APPLE IPAD PRO REVIEW:
The Apple iPad Pro is in its third generation now. What started off as a 12.9-inch tablet with powerful internals gradually moved to the 10.5-inch form factor with refreshed internals.
Ever since its inception, the iPad Pro has tried to position itself as a high-end laptop replacement, and this generation is no different. As with previous generations, the new iPad Pro also fails at actually replacing laptops — reasons which I will get to in the review.
But having said that, the iPad Pro 2018 differs from its earlier iterations, not only in internal specs but also in terms of design and overall form factor. It is easily the most powerful tablet you can get your hands on and it’s accompanied by the typical ‘Apple’ price tag — Rs 99,900 for the 11-inch 256 GB LTE variant. The only competition for the iPad Pro is the Microsoft Surface Pro. But unlike Surface Pro, which gives you a complete Windows 10 Pro experience, the iPad Pro still uses iOS 12, an OS that is designed for mobile products and which feels quite limiting on the power-packed iPad Pro.
So with the TL;DR version of the review out of the way, let’s get on to the more detailed deep dive into the iPad Pro 2018.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
The first thing that stands out with the 2018 generation of iPad Pros is the form factor. Apple has completely revamped the design, paying homage to that boxy design aesthetic that we had come to love with the iPhone 5/5s. The metal unibody design is now a lot thinner, has flat edges which can be a wee bit sharp if you are holding the tablet for a longer duration. It measures a mere 5.9 mm thick around its edges and the cellular model weighs around 468 g.
One thing you will immediately notice is the lack of a Home button, something that has been a standard feature on the iPad since its inception. The Home button on the iPad Pro has given way to FaceID, which is seen on one of the shorter sides of the tablet (the top, if held in portrait mode). The lack of the Home button has also made the bezels much thinner than previous generations, which is a great thing. You now have a lot more display real estate which allows the new 11-inch display to be fitted in the same form factor as that of the previous 10.5-inch iPad Pro. In fact, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro also does not look as massive as the first gen iPad Pro. I also noticed that the weight was nicely distributed along the tablet, thereby assisting with grip.
Going around the edge of the iPad Pro starting with the edge around the Face ID system, there are two large speaker grilles, an antenna line, two microphones and a power button on the right. On the right-hand edge, you have the volume up and down buttons, two antenna lines, a nano-SIM card slot towards the bottom and a magnetic holder for the Pencil 2 in the center. The bottom edge has the other two speaker grilles making it a quad-speaker tablet, and between these grilles, you have the USB Type C port beside which you spot another antenna line. The remaining edge just has two antennas around the edges and a mic in the center and is clean otherwise. Coming to the rear side the iPad Pro, you have a prominently protruding camera, an Apple logo in the center and three smart connector ports at the base. The Space Gray color looks absolutely stunning on the iPad Pro. The antenna line is prominently visible on the top and bottom on the rear side.
The Apple iPad Pro is well built and is really light. I liked the decision to go with flat edges and hope to see it translate onto their phones as well in the near future. However, there have been cases of the iPad Pro-bending at some point along the lengthier side. The reports online range from clearly bent to slightly bent. Apple has tried to pass this off as ‘normal’ bending, which has got to be the most ‘abnormal’ statement ever made since the ‘You’re holding the phone wrong’ comeback after the antenna-gate issue. In the review model I had for testing, I did not notice any sort of bending. I have used the tablet as my daily driver and keep it in my backpack, which gets its fair share of pressure from all sides when I am commuting, but that hasn’t caused any bend in the tablet profile.
Unlike the iPhone family, the iPad Pro isn’t waterproof and the site does not show any ingress protection rating either. One thing I did not like was that the display did end up collecting a lot of smudges and fingerprints, so I had to constantly keep a microfibre cloth handy. All that talk of a smudge-free oleophobic coating sounds hollow when you put the tablet in sleep mode — which is sad considering the price of the iPad Pro.
OS and Software: 7/10
The iPad Pro comes with iOS 12.1 out of the box. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of iOS 12.1 on the iPad here, you can head to my iPad 2018 review for that.
