With many divided over whether or not a giant tablet is the answer, 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.
A big design
- 677grams in weight
- Measures 305.7mm x 220.6mm across the face
- 12.9-inch 2732x2048 resolution screen
The first major one is the screen. It's 12.9-inches, and as you can imagine, that makes a significant difference in both physical size and weight. The Pro is larger than an A4 sheet of paper, but with a thickness of just 6.9mm it maintains a slender profile design, that means it's a lot more manageable that a bulky laptop.
Despite the larger screen, the iPad Pro's resolution 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.
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, compared to the bijou iPad, iPad Pro 10.5 and almost-phone-sized iPad mini.
Get past the screen size and there are other new features to enjoy. The 12.9 features four speakers - one for each corner - and that 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 is the inclusion of Smart Connector that will let you connect and power the Apple Smart Keyboard.
A true laptop replacement?
- Dedicated multi-tasking features in iOS 11
- Quickly add Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
- Long battery life
Apple's latest mobile OS, iOS 11.3, is far more "iPad focused" than ever before and in some cases is more productive than working on a laptop. The software will let you multi-task apps, draw notes or annotate documents, and do a number of iPad specific things, all with a battery life that will far outshine anything you'll get on a MacBook or MacBook Pro.
The caveat? The iPad Pro still doesn't deliver a true drag and drop desktop-like experience and that is likely to stop many making the switch from laptop to tablet.
Of course, to get that true laptop-like experience you will also need to invest in the smart keyboard - an optional extra that will set you back £139 in the UK, and to take things "one better" than your laptop, the Apple Pencil priced £89.
The Pencil is used for writing and drawing on the screen, which further enhances the experience over what's been possible to achieve on an iPad or laptop 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.
Smart Keyboard review
- Woven fabric keys
- Folds away when not in use
Disguised as a smart cover, the folding dust jacket of the Smart Keyboard reveals a full-size keyboard that allows you to start typing the moment you've got it into place thanks to power being supplied via the iPad.
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).
The Smart Keyboard is 4mm thick, so does add some heft to the overall iPad Pro package in terms of thickness but is comfortable to type on. 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 but don't expect to use it anywhere other than resting on a surface. Over a year later and typing on it is second nature.
When done with typing, the keyboard can either fold away to act as a screen cover, or take up its secondary "Watch" position. Getting to either position does take some practice, it's like a mini puzzle at first try.
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, and one that doesn't affect the smaller 10.5-inch Pro model.
Apple Pencil review
- Charges via Lightning socket
- Zero lag
- 12 hour battery
The Apple Pencil is a dedicated pressure-sensitive digital stylus that can interact with the large 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.
We've found 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). You don't have to be an artist to benefit, we've mostly used ours for jotting notes, signing documents, and doodling.
Performance and battery life
- A10X Fusion chip
- 64GB to 512GB storage options
- 12 megapixel and 7 megapixel cameras
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 A10X Fusion chip with 64‑bit architecture as found in the 10.5-inch model. 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.
As ever the battery performance is our tests has depended heavily on how the Pro was used, but it's fair to say it lasts a full day even if you abuse it as you would a laptop.
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, and because of that big battery, it seemingly takes forever to charge up again.
As for the Smart Keyboard and Pencil, they have very little effect on battery drain - an hour of drawing will account for around two per cent of battery usage, for example.
iPad Pro 12.9 vs iPad Pro 10.5
With both models offering the same processor power and performance the only decision you have to make is what screen size is important to you. If you want maximum portability then we would recommend opting for the 10.5-inch model. It's easy to carry around, is fast, and does the job almost perfectly. However if you need a big screen, either to watch movies, work on spreadsheets, or to present from, then the bigger 12.9-inch model is the one for you.
As a 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 looks great.
When on the go the iPad Pro becomes a little more awkward.
It's like carrying around a laptop, but without the rigidity of one. In our use over a year, we've found back of the seat train tray tables too small, and we felt too self-conscious in coffee shops when using it. At times, it feels akin to using a 15-inch or 17-inch laptop on the go and given the choice we much prefer the much smaller, more manageable 10.5-inch Pro instead.
Then there is the question as to whether it really replaces the laptop. For a lot of people, the release of iOS 11 has made that much more of a reality than when the 12.9 first launched, and for many they'll be able to get through the day, week, month without missing your laptop.
In terms of never needing to touch a computer again, we are almost there. Power users will disagree, but for the majority the iPad Pro will delivery just what they need.
This review was originally published in 12 December 2015.