It's Apple's biggest tablet ever. But does that mean the iPad Pro can replace both your laptop and tablet to become the sole computing device in your home?
With many divided over whether or not a giant tablet is the answer - a question we've seen before from the Microsoft Surface Pro (now in its fourth generation) - we've been using the iPad Pro in both work and play to try and understand who it is aimed at, who would want it, and whether it really will change the way you digitally work, rest and play.
Apple iPad Pro review: Design
The iPad Pro is considerably bigger than the iPad Air 2, but features the same elegant design, albeit with a few key changes.
The first major one is the screen. It's grown to 12.9-inches (up from the 9.7-inches of a standard iPad) and, as you can imagine, that makes a significant difference in both physical size and weight. Measuring 305.7mm x 220.6mm across the face, the Pro is larger than an A4 sheet of paper. At 723g it's some 65 per cent heavier than an iPad Air 2, but with a thickness of just 6.9mm it maintains a slender profile design (not the skinniest ever, but it works in this format).
Despite the larger screen, the iPad Pro's resolution (2732 x 2048) crams in more pixels to remain just as crisp as that of the iPad Air 2 (2048 x 1536). It makes everything look sharp, whether watching movies, writing reports, or sketching with the Apple Pencil.
The tablet's size increase feels akin to a laptop screen, even though there's not got the permanent keyboard jutting out from beneath - you'll need to pay extra to add that Smart Keyboard, in the same way you would with the Surface Pro 4's Type Cover.
That extra screen real-estate is welcome for some situations, but will make you feel conscious when out and about. It almost goes without saying really: the iPad Pro is certainly less portable, made even more apparent now the bijou iPad Air 2 and almost-phone-sized iPad mini 4 are available.
Get past the screen size and there are other new features to enjoy. There are now two additional speakers over and above what the iPad has previously offered, amounting to one for each corner. It makes a huge difference to audio when watching movies, TV shows, or playing games. At times, in a quiet hotel room, for example, you might even feel that the volume is too loud.
Perhaps the most hidden of features, but also one of the most important new additions, is the inclusion of Smart Connector. See those three small dots positioned on the left shoulder of the iPad Pro? These are for powering additional accessories like the new optional Apple iPad Pro keyboard, and will open up more accessory options in the future.
iPad Pro review: A true laptop replacement?
Pitched, in part, as a laptop replacement, the iPad Pro allows you to work on the go and even multi-task with split-screen view so you can run two apps on the screen at the same time. Thing is, that's just as true of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 4 - the only difference with the Pro is the larger screen real-estate. However, that bigger screen does make split-screen work easier, in the same way the iPhone 6 is a better experience than the iPhone 5 because of the extra scale.
Running everything is Apple's iOS operating system, just as you'll find on any iPad. Now there's an argument that full Apple OS X might be a more "pro" operating system solution - and the Surface Pro 4 runs the full Windows 10 operating system by comparison - but it does work in favour for Apple's battery life, and there are heaps of apps available.
Another point is that, straight out of the box, the iPad Pro is a keyboard shy of being a true laptop replacement - you'll need to buy the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro accessory separately, priced £139.
Another optional accessory is the stylus - known as Pencil for iPad Pro, priced £79 - used for writing and drawing, which further enhances the experience over what's been possible to achieve on an iPad before now.
Both accessories will appeal to different work groups, and both are optional and targeted at specific tasks, so we can see why they've been kept as optional extras. Neither are essential if you are trying to keep costs down. But, and just like with the Surface Pro, a keyboard accessory is an out-and-out an essential if you're after a true laptop replacement.
Apple iPad Pro: Smart Keyboard review
Disguised as a smart cover, the overly complicated folding dust jacket of the Smart Keyboard reveals a full-size keyboard. Thanks to Smart Connector the moment you get the fold into the right place you can start typing.
Although the keys are the same size as a MacBook keyboard, the Smart Keyboard is not a carbon copy layout of the company's laptop line-up. It's five rather than six keys deep, for starters, while the only shortcut key is to access different language layouts (and emoji) because the Smart Keyboard only ships with a US English layout. That's not a major difference for British English, though: the return key isn't an upside-down L-shape, and the hashtag symbol takes visual precedence over the £ symbol, as the two most notable points.
The Smart Keyboard is 4mm thick, so does add some heft to the overall iPad Pro package in terms of weight, but is surprisingly comfortable to type on. We've written this review on it with no issues, while even doubtful members of the Pocket-lint team unsure about its looks have been pleasantly surprised by just how good it feels to type. The keys are covered in a woven fabric that is soft and textured to touch, and the base layer of the keyboard is hard so you can rest it on your lap.
Lying down and working in bed isn't as easy as with a full-on laptop as there is no real support for the Pro's screen if you angle it too close to yourself. It's doable, but the lack of rigidity through the entire design makes it somewhat awkward at times, and will result in an iPad Pro in the face. Not that this is a problem when working on a desk, coffee table or other surface - even a semi-even surface to perch on will do.
When done with typing, the keyboard can either fold away, or take up its secondary "Watch" position. Getting to either position does take some practice, it's like a mini puzzle at first try.