On the iPad Pro, iOS 12.1 works smoothly and I have no complaints when it comes to responsiveness. But some of the decisions with iOS 12.1 severely limit the iPad Pro from achieving its full potential. The USB Type C port, for instance, will not work with external storage. This can be Apple in self-preservation mode as supporting external storage would mean making the higher storage variants redundant or maybe just for security, but then again, it’s frustrating to not have the option to transfer files via external media. Thankfully, you can transfer images from an SD card or a camera, provided you have the right accessories. Unfortunately, these images will only end up in the camera roll.
Yet another issue is the UI. A touch-screen is nice, but I also want mouse support for finer edits and actual “work”. The Pencil 2 is hardly an adequate substitute.
Apple iPad Pro 2018 comes with iOS 12 on board, and the mobile OS has started to show its limitations on powerful iPad hardware. Image: Apple
Even some of the iOS-related features are tricky to use. The Files app on iOS 12 is useless for all practical purposes unless you are deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem (though it can be frustrating even then). It makes something as idiot-proof as a file manager a pain to use. Backing up photos and files on iCloud is almost like putting stuff into a black box. Simple things such as indicators when photos or files are being uploaded to the iCloud could help, and don’t even get me started on the complications that come up when syncing iCloud with a Windows PC.
Apps scaling is also fixed and despite having such a high-resolution display, you can only have five apps in a horizontal row. These are complaints that iPad users have had for years, complaints that have intensified since the launch of the larger iPad Pros so many years ago. The multi-window mode also does not work on some apps. For instance, Gmail will not allow split-screen operation with, say, a Notes app. And the browsers we get are mobile browsers, despite the larger displays.
All of these shortcomings point to the need to have an operating system which is meant just for the large display iPads, something between a macOS and an iOS. Will iOS 13 resolve these issues? We will have to wait to find out. iOS 12 on the iPad isn’t bad per se, it’s just frustratingly limiting and simply not flexible enough for a power user.
Over the last couple of years, Apple’s chipsets have been acing every benchmark test out there. In fact, some of the benchmark scores of Apple’s Bionic chipsets have been putting some Intel Core processors to shame. The Apple A12X continues to offer that performance goodness that we had seen on the Apple iPhone XS series as well as the iPhone XR. With the iPad Pro, only the 1 TB variant comes with 6 GB of RAM, everything else comes with 4 GB RAM.
Geekbench 4.0 scores are top of the line, as expected for the iPad Pro 2018 — 5,015 for single core and 18,003 on multi-core performance. These are the highest scores we have got on any mobile device. We couldn’t get a reliable benchmark run on 3D Mark’s Slingshot Extreme, among others. As we always keep saying, benchmark scores aren’t the be all and end-all of the performance. Real-life performance is what matters more than the benchmark numbers. And here again, the Apple iPad Pro excels on most accounts. Heavy apps open quickly, switching between apps is fast, scrolling (thanks to the ProMotion technology) is buttery smooth and you will rarely find any stuttering. Even while using the Pencil 2 on the iPad Pro, there was barely any lag.
Face ID is quick, although it can be a bit annoying when you are holding the tablet horizontally while watching a movie or reading as your palm will cover the Face ID cameras. You will get an arrow notifying you to remove your palm though. When using the iPad Pro in laptop mode, the distance is not an issue as long as it is less than an arm’s length away.
When working in Lightroom CC (LR CC), editing photographs, there was minimal performance drop. Yes, you do notice a slight twitching as the photo is being rendered after you apply your edits, but that’s not a deal breaker. I found myself editing a lot of my photographs on the go using LR CC. And the app is so well optimized for fingers that it makes the experience worthwhile.
The next set of heavy apps I tried had to do with video editing. Both iMovie and Splice performed well in this department as well. The iPad Pro allows you to edit 4K video as well and it’s brilliant to be able to do that on a tablet. Editing videos in the iMovie or Splice apps also didn’t lead to any sort of slowing down of the workflow. While covering the madness of CES 2019, the iPad Pro was my only machine for filing stories and sending edited photos and videos. And it did not disappoint. Being able to perform these high-end tasks on a light and compact tablet just shows how versatile the Pro is. If your workflow can be translated to an iPad, it’s worth investing in the device.
