The best iPad you can buy. Pair it with the Smart Keyboard or Pencil for a productive mobile powerhouse, just make sure the apps and software you need to be most productive are compatible first.
The 9.7 inch iPad Pro was the shortest lived tablet in Apple’s history, surviving only 15 months before being succeeded by the new 10.5 inch model.
Rarely does Apple admit to mistakes, but 9.7 inches doesn’t give you a lot of room in which to get work done. Previously we recommended the 12.9 inch model over it on those grounds.
So does 0.8 inches do enough to close the gap? Read on to find out, and at the end of this review, we’re giving ours away to one lucky reader.
It’s Still an iPad
The new tablet uses the same rigid iPad design we’ve seen since the iPad Air arrived in 2012. It’s safe and familiar, and like all iOS devices before it, it’s incredibly easy to use.
The design and build quality also mimics that of previous models. I’d go as far as saying that I find the chamfered metallic edges a bit old hat now. The sharp angles of the iPad Pro feel the same as my old beat up iPad Air, and if it wasn’t for the slimmer screen bezel you’d have trouble telling them apart.
Coming from an iPhone 7, the squishy home button houses the fingerprint scanner feels a little odd. There’s no haptic feedback, and no 3D Touch either — the latter of which would have been nice to see since I’ve become so reliant on it on the iPhone.
While the new iPad’s design is largely unchanged, its accessories have also remained pretty much the same. The Smart Keyboard is still made of the same tough waterproof nylon, with a questionable choice of “Smart Cover fake suede” on the bottom.
I made this criticism last time round, and it still stands: the first time I attached the Smart Keyboard to the iPad Pro and set it down on a bench top, the fabric underside already showed signs of use. If you’ve got an old iPad with a Smart Cover, you’ll likely be familiar with the grime they attract.
Under the hood Apple has loaded the tablet up with its latest smarts, and of course it flies. As ever, the hardware tends to blend into the background but the user experience shines. Everything is as responsive and fluid as it should be for a brand new tablet.
0.8 Little Inches
The only visible change to this latest model is the screen size, which has grown by less than an inch. While this sounds minuscule, it’s a real game changer for Apple’s flagship “pocket-sized” tablet.
The screen bezel has been reduced while the overall size of the iPad has increased by less than an inch. This is the tablet the 9.7-inch iPad Pro should have been.
Typing is now much improved. More screen real estate means a larger on-screen keyboard, and the best touch screen typing experience I’ve ever had. If you have larger hands, the Smart Keyboard is no longer a cramped mess.
Unlike the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, I could instantly type at speed on the new model. The difference of a few centimetres makes all the difference to your hand position and typing speed. I’d still recommend you try before you buy, because one-size does not fit all and you may still be better off with the larger model if you’re a keen typist.
For me, the iPad Pro turned a corner at this point. The typing experience on the 12.9-inch model is excellent, but a tablet that big fails at just being a tablet. As someone who spends a lot of time typing and editing text, the lure of the new smaller iPad Pro might prove too difficult to resist.
The slightly larger screen also makes the iPad more usable in terms of multitasking. The display isn’t quite so cramped when using two apps side by side, which again feels like a breakthrough compared to the 9.7-inch model.
The cherry on top of the cake is the level of visual performance delivered. A new refresh rate of 120Hz (up from 60Hz on other models) adds another dimension of fluidity to iOS. This carries over to the Pencil, which now tracks with a virtually imperceptible 20ms delay.
The screen is also brighter, and it maintains the P3 wide color gamut seen last time round. TrueTone display technology attempts to balance the whites on-screen with the ambient temperature of your surroundings. It’s a nice touch, though it’s something you only tend to notice when it’s taken away from you.
iOS 11: Ready for the Big Time
A brand new version of iOS is just around the corner, and a large portion of the update has been dedicated to improving the iPad Pro and regular iPad. All versions of Apple’s tablet (including the 9.7-inch model) will see a slew of new features hit their device in a few months.
Unfortunately, that means that if you buy one today, you won’t get the full effects of your purchase until the end of September (or early October) when Apple unleashes iOS 11 to the general public. Until then you could always install the public beta, but we wouldn’t recommend using a beta version of iOS.
For that reason, we’ve reviewed the iPad Pro in its current state, running iOS 10. When iOS 11 does arrive, it will bring the following improvements:
- Files: A proper way to manage all of your data, including local and cloud storage from the likes of iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and more. Like Finder for your iPad, but not as powerful.
