At this point it probably isn’t a secret that tablet sales have leveled off, and in some cases they have declined. Pretty much anywhere you care to look you’ll see evidence that the tablet market just isn’t as strong as it once was. It’s undeniable that touch-only tablets have utility, but it seems that the broader market has been rather lukewarm about tablets. I suspect at least part of the problem here is that the rise of the phablet has supplanted small tablets. Large tablets are nice to have, but almost feel like a luxury good when they’re about as portable as an ultrabook. While a compact laptop can’t easily be used while standing, or any number of other situations where a tablet is going to be better, a compact laptop can do pretty much anything a touch-only tablet can. A laptop is also going to be clearly superior for a significant number of cases, such as typing or precise pointing.

As a result, large touch-only tablets feel like they’ve been limited to home use as a computer away from the computer. Tablets are great when you’re on the couch or in bed, but once you get to this point there are some obvious questions as to whether it makes sense to drop $500+ USD on a tablet that seems to have relatively limited utility. The Surface lineup has been showing signs of growth, but in general the Surface is more of a mix between laptop and tablet rather than a tablet. I would argue that given the OS and overall design that the Surface and Surface Pro are really more laptop than tablet, even if at the hardware level the Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3 are basically tablets with kickstands and keyboard covers.

If you’re guessing that this means Apple has had some issues with growing sales of their iPad lineup, you’d be right. From my first experiences with the iPad 3, I was impressed with the improved user experience for things like web browsing and other smartphone tasks, but I never really felt like it made enough sense to get one for myself. The iPad Air 2 was once again impressive and I felt like I could recommend it to other people that wanted a tablet, but I personally struggled to come up with a reason why I would buy it.

This brings us to the iPad Pro. This is probably the first time Apple has seriously deviated from traditional iPad launches, putting together a tablet built for (limited) productivity and content creation rather than just simple content consumption, creating what's arguably the iPad answer to the Surface Pro. To accomplish this, Apple has increased the display size to something closer to that of a laptop, and we see the addition of a stylus and a keyboard cover for additional precision inputs. Of course, under the hood there have been a lot of changes as well, so the usual spec sheet can be found below to summarize those changes.

  Apple iPad Air 2 Apple iPad Pro
SoC Apple A8X
3 x Apple Typhoon @ 1.5GHz
Apple A9X
2 x Apple Twister @ 2.2GHz
GPU PowerVR 8 Cluster Series6XT
(Apple GXA6850)
PowerVR 12 Cluster Series7XT
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 4GB LPDDR4
NAND 16/64/128GB 32/128GB
Display 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD 12.9" 2732x2048 IPS LCD
Size and Mass 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm
437g WiFi, 444g LTE
305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm
713g WiFi, 723g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear-Facing, f/2.4, 1.1 micron, 1.2MP Front-Facing, f/2.2
Battery 27.3Wh 38.5Wh
Launch OS iOS 8 iOS 9
Cellular Connectivity MDM9x25 Category 4 LTE + GPS/GNSS in Cellular SKU
Other Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, Apple Lightning
SIM Optional NanoSIM
Price $499/599/699 16/64/128GB $799/949/1079 32/128GB/128GB LTE

At a high level, the iPad Pro gains a larger display with a higher resolution, more memory, a new SoC, and a larger battery to compensate for the change in display size. In addition to these changes, the iPad Pro also brings noticeable changes to the speakers, with an increase to four speakers which allow the iPad Pro to compensate for device orientation when projecting stereo audio.

Design

The most immediate change that you can see in the iPad Pro is the sheer size. The 12.9” display of the iPad Pro basically makes it feel like you’re carrying a laptop around. I would argue that this doesn’t actually affect the portability of the iPad Pro, but this is mostly because the iPad Air 2 was something that I only carried in a backpack to begin with. People carrying their tablets in a small bag, purse, or even just in their hands will notice the difference, so the change in size might be more or less noticeable depending upon how you carry things around.

