Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review: Size Matters

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 9
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 8
      • Usability
      • 8
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 9
      • Features
      • 9
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 5
      • Total Score:
      • 8.14
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • One of the biggest displays on the market
    • Outstanding performance
    • Four speakers
    • Can be turned into 2-in-1 laptop with optional keyboard
    • Immense battery life
  • Cons

    • Comparatively bulky
    • No removable memory card slot
    • Lightning port instead of USB-C
    • Expensive

Quick Take

The 12.9-inch display makes the iPad Pro the most productive tablet Apple has ever produced, and also the best suited for watching video. It's certainly not as portable as the company's 9.7-inch models, though.

Over the years, many businesspeople who like Apple’s previous tablets asked for a larger version because a 9.7-inch display isn’t ideal for use all day long. The result is the iPad Pro 12.9, a tablet with a screen that’s 78% larger than the iPad Air 2’s.

Professionals also demand a lot of their computers, so this new model has the fastest processor of any iPad, as well as twice as much RAM. Apple also offers a keyboard to turn it into a 2-in-1 notebook and a pen to make this tablet into a drawing tool.

We’ve tested the iPad Pro for business and personal use to see how well it lives up to Apple’s promises that it can do the job of a laptop.

Update: Those who are looking for an iOS tablet that’s almost as powerful but in a smaller formfactor should read our Apple 9.7-Inch iPad Pro Review.

Build and Design

To anyone who is accustomed to using an iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro 12.9 feels huge when it’s first picked up. It’s a whopping 12.0 x 8.7 x 0.3 inches (306 x 221 x 7.0 mm), which makes it 4 inches wider, and 3.3 inches taller and the Air 2. It weighs 1.6 pounds (299 g), more than twice as much. After a few days of use, however, one becomes more accustomed to the larger form factor. Plus, it’s definitely much smaller and lighter than most laptops.

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4

Its size is its greatest strength, and its most significant weakness. The 12.9-inch display makes this the most productive iPad ever, and it’s an outstanding way to watch video, but it’s a lot to carry around and hold in the lap. It feels especially hefty when being used as an eBook reader — like reading a coffee-table book.

As with all Apple products, the build quality is impeccable. The device feels rock solid, and we were unable to make it noticeably flex by twisting it.

It is offered in silver, grey, and gold, but these colors appear only on the back and the very slim edges. The silver and gold versions have a white bezel around the display, while the grey version has a black one. We recommend the grey version for this reason, as the darker bezels are less noticeable in day-to-day use.

A majority of the front of the iPad Pro is screen, with bezels that are slim but still wide enough to make it easy to hold the device.

Display

In the past, Apple’s rivals have competed by offering larger tablets, like the 12.3-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or the 12.2-inch Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. But Apple now offers one of the largest displays of any tablet.

The 12.9-inch screen has a 2732-by-1248 resolution, giving it a density of 264 pixels per inch, the same density as the iPad Air 2. For comparison, Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 also has 264 ppi, while the Surface Pro 4’s screen has 267 ppi.

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

Apple iPad Pro in Silver, Gold, Grey

As the iPad’s screen is near the highest resolution of any tablet on the market, there’s no hint of pixelizaton. Text on the screen looks like it’s printed on paper and images are crystal clear.

Colors are vivid and strong. In our tests, we found the iPad Pro to be quite viewable out of doors, even in direct sunlight, as long as the backlight is at 100%.

The nearly 13-inch, high-res screen makes this the best tablet Apple has ever released for watching video. It is also clearly the reason why side-by-side multitasking was added to iOS 9, so that two applications can be displayed at the same time, like a web browser in one window and Microsoft Word in another. Apple has also been emphasizing that this large display is well suited for use as an electronic drawing pad with the Apple Pencil, which is sold separately for $99.

The screen is 10.3 inches wide in landscape mode, giving plenty of room for the virtual keyboard. It’s not really practical to touchtype with an on-screen keyboard no matter its size, but the iPad Pro gives plenty of room for a complete set of keys. Holding the device in landscape mode and typing with the thumbs is also something that’s not practical, but it’s quite doable in portrait mode. The screen is 7.7 inches wide when held this way, the same as the iPad Air 2 is in landscape mode.

