirPods are the suggested solution, perhaps, or another set of Bluetooth headphones. Or, you'd have to use a USB-C adapter, which means finding a splitter dongle if you're already using USB-C for other things.
Then there's the Sanho HyperDrive USB-C hub. This $99 dongle adds a headphone jack, USB-A and HDMI ports and an SD card, in addition to maintaining a USB-C passthrough. It's a great idea, but it only reminds you how many ports the iPad Pro is lacking.
After using the iPad Pro for a longer period of time, I've come to like USB-C for being there, but it's clearly underutilized both from an accessory and iOS/app perspective. The iPad Pro needs its Nintendo Switch moment, showcasing USB-C and what it can do for users in new and surprising ways. Right now, for everyday uses, it adds up to an overdue move with a lot of untapped upside.
Apple claims the long-familiar 10 hours of battery life on the new iPad Pro, matching what it's been hovering around for years. The iPad Pro did better than that on CNET's streaming video test, lasting over 13 hours.
In daily use, it's more than good enough. I worked on it a solid, serious half-day and exhausted about half the battery. It'll last a full day, but I'd take the charger to be safe. It's an upgraded 18-watt USB charger, better than the old 12-watt Lightning one, although it's also a fatter plug. But other laptops and tablets have caught up. The iPad's no longer an astonishing battery-life device, but it's still plenty of juice.
A note on cellular on the iPad Pro: I set up a monthly AT&T account for wireless data easily and with no Wi-Fi nearby while on the train. The Gigabit LTE, 4x4 MIMO connectivity is similar to what's on the iPhone XS and XS Max. Instant connection in the US via eSIM can happen via AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, AlwaysOnline and GigSky, and global partners are available for eSIM, too. Verizon requires a physical SIM card.
On New Jersey Transit trains, the connection seemed to hold decently, even in areas where the signal strength was low. But, for the extra cost of the cellular antenna-equipped model ($150) and the extra cellular data plan, you may be fine just tethering to your phone's hotspot instead.
To be clear, more than anything else I want the iPad's newest features in Macs. Face ID, a really excellent pressure-sensitive stylus, accessories that magnetically connect and pair, and of course, a touchscreen.
That's my first and continuing feeling about the newest iPad Pro: It's got the pieces that represent Apple's computer future. And, based on performance benchmarks and the feel of the tablet as I use it, the processor inside the iPad has become a serious contender against any regular PC experience, at least in terms of raw horsepower.
But let's back up a few steps. The iPad Pro is a product that's becoming more expensive, more refined and more "pro creative-centric" every year. I have the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in my lap right now as I work on this review. It's a beautiful, sleek, crisp tablet. But it is still, willfully, Not A Mac. Its OS and interactions can be limiting. It's not as easy to multitask. It's locked down, making expandable storage impossible, and even on-device file management is tough. And its raw power feels hard to tap since multitasking is still limited to two apps at a time.
The iPad Pro still seems like a device that assumes you already have a Mac somewhere -- back at home, the office, the studio. No, this is not Apple's version of the Microsoft Surface Pro. But you probably knew that already. Google is exploring more computer-like tablets through the Pixel Slate. There are plenty of Windows alternatives thanks to Microsoft's embrace of touchscreens and flexible hardware offerings: Detachable keyboards, two-in-one convertibles and traditional laptops all peacefully coexist in the Windows ecosphere. Apple's approach makes for a spectacular tablet, but a sometimes not-so-great standalone, flexible, do-every-pro-task computer.
The iPad's a beautifully designed thing, now -- practically perfected, from a pure hardware perspective. The whole screen ratio to body size is just right, and the thickness, and everything else. Now it needs the accessories, the keyboards and trackpads, and the inputs, and maybe a more advanced OS that shows more on screen at once.
But without the apps that show off what it can do, and push it into new territories -- USB-C camera tethering, multidisplay app workflows, ways to maybe eventually add a mouse or trackpad or other inputs beyond a keyboard -- it feels hindered.
Then again: I wrote my whole review on this iPad Pro, used Slack, pulled together photos, did benchmarks, wrote emails and used Twitter -- and it all was fine... but when it came to making edits, the Pencil's in-beta markups didn't help me enough in Pages, and in Google Docs I couldn't see group edits properly. Back to the MacBook I went.
The iPad Pro really has the power of a full computer now -- a really good one. It's just that it could be so much more, if iOS wasn't quite so limited. And the more I've used the iPad Pro, my feelings stay the same. It's a really great tablet, and a gadget with fantastic potential.
But, no, it's not my laptop-killer yet. And, really, with a few key moves, it could be.
|Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2018)||Apple iOS 12.1; 2.49GHz A12X Bionic chip ; 5.52GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 1TB Storage|
|Apple iPad (9.7-inch, 2018)||Apple iOS 11.3; 2.3GHz A10; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 128GB Storage|
|Apple iPad Pro (10.5-inch, 2017)||Apple iOS 11.2.6; 2.3GHz A10X; 4GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 512GB Storage|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 6||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB|
|Samsung Chromebook Pro||Google Chrome OS; 900MHz Intel Core m3-6y30; 4GB RAM; Intel HD Graphics 515; 32GB storage|