Power is provided to the keyboard from the Pro's battery by the Smart Connector - meaning you don't have to worry about Bluetooth connectivity, or charging the keyboard for that matter. Not that we've ever really found that to be a chore with our third-party iPad keyboards before, because the drain on device power hardly registers.
If Apple's effort isn't up to your liking - or is out of stock with a 4-5-week wait, like it is at the time of writing this review - then there are other more laptop-like keyboards available from companies such as Logitech. Its Create Backlit Keyboard Case for iPad Pro (to give the full name), for example, comes complete with backlit keys (which lack on the official Smart Keyboard), but it does add considerable bulk and even more weight to the experience.
The bottom line is that adding the Apple Smart Keyboard does give you a device that will happily let you punch out emails and reports in a number of situations and environments - whether that's hot-desking or on an aeroplane. However, the typing experience on your lap isn't as robust as we would like, suggesting that you should, where possible, head for a flat surface - an experience that doesn't feel entirely laptop-like.
We've also found ourselves using the iPad Pro with a keyboard in every way Steve Jobs told us we shouldn't. Reaching out with our finger to control scrolling on the screen, or jumping the cursor around a Word document, or to correct a spelling mistake. That's okay. While five years ago Jobs believed that was unnatural, it has now become a given - perpetuated by Windows, really. And yes we've even seen ourselves try to use a track pad that doesn't exist, as old habits die hard.
iPad Pro: Apple Pencil review
The iPad Pro comes with a huge 12.9-inch screen and that makes for a lovely digital canvas on which to draw. Apple realising this is offering a new accessory: the Apple Pencil. It's a dedicated pressure-sensitive digital stylus that can interact with the special iPad Pro screen to allow you to draw as if it were pencil on paper.
The level of precision is fantastic. You get single pixel control, while pressure sensitivity means you can create watercolours or drawings as good as you could on paper either by pressing down harder with the Pencil or tilting the nib. There's zero lag or latency too - so the moment you touch the screen is the moment the digital ink appears in the app you are using.
Charging the Apple Pencil is via a Lightning jack found in the end of the writing implement. Plugging it into the iPad Pro and 15 seconds will gives you 30 minutes use, or keep it plugged in until full, which will give enough juice to last for 12 hours. It's not the year-long battery life of the Surface Pro 4's Pen stylus, but that requires a battery swap-out to continue use.
In use we find the Apple Pencil hard to fault. This isn't a stylus that you need to navigate, rather one for drawing or marking annotations on the screen (in Notes, for example). If you are an artist, architect, designer, or anyone who finds yourself making notes on things then you'll love it - like, really love it.
As an aside though it's worth noting that you can only use a single Pencil with a single iPad Pro. While a specific use case that will only affect a handful, you can't buy a bunch of iPad Pros for the office and then like a boss use a single Pencil to go around drawing on all of them with the one Pencil.
Apple iPad Pro review: Performance & battery life
The iPad Pro is not only bigger, but it's faster and more powerful than any iPad before. This is very much an upgraded iPad in every sense.
The Pro comes with Apple's A9X processor, making it 1.8 times faster than the Air 2. In real terms that means speed and performance improvements, so editing things like 4K movies or playing games at highest settings is possible. We find that added speed is noticeable, with apps quicker to load than ever, and video processing speedy.
Flip it on its head, however, and this is still an iOS setup. As we touched upon earlier, if you're looking for full-on OS X then this is probably not the platform for you, irrelevant of how much power is tucked away under the hood. But that choice of operating system may well help the iPad Pro in terms of longevity per charge. Compared to the Surface Pro 4 and it's the Apple device that certainly lasts longer.
As ever the battery performance is our tests has depended heavily on how the Pro was used. The Smart Keyboard and Pencil have very little affect on battery drain - an hour of drawing accounted for around two per cent of battery usage, for example.
Start to watch movies or play games and the battery starts to drop quicker, but no more that we've come to expect from iOS. General mixed use should see you be able to use the Pro as your daily driver for a full day's work (8-hours) with still some to spare on the way home. However, start editing 4K video and you'll need to find a power adapter sooner rather than later.
As an laptop replacement for around the house, the iPad Pro fits the bill. It is fast, quick, and easy to use. Whether working on the sofa (if there's a coffee table), watching Netflix or Sky Go in bed, or sitting at a desk working on annotations with the Pencil, that extra screen real-estate looks great.
When on the go the iPad Pro becomes a little more awkward. On the train we were overly conscious using it compared to a laptop, as they Smart Keyboard isn't as robust as we would like, but the angle of the keyboard does work in tight situations such as those fold-down tables from the back of seats.
Apple's bigger tablet might break new ground for the company, but not necessarily new ground in wider market: we're on to the fourth-generation Surface Pro and have seen large-scale tablets from Samsung appear and disappear over the last few years. For that reason we, along with others in the industry, are still trying to understand how the iPad Pro sits in the grander scale of things.
But after a week of use the more we've used the iPad Pro the more we've come to enjoy it. However, despite its positive points, it still falls short of allowing us to ditch our laptop once and for all.