The increase in size does affect weight. After significant use, I honestly don’t think the mass is a significant issue. It does feel heavier than the iPad Air 2, but the mass distribution is such that there isn’t a ton of battery hanging out at the edges of the device where it’ll affect the moment of inertia. This does raise the question of whether Apple included enough battery for sufficient battery life, but that’s a question best left for the rest of the review.

In terms of design, the iPad Pro is rather unremarkable if you’ve ever seen an iPad Air before; it is for all intents and purposes a bigger iPad Air. On the front, the display dominates, with some bezels on the sides and top. The top has the front-facing camera, and the bottom has the home button with TouchID.

Looking at the sides of the tablet, the top edge has the power button and 3.5mm port, along with two of the four speakers. The right edge has the volume buttons, and the bottom edge has the Lightning port and the other two speakers. The left edge is mostly empty, but contains the Smart Connector for the Smart Keyboard and similar accessories.

The back of the tablet is mostly unremarkable as well. For the LTE model, an RF window is visible on the top of the device to allow LTE and other connectivity to function. For the WiFi variants, it looks like the bottom display bezel and the bottom two speakers are the RF windows, so there aren’t any visible areas that indicate where the WiFi antennas are.

Overall, the iPad Pro feels like an iPad, with nothing all that remarkable beyond its size which is carried well. I never really noticed the mass or size of the iPad Pro even if it is clearly larger and heavier than the iPad Air 2. I also didn’t notice any issues with the back cover flexing, but given enough pressure on the back cover pretty much any device this large will see some screen distortion or bending. The iPad Pro does technically regress in thickness compared to the iPad Air 2, but I never noticed the difference in practice, especially when the larger display is really what matters more.

SoC Analysis: Apple A9X
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  • Constructor - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    It's only by default that the Pencil can also work like a finger if the app doesn't use the extra APIs so all apps immediately work with the Pencil without having to change anything. But their developers can distinguish the Pencil if they want to. Reply
  • VictorBd - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    @Constructor "Apple doesn't "disallow" anything!" I'll allow the broader community to debate the historical veracity of your point. I've just heard countless stories of Apple's approval / rejection process for apps for years. If Apple allows anything (by not "disallowing") as you say, all the better. Would love it to be true. It's just not been what I've been seeing and reading since the inception of the app store.

    My point was that, in my humble opinion, I don't believe there will never be a utility in the App Store that allows users to toggle touch off and on. This is now - for some of us - a desired feature in light of the appearance of the Apple Pencil on the market. But my estimate is that it just won't happen. You can argue that Apple won't allow it - or that too few would want it. Either way. But a small group (percentage wise) of pen tablet enthusiasts have learned to love having this capability on the Windows pen based platform. My experience with everyone who learns of it and tries it is "Wow" and once you use it, it is compelling.

    I'd be ecstatic to be wrong on the idea of such an ability showing up on the Pro! I'd love to see it on the iPad Pro. We can only hope. It may convince me to buy one again and not return it. Perhaps I can overlook the limitations of using a mobile OS to do real work. Nah, probably not.

    Regarding Procreate - I already said it's great that they've implemented what they have. My point about a toggle is distinct from your point about what Procreate has done. But it doesn't matter.

    I'm not here to convince anyone - I was just sharing my experiences and insights.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    @Constructor "Apple doesn't "disallow" anything!" I'll allow the broader community to debate the historical veracity of your point.

    This is just a bunch of nonsense. Using the special Pencil APIs is not only allowed, but even desired and encouraged. It is in no way an impediment to admission of an app to the App Store. If anything, it's an advantage!

    My point was that, in my humble opinion, I don't believe there will never be a utility in the App Store that allows users to toggle touch off and on.

    Of course there won't be such a switch, because that would be a really bad idea.

    Among the most obvious issues with it would be that if you lost your Pencil or if it broke, you would not be able to toggle such a nonsensically global option off again – the device would be bricked, effectively! The only way around that would be some clumsy, half-baked workarounds again. Blergh!

    The Pencil is excellent for drawing and for a small number of other uses, but general touch ID operation is not its forte. Trying to handle the general UI with it feels strange, it is generally slower and less intuitive and actual multi-touch is of course not supported at all.

