The new iPad Pro was announced on October 30, 2018. I’ve been using the 12.9in model since that date, including writing much of this review on it. I’ve also used the 11in version regularly and frequently since mid-November and almost everything here relates exactly to the smaller one, too, except size and price.
The first thing you notice is that, like the iPhone XS and an increasing number of phones, the display covers the front of the tablet almost completely. There is a bezel but it’s pretty narrow. Actually, it’s a little wider on the 12.9in model than it was on long sides of the 10.5in iPad Pro, but the screen is much more dominant here because there’s no chin, no forehead. The bezel is uniform on all four sides.
The chin is where the Touch ID button sat on previous models. That’s gone now because this tablet uses Face ID. That means there’s a series of sensors including the TrueDepth Camera on one edge of the tablet but, unlike the iPhone XS, for instance, there’s no notch at the side of the display because the bezel is wide enough to encompass the camera without one.
The larger surface area of the tablet means the wider bezel still looks proportional and slim. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the new front, there are more design changes on the edge and the back.
Where pretty much every iPad since 2010 has had a curved edge, this one is flat and exactly at 90 degrees to the front and back. I was afraid this would make it less comfortable to hold in the hand but that hasn’t proved to be so
The edge, cliff-edge to the chamfered-top, pillow-base of the entry-level iPad, isn’t instantly smarter-looking than on previous models, but it’s still attractive. It also has the significant benefit that the new Apple Pencil, with its one flat edge interrupting its otherwise round profile, has room to attach magnetically to the iPad Pro’s long side. More of which later.
On the back, much is as you’d expect it to be: Apple logo, the word iPad, a (slightly enlarged) camera lens in the top-left corner. The only surprises are the repositioning of the Smart Connector, for the attachment of accessories like the Smart Keyboard Folio, previously found on the edge of the Pro tablets.
Oh, and the antenna band is different. A narrow line snakes along the top edge of the tablet’s back, a few millimeters in. It’s discreet but still easy to see. If you choose a wi-fi + cellular model, there’s a corresponding line on the bottom edge, adding symmetry and permitting 4G signals to get in and out.
The design is terrific. I mourn the soft, welcoming pillow back which remains an elegant and inviting look. But this slick and business-like – and very noticeably thin (5.9mm). And, if you buy the latest iPad Pro, well, nobody can easily confuse it for last year’s model.
The other significant design change is at the base of the tablet. That connector, the one that looks like a Lightning socket, is, in fact, USB-C, as I have slowly begun to remember over the last weeks as I repeatedly tried to recharge it from the old cable. It’s the first iPad, indeed the first non-Mac Apple product of any kind, with USB-C. Apple says it’s because it’s what the iPad Pro required, so we shouldn’t presume that it will appear on the next iPhone. The charging plug, by the way, is more powerful than before (18W) so the iPad Pro recharges more quickly.
There’s no headphone jack – the first iPad to elide this connector. And that doesn’t mean there are USB-C EarPods in the box, In fact, it’s been several years since Apple supplied headphones with an iPad. But there’s no adapter either, which is a shame. I get that the latest iPhones no longer come with that dinky adapter so you can connect your favorite headphones, but it might have been nice if, for the first iPad Pro at least, the USB-C to 3.5mm adapter had been included in the purchase price.
Apple sells it, for a very modest price, $9, but even so. And, who knows, maybe it will lead to Android phone owners using their USB-C phone headphones instead!
This is the first iPad screen to wake when you touch it, which is another consequence of removing Touch ID. As such, it feels a more intimate experience even before you’ve unlocked the display.
The other big difference is the display itself has curved edges rather than the sharp corners on every iPad and iPhone before the iPhone X. This change really stands out and looks great.
Apple has stuck with LCD instead of moving to OLED. Does this matter? Well, there’s no denying the beauty of OLED screens like the one on the Samsung Tab S4 tablet, but this one, a Liquid Retina screen like the iPhone XR, to use Apple’s jargon, looks pin-sharp and colorful.
