Apple iPad Pro review: Wasted potential

A fantastic tablet that could've been much more

Apple iPad Pro
  • Apple iPad Pro
  • Apple iPad Pro
  • Apple iPad Pro
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Four speakers
  • 5 million pixel display
  • Excellent split-screen multitasking
  • Powerful innards for a tablet

Cons

  • Smart cover has a poor form factor and is uncomfortable to use
  • Pencil Stylus needs to be recharged and cannot be stowed
  • Heavy users will have to settle for less than ordinary battery life
  • Accessories are overly expensive

Would you buy this?

The iPad Pro is Apple’s response to the growing demand for notebooks that double as tablets. It is an iPad supersized to 12.9-inches and it benefits from the support of a ‘Smart Keyboard’ and the Apple ‘Pencil’ stylus.

Three models of the iPad Pro are on sale. Apple offers it in Wi-Fi variants of 32- and 128-gigabytes, as well as a cellular 128-gigabyte model, which is the model being reviewed by PCWorld.

Many changes have been made to the iPad Pro, but the most noticeable has to do with its size. The screen spans a whopping 12.9-inches, stretching a resolution of 2732x2048 for a density of 264 pixels-per-inch, to deliver comparable screen real-estate to two full-sized iPads.

Almost no other changes have been made to the iPad’s design. It is identical, sans for the inclusion of two additional speaker grilles at the top of the tablet, which hint at a notable upgrade.

Apple has endowed the iPad Pro with excellent speakers. Four of them line the tablet’s corners with the company’s identifiable precision drilled grilles. Each one has a speaker chamber milled into the aluminium body that has been capped by a sheet of carbon fibre, in a move that results in the best audio from a tablet. In fact, the resulting sound is better than that produced by most notebooks.

Rotate the iPad mid-song and it will respond by re-orientating the left and right speakers for stereo sound.
Rotate the iPad mid-song and it will respond by re-orientating the left and right speakers for stereo sound.

Coupling the high resolution screen with proficient speakers makes the iPad Pro an excellent choice for watching movies and videos. Apple’s smart cover, an $89 accessory, both protects the display and holds the screen upright. It is a worthwhile investment that ensures the absolute most is milked from Apple’s tablet.

Full advantage is taken of the larger screen by the iOS operating system. Using apps in split-screen mode drives productive multitasking. Enough core Apple apps support the feature so that many people could, theoretically, use an iPad Pro in place of a multi-screen setup. Some apps display as they would on an iPhone in a move that balances screen space with all the information you need. It’s a feature that’ll get better over time as it gains the support of more third-party applications.

Not every application is optimised for the big-screen experience — yet. Apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, which scale by 200 per cent for an ordinary iPad, are bordered by an impractical amount of unused black space. This is the curse of having a screen packing more than 5-million pixels; apps need to be optimised and photos need to be large to reap the hardware's rewards.

Read more: Tablet war waged for 12 November by Apple and Microsoft in Australia

Otherwise the iPad Pro certainly has enough computing power to juggle applications. Inside is an optimised Apple A9X processor, which is a dual core CPU clocked at 2.3GHz that works with the M9 co-processor, a generous 4GB of RAM and a large 10,307 milliamp-hour battery.

Our testing revealed it is more powerful than Android tablets, but less powerful than a full-blown notebook. Its score of 33,537 in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark places it marginally behind a core i3 Microsoft Surface Pro 3. In our battery test, where we up brightness to max, enable Wi-Fi and loop a Full HD movie, it lasted 3 hours and 14 minutes, which is almost half the time of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and almost three times less than Apple's MacBook Air.

Three streams of 4K video can be spliced together using iMovie on the iPad Pro. Chief executive Tim Cook has implied it is purposeful enough to replace most people’s notebook. The performance of the tablet inspires confidence, but the potential has been squandered.

Transforming the iPad from a tablet to a notebook is the Apple Smart Keyboard, a $269 cover that adds a full sized QWERTY keyboard. Keys are fashioned from aluminium domes and covered in a unique fabric. Typing on it is arduous because there’s little travel and no mechanism absorbing the shock of keystrokes. Nor are the keys backlit. Consider the keyboard adds bulk to the closed smartcover; that it defaces the aesthetics Apple strived to preserve; that it is seventy dollars more than Microsoft’s vastly superior keyboard cover, and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify its purchase. Money would be better spent on an ordinary smart cover ($89) and a bluetooth mobile keyboard, such as the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard ($129) we reviewed weeks ago.

The other accessory likely to be bundled with an iPad Pro purchase is the Apple Pencil. It is a rechargeable stylus inspired by the implement we used to learn how to write and how to draw. It looks like a pencil made from ceramic, with its point, a collar and a rounded top reminiscent of an eraser.

Only the rounded top is actually a magnetised cap that protects the same Lightning port found on an iPhone charger. The stylus is said to last a full day with heavy use, and we can attest to its rapid recharge. If it dies, plugging it into the iPad Pro for 15 seconds jump starts it with enough power to last 30 minutes.

This is Apple’s first stylus and weak application support fails to take advantage of its promise. The few noteworthy apps that are available include Sketches and paper.

Letting it down further is the fact it cannot be stowed on the iPad Pro. It needs to be held, placed in your pocket or even a pencil (pardon the pun) case. This leads to you always worrying about losing it and the $165 investment it represents.

The iPad Pro is powerful, well built and beautiful in its own right. It is remarkable from an engineering perspective and it is clear Apple has laboured to uphold the reputation earned by the iPad range.

Unfortunately this isn’t just another iPad. Its size encroaches on the hybrid category and, although Apple has invested time in the iPad’s development, its accessories are lacking. The iPad Pro, its Smart Cover and the Pencil stylus each work in isolation of one another. Using them together feels awkward and clumsy. This is a great tablet, but one too large to take with you on the go and one robbed of the support it needs to be any good at a desk.


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Read more on these topics: iPad, Apple, Pro
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