When Steve Jobs revealed the first iPad in 2010, a new category of portable computer was born. It was a daring move, a novel form factor combined with a new user interface for a PC. It’s worth remembering this was well before the reign of phablets and average flagship screen sizes approaching the 6-inch mark. It was also a breath of fresh air to see such a big company thinking genuinely differently, rather than merely tinkering with existing devices.
Since then the world seems to have fallen in and out of love with the tablet. With ever-increasing screen sizes for mobiles and now the availability of folding phones imminent, alongside the fact that laptops are getting increasingly lighter with bigger batteries and flash drives, not to mention “2-in-1” laptops with removable touchscreens – the allure for old-school tablets is being squeezed from all directions. Indeed, Apple’s iPhone XS Max is only an inch and a half smaller than the iPad mini.
This is where the Apple hopes the new iPad Pros come in. With upgraded design and specs these powerhouse pads are here to take on laptops and be a viable alternative to owning a traditional computer. Tim Cook has even gone as far as to say that Apple no longer thinks of the iPad as a tablet but as a personal computer. But is this even possible when you have no multiple windows (well, more than two), mouse or trackpad, just a touchscreen, a keyboard case and new Pencil?
The new look of the Pro takes more than a few design cues from the best looking iPhone there has been – the iPhone 4 – as well as the 5. This of course is a good thing. The rounded edges of the old iPads have been dropped in favour of a cleaner, squarer aesthetic with straight sides that lend the device a sturdier look despite being 5.9mm thin (making these the thinnest iPads yet).
The lack of bezel is also immediately obvious, too. The display fills the front surface almost entirely. Place the Pro next to an old iPad and you can fully appreciate how much more real estate there is. The camera on the rear does noticeably stick out from the body, but if you are using one of the new cases – and at these prices you really should be doing so – this aesthetic wrinkle is admittedly dealt with.
The Liquid Retina display uses the same tech seen in the impressive LCD screen on the iPhone XR, so that means it has better brightness and more vivid colour representation than any other iPad display. The addition of True Tone automatically adapts the display depending on your viewing environment, while ProMotion tech shifts the display refresh rate up to 120Hz when necessary. All you need to know here is the responsive screen looks superb as well as providing butter-smooth scrolling.
Of course, with this new all-screen design, like with the new phones, there is now no longer a home button. Face ID has come to iPad for the first time – and if you are used to the tech with the phones then this will be effortless to use. If anything the Face ID seems faster on the iPad, and, cleverly, as Apple is aware that users will be trying to unlock the device from more than one orientation the system performs no matter which way you look at iPad Pro: portrait, landscape or at an angle. And it works just as promised.
The revamped design is also undoubtedly a huge success. We’ll even go as far as to say it’s the best work to come out of Jony Ive’s lab in years.
The front 7MP TrueDepth camera system which makes Face ID possible means that as well as taking selfies you can now have features including Portrait mode and Animoji and Memoji in Messages and Group FaceTime – the large 12.9in iteration being particularly useful if you really do want to video chat with 31 other people all at the same time.
The rear 12MP camera is utterly serviceable, too — on a par with high-end smartphones. Of course, no one really wants to be waving around a 13in tablet, using it as an on-the-fly snapper to take candid shots out and about. You look like an idiot. That’s what’s your phone is for, which you have with you all the time anyway. The reason why it is there seems to predominantly be for AR apps.
With the increased power and large screen, the Pro is well equipped for showcasing what can be done with AR, but aside from some learning apps, placing virtual furniture and playing some moderately diverting games, we are still waiting for truly useful, killer applications in this arena. Hopefully they will start to hit soon, as when they do this may be when the Pro properly comes into its own.
Increased power. Yes, indeed. Inside the Pro is driven by Apple’s A12X Bionic chip, a pimped iteration of the processor inside the iPhone XS and XR. Eight cores: four “performance cores” to tackle heavy computational tasks such as gaming, and four “high-efficiency” cores to take on more menial tasks such as email. Then the Pro can bounce around these cores, dividing up work loads as and when needed. This means you get much better performance across the board. Apple is claiming 35 per cent faster single-core performance, 90 per cent faster multicore performance
and twice the graphic speed. The Neural Engine alone can complete up to 5 trillion operations per second. Want a benchmark? Geekbench scores show this new iPad Pro rivals 2018 MacBook Pro performance and comfortably outperforms competitors.
Apple has made some bold claims that the new GPU delivers 1,000 times the graphics performance of the original iPad. This we can believe. However, when the company goes as far as to say that you get Xbox One S class performance this is where comparisons start to become confusing. You may get comparable graphics, but you don’t get a comparable experience. Without the blockbuster titles, superior gameplay and controller options that come with a games console, it matters little about the graphics performance in this regard.
However, these efficiencies and shunting processing around means battery consumption of the new Pros has not downgraded the specced 10-hour battery life from the old version. Admittedly, WIRED has not performed a 10-hour side by side test for this against the previous Pro, but although it is certainly very similar, it felt as if the new Pro ever so slightly used battery power faster than the before – but the difference is very marginal.
The iPad Pro has always had very good sound reproduction – particularly the 12.9in version. Quite frankly, Apple could have simply stuck with the existing system, it was that good considering the form factor of a tablet. However, the company has seen fit to redesign the speakers anyway. The result is, again, sound playback from the separate tweeters and woofers of a quality that shouldn’t be possible from such a slender device. Because of this, film playback requires no separate Bluetooth speaker as there is ample volume to call upon.