Incidentally, the screen aspect ratios are different between the two iPad Pro models. The larger, 12.9in screen maintains the 4:3 ratio of all previous iPads, but the smaller, 11in one is different. That’s because that display was shaped to fit, roughly, the dimensions of the current 10.5in iPad Pro, but filling in almost the whole thing with screen, so the dimensions are roughly 4.3:3 instead. It’s not a big difference but it makes the 12.9in look that bit squarer, though that’s really mostly because the chin and forehead are gone.
One small note of continued use with the Smart Keyboard Folio in place: the keys lie flat against the screen and within weeks of using it, have left their imprints on the glass. You can remove these mild marks easily enough: one quick wipe with an anti-static cloth and you’re golden). Still, it is noticeable and is a problem that didn’t arise previously because the keys were hidden behind the origami-like folds of the last iPad Pro models.
You have to set up Face ID in portrait orientation but once you’ve done that it works any way round. This may not sound like much but the fact that it works flawlessly in landscape and portrait is an indication of a significant engineering job behind the scenes in Cupertino.
It doesn’t work every time. For instance, if the iPad Pro is on the table and you’re standing up, you’ll see a message saying, “Face is too far away”. Lean in and it unlocks instantly, ready for you to swipe up to reach the home screen or whatever you left onscreen before. Rival manufacturers use unlock to go straight to the home screen or open app but Apple believes in keeping your data private until you’re ready to get to it.
Face ID remains leagues ahead of the facial recognition other companies have offered – which is why it works for secure payments on the iPhone XS and here, for instance. It is easily fast enough to be appealing and is, to my mind, the most intimate and satisfying experience of its kind.
Tablets have never been ergonomically suited to working as great cameras – a large, flat glass panel is no match for a proper camera that is shaped to fit your hands comfortably. But at least this has a decent sensor with 12-megapixel resolution and wide-open aperture (f/1.8) to help in low light.
The new iPad Pro has an extraordinarily powerful processor, the A12X Bionic, the most powerful ever from Apple. The regular, entry-level iPad is no slouch so in many ways, this extra oomph goes unnoticed. But as more demanding apps become available which take advantage of the A12X Bionic, the capabilities will really take off. Gamers can expect to see significant upgrades in the coming months in a product which, as Apple points out, is as powerful as an Xbox One S in a device that’s 94% smaller and doesn’t need a power cable.
The essential extras
With the Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro is a highly creative device. Never more so than now with more apps that work with the stylus than ever. The new Pencil is similar in many ways to last year’s model – still on sale as it works with the 10.5in iPad Pro and the latest entry-level iPad. But it has one key extra capability. Tap the Pencil twice to change tools, from pen to eraser in certain apps, for instance.
The battery is smaller than on the first-generation Pencil but Apple’s belief was that because it was so natural to re-attach it to the side of the tablet when not in use that it would feel like it lasted longer. This has certainly been my experience.
iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio.David Phelan
The Smart Keyboard Folio is also a neat upgrade on what went before. Now, it wraps around front and back, thus protecting the aluminum back of the iPad Pro from damage. It continues to connect to a Smart Connector, thus obviating the problem with Bluetooth keyboards that they go to sleep after periods of inactivity. Even better, it attaches with magnets (there are scores in the iPad Pro) so that it holds in place securely and effortlessly, unlike some rivals.
The new operating software and accessories like Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio mean that the iPad Pro really does come close to working like a laptop. I have written much of this review on the iPad Pro and it’s been fine, though, honestly, the MacBook still edges it.
Size isn’t everything
Of course, the 11in iPad Pro is more portable than the 12.9in. But I have found, in my months with both, that I’ve come back to the extra screen real estate on the larger Pro because it’s such a great experience and the saving in size and weight is not as important a factor. That said, the 11in screen is still a benefit over the previous 10.5in model, with little change in the size or weight. It’s cheaper, too, of course.
Not everyone needs the extra power of these new iPad Pro tablets. After all, the 2018 iPad is extremely capable , phenomenal value. The 11in Pro starts at , the 12.9in screen costsand up. In between is the 10.5in iPad Pro with Touch ID priced.