Review: iPad Pro

I've used desktop computers since I was 16. I have never not been in possession of at least one during that time, and currently I've got... just, loads. 5? 7? Something like that. I got my first laptop in 2006, and that thing was nearly a decade old even back then. My second laptop was a little better, a 2003 Apple iBook I got in 2008, and that was really my first experience with portable computing. That laptop taught me that there was a difference between portable computing and power computing, which at the time separated my desktop use from my laptop use.

Well, over the years that bar has moved a bit. When I got my MacBook Pro in 2011, I realized that many laptops had improved to the point where they could replace my desktop for my power computing needs (mostly editing and creating music, images, and video, as well as some casual gaming). The base model MacBook Pros in 2011 handled everything I needed just great, and I didn't need to invest in a desktop anymore. At the same time, the bar for portable computing had moved from laptops (bulky monsters, obviously) to iPads and smartphones, which were superior for consuming entertainment and staying connected on the go, but really terrible at everything else.

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but it's been a few years since 2011. This is primarily due to the linear nature of time. As it happens, that bar dividing power computing and portable computing never stopped moving. My power computing needs have stayed the same (I'm a more serious gamer now, and I have a desktop for that), but devices that were previously limited to my portable computing needs are now capable of meeting my power computing needs as well. I am only a power user in a few specific ways, and there are plenty of power users that won't be able to do absolutely everything they want on these new portable devices. Heck, some of you beasts out there still need desktops.

But I'm giving you all of this background so that you'll know that I have been watching this evolution, and that I'm at least somewhat qualified to make the following statement.

Currently the vast majority of consumers could use an iPad for 100% of their computing and be completely satisfied with the experience.

And I don't mean like two-thirds of consumers. I mean like nine-tenths of consumers, and that includes those of us who, like myself, are sort of the lower-tier power users.

I could argue philosophies here, but let me just tell you about this iPad Pro I am using and you can make philosophical judgements for yourself. This thing is the cheapest new iPad Pro you can get, a 10.5 inch model with 64 GBs of storage. Inside all iPad Pro models are basically the same, with 4 GBs of RAM, an A10X Fusion chip, a 264 pixels-per-inch TrueTone screen with up to 120 Hz refresh rate, a 7 megapixel camera on the front, 12 megapixel camera on the back, and the second generation of Apple's TouchID sensor. Both the 12.9 inch and 10.5 inch models sport a 10-hour battery life and four speakers (one at each corner), and both weight less than 1.5 pounds.

But those stats are meaningless. What means something is how these things work in real life.


At 10.5 inches I think these new iPad Pros have finally hit the sweet spot between screen size and portability. The body of the device isn't much larger in footprint than the previous 9.7 inch models, and at a somewhat unbelievable weight of 1.03 pounds, they are fantastically portable. It's easy to hold in one hand, easy to slide into any sort of bag and carry with you, and the 10 hour battery life really is enough for a full day of very heavy work. In my use-case the battery lasts at least two days, but usually more like three or four.

This has always been the strong point of the iPad. Ever since the first one was announced in 2010 iPads and tablets in general have been unmatched for watching shows, keeping us connected, and entertaining kids with simple games while on the go. They've always been portable, and it really shouldn't surprise anyone that even though the screen size has gone up a bit, these new 10.5 inch iPads are every bit as portable as their predecessors.

The 12.9 inch models strike me as being a bit too big, but if you need a larger screen (with the same great fidelity), well, that's certainly an option.


Speaking of that screen, I want to point out that 264 PPI isn't the most amazing pixel density in the world. I'll get that out of the way. It's retina, meaning that at normal viewing distances a human with normal eyesight won't be able to resolve the individual pixels. Could they have put a full UHD display on these things? Sure. The graphics in these things would have no trouble driving a UHD display. Did they need to, though? Absolutely not. These screens are gorgeous.

True Tone is one of the technologies that Apple is pushing pretty heavily, and really all it does is change the color temperature of the screen to match the ambient light in the room around you. That means if you're outside or in a room lit by those really harsh white fluorescent bulbs, the screen color will tend toward those harsh blues well all associate with computer monitors. But if you're in a dim room lit by yellow incandescent bulbs or, I dunno, candles, then the screen will slant toward yellow. This is supposed to make looking at the screen more comfortable for long periods of time, and I can vouch for it actually making a difference, if a slight one.

