Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) Review: Big, Fast, But No USB

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Performance surpasses many consumer laptops
    • Beautiful display
    • Long battery life
  • Cons

    • Wide and slim design could be fragile
    • No USB-C, memory card slot, or built-in stand
    • No mouse support

Quick Take

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro boasts an outstanding screen, plenty of storage, cutting-edge performance, and a long battery life. The slim-but-wide casing potentially could be damaged, though. And Apple still refuses to embrace many industry standards.

The second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple’s latest offering for anyone serious about using an iOS 2-in-1 instead of a laptop. This newest model offers much faster performance than its already speedy predecessor, twice as much storage, and a better-looking display. But it hasn’t changed in many other ways.

iPad Pro Build and Design

Every mobile device is a trade-off between functionality and portability, and with this model, Apple chose to emphasize function. At 12.0 by 8.7 by 0.27 inches and 1.5 pounds, it’s is surprisingly slim, but the other dimensions mean this isn’t a device that rides easily in a purse … a backpack or gear bag is required.

iPad Pro

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017)

The impression we get is of a laptop screen that’s been freed from its keyboard. But it’s easy to add one back, and Apple markets this computer as a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop. There are a number of add-on keyboards for this model, including the Apple Smart Keyboard.

The look is identical to the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and it uses the same design esthetic as this company’s other tablets: corners are rounded, and there are minimal buttons. The appearance is sleek, and designed to appeal to prosumers.

It’s available in three colors: silver, space grey, and gold. Only the dark grey version includes black screen bezels; the other two have white ones.

Apple is known for its high-quality builds, and this product is no exception. But this device definitely pushes the outer limits how slim a tablet can be and remain practical. Our test unit flexes and bends slightly when we apply pressure. It resumes its original shape immediately, but we think it would be relatively easy to put a permanent bend in the casing. We recommend that users take advantage of the iPad Pro’s slim shape to add a strong case to help prevent damage.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro 2017 Side View

That add-on case should include a stand, as Apple didn’t build one in. This tablet is well suited for displaying video, but something to prop it up has to be added. Or this task could be taken on by any of the add-on keyboards that turn this iPad into a 2-in-1 laptop alternative.

iPad Pro Display

This tablet justifies its bulk with a generous screen, which is larger than all its competitors, like the 12.3-inch Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) or the 12-inch Samsung Galaxy Book. It’s large enough to easily work with two applications displayed side-by-side for real productivity.

iPad Pro

With Apple Pencil

When Apple was designing the second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s screen, some aspects weren’t changed. The resolution remains at 2732 by 2048, so the 264 ppi pixel density is identical. It’s worth mentioning that this tablet boasts 79.9 sq. in. of screen real estate, 50% more than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which has 52.9. sq. in.

There are new features in this display, but not dramatic improvements. During the unveiling, Apple made much of its ProMotion technology, which means the screen refreshes up to 120 times per second, twice the rate of its rivals. At 120 Hz, moving text looks very smooth, such as when scrolling down a long web page. Screen refreshes can also be slowed down to 24 Hz when displaying static content, saving on battery life.

A bonus effect of this faster refresh rate is reducing the latency of the Apple Pencil to 20 ms. Apple never revealed what the latency of this stylus is with older iPad Pro models, but it’s supposedly close to 50 ms.

iPad Pro

This is also the first 12.9-inch iPad with this company’s True Tone feature, which subtly changes the colors on the screen to match the surroundings. When we compared it side-by-side with the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the older display looks significantly bluer in almost every situation. The new version, by contrast, fulfills Apple’s promises by subtly blending in with the environment. This makes the display easier to look at for long periods.

A much less subtle improvement is an increase in the maximum backlight brightness by 50%. Jumping from 400 to 600 nits makes this tablet noticeably easier to use in full sunlight. However, using full brightness is hard on the battery; more on this later.

Ports, Buttons, Speakers, and Cameras

The entire iPad line includes Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector. This is not only used for charging the computer, but a range of accessories can be added through this port, including flash drives, SD card readers, HDMI or VGA connectors, and headphones. In addition, Apple makes a USB 3.0 adapter that can be used for connecting Ethernet adapters and external keyboards. It’s unfortunate that the industry standard USB-C wasn’t used, but the Lightning port is nevertheless usable and useful.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro Lightning Connector

A feature only included in the iPad Pro line is the Smart Connector. Located on the left edge of the tablet, this is used to communicate with the Apple Smart Keyboard, as well as a handful of other accessories. The Smart Keyboard designed for the first-gen 12.9-inch iPad Pro is fully compatible with this latest model.

There is no removable memory card slot, but one can be added through the Lightning port. Several companies make

Despite pre-release speculation to the contrary, this device does include a traditional 3.5mm headset jack. Alternatively, we confirmed that headphones designed for the iPhone 7 can be connected to its Lightning port.

There’s a power button on the top edge, and a volume up/down buttons on the right side. The most useful button on this computer is located just below the display: the the Home Button, in addition to performing a variety of tasks for navigating the iOS operating system, has a fingerprint scanner built in. This biometric security system works well, as long as the fingertip is dry.

Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

Apple Smart Keyboard

All iPad Pro models have four speakers, two on each of the short ends. These aren’t pointed toward the user, but our tests found that they still put out enough sound for two people to be able to hear a movie playing on this tablet in a relatively quiet environment.