When it comes to shooting videos, stick to your iPhone.
For professionals on the go, the Pro can be a good intermediary device to get work done before they go back to their iMacs and MacBook Pros.
And no, the iPad Pro is not a desktop or laptop replacement. The limiting factor is not the hardware or specs, but the iOS operating system, which is great for smartphones but is starting to show its age with tablets. There are also many apps which do not have native iPad versions.
Battery Life: 8.5/10
Battery Life on the new iPad Pro is impressive. On a single charge, with a couple of hours of daily usage, I realized I could go on for 3-4 days without requiring a charge. As expected from an Apple device, battery standby time is also really good. Streaming videos on that tablet was a joy and battery life only drained by about 7-8 percent per hour. On a long-haul flight, I could get through two movies and still had 55 percent battery to spare.
My usage was relatively light as I simply couldn’t trust the iPad Pro to handle work that normally requires dual monitors, dozens of Chrome tabs and heavy multi-tasking. I’ll be switching to the iPad full-time once I muster enough courage, though, so stay tuned for a more comprehensive battery life update when that happens.
Workloads such as photo editing in Lightroom CC puts some stress on the iPad Pro in terms of battery consumption. An hour’s work in Lightroom, when editing images, easily eat up around 15 percent of the battery. Video editing work is also quite heavy on the battery, but this is to be expected. Battery life aside, the Pro didn’t stutter even once while handling such tasks.
The bundled charger is rated for 18 W of charging horsepower and takes around 2.5 hours to charge the iPad Pro from 0-100 percent. But hey, when was the last time Apple bundled a fast charger with any of their phones or tablets? Since the iPad Pro comes with a USB Type C charging port, it is compatible with the chargers that you get with the new generation MacBook Pros and can easily handle 30 W of power for yet higher charging speeds.
The 2018 generation iPad Pro comes in two form factors — 11-inch (which is what I am testing) and the 12.9-inch one. Barring the display size, resolution and battery capacity, both the iPad Pros are identical. The 11-inch model comes with a Liquid Retinal Display — Apple-speak for LCD displays with rounded corners — having a resolution of 2388 x 1668 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 264 PPI. It features Apple’s True Tone display, which basically adjusts the display according to the ambient lighting. It also sports the same wide-color gamut (P3) that was seen on the iPhone X and current-gen iPhone XS series. Then there’s the ProMotion technology which was seen in last generation iPad Pros as well. It basically gives refresh rates of 120 Hz for faster scrolling and ensures that Apple Pencil is responsive. The promotion also adjusts the refresh rate depending on the motion of the content. What that means is that there won’t be a delay as you are writing or drawing on the iPad Pro display — something that can be really irritating if you’re into sketching.
When it comes to Apple devices — iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacBooks — the one thing you can be certain of is the quality of the display. The calibrated display on the iPad Pro is no different and I will simply state that this is the best display on a tablet yet. The Microsoft Surface Pro is the only other tablet that comes close. The text is crisp, contrast is great, colors are punchy and reflectivity is not such a big deal — there’s barely anything that isn’t to like about the iPad Pro display. But there is something that I don’t like.
Apple claims that the display is smudge-free and that it has an oleophobic coating. I don’t know what kind of coating Apple’s using, but the display is far from smudge-free and can look quite disgusting when the backlight turns off. I find myself constantly wiping down the screen.
Thanks to the vast display real estate, editing photos and videos on the iPad Pro is a joy, although I wish there was mouse support via Bluetooth, as after a point, making finer adjustments with your finger kind of sucks. Yes, there is an Apple Pencil and yes it’s a more accurate pointing device, but it’s still not as convenient as a mouse for tasks that require a mouse. It also doesn’t help that the Pencil is priced at around Rs 8,000.
