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As it’s not yet entirely clear what will ultimately become of the tablet category, Apple’s iPad business continues to rake in a small fortune each quarter. The iPad has long changed, though. It’s no longer that $500 device that some people called a supersized iPod Touch. It has since evolved into a more complex line-up that has tried to achieve bigger things, such as becoming an always-with-you digital notepad with support for the Apple Pencil, or encroaching into laptop territory with performance that’s not typically expected out of such a portable form-factor.
Nowadays, things are way more complicated for the iPad line. There is an affordable 9.7” iPad starting at $329, a 10.5” iPad Pro from $649 (from last year), and then there are the brand new iPad Pro 11” and 12.9” which just hit the market, and start from $799 for a base, 64GB iPad Pro 11”, and go all the way up to the exorbitant $1899 for a fully stacked iPad Pro 12.9” with 1 TB of storage and cellular connectivity.
In this peculiar landscape, it seems the iPad no longer wants to be just a jolly multimedia device. It’s trying to be a lot of different things to different people, and to seriously threaten those consumer notebooks out there. But does this advanced iOS machine have what it takes to replace your PC?
Minimalistic and functional, the iPad Pro 2018’s new design is not exactly elegant
The new iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″ (we’re testing the 11″ one) has a new design, where the body has flat, instead of rounded, sides, and those shiny chamfered edges from the front are gone, which is a win for ergonomics, as the new edges aren’t as sharp. The overall aesthetic is somewhat reminiscent of the original iPad, but of course, the new device is dramatically thinner and lighter. It feels great! It’s quite big, even the 11″ one, but the incredibly thin profile means it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Appearance-wise, it’s quite interesting. This new model is less elegant than its predecessors, and with those unapologetic antenna lines, it’s actually quite spartan-looking. It’s hard to call this new iPad Pro (2018) beautiful, but it sure is impressive in terms of physical properties.
A notable new feature is that there’s no longer a Lightning port here, replaced by standard USB Type-C. This is an important change, because it means you can now connect various devices to the iPad, such as cameras, for example. However, these devices still need to be optimized for iOS use, and that extends to external storage devices, so you can’t really treat this new iPad Pro as a normal computer in that regard, at least not yet. There are very real limitations in terms of what you can connect and what is going to work.
There is also no 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″, and there are no EarPods in the box. Considering the available port is now USB Type C, you’ll be better off reaching for a pair of Bluetooth earphones, such as Apple’s AirPods. The good news is that at least the speakers are pretty great, so it won’t be like you absolutely need to connect headphones in order to enjoy good audio with the iPad Pro. Compared to the latest stereo speakers on an iPhone XS, XS Max or XR, the iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″ speakers are definitely much better.
The other big change with this year’s design is that there’s no more Touch ID! Love it or hate it. The expansion of the screen and the thinning of the frame around it has led to the removal of the fingerprint sensor, now replaced by Face ID. And because this is an iPad, Apple knows many people use the tablet in landscape orientation, so it has made the necessary upgrades to Face ID so it can work in all kinds of orientations (on iPhone it doesn’t work if you hold the device in landscape).
Two display sizes are available: 11″ and 12.9″. The 11″ iPad Pro has the same dimensions as last year’s 10.5″ iPad, but the display has been enlarged to 11 inches to fill more of the front. The situation is different with the 12.9″ iPad Pro, where the bezels have been reduced to end up with a slightly smaller device that still has a 12.9″ display diagonal.
The screens are LCD IPS and they are awesome. The resolution is just enough, and colors are, as with any modern Apple device, spot on. The star of the show here is the ProMotion technology, which means Apple has 120 Hz displays in these iPad Pros. And these 120 Hz displays make a world of difference when scrolling around or generally interacting with the iPad. Things move way more smoothly and fluidly compared on our good-old 60 Hz displays. This is the same technology that Apple has in last year’s 10.5″ iPad Pro, and honestly, we’re surprised that the company hasn’t implemented this in its iPhone line yet.
Moving on, there’s also the True Tone feature, which adjusts screen color temperature in real-time so that it matches your ambient light. That way the tablet can display realistic-looking colors that blend with your surroundings in a more natural way. This feature works great on the new iPad Pro 2018.