There is an antireflective coating on the screen, but it can nevertheless be used as a black mirror. And the despite the fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating, the iPad Pro is going to need to be wiped off on a daily basis. But these are aspects of all tablets.

Buttons, Ports, and Speakers

Apple chief designer Jony Ive believes in simplicity, and the 12.9-Inch iPad Pro has a minimal number of buttons. The major one is the Home button on the front, which also serves as a fingerprint scanner for the Touch ID biometric security system. In our tests, we found this to be quite reliable, always recognizing the fingertips it was trained to look for and giving no false positives. It’s a bit slow, however.

A pair of buttons on the right side control the volume, and there is a power button on the top. The headset port is also on the top.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 Review

iPad Pro Right Side

This tablet uses Apple’s Lightning Connector for its charging and data port. A better option would have been the industry standard USB Type-C, which Apple includes on its newest MacBooks, but the company decided to stick with its proprietary port, which means USB keyboards and other accessories can’t be used with the iPad Pro.

There’s no built-in memory card reader, but there are third-party microSD card readers that can be used with this computer, including the Leef iAccess. This accessory connects via to Lightning port, as do a number of flash drives, such as the SanDisk iXpand. No one who needs to carry large amounts of data on business trips will find themselves without an option, especially when cloud storage services are factored in.

This is the first model with the Smart Connector, added so the tablet can communicate and power accessories like Apple’s own Smart Keyboard, as well as rival add-in keyboards that can turn this tablet into a 2-in-1 laptop. The Connector is located along the left edge of the device.

One of the issues with using previous iPad models for watching video is that the speakers weren’t particularly loud. Apple didn’t do what it should have: set the iPad Pro’s speakers so that they face the user. Instead it doubled the number so that are four of them, with two speakers on each end of the tablet. These produce a quite respectable amount of sound, easily enough to allow someone to watch a movie without straining to hear what characters are saying.

Performance

Apple designed this device to be able to run two high-end applications side-by-side, while also streaming a video with Picture in Picture, so it is easily the most powerful mobile device the company has ever produced. In all our testing of this tablet we never ran into a situation which the processor couldn’t handle with ease.

A good example of this performance is how quickly the computer boots up from being totally shut down: 15 seconds from being completely turned off to being ready to go.

This power comes from a 2.24 GHz dual-core Apple A9X 64-bit processor. We tested this with the Geekbench 3 benchmarking tool, and it scored a 5411 on the multi-core portion. For comparison, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with an Intel m3 processor scored a 4314 on the same test; Samsung’s flagship Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7, scored a 4400, and the iPad Air 2 scored a 4529.

This device boasts 4GB of RAM, twice as much as any previous iPad. This gives much more space to hold multiple running applications, and means web pages need to be reloaded far less often after they’ve been in the background, greatly boosting productivity.

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

Apple iPad Pro

Buyers have the choice between a 32GB version, one with 128GB of storage, and a third with 256GB. We agree with the decision to not offer a 16GB version, and those who wish to save some money can get the 32GB one and extend their storage capacity for images and videos with cloud services or flashdrives and microSD card readers that attach to the tablet’s Lightning port.

Software

The 12.9-Inch iPad Pro debuted running iOS 9.1, the very latest version of this operating system, and Apple will certainly continue to release OS upgrades for it for several years — the company is still offering upgrades for the iPad 2 released in 2011.

Update: The device is now up to iOS 9.3, which offers the features described below as well as some new ones.

iOS was originally written for the much smaller display of the iPhone, and it doesn’t always translate well to a 12.9-inch screen. For example, the homescreen has small icons almost lost in sea of open space. Future versions of this operating system need to make better use of all this room.

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

the iPad Pro homescreen has too much open space.

But there are areas where the 12.9-Inch iPad Pro makes brilliant use of its space, especially with the new iOS 9 feature Split View that allows two applications to be displayed in separate windows. The large display is also a good venue for Picture in Picture mode, in which video can be shown in a window floating above running applications.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 Review

iOS 9 Split View and Picture in Picture

The tablet comes bundled with an extensive array of productivity applications, including Apple’s iWork suite as well as its iLife suite. Naturally, the Safari web browser, Mail, Notes, Podcasts, and other software are also pre-installed, and there are more than a million more third-party titles in the App Store.