The iPad Pro supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Netflix content, which is Dolby Vision compatible, looked great on the iPad Pro. The large display also helps a lot with Augmented Reality (AR) apps, especially the educational kind. The iPhone display is too tiny to enjoy apps such as Froggipedia. The lightness and form factor helps a lot in navigating through the nitty-gritty of some AR apps.
The Apple iPad Pro 2018 continues with the trend of flaunting the top of the line internals of its generation. Keeping that in mind, the iPad Pro 2018 comes with the Apple A12X Bionic chipset. The X in the nomenclature means that the iPad Pro’s chip is more powerful than the already powerful A12 Bionic chip in the iPhone XS and XR. Usually, iPad Pro variant of the Apple’s SoC incorporates additional cores to improve performance.
The A12 Bionic has four high power Vortex CPU cores clocked at 2.5 GHz (up from two in the iPhone XS series), four low power Tempest cores clocked at 1.6 GHz, seven GPU cores, a neural processing unit and a few other odds and ends. It is paired with at least 4 GB RAM and the storage SKUs range from 64 GB to 1 TB. The model I am testing is a 256 GB storage variant with LTE support.
The 11-inch display sports a 2388 x 1668 pixel resolution giving a pixel density of 264 PPI. It runs on iOS 12.1 and supports all the standard iOS gestures on the tablet. There is a single 12 MP f/1.8 rear camera and a front-facing FaceID camera with a 7 MP sensor and f/2.2 aperture. The rear camera is capable of shooting 4K @ 60 FPS whereas the front camera can shoot at FullHD resolution at 30 FPS. A speaker is present in each of the four corners and together they deliver an exceptional audio experience.
In terms of connectivity, there is support for 4G LTE along with Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, and it has support for both 2.4 GHz as well as 5 GHz dual-band frequencies. With the 2018 version of the iPad Pro, Apple has for the first time ditched the Lightning Port in favor of a USB Type C port. But this is not a universal Type C port as several items we attached to the port simply didn’t work.
While Apple does not give the official battery rating, a quick search online reveals that it is 7,812 mAh.
The iPad Pro comes with a single lens rear camera that protrudes out quite a bit from the rear side. It sports a 12 MP rear camera with an f/1.8 aperture with a 1/3-inch sensor size where the pixel measures around 1.22 microns. The primary camera is capable of shooting at 2160 @ 30/60 FPS, 1080p @ 30/60/120 FPS and 720p @ 240 FPS. On the front, you have a 7 MP camera with an f/2.2 aperture and it is capable of shooting at 1080p @ 30 FPS. It’s sad that there is no optical image stabilization (OIS) and that’s surprising considering the 10.5-inch iPad Pro last year had it. That’s the price to pay for a slim iPad, but given that I sincerely hope you don’t go around using the iPad as a camera, this isn’t such a big deal.
With a pricey iPad Pro, you really don’t want to risk harming the tablet in any way in your quest to get good photographs. And the output is just not worth the risk. Daylight photographs turn out well. But even a well-lit indoor environment gives noise-ridden photographs. Low light photos should be relegated to only emergency use cases. I’d say the best use-case for this camera is for scanning documents for use with the Notes app, and for FaceTime.
The lack of any kind of stabilization results in a jittery video, so even though it can shoot 4K content, you can expect a great output only if the tablet is steady in one position. Panning results in the rolling shutter, which is unpleasant to look at on the large display.
On the whole, the camera is pretty average, to say the least. It certainly is no match to the cameras on the iPhones.
Smart Keyboard Folio: Rs 15,999 (to be bought separately)
The Smart Keyboard Folio of the iPad Pro has also undergone some much-needed change. The keys have remained as they were with the earlier version: chiclet form factor with a very thin and finely textured cover which protects the keys from any accidental liquid spills. The keys have the same amount of tactility as was seen with the previous generation. Again, there is no backlight on these keys, which makes it a pain to operate in the dark, but the overall design lends itself well to long typing sessions. In fact, this review was written on the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard.
The Origami cover form factor of the original is now more refined. You now get two different angles in which you can position the iPad Pro. Thanks to the use of magnets, the iPad Pro locks quite well.