Interface and Functionality
iOS 12 is a great platform for consumers, but it’s not open or functional enough to accommodate all professionals.
iOS 12 on the iPad diverges a little from iOS 12 on the iPhone, but just a little. There most significant ‘upgrades’ in the iPad experience are that you can utilize drag-and-drop in a variety of places in the system, and you can also use split screen multitasking.
The latter works by dragging an app from the dock to the right or left of an already opened app – you can either engage true side-by-side multitasking, or having the second app appear over the already running app, for those occasions where you want to do or check something quickly and then discard the app.
Aside from that, there don’t seem to be any groundbreaking changes in the iOS 12 experience. The much bigger story with these new iPad Pros is the performance of the new A12X Bionic chipset.
This is a more powerful version of the A12 that’s in the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, and Apple really wants to convince you that this is not some kind of a watered down, mobile-first chip. It wants you to know that it’s a screamer that can handle notebook-level tasks, like running full-blown Photoshop, for example. And while it still can’t do that, it will starting next year, when Adobe will release real Photoshop for the iPad. With powerful programs like this, the usefulness of the iPad is bound to skyrocket. The number of desktop class, full-featured games is also increasing, thanks to titles like Civilization VI, which is already available.
However, can the confines of iOS allow for a truly productive platform with all the freedom that creators need? We wouldn’t be so sure yet. iOS is still a relatively closed environment, where everyone, both consumers and developers, are at the mercy of Apple. At least at this time, there’s not enough freedom in interaction between apps and between devices, for the iPad Pro to become a truly professional-grade tool. For now, it’s stick in this strange middle ground between a consumer media device and something that can do work for you, but while it’s already a great media device, it’s potential as professional equipment is yet to be fully realized.
Processor and Memory
Back to performance, this thing really screams! Apple claims the A12X Bionic is faster than what you get out of most notebooks sold between June 2017 and June 2018, and while we’re not sure exactly how this conclusion was reached, we can attest to the iPad Pro 2018’s stellar performance.
Together with the amazing 120 Hz ProMotion display, it’s amazing how nicely and smoothly everything moves. Our only hope is that developers will be faster at optimizing their apps and games to take advantage of the new chipset and ProMotion display.
In addition to a cutting-edge processor, Apple can also load the iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″ with up to 1TB (1000 GB) of storage. That’s some pretty extreme stuff, but the prices are similarly extreme. For the more level-headed among us, Apple is also selling 64 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB versions.
As usual, you can choose between Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The difference is you can insert a SIM card into the latter and use cellular data.
The iPad also comes with a new, three-dot connector on its back, which is used to connect to certain accessories like the new Smart Folio Keyboard. The keyboard’s design is considerably more intuitive than that of the previous model. It’s also more protective, as it covers the back of the tablet as well, but it’s just not a very good keyboard, which kind of defeats the purpose of buying it. The trouble with it is that most keys work very well, but the space bar is a bit stiffer, requiring more force to press down compared to the rest of the keys. This turns out to be quite the inconvenience as far as the typing experience goes.
An ingenious new feature is the new Apple Pencil, which has a more ergonomic design and can attached to the iPad Pro 11″ or 12.9″ through magnets. This action also engages wireless charing for the Pencil, which is a way more convenient solution that the previous generation, where you had to weirdly stick the old Pencil into the Lightning port of the tablet.
It’ll never stop to be an occasion when someone pulls out their large iPad to take a photo, but that doesn’t prevent us from doing it nonetheless. And because of that, Apple has made sure to upgrade the cameras in the new iPad Pro 11” and 12.9”. The rear camera is a 12 MP one that has a bunch of cool features like Smart HDR – also present in the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. However, it strangely lacks Portrait Mode.
At least you get Portrait Mode with the front camera, which is TrueDepth with Face ID. It’s not the most convenient experience to take self portraits with the iPad Pro, but if you need the feature – it’s there, along with Depth Control, allowing you to change the amount of background blur before or after taking the shot.
Quality-wise, images from both the rear and front cameras are pretty decent. They don’t exactly wow with superb composure or punchy colors, but are high-quality enough to get the job done. Plus, Apple says the rear camera has been optimized for Augmented Reality experiences, and it worked very well in our testing, with 3D objects appearing quite stable.