Although people who use tablets to take personal pictures are often mocked, this type of device is frequently used capture images for business reasons, or even film movies. That’s why Apple built a 12 MP main camera into this model with ƒ/1.8 aperture that’s capable of capturing 4K video. Unlike its predecessor, this is paired with an LED flash. Pictures taken in well- or dimly-lit areas came out exceptionally well:

iPad Pro Sample Pic

In Good Light

iPad Pro Sample Pic

In Bad Light with Flash

The front camera is 7 MP, which is overkill for making Skype or FaceTime calls.

iPad Pro Performance

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is intended for prosumers, and therefore needs to have the performance this group demands. That’s why Apple created the A10X Fusion processor, which boasts six cores: three 2.38 GHz ones for performance tasks, and three slower cores that draw less power when running non-demanding apps.

According to the Compute benchmark in Geekbench 4, our test unit is 78% faster than the previous 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

iPad Pro

There’s 4 GB of RAM in all configurations of this new tablet, just like its predecessor. This is a large amount for an iOS device, and twice what’s in the recently-released budget iPad. Applications written for this operating system are generally not RAM hogs, so this is more than sufficient to run several apps simultaneously. That’s important, as iOS 10 can display three at once, and iOS 11 will be able have four apps on-screen at the same time.

The base configuration of the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro has 64 GB of RAM, twice as much as its identically-priced predecessor. It’s also available with 256 GB and 512 GB of storage for more money. Even 32 GB of capacity was enough for dozens of applications, so the additional storage is really there for carrying around large amounts of either documents or pictures, video, and music. Or users have the option to use flash drives or microSD card readers that plug into the Lightning port.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro Back Panel

The 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro unit this review is based based has the following specifications:

  • Apple A10X Fusion 64-bit processor with 6 CPU cores, 2.38 GHz max
  • M10 coprocessor
  • iOS 10.3.2
  • 12.9-inch display at 2732 x 2048 pixels (264 ppi)
  • 12 MP rear camera with ƒ/1.8 aperture and LED flash
  • 7 MP front camera with ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Touch ID biometric fingerprint scanner
  • Quad speakers
  • Lightning port
  • 41‐watt‐hour rechargeable lithium‑polymer battery
  • 12.0 x 8.68 x 0.27 inches
  • 1.49 pounds (677 grams)

Software

At launch, this tablet runs iOS 10.3, but at its developers conference in early June Apple showed off iOS 11, which will be loaded with new features for iPad users. This includes a real file management system, enhanced side-by-side multitasking, drag-and-drop editing, and more. Just keep in mind this new version is still a beta, so it will be months before all of these improvements arrive.

Unfortunately, iOS 11 won’t fix a glaring omission in the iPad Pro: no mouse support. The touchscreen is great when using this 2-in-1 as a tablet, but a mouse/trackpad is preferable when a keyboard is added.

iPad Pro

Drag-and-Drop in iOS 11

Even though the next version is still a ways away, millions of users will assert that iOS 10 is already quite functional, and both Apple and third-party software developers have provided a vast number of titles for everyone from business people to soccer moms. This includes free copies of the iWork and iPlay suites.

iPad Pro Battery Life

Apple promises that the 41 Wh battery will deliver 10 hours of use on a single charge. To rigorously test the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, we put it through our usual torture test in which we continuously stream video over Wi-Fi with the backlight on at 100%. This tablet lasted 5 hours and 54 minutes, which we judge to be the absolute minimal time anyone can expect this iPad to last. Under more normal use conditions–a combination of web surfing and video streaming with auto-brightness on–our test unit lasted a very impressive 13 hours 39 minutes.

Recharging takes about 5 hours, which we judge to be a bit slow. This process would be faster if this (or any) iOS device could be charged while shut down.

iPad Pro Heat and Noise

The A10X Fusion processor doesn’t heat up the casing even when doing demanding tasks for long periods.

As the processor doesn’t require a fan, there’s obviously no fan noise. Really, there’s no way for this computer to make any sound besides the speakers.

iPad Pro Final Thoughts

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple’s flagship tablet, and it boasts an outstanding screen, plenty of storage, and cutting-edge performance. It also has a long battery life, and there’s a wide array of software available.

The slim casing potentially could be damaged if not treated carefully, though. And Apple still refuses to embrace industry standards such as USB-C ports.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard

This computer offers everything needed to be useful for many years, which is important because Apple probably doesn’t intend to introduce a follow-up for at least 18 months.

Reading between the lines, Apple’s long-term plan seems to be to get consumers to buy the iPad Pro as a 2-in-1 instead of entry-priced MacBook laptops. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a good step in that direction. With an add-on keyboard and the right software, this tablet can be someone’s primary computer. The exceptions are people who need Windows or MacOS software that hasn’t yet been ported to iOS … or people who need built-in USB connectivity.

Value

It’s a good thing this tablet has the display and performance to rival a good laptop, because it’s also priced that way. The base model, with 64 GB of storage and no 4G LTE, is $799. The top-end configuration, with 512 GB of capacity and built-in LTE, is $1229.

Those who want to turn their 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) into a 2-in-1 will need an Apple Smart Keyboard ($159). Artists should add the Apple Pencil ($99) as well.

For comparison, the base Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) with 128 GB of storage but without keyboard or stylus is also $799. The Samsung Galaxy Book is sold with keyboard and stylus, and the price reflects this; the base configuration with 128 GB of storage is $1129.99.

Pros:

  • Performance surpasses many consumer laptops
  • Beautiful display
  • Long battery life

Cons:

  • Wide and slim design could be fragile
  • No USB-C, memory card slot, or built-in stand
  • No mouse support



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