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iPad Pro (10.5-inch, 2017) review:

Apple's tablet wants to be your everything

Apps will need updating to fit perfectly to the extra pixels on the 10.5-inch model, but existing ones seem fine... if slightly enlarged. The extra screen space is nice for movies, games, browsing and the rest, but for split-screen apps it still doesn't quite allow for two true full-frame apps side by side. It squishes everything a bit, and requires a little creative zooming.

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Faster Apple Pencil and faster scrolling.

Sarah Tew/CNET

ProMotion Display has a fresher refresh

The new iPad Pro's variable-refresh-rate display, using what Apple calls ProMotion, can run at 120Hz (twice as fast as previous displays) or scale down to match movies as well as static content. That should make for extra-smooth animations and scrolling, and it does. What else would I use it for? Graphics work, maybe. It means faster, lower-latency Pencil sketches, down to 20 milliseconds. In practice, it means the Pencil feels about as instantaneous as any stylus could feel.

It's hard to tell the difference, honestly, because the Pencil already did a great job. Even stylus aficionados sitting down with the new 10.5-inch model and the older 9.7-inch model might be hard-pressed to appreciate the latency change. It's better, but it's subtle.

The smoother frame rate in video playback (for 120 frames-per-second video) and while scrolling certainly shows up, but apps will need to emerge to take advantage of it more. Apple says the display cycles down to 24Hz on still images and 120Hz every time the Pencil is used. That could mean heavy Pencil use may result in more of a battery drain. ProMotion is a nice addition, but not as dramatic as last year's screen upgrade on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro compared with the iPad Air 2 (£37.00 at uSwitch) and the older 2015 Pro. In most everyday uses, it's not needed. Then again — as often happens when sinking into new tech — when I switched back to the older iPad I was a lot more aware of its somewhat less smooth scrolling. The same goes for other displays, too. This improvement may spoil me over time.

Keep in mind that the wide color gamut display, True Tone ambient color warmth adjustment and extra antireflective coating on the new iPad Pro tablets were already in the previous 9.7-inch Pro. But the 12.9-inch iPad Pro lacked these screen features, and now also gets these upgrades. Early 12.9-inch iPad Pro adopters will see an overall change for the better.

A10X chip brings serious speed

The bumped-up A10X processor in the new Pro is indeed fast, but as always, testing its power with a just-launched system often comes down to studying benchmarks.

And yes, it's seriously fast. On Geekbench 4 multicore tests, it's 91 percent faster than the last iPad Pro, and 117 percent faster than the spring 2017 iPad. It's also 35 percent faster than a Core i5 Microsoft Surface Pro 4. (We'll rerun the test versus the new Surface Pro once it's available.) In the tests we threw at it, it comes out as one of the fastest tablets ever seen.

Paired with the fast refresh rate display, it gives the whole package a great feel. But it also feels like an engine crying to be fed. I had a hard time figuring out what I used, on a daily basis, that could take advantage of its power. That's probably where the extra multitasking possibilities in iOS 11 could help it step up and deliver more.

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iPhone 7-grade cameras onboard.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other stuff

  • If you care about taking photos or video on your iPad, this one's got great cameras: a 12-megapixel rear camera with a True Tone flash feature and a 7-megapixel front camera. In fact, these are basically the same cameras as in the iPhone 7, identical down to optical image stabilization and 4K video recording.
  • If the cameras sound like overkill, remember that this is a device targeted at creative professionals. The better front cameras will be welcome for anyone using FaceTime, Skype or other video chat apps. The same goes for the rear cameras when doing studio work or scanning documents.
  • Onscreen keyboards are bigger, so it's a little easier to type (but I was fine with the 9.7-inch screen, too).
  • The Touch ID button is faster, which I barely noticed.
  • Battery life is fantastic. In our streaming video playback test, the 10.5-inch Pro lasted 938 minutes, or 15 hours and 38 minutes. It actually outperformed last year's already good 9.7-inch Pro, lasting more than enough for a full day. Stay tuned for more battery benchmarks, but Apple's power-adjusting A10X processor and ProMotion display mean your everyday mileage may vary. 
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Can we get a better keyboard?

Sarah Tew/CNET

The missing link: More accessories

I've got one lingering problem with the iPad experience that hasn't been addressed yet, and it needs to be. Accessories are still the same as they were nearly two years ago when the first iPad Pro debuted. To use an iPad Pro, you can snap in a keyboard or use a Pencil. That's it.