Once again the iPad is aware how you are holding the tablet and adjusts the sound accordingly, with bass going to all four speakers while mid and high frequencies come from the top set. However, Apple has upped the number of microphones from three to five for better audio capture, so stereo audio recording is now possible.
Headphone jack? That’s gone, of course.
A PC replacement?
Finally shunning the lightning connector, the new iPad Pros have a USB-C connector at their base. The reason? Apple wants you to be able to connect cameras, musical instruments, 5K high-resolution external monitors and so on. Indeed, the USB-C on iPad Pro means it is possible to connect data accessories as well as a display simultaneously, which is clearly aimed at wooing “creative pros”. Storage is impressive, too: 64GB of memory as standard, but this can be maxed out at 1TB should you want to pay big money.
The iPad Pro now also supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, which doubles the speed of previous wired data transfers to up to 10GBPS. Another marginal benefit is you can also charge other devices from iPad Pro with that USB-C connector.
And with all that new silicone inside, Apple claims this iPad Pro is faster than more than 90 percent of all laptops sold in the past year. And there is no doubting this is a powerful machine. Very powerful. But does it do away with the need for a laptop?
Well, apart for the sheer raw power of the new Pro, to help with this goal Apple has updated its Smart Keyboard Folio. Now, we’re not sure why this needed redesigning as it worked perfectly well before. Long periods of typing were possible with keys that felt responsive and allowed for fast, touch typing with no need to adjust if you come straight for a traditional keyboard. Impressive considering this was all built into a cover case for the tablet. Now the new version, which seems remarkably similar, has not one but two viewing angles governed by whichever groove you choose to slot the Pro into. In either setting it is not the most stable on the lap, but you can get used to it reasonably quickly.
There is more to say about the new Pencil. The new matte-finish design is much nicer to hold, plus one flat side to not only stop it rolling off tables, as the old one had a habit of doing, but also to allow it to snap to the side of the Pro and charge up without the need for plugging in. This is a big improvement, and crucially means that as long at the Pro has power your Pencil will always be charged up and ready for use.
If you like styluses then you will know that the Apple Pencil is one of the best and most responsive on the market, but perhaps the most useful addition is the new double-tap function to switch tools. By tapping twice on the Pencil’s flat side you can alter what it does, such as switch from a pencil to an eraser within Notes. Uses are limited right now but developers have access to the double-tap gesture for use within their apps as well.
As for what can be done with the Pro as a workhorse, it depends what you want to do with it. WIRED has already been converted to a certain extent, and has been using a 13in Pro for a while now for document creation, email, web browsing, films on flights and delivering presentations (indeed, using that new “double tap” ability on the Pencil for advancing slides on Keynote would be an excellent idea).
But as for switching to doing pro Photoshop work and video editing, we’re not sure whether the lack of mouse and traditional window system doesn’t make this a slightly more cumbersome choice for such technical operations. Plus, when researching a topic, being able to manipulate multiple open windows really helps. Yes, you can work with two apps open side by side on the Pro (though some apps still don’t support this feature), but there are occasions when you want to have more.
The key to making this work on the Pro is that you have to become adept at switch between apps quickly. Even doing something as simple as writing an email you can easily find yourself opening a string of apps in quick succession – Google Docs, Pages, Safari, Slack, Notes, Photos, Trello, Evernote, Gmail… and so on. It becomes evident that when you can only see two apps at a time this has some inherent limitations. Almost nothing here cannot be overcome, though, and in time you get accustomed to a new way of working and eventually it can even become second nature – but there is no denying that some things are just quicker or easier on a laptop.
These are the limitations of iOS, however, and not the iPad Pro itself.
When assessing the new iPad Pros you have to ask yourself an obvious question: do you like tablets? Not everyone does, as the market is showing, but if you do then the Pro is comfortably the very best on the market right now – by a country mile. And if you like tablets you likely enjoy working on them, too, enjoying the super-long battery life, the portability of the design, the ease of the a simplified UI and their general unfussy nature.
When Apple states these new tablets can replace a laptop, its has a valid point. It is entirely possible to perform the vast majority of tasks the vast majority of people use their laptops for on the iPad Pro. But we’re not as convinced the creative community will be totally converted, despite the hugely improved specs and Pencil. But if you’re looking for stability and security, then there is little that can be faulted on the Pros.
However, there is always the spectre of, in the future, being required to plug an iPad into a PC so that it can be updated or have an error fixed. If we are really being asked to ditch our laptops completely in favour of the Pros then this would be a tricky situation if one is suddenly asked to plug the tablet into a computer when a while ago you chose to make the switch and give up your traditional PC.
Then there is the big one: the confusing price structure. A top-range version of the iPad Pro will set you back £1,869, which is more than a Macbook Pro. This forces the consumer to evaluate the idea of ditching a laptop in favour of an iPad Pro almost purely on use cases and UI, rather than considering price and value for money. This is a hard sell in anyone’s book as the iPad Pro, by design, works so differently to a laptop. You have to actively prefer what the Pro can offer, and with the current limitations of iOS that’s not an easy, or clear choice to make.