Apple expanded the iPad Pro line to include a 10.5-inch tablet, joining the second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. This presents shoppers with a choice: which is better for them?
The larger screen carries a $150 increase in price, and even the cheaper model is $649, so it’s important to make the best decision. We’re here to help by comparing these two computers head-to-head, based on our extensive use of both.
iPad Pro Build & Design
These two tablets are from the same product family but they have significantly different form factors… even more than you might expect.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is 12.0 by 8.7 by 0.27 inches, while the smaller model is 9.8 by 6.8 by 0.24 in. That’s 28.2 cubic inches versus 16.0 cu. in., or a 76% increase in overall size.
In colloquial terms, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is lot more portable. Its casing is actually only a smidge bigger than the 9.7-inch iPad (2017), and they both have the same weight: 1 pound.
By contrast, we said in our review of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro that this device feels less like tablet and more like a full-size notebook screen that’s been separated from its keyboard. And at 1.5 pounds, its really too heavy to hold up for long periods of time.
There’s only one thing that could justify all that additional bulk: a generous screen.
Hearing that one device has a 12.9-inch screen and another has a 10.5-inch one, it’s not unreasonable to expect the former display to be just a bit larger than the latter. But diagonal measurements don’t do the best job of really describing how big a screen is.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has 80.3 square inches of display area. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro has 53.2 sq. in., so the larger model has over 50% more screen space. That’s a huge difference.
And it’s a disparity that’s very obvious in real-world use. One can easily use the smaller screen to write a long Word document, but comparing an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document side-by-side really requires the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
The larger display is also the preferred venue for showing video, to the point where two people can easily watch together. It’s a superior gaming experience as well.
The 10.5-inch screen has a 2224 by 1668 pixel resolution, while the 12.9-inch one is 2732 by 2048, but that’s just more pixels to fill up the bigger display. Both devices have the same pixel density: 264 ppi.
All iPad Pro models support the Apple Pencil, but 50% more screen area makes for a better drawing experience.
In our tests, in everything except size, these displays came out to be identical. But size matters.
Ports, Buttons, Speakers, and Cameras
Apple doesn’t tinker much with the basic designs for its tablets. That’s why both the iPad Pro models have the same Lightning Connector, as well as power and volume buttons in the same places. The Home button on each is also a biometric fingerprint scanner.
A special feature of the Pro series is the Smart Connector, intended to allow add-on keyboards to communicate with the computer without needing Bluetooth. Available as a separate purchase are Smart Keyboards designed by Apple for each these tablets. The 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard is considerably larger, rivaling a desktop keyboard, while the 10.5-inch one is a bit cramped for people with large hands.
There are four speakers in each of these products, two on each side. Stereo effects work a bit better with the larger device, but for the most part the audio experience is the same.
Identical 12 megapixel rear cameras and 7 MP front ones mean that there’s no difference in photographs taken, especially as there’s a quad-LED flash for each.
12.9-inch iPad Pro vs. 10.5-Inch iPad Pro: Performance
For all their size differences, these two computers are quite similar on the inside. Both run a 64-bit Apple A10X Fusion processor that boasts six cores: three 2.38 GHz ones for performance tasks, and three slower cores that draw less power when running non-demanding apps.
We tested them with Geekbench 4, and the Compute benchmark shows a virtual tie. The small difference in our scores is a result of benchmarking not being an exact science; running the same test multiple times on the same device will always get scores within a small range, not the same score every time.
Geekbench 4 Compute performance comparison (higher scores indicate better performance):
In real-world use, both of the 2017 iPad Pro tablets are extremely fast, with absolutely no discernible differences in their performances.
Apple included 4GB of 1600 MHz LPDDR4 RAM in each. This is a generous amount for any device running iOS, which is efficient in RAM use. There are versions of both models with 64 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB of storage, with correspondingly higher pricetags .
All iPads released in recent years can run iOS 10, and these new Pro models are, of course, no exception. Both will be upgradable to iOS 11 when it’s introduced this fall, but the 12.9-inch model will take better advantage of some of the outstanding new features. The larger screen is already a superior venue for displaying two applications running side-by-side, and the next iOS version will enable users to show three apps simultaneously. That’s just not going to be practical on a 10.5-inch display.
Because the processor and RAM are identical, there’s really no difference in the ability of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) and the 10.5-Inch iPad Pro to run third party applications. And Apple bundles all the same productivity and entertainment software with both, including the iOS versions of the iWork and iLife suites.
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro has a 30.4 watt hour rechargeable battery, while the 12.9-inch model has a 41 wH one. The larger display draws more power, but also means there more room for a bigger battery. Apple says both these models are good for 10 hours of mixed use on a single charge, but when it comes to battery life this company has a history of under-promising and over-delivering.
In out tests, the 12.9-inch device lasted 13 hours and 39 minutes of mixed use: a combination of web surfing and video streaming with auto-brightness on. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro lasted 12 hours and 23 minutes in similar conditions.
The exact time between recharges of each tablet will vary tremendously depending on the conditions in which they are being used. For example, in our tests, setting the larger iPad Pro’s backlight at 100% cut the battery life in half. Still, we judge the 10.5-inch model won’t go quite as long as the 12.9-inch one on a single charge under identical conditions.
12.9-inch iPad Pro vs. 10.5-Inch iPad Pro: Final Thoughts
The dramatic divergence in size between these two means each is better for a disparate type of user. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is well suited for someone who wants a traditional tablet that will sometimes be used like a notebook PC. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is ideal for those who want a notebook computer that can also be used as a tablet.
Anyone who expects to be on their iPad several hours a day should really consider the larger device. The 50% increase in screen area is better for web access, email, social network, games … almost everything. Naturally, this has to be weighed against the 76% increase in the bulk of the bigger tablet.
None of the other differences are enough to sway the buying decision. For example, someone who’s looking for a very portable computer shouldn’t choose the 12.9-inch model just because it has a slightly longer battery life. The 10.5-inch device is much easier to carry around.
Of course, cost can’t be ignored. Apple asks $649 for the smaller iPad Pro with 64 GB of storage, while the 12.9-inch version with that same capacity is $799. And that pricing plan carries through the other iterations: the 256 GB and 512 GB versions of the bigger model are all $150 more than the 10.5-inch versions with the same amounts of storage. Although that’s hardly a paltry increase, we judge that the larger display justifies the increase in price for those who need the additional screen area.