There still isn't a trackpad option for the iPad Pro keyboard. I know I've been asking for a trackpad for half a decade, but there's a reason: Editing isn't easy. I'd gladly take a software solution invented in iOS using the touchscreen, but I haven't seen one yet (the onscreen keyboard takes up too much space, it's not the same thing). 

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A new slipcase (left) doesn't offer flip-open access. Apple's Smart Keyboard (right) doesn't protect the iPad's back.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The iPad Pro tablets have magnetic Smart Connectors on the side, but that keyboard is the only thing that uses them. Why not a bigger keyboard with a trackpad? Or one that incorporates an SD slot, so you don't have a dongle shooting out of the Lightning port? I'd like to see Apple get more creative here, if the Smart Connector can support it. If the Smart Connector means modular add-ons, then where are the other ideas?

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The Surface Pro 4 (left) has a more laptoplike feel, still, than the iPad Pro (right). *Cough* trackpad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Versus the Surface

The Microsoft Surface stands at the other end of the tablet equation: It's a Windows PC in tablet form, with full flexibility, and a trackpad on its keyboard. The iPad Pro has a better selection of apps, overall, if you care about games or unique tablet-optimized content. But Windows 10 offers a lot of ways to go beyond just tablet apps that Surface can also tap into. Both have pressure-sensitive styluses, and while the Pencil feels better, the Surface Pen is still very functional. The iPad Pro feels more refined and versatile as a tablet, but the Surface Pro 4 and the upcoming Surface Pro are the better overall laptop/computer stand-ins right now.

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When iOS 11 comes, it could be a different story for the new iPad Pro.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One step forward, but waiting for iOS 11

Using this Pro just doesn't feel astoundingly different. If you've been waiting to pick one up, this 10.5-inch model is the one I'd recommend without a doubt. But with iOS 10 on it -- which, right now, is all that's available -- none of the promise of iOS 11 and its iPad-transforming software can be experienced. This iPad also doesn't have any truly new accessories.

But it cements the iPad Pro as a great piece of hardware, even more so this year. The rest depends on iOS 11. Will it make the iPad Pro essential, or or will the entry-level 9.7-inch iPad be more than enough for the average user?

I'd want the 10.5-inch Pro. But for many others, I don't think the upgrade is worth it. It could very well be the future of Apple computers, but in many ways the iPad Pro is doubling down on what it does best: being an iPad Pro. This is great hardware, seeking even more transformative software and accessories. More to come when we get a chance to load iOS 11 on this in the future.

Who should get the new iPad Pro?

  • If you have a 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro: The new Pro is worth the upgrade for its display improvements alone, or if you're using the Pencil a lot.
  • If you have a 2016 9.7-inch iPad Pro: You don't need to upgrade (even if you want to).
  • If you're looking for a great top-end iPad: Perfect time to upgrade (get the 10.5).
  • If you're looking for a family iPad or don't plan on using the Pencil: Get the much more affordable 9.7-inch iPad.
  • If you need a trackpad: Look elsewhere. Go for a MacBook, the Microsoft Surface Pro or another Windows PC hybrid.

Geekbench 4 (Multi-Core)

Apple iPad Pro (2017)
9,194
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
6,787
Apple iPad Pro
4,801
Apple iPad (2017)
4,234
Apple iPad Air 2
4,124
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
3,883

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
66,061
Apple iPad Pro (2017)
53,873
Apple iPad Pro
34,856
Apple iPad (2017)
29,266
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
22,786
Apple iPad Air 2
22,413

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Google Octane

Apple iPad Pro (2017)
30,488
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
27,221
Apple iPad Pro
21,540
Apple iPad (2017)
18,560
Apple iPad Air 2
12,205
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
8,612

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback

Apple iPad Pro (2017)
938
Apple iPad (2017)
764
Apple iPad Pro
631
Apple iPad Air 2
581
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
298

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple iPad Pro (2017) Apple iOS 10.3.2; 2.3GHz A10X; 4GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 512GB storage
Apple iPad (2017) Apple iOS 10.3; 1.85GHz Apple A9; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi/LTE; 128GB storage
Apple iPad Pro Apple iOS 10.2.3; 2.26GHz Apple A9X; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi; 128GB storage
Apple iPad Air 2 Apple iOS 10.2.1; 1.5GHz Apple A8X; 2GB RAM; Wi-Fi; 64GB storage
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Google Android 7.0; 2.15GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Quad Core; 4GB RAM; 32GB internal storage

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