If you want color accuracy, of course, you should turn True Tone adjustments off. And if you do that, you are going to get some really amazing color accuracy. Testing that accuracy is up to people with more knowledge and better equipment than I, but what I can tell you is that from photos and videos to stuff I produce myself, this screen really does reproduce some of the best colors I've ever seen. As with all LCD screens, the blacks aren't quite as dark as they should be, but that one point aside these reproduce colors better than any OLED equipped device I've used.

In addition to all of that is a 120 Hz refresh rate, which in layman's terms means that the screen can update with new information 120 times per second. That's double the speed of the screens most people are used to, and that lends to tangible improvements with the smoothness of the interface. It's really pleasant to use.


In terms of raw power, Apple's mobile devices have never had a hard time keeping pace with the rest of the world, when they're not just walking all over them completely. While the A10X may not quite be a quad-core i7, it sure wipes the floor with anything available in other mobile devices as far as CPU is concerned, and honestly sits pretty well with all of the top-tier laptop processors in terms of multi-core benchmarks. In an iPad Pro, this means that nothing that doesn't rely on the internet lags. Ever. There is so much more horsepower available here than iOS is even capable of using outside of maybe some games. The A10X is a monster, and it's really only a matter of time till we have apps capable of utilizing all of its power.

Maybe my favorite part of this processor, though, is the Fusion part of its name. That means this shares technology with the A10 chip in the iPhone 7 (not really surprising), meaning that half the cores on the CPU are optimized for low-powered tasks. Just working on something simple? Reading, browsing the internet, scrolling through Facebook? If so, the iPad Pro uses the low-powered cores and saves battery, in much the same way that some cars will shut off cylinders in the engine to save you gas. Power and efficiency, all in one excellent package.


This is the part where I'll be tempted to gush uselessly about how amazing the Apple Pencil is. To avoid that, I'm just going to say it's amazing. The latency is virtually nonexistent (thanks in part to that 120 Hz refresh rate we were talking about earlier), and the pencil itself feels excellent in the hand. It charges quickly, holds a charge forever, and did include an adapter so you don't have to stick it in the iPad to charge. The only thing it lacks in comparison to something like a Wacom Companion is that the texture against the smooth glass of the iPad takes some getting used to.

But I'm already used to it. Took like two days. I currently have zero complaints.

The other major accessory I suspect most people are going to want with an iPad Pro is a keyboard. Any bluetooth keyboard will work, and there are already a good number of keyboard cases available for the 10.5 inch iPad model. If you've already got a bluetooth keyboard you like, or if you want something on the cheap (around $50 for something decent) and won't be typing constantly, that's probably the way you want to go. The other option, and the one I took personally, is to go with a keyboard that uses Apples Smart Connector on the side of the iPad.

Right now you only have a few options there, and the one I went with is Apple's own keyboard case. It's pricey at $150, but it offers instant connection and no battery worries with minimal added bulk and the convenience of being able to remove it easily at any time. Those were exactly the features I wanted, and I really like this keyboard. It's just about the same size as a normal keyboard, and it didn't take me long to adjust to typing on it. Some people might not like how short the key travel is, but if you grew up typing on squishy keyboards that didn't require much force to register (like I did), it won't take you long to get used to this.


There's a lot more I could say. I could talk about the cameras, which are lovely and record great video (1080p front, 4k back). I could talk about the fingerprint sensor and how stupidly fast and accurate it is. But in the interest of this already being a really long review, I'm not going to.

The last thing I want to mention here is that I've been using the thing with iOS 10. I have tried out iOS 11, coming this fall, and it is going to radically change the way iPads can be used. My one caveat to my earlier statement of iPads being able to replace all other computers for more than 90% of consumers depends on iOS 11, which will make using an iPad feel more like using a computer. While an iPad with iOS 10 might technically be capable of replacing a computer like Apple has been claiming, iOS 11 is going to make it actually feel like a real replacement.

I've said for years that for most people, who only need something for entertainment and basic tasks like document creation, iPads could replace their computers. I never really seriously considered, however, that an iPad would ever be able to replace a computer for me. But with the exception of serious gaming, my iPad Pro already has. This whole "post-pc" era everyone has been pitching for years, well...

If this is it, I'm convinced. Finally, I'm convinced.