The 12.9in iPad Pro has been my go-to device for both consumption and (a lot) of creation for the past couple of years. It still impresses with its brilliant screen, all-day battery life and always-on nature.
The 2020 version basically adds LiDAR capability for even more accurate AR support, a dual-cam setup that now includes a 10MP ultra-wide lens to the mix and a much better aesthetic housing than the iPhone 11 Pro’s cyclops look. The already-quick A12X Bionic processor has been given a Z status to signify minor improvements and the rest is pretty much the same as the 3rd generation iPad Pro.
I’ve always kept a MacBook Pro for serious “work”, and by that I mean desktop publishing. Now with Adobe CC support on the iPadOS, including Photoshop, some of that reliance on the MacBook Pro has indeed reduced. But a big part of my workflow also includes writing – a lot of writing. And while the folio keyboard cover on my current iPad Pro served well on flights and casual daytime emails, lack of a proper travel or any backlight meant it was either a numb experience after a while or almost unusable in a dark room. Well, meet the Magic Keyboard, and yes, that’s not the trick the price tag is playing on your eyes alone. Prices vary for the 11 or 12.9in variants and in the configuration that I’m using, this overachieving tablet costs a cool ₹1,80,800 (12.9in iPad Pro Wi-Fi+Cellular 1TB ₹148,900 + Magic Keyboard ₹31,900) and will approach ₹2 lakh if you throw in an Apple Pencil too. That’s the starting price of a 16in MacBook Pro, believe it or not!
So the big question obviously is – “can it do what the MacBook Pro can?” This is the riddle Apple’s been trying to answer for a few years now, ever since the iPad tilted from being just a consumption device to also a creation device. With this current generation, it’s the closest fight ever and might finally convert me for good, except for one small bump which we’ll get to later. For starters, the A12Z bionic processor improves upon the already standard-setting A12X by adding an extra core to the GPU. It also promises a better thermal design for extended power use like 4K video editing and augmented reality apps. Even the performance controller has been tuned to be better optimised to the app that’s currently in use. All this makes for a slight but tangible improvement in performance of hardcore apps like Lightroom, iMovie and the vast universe of Adobe CC. App switching is instantaneous and changes are swift without any delay. iMovie 4K edits, rendering times and exporting content is as fast as a MacBook Pro if you learn to adjust to the workflow, and eventually, it’s portability might mean you end up using it more often than not. Gaming too is simply fantastic, whether you like the surreal minimalism of games on Arcade or the traditional whizzbang of EA and Red Bull Media House. Graphics are richly detailed, motion is buttery smooth and the sound never fails to impress even though it’s just a tablet.
Of course, going from the Magic Keyboard to the 16in MacBook Pro, my palms had a more luxurious real estate but the tying experience itself wasn’t much different, which is to say the scissor keys on the Magic Keyboard with their 1mm of travel work brilliantly for a portable design. The trackpad is 1/3 the size of a MacBook Pro’s, but it’s so well optimised to work with iPadOS that it is never a handicap. It supplants the usual pointer arrow with a round, grey dot that more closely relates to a finger touch, the original input method envisioned for the iPad. Three finger swipes to move through home screens, two-finger swipes to minimise apps and gentle highlighting of the home bar at the bottom of the screen makes the trackpad a superb tool for those looking at working on spreadsheets rather than sprawling on the sofa flipping through Flipboard. The articulation of the hinge is perfectly damped, so it’s easy to get the right screen angle relative to your seating position. Even shutting it flat against the keyboard is a one-handed job, just like a laptop. Opening it into position requires a bit of an effort, though, due to the extremely powerful magnets that almost resist being unlatched.
Ditch the Mac?
