The iPad that was always promised is finally here!
When Steve Jobs went up on stage and revealed the magical piece of glass back in 2010, the original iPad sent the audience into a frenzy. While subsequent iterations have evolved into more accomplished devices, none have reimagined the iPad in its entirety as much as the new iPad Pro. It takes a cue from Apple’s latest iOS design language and retires the home button for good, embracing the Face ID future. Visually, this makes for the biggest change to the iPad’s design and gets it as close to the original vision of an interactive glass slate as possible.
Besides the lack of home button, the iPad Pro has lost a few other elements too. Weight, bezel width and girth, all have taken a dip for the better. At just 5.9mm, it is the thinnest iPad ever and also the lightest at just over 630gms but what is most apparent when you hold it in your hands is the new, flatter profile that has a perfectly balanced weight for the perfect feel in your hands. A multitude of magnets inside the chassis is strategically placed that help the Smart Keyboard folio and the Apple Pencil snap into place with minimal effort. The new form factor works wonders to lend the iPad Pro with a premium and purposeful look.
In Space Grey, the sharply cut corners and the prominent antenna bands almost earn it the Pro moniker. A downside to all the slimming down meant that there simply was no space internally for the 3.5mm headphone jack so don’t forget to carry your dongle along if you already haven’t moved up to the wireless universe.
The camera bump is more pronounced here than any previous model but it is also a bumped up unit that shares a lot of specs with the iPhone XR, although it limits the Portrait mode only on the selfie camera and not the rear-facing unit. Apple might call this an edge-to-edge screen but obviously there are bezels that hold the assembly in place and for the better of it since you need them to hold the iPad too but the removal of the home button has made for a truly immersive experience that is leagues ahead of any other tablet on the market. As a computing experience in fact, it is different to any other machine out there.
The Liquid Retina display has the same 264 ppi resolution as last years iPad Pro but now with the display curving around the edges just makes it look that much more captivating with its Pro Motion 120Hz smoothness and P3 color goodness. It might seem to be similar on paper to the iPhone XR but in reality is a lot more vibrant looking and with better off-axis colours and is the best looking screen on any iPad yet for sure. I couldn’t get enough of the nostalgia as I dug into past issues of Stuff (India) and soaked in the crispy goodness of RGB colours that just get lost in translation to the print format and in fact reminded me of why I had bought the first generation iPad purely as a magazine-reading device!
The Smart Keyboard Folio is a much simpler and a more elegant design than the previous implementation. Although not infinitely variable like some other hybrids, you do get two different angles for viewing and typing and it gets the job done while protecting both the front and the back while also leveling out the camera bump. Another major improvement here is the inclusion of the magnetic latch on the side of the iPad where the powerful ferrites just gravitate to naturally when you hold the Pencil close to the edge of the iPad. It charges wirelessly too now and is a pretty rapid process, not to mention a lot more safer than the clip-on method of the earlier generation that had a Pencil sticking out of the lightning connector.
Functional improvements like the double-tap to toggle between writing mode and eraser, double tap to wake the iPad straight into Notes app and the matte finish go a long way in adding to the allure of the Pencil but in my week-long use, I realized that while the magnetic latch-on is cool, it’s not the best for traveling from desk to desk with an iPad tucked between your body and arm. The latch itself is pretty grippy but it is prone to being nudged off its perch by an errant hand slide or during the pick-up, put-down maneuver. Sensitivity to pressure and touch is still ace and writing, drawing or sketching on the iPad still remains a fluid and fast experience without any lag.
A lot has been said about the Apple A12 Bionic processor in my test of the iPhone XS Max just over a month ago but the A12X on the iPad Pro is already being touted as a PC-killer. On specs alone, its 7Nm process kills most other traditional laptops with the sheer computing power and the eight core design is perfectly controlled to offer performance and efficiency without compromising either. Using the iPhone XS Max for over a month, the A12 had already shown what it’s made of but on a screen as large as the 12.9in iPad Pro, it really puts the horsepower behind games like F1 2018 and PUBG. From loading times to rendering complex lighting effects and even the sound through the 4-speaker layout, for something that is a handheld computer, it really amazes with its performance envelope in such a portable form factor. Everyday tasks like switching between Pages, Google Docs, Mail and Music work like a charm with lightning speed and the keyboard serves well for a whole day of typing too. Wish there was a backlit option as well but I guess in the name of the all-day battery life and overall slimness, certain sacrifices will have to be made.
