The title “iPad Pro” has often felt like an oxymoron. With the iPad seemingly designed for consumers and the Mac’s Pro line more geared at professionals, the idea of an amalgam of the two seemed destined to create a device which has one foot in either camp, and riddled with compromises. Who is the iPad Pro line for?
With the 2018 edition, Apple went some way to answering that question, although it brings up new ones as well.
From the outside, it’s clear there have been changes, and even the least tech-savvy could spot that the new design makes the 2018 iPad Pro feel like a premium product. With narrower bezels, the removal of the home button, and the slimming down of the device’s thickness, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a stretched out iPhone X. The addition of Face ID (hidden in the bezel to prevent any notches) only adds credence to that way of thinking, but the iPad Pro has some tricks that (as present) are unique to itself.
Coming in two screen sizes, the 11 inch model (our review model) has the same footprint as the previous 10.5 inch model thanks to the screen taking up more of the frontage, while the 12.9 inch version is slightly smaller than the previous edition. Both feature a new “Liquid Retina” display, which offers exceptional colour accuracy (but no HDR) and “tap to wake” functionality, and this new display tech allows for the corners of the display to be rounded which makes the device much more seamless. It also maintains the excellent “Pro Motion” variable refresh rate found in the prior model which means apps and general navigation feel incredibly fluid and responsive.
Firstly, that Face ID sensor is just as capable as those found on its smaller siblings – perhaps more so now that it has the ability to unlock the device in landscape as well as portrait orientation. With a device such as the iPad that spends plenty of time flipping around, this is a godsend for quickly unlocking the device.
Another change that isn’t so noticeable from a distance is the move to USB-C. The iPad Pro is the first Apple tablet to support what it fast becoming the industry standard, and while that means your lightning cables aren’t going to charge it, it does mean that if you have a MacBook or a Nintendo Switch you’re in luck.
Of course, USB-C allows much more than a charging port, and it’s increasing ubiquity allows it to work with devices from storage, to cameras, or even monitors up to 4K. That sounds great, in principle, but there is no hard rule as to how devices will react when connected to the iPad Pro. Some hard drives allow the importing of photos, for example, whereas some do nothing at all. Connecting to some cameras will allow the same, while also charging the camera, while some seem to simply charge.
Using a monitor is a strange experience on its own – the iPad display is mirrored unless an app makes allowances for it. iMovie for example allows the preview window to be displayed on the external monitor, whereas many other apps just increase the screen size of whatever you’re doing on the tablet. The inconsistency is a concern, but it seems moving forward we could see some more universal gains from USB-C.
Of course, Apple does provide accessories for the iPad Pro, and depending on your workflow they’re a must. The new Apple Pencil is more responsive than the first, and also magnetically attaches to the side of the tablet for both charging and pairing. The Folio Keyboard has been revised to afford more protection to the rear of the tablet, and attaches with a multitude of magnets. There are only two viewing angles, but it remains the best way to type long pieces of text if you haven’t got a Bluetooth keyboard handy.
The new design sounds great but, as movies have told us for years, it’s what’s inside that counts. In that regard, the iPad Pro stands alone in the tablet space. The 2018 edition features the Apple A12X Bionic processor with 4GB of RAM (6GB for the 1TB version), and while that may sound like numbers to many, in real world usage it translates to little to no slowdown. In benchmark tests, it performs comparably to the latest iteration of MacBook Pro – itself no slouch in the performance department – all within a much smaller chassis.
Somehow, there was even room to add the camera module from the iPhone XS and XS Max, if you’re one of those people that likes to wave a tablet around when you’re out and about – in fact, with the device being so light, you may be encouraged to do so.
With all of this power contained in a smaller form factor, there seems to be just one thing holding the iPad back – its operating system.
While iOS 12 is a huge step up from the lag-ridden, bug-filled mess that was iOS 11, it still feels like an operating at odds with most workflows. The “Files” app remains a half-step to a proper document browser, and while multitasking is the best it’s ever been in iOS, that feels like damning it with faint praise. To its credit, the iPad Pro’s power encourages users to multitask as much as possible – I found myself browsing Reddit, with YouTube playing in the corner and replying to messages from notification centre just to try and get it to break a sweat, all to no avail.
And here remains the crux of the iPad Pro conundrum – it’s still a device that doesn’t know what it wants to be. For certain workflows (particularly my own), it’s almost perfect – I can type up a document, while listening to podcasts (wireless headphones only, no headphone jack here) while responding to emails with ease. If your business relies on large email attachments, specialist software, or even just web-based apps, the iPad Pro is tough to recommend. Safari is still duty-bound to display mobile versions of webpages, while Mail still lags behind (admittedly iPad-available) third-party apps.
Where the iPad Pro excels is in its creative suite, but even that seems hamstrung. Editing movies or creating music is not only possible but enjoyable (for the most part) with tactile touch input and optional keyboard shortcuts, but the lack of Final Cut or Logic on the device makes the Mac my machine of choice for more intensive tasks. It seems Apple have recognised this – while creating art or editing with the Apple Pencil is miles above any comparable tablet and stylus combo, the addition of a seemingly full-fat Photoshop application in 2019 should open the iPad Pro up to a wealth of new artists.
All of this comes at a stiff price as well. With the basic iPad starting at £319 and even last year’s 10.5 inch starting at £619, the base 64GB model of this year’s iteration (without cellular) starts at £769. Factor in the Apple Pencil for £119 and the smart keyboard for £179 and you’re looking at over a grand’s worth of potential compromises.
On one hand then the iPad Pro is difficult to recommend – specifically in the context of being a Pro device. It is certainly capable, but iOS remains a dead-weight it must carry. If the rumoured iPad-focused iOS 13 is on its way next year, we could see the untapped potential finally unleashed. It’s a shame – because in every other aspect the iPad Pro 2018 is the definitive tablet. Gorgeous to look at, chock full of power and with an ever-growing app store of new utilities, there is a lot to love here if you can tune your workflow to suit the device. With the money you’re paying though, let’s hope iOS 13 ends up bending the device to your whims and not the other way around.
Comic review: Omni-Visibilis by Trondheim and Bonhomme
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