While the 16in MacBook Pro has a slightly higher pixel resolution, the usual goodness of iPad Pro remains intact. So the Liquid Retina display is still amazingly colour accurate, incredibly smooth and highly anti-reflective. The 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate really comes in handy while scrolling through timelines or browsing through the proofs of Stuff magazine before they go to print. The four speakers are loud, clear and re-orient the stereo imaging depending on portrait or landscape modes. The battery life is still fantastic and approaches the claimed 10 hours even after powering the Magic Keyboard and its light show. Though the keyboard has a USB-C port, it’s only for a pass-through charge to the iPad Pro and cannot be used to connect third-party devices. For that, you’ll still have to access the USB-C port on the iPad Pro itself. If you use multiple devices like a digital camera, a USB-DAC and an ethernet-to-Thunderbolt-to-USB C like I sometimes do, the iPad Pro won’t stand a chance against the 4 ports on the MacBook Pro, but the more I spend time with the iPad Pro, the more I realised that a scenario like that wasn’t likely in the new work from home environment. So, honestly, I didn’t miss it personally. One of the biggest advantages of using an iPad Pro as my daily machine was also the thermal management and the form factor itself. Anyone who has used a MacBook on their laps (instead of a desk) will vouch for hot laps! That is no longer even an issue with the iPad Pro as it always runs cool and even when it gets marginally warm, the heat isn’t transferred to your lap due to the floating design.
Perhaps the biggest differentiating factor of this 4th generation iPad Pro compared to the earlier model is on the back. The camera housing that uses a dual-lens plus LiDAR looks sleek and is well integrated with a gentler bump. But the camera quality itself still is no match for the iPhone 11 Pro and Portrait mode also is only available for the front facing camera. You do get an ultra-wide option and while it’s good for outdoors in daylight, seeing anyone use it for actual low-light film making still seems far-fetched, as much as Apple might want us to believe. In fact, an area that could’ve improved upon is the front-facing 7MP cam, which remains the same as last-gen. In these times of constant Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls, I would’ve preferred to project myself better to the outside world. Or maybe not?
The LiDAR is best used to show-off apps like Ikea and games like Hot Lava but like a lot of Apple innovations, it’s a case of hardware being ready before the software. Sure, there are enough AR apps on the App Store, but none that you’ll be craving to go back to again and again, everyday. I tried Hologo, which puts various animals right in your living room, sort of like Google AR that’s available on any smartphone, and yes, it did keep my interest until I finished my cup of tea.
Hits and misses
Apple should’ve also taken this opportunity to find a proper storage place for the Pencil within the keyboard chassis. The magnetic grip/charging strip on the side is great for desktop use and charging but anyone who has tried ferrying the iPad Pro across the office all day knows the real fear of the Pencil being flung into the elevator shaft! But these are smaller niggles in an overall game-changing non-computer. The iPad Pro has finally allowed me the liberty to head to office and knock off a 3000-word review such as this without the fear of fatigue. Even things like annotating a document or signing a document, scanning it and emailing it back took a couple of minutes with the Apple Pencil around, something you just can’t do with a laptop. I just hope that Adobe offers InDesign in its entirety and my life would move completely on the iPad Pro. It doubles up as a supreme in-bed binging companion while using some of iPadOS slick gestures to reply to messages on the side, thanks to the backlit keyboard. The real star of this upgrade obviously is the Magic Keyboard and if you happen to own last year's iPad Pro, there really isn’t a compelling reason to upgrade, but definitely get the Magic Keyboard. The way it makes the iPad Pro float, it’s solid grip and equal ease of detaching, the key travel and precision, the trackpad and its implementation… everything is well thought out and makes an already great portable computer even more accomplished.
If you’re in the market for a high-end laptop, the 2020 iPad Pro is a no-brainer for anyone who’s willing to explore new possibilities and workflows that might even be more fun than traditional systems. Don’t go looking for the exact same functionality and features as you would in a traditional laptop, because you won’t find them. But spend a few days with it and you learn to appreciate its non-conformist nature and a plethora of flexibility that it brings due to that. It’s addictive and will keep pulling you towards it even if you do have a laptop sitting on your desk – and that is definitely what makes work fun!