It really comes into its own with the Pencil and apps that make use of it. Double tap on a sleeping iPad Pro with the Pencil tip and it springs to life straight in Notes app, ready to take down your thoughts in a jiffy. The accuracy of the Pencil is razor sharp and is a pleasure to use and charge but I would have appreciated a stowaway integrated into the folio cover somehow instead of being exposed, ready to be knocked off.
The sound quality has always been the iPad Pro’s strength but in a slimmer chassis, the challenges led to some truly amazing miniaturization of acoustics. Each corner now gets its own 2-way speaker system consisting of a woofer and tweeter and the smart sensors built into the iPad ensure that no matter how you hold the device, the high frequencies always emanate from the top while the lower, bass notes play from the bottom, heightening the wide stereo effect and also re-orienting for correct imaging. I found myself listening to streamed music while hammering out this very review and while it was obviously lacking in bass compared to my desktop monitors, not once did I feel that the sound was tinny or wanting to turn it down because of listening fatigue. It’s better audio than 90% of the laptops out there and is a huge achievement by the acoustic team.
The generous screen size also makes it great for split screen viewing and working with two apps without having to squint. But even then, it’s here that you start feeling some of the roadblocks of iOS unfortunately. For starters, I’m used to using WhatsApp a lot during a work day which is unavailable for iPad yet. Accessing files on our office server was virtually impossible without having to work a hack that might put the CyberSecurity cell to shame as I couldn’t use a Thunderbolt-to-USB C dongle to get on our intranet. The iPad Pro simply refused to acknowledge it. Similarly, based on your specific workflow and requirements, you might find things that are either not supported or find a way to tweak your way around. During more straightforward tasks like working on Pages along with Photos or Safari, it worked beautifully with the ease of pinching, dragging pictures from one app to another and made iOS12 feel even more fluid than on the iPhone. It opens up a new way of computing and maybe even encourages you to reboot your workflow to sync with the wireless, cloud-based future. While the full-fat Adobe Photoshop doesn’t become available until 2019, a closed-door demo revealed the pure power of the iPad Pro while handling a massive 2GB RAW photo file and zooming in and out of it like it were a JPEG thumbnail. Similarly, editing an iMovie project in 4K startled with its throughput times while handling layers and colour grading. But again, using my traditional active desktop monitors to playback audio wasn’t possible without a 3.5mm audio out so I had to make do with wireless headphones instead.
The camera now records in 4K and while it’s good and dandy, no one in their right mind will be holding a 13in slate out of a car window to record a sunset. So, in essence, it’s improved but no one really cares. What is welcome though is the Face ID and the True-Depth camera system that comes with it which unlocks the iPad instantly no matter in what orientation you pick it up. It really works well and it also unlocks all the fun Memoji and Group FaceTime features of iOS12. The rear camera will be used for AR apps and games and if you’re into Lego, the Ninjago implementation that was demoed to me was enough to make me jump on the hypewagon.
The iPad Pro feels like a bigger limitation than the liberation it was supposed to be in this form factor. The idealistic dimensions and simplistic nature of iOS potentially could make this the ultimate on-the-move computer and while it is the ultimate tablet, it isn’t the ultimate computer replacement just yet. I tried using it as my primary “laptop” for a whole day and encountered several speed bumps along the way that had me pulling out my MacBook Pro often. It is still a beautifully built, massively capable device that will appeal to creators, designers and writers. It is unrivalled as a consumption device with its brilliant screen that is as immersive with its colour reproduction as it is with its corner to corner fill. The weight feels unreal for a piece of glass this size and you’ll be picking it up even when you don’t need it. And, when you want to fine-tune images in Photoshop, it really will open up a whole new world of interface possibilities.
As a magazine maker, I wish Adobe InDesign was supported as a page layout software too but Adobe wants to take it one step at a time. And that really has been the story for the iPad - it has taken tiny, incremental steps for the last seven years and just when the hardware was ready to take on the big tasks, it’s being throttled back by the high castle walls of Apple own iOS. We need to see more apps and less restrictions that harness the power of the A12X Bionic chip and we need them now. Of course, there is a little matter of price too. Our test mule with its generous 1TB storage, the Pencil and the keyboard cover will set you back by almost Rs. 2,10,000 and that’s right on the heels of the 2018 MacBook Pro! Should you buy the new iPad Pro? Certainly if you can afford it. But don’t sell off your laptop just yet either.