    Which leads back to the original point: The implementation in Procreate is exactly how it's supposed to be done: Both finger touch and the Pencil are supported (and at the same time!), but it's individually configurable what exactly they can be used for in this particular (drawing) app. That's the way it should be, and that also provides the maximum effectivity as well: In Procreate the distinction provides the advantages of both finger and Pencil use, not forcing the user to abandon one for the other.

    Examples: Two- and three-finger-taps within the drawing area are used to signal undo and redo, respectively. Zoom is also done with two fingers. But drawing can still be restricted to the Pencil alone.

    A global toggle switch would only produce additional limitations and inconveniences. it would not be a positive.
    Reply
  • VictorBd - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    To each his own. Reply
  • Gastec - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    Only $1000 !? Sing me up, I'm excited to give my monthly wage to Apple. Reply
  • Constructor - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    And who's forcing you to do that every month, if at all?

    Quite apart from varying incomes my iPad Pro will most likely serve me for several years. If I replace if after four years like I did with my iPad 3 (whose new owner still gets further update support from Apple) the cost per year will be around $250 or  $21 per month. Most people can afford that without a problem, and many are paying more for more frequently replaced smartphones, just hidden in their pseudo-"subsidized" phone bill (which is actually just a credit payment plan plus a radio service charge).

    I'm not saying that everybody should definitely get an iPad Pro (that's still a matter of needs and preferences), but given its likely useful longevity most people certainly could without breaking a sweat.
    Reply
  • xthetenth - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    "With the right software, I can easily see the iPad Pro completely displacing traditional note-taking in light of obvious advantages that would come with OCR and digitizing notes for easy search."

    This is true and has been for at least a year or two with the combination of a Surface and desktop OneNote, which does OCR, search indexing and even recording (tied to the notes so you can cue up the part of a lecture from when a particular note was made). I'd sell my spleen to send my SP4 back to myself as a college freshman.
    Reply
  • digiguy - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    If we just consider displacing pen and paper, while the ipad pro is lighter and larger than the SP4, but hasn't desktop Onenote, there is a much more interesting device for that, that was recently presented, the Dynapad, which is much lighter than both, but with a 12 inch screen, cheaper, and has full windows. Sure it has a CPU similar to the surface 3, rather than surface pro, but at that size and weight (lighter than even the 10.8 inches surface 3) it's the ideal device for note-taking. Reply
  • VictorBd - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    The dynaPad (just delivered last Wednesday) provides an almost unbelievable note taking experience. Yes, the machine is underpowered, but it is worth it at this time to have a full windows 10 device that is fully loaded with production software and data - and is incredibly light and thin. It truly is the first to provide a real feel of a digital clipboard all while providing a full desktop OS. The Wacom AES pen has the best feel of anything on the market. And windows utilities allow for full control of the touch HID layer so that it can be on or off while using the pen. Simply amazing and ALL IN w pen and keyboard at $650.

    Can't wait to see how well Samsung's TabPro S performs in this company next month. Great times for new, light, pen-based tablets with full desktop OS's!
    Reply
  • Fidelator - Monday, January 25, 2016 - link

    The article spends a hell of a lot of time comparing this to irrelevant devices, you fail to put clear that this is the direct competition to the Surface Pro 4 of the same price tag, "I don't know why Apple decided to send a disgusting charger" come on, its cheaper.

    Considering the review is about getting work done why not compare its productivity to its proper competition, after all, they are charging the same price for less storage.

    Windows 10 on tablets has its learning curve but after that it's a joy -most of the time, there are still rough edges, updates have been fixing those- but those are tradeoffs for the unparalleled functionality. Nothing that justifies calling the Surface a "Laptop that can double as a tablet" its actually the opposite, I'm not saying this was a bad review or that this is a bad device by any means, but I believe it to be necessary to expand on iOS's so called Pro features when compared to similarly priced devices, like, once again, The Surface Pro 4 TABLET, there is a proper tablet UI mode where you won't experience problems with small targets that need a mouse while still retaining a significant amount of productivity.

    Just my 2 cents, I feel like the subject was barely touched in the final words, still, great analysis as usual, keep these up.
    Reply

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