- Dock: A Mac-style dock for opening files within specific apps, or quickly accessing documents.
- Better Multitasking: A redesigned app switcher and true drag and drop sharing between active apps.
- Pencil Improvements: Instant markup for screenshots, PDFs, mail attachments, plus the ability to take notes from the Lock Screen by tapping it with your Pencil.
- And overall general usability improvements, a document scanner, and a better on-screen keyboard.
Some of these features, like proper file management, are long overdue and demonstrate how committed Apple is to making the iPad a productive platform. iOS is by its very nature a restrictive, and locked-down OS that is often at odds with this power user philosophy.
We won’t know if the changes go far enough for a while, but there’s a lot the iPad Pro gets right from the outset. I made this observation in my previous reviews, and this time round is no exception: iOS, thanks in part to how restrictive it is, can be an incredibly productive work environment.
By virtue of its restrictive nature, and the fact that I can only ever look at two apps at the same time, many of my daily distractions disappeared when I started to use the iPad Pro. Apple’s rigid OS design forces you to concentrate.
The hardware should speak for itself: it’s small, lightweight, powerful, and it has better battery life and sound quality than most laptops on the market. It even charges over USB, so you don’t need to carry a power brick around with you when travelling.
The keyboard is thin, and remarkably comfortable to type on. I’ve never used a better stylus than the Apple Pencil, though I hear Microsoft’s Surface Pen will give it a run for its money. Keen competition from Microsoft might be why we’ve seen such a huge reduction in stylus input latency (50%) this time round.
It’s not all roses: there’s still nowhere to put the Pencil (it just rolls off the table, all of the time), plus I ran into some of the same typing issues I experienced last time. The iPad loves to capitalise words, often to the detriment of Apple’s naming conventions. Even after turning off Auto-Capitalisation and Auto-Correct I’d still see “IOS” or “IPad” in my bulleted lists.
A Laptop Killer?
It’s the question everyone seems to ask, and the answer is the same as last time. I explored whether or not the iPad Pro can replace your laptop, in detail, last year. The answer still depends on what you’re using your laptop for, as well as how well iOS 11’s improvements work out.
The arrival of Files and the macOS-style Dock will help your answer that question. A lack of file management is crippling to a platform that wants to position itself as a productivity springboard. No one thought Apple would go as far as adding a Dock, however.
The 10.5 inch iPad Pro is still an iPad. It’s easy to use, and it’s great for sitting in front of the sofa and browsing Facebook. The fact that it’s still an iPad also means that it still lacks the power of a desktop operating system.
For many of us, that won’t be a problem. The Pro is a supplemental piece of technology, to be used alongside a desktop or laptop. If you want to replace the traditional desktop computing experience entirely, you’re going to struggle even when iOS 11 arrives.
Apple likes to claim the iPad Pro is “more powerful than most PC laptops”, but power does not a useful machine make. Despite the power under the hood, there are only so many outlets for it.
You can’t fire up PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and play online with your friends; you can’t learn how to use Blender; there’s no full-fat version of Illustrator for serious graphic design work; there are no competitive iOS versions of FLStudio, Ableton Live, or even Logic Pro. Xcode is another big name app that’s absent.
The biggest let down for me is Adobe’s continued stalling in bringing a proper version of Photoshop, Illustrator and even Premier Pro to iOS. That’s a huge problem considering it’s outside of Apple’s control. While many users probably could drop our laptops for an iPad Pro, a large portion of “pro” users will find it still stops short of the mark.
So Should You Buy One?
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is the best iPad you can buy today. No longer am I recommending you skip the smaller iPad Pro if you want to get real work done. Apple’s dimensional tweaks mean that typing with a Smart Keyboard (or using the on-screen keyboard) is a breeze, even if you have bigger digits.
The plain old iPad is a great buy at its current $329, but if you want a table that can do more, you value a physical keyboard or pro-level stylus, and you can afford to shell out for the tablet and your chosen accessories, the iPad Pro 10.5-inch is the model you should buy.
The 12.9-inch model might have the monopoly on screen real-estate, but 0.8-inches is all it took in the end to put Apple’s smallest premium tablet a step above. Upgrading from the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is probably not worth it if you get on ok with that tablet’s dimensions.