At the top of the list for many businesspeople is Microsoft Office. The iPad Pro handled this productivity suite like a charm, especially as Microsoft built in support for Split View so, for example, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets can appear side by side.

Wireless

Apple offers two versions of the iPad Pro with 4G LTE, with either 128GB or 256GB of storage. There can be used with any of the top U.S. wireless telecoms, as well as LTE networks around the world.

All versions come with Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with dual-channel and MIMO support. What this means in real world terms is that this tablet supports the fastest and most secure versions of Wi-Fi available. It’s actual data transfer speed depends heavily on the wireless network it’s connected to, though.

The 12.9-Inch iPad Pro includes Bluetooth 4.2 for connecting accessories, especially external keyboards that don’t use Apple’s new Smart Connector.

Only the LTE-enabled version has a built-in GPS. Other versions can only get a basic sense of where they are based on what Wi-Fi networks they have access to.

Camera

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

iPad Pro Rear View

The iPad Pro’s main camera has an 8-megapixel resolution, with autofocus and ƒ/2.4 aperture. There’s no flash, which limits the usefulness, but that’s almost moot because taking a picture with a 12 x 8.7 inch, 1.6 lbs. tablet is ridiculous. It’s capable of taking panorama pictures, 1080p HD video at 30 fps, Slo-mo at 120 fps, and time-lapse video with stabilization, but not the Live Pictures that debuted on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. No matter its specs, this just isn’t a practical camera for regular use.

The situation is completely different for the front-facing 1.2MP camera. This has an ƒ/2.2 aperture and can take 720p video, and the iPad Pro is well suited for video chatting over FaceTime or Skype.

Battery

Apple’s tablets have long been known for their very long battery lives, and the iPad Pro certainly lives up to this legacy. Apple promises that the device is good for up to 10 hours of web access over Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music. Our tests found this to be conservative.

We put the iPad Pro through the Geekbench 3 battery test, which keeps a computer on until its battery is completely drained. It lasted for exactly 16 hours. Obviously, its large casing makes room for a very high capacity battery.

Conclusion

Apple is touting the 12.9-Inch iPad Pro as the new standard bearer for the post-PC era. CEO Tim Cook uses his on business trips and leaves his MacBook at home. After extensively using this tablet, we find that it mostly lives up to the hype: many, but certainly not all, businesspeople and students will be able to use this computer instead of a laptop if they wish.

The large, high-res display makes side-by-side multitasking very practical, while this device is also being well suited for watching video, especially considering its very good speakers. The battery is easily capable of keeping it going during a full work day and well into the evening. Adding a Smart Keyboard or a similar accessory could be a necessity, though.

Its size makes it somewhat bulky, so this is a tablet not well suited for those just looking for a computer for casual web browsing and eBooks. Those who don’t need the larger screen should go for a model with a display in the 10-inch range, as they’ll find it more portable.

Value

The 32GB version of the 12.9-Inch iPad Pro is $799, the 128GB one is $949, and the 256GB version is $1099. Adding 4G LTE to the 128GB or 256GB model pushes them to $1079 and $1229, respectively. As mentioned, there’s no 32GB version with LTE, so Apple is clearly urging customers toward the more expensive, high capacity versions.

For comparison, the entry-level Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with a slower processor and smaller screen but 128GB of storage is $899. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 with 32GB of storage but a much slower processor costs $749.

Its nearly $800 starting price puts the iPad Pro out of the range of many, but it’s not out of line with the competition.

Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review

Apple iPad Pro in Grey, Gold, Silver

Pros:

  • One of the biggest displays on the market
  • Outstanding performance
  • Four speakers
  • Can be turned into 2-in-1 laptop with optional keyboard
  • Immense battery life

Cons:

  • Comparatively bulky
  • No removable memory card slot
  • Lightning port instead of USB-C
  • Expensive

Bottom Line:

The 12.9-inch display makes the iPad Pro the most productive tablet Apple has ever produced, and also the best suited for watching video. It’s certainly not as portable as the company’s 9.7-inch models, though.



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