The major change on the Smart Keyboard Folio is to do with the two tablet resting modes, you have one which is a lot more vertical and a second one at a more acute angle. These positions are functional, but they’re not ideal, and I think the Surface Pro’s adjustable hinge has spoiled me. Neither of the angles is comfortable for typing on a lap.
The cover’s outer surface has a good amount of grip.
With the Smart Keyboard Folio attached, if you use the iPad Pro in the tablet mode, the rear side on the tablet will be the keyboard. The keyboard is disabled in this mode, but it feels strange to be holding the device like this. You will most likely have to take off the Folio if you plan to do some sketching or drawing work on the tablet display. I am sure third-party accessory makers such as Logitech will have their covers out soon.
Apple Pencil 2: Rs 7,999 (to be bought separately)
To make full use of this iPad, there is yet another accessory that will need to be purchased separately, and that’s the Pencil. Thankfully, the second generation of the Apple Pencil is a huge improvement over the first generation. First, there’s that vastly improved charging mechanic. You no longer have to plug the rear end of the Pencil into your iPad to charge it as it charges wirelessly via the iPad. Instead of being perfectly cylindrical, the new Pencil has a flat surface. That surface magnetically attaches to one of the long edges of the iPad and then charges. Apple also got rid of that Lightning Port cap on the previous Pencil, which was very easy to lose.
Another new addition in the new Pencil is support for gestures. Double tapping on the flat portion of the Pencil, which houses a capacitive touch sensor, can activate certain functions which can be customized according to the supported apps. The in-hand feel of the Pencil 2 is good, although I found it a tad slippery. The point of the Pencil still has the sensors that recognize different levels of pressure as well as tilt level, which is especially useful for artists. Thanks to the 120 Hz display, the lag between the Pencil 2 and the display is negligible. Palm rejection is quite good too.
Verdict and Price in India
The Apple iPad Pro is not a laptop replacement. Not by a long shot. At the same time, it’s easily the best tablet you can lay your hands on.
In the Pro realm, it only faces competition from the Surface Pro, but that’s more of a work-focussed laptop whereas the iPad Pro is not. You can work on the iPad Pro, but you’ll be limited by the OS and will have to decide whether you’re comfortable working within those limitations. To put it another way, things that are designed to work on the iPad Pro work incredibly well. For things that don’t work, there’s either no solution or a very laborious workaround.
If you’re entrenched within Apple’s app ecosystem and you want something that’s more powerful than a regular iPad, the Pro is the way to go.
Who is the iPad Pro for? If you are a professional who wants a powerful, secondary mobile device to get your work done — video editing, sound editing, sketching, working on office documents and more — then the iPad Pro is a brilliant alternative to a heavy laptop.
Who is the iPad Pro not for? If you are someone who works a lot with spreadsheets or requires an agile device capable of effective multitasking, then this tablet is not for you. If you are not comfortable using anything other than a mouse for making finer adjustments, then this tablet is also not for you. If you are someone who just wants to surf the web, watch movies and listen to music, get the regular iPad, the iPad Pro is overkill. If you are already using last gen iPad Pros, you won’t get a significant value-add.
One thing that is an issue with the new iPad Pro, is the prohibitive pricing. Just the 256 GB LTE iPad Pro will set you back by Rs 99,900. If you want the Smart Keyboard Folio Cover, throw in an extra Rs 15,999, and if you want the Pencil 2 (first gen Pencil does not work with the new iPad Pro) then toss in another Rs 7,999. That means you are spending around Rs 1.2 lakh for an iPad Pro — the cost at which you can get the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or even a Dell XPS 13. Apple product pricing is reaching stratospheric (Preposterous?) levels. On top of that, when you hear of issues like the iPad Pro-bending or no OIS in the camera, it feels like Apple is simply asking for too much.
Don’t even bother with the 64 GB variants of the iPad Pros as those will get filled up in no time and you will end up taking an iCloud storage plan. If you have the money and want a tablet, I’ll blindly recommend the iPad Pro. If not, you’ll have to seriously think about whether and how the iPad Pro can fit into your life.
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