A note to the reader: I originally wrote this review in February 2019; the content herein was migrated from my previous blog site.
I absolutely loved my 10.5″ iPad Pro that I bought in September 2017. It was a perfect balance of size, performance and functionality that was by no means a full-sized laptop, but got close enough to make it a really, really great product.
When the iPad was introduced in 2010, I was so excited to get my hands on it. It was marketed, back then, as a product positioned perfectly between a phone and a computer–having elements of both phones and computers, but being necessarily different from both in a very special way. Now, 8 years later (by the time the latest generation of iPad Pro tablets were announced), Apple somehow maintains that position in spite of phones getting bigger (more tablet-sized, you might say), and computers getting larger (well, you get the idea).
My 10.5″ iPad Pro very quickly became my most-used device, serving me email, and video, and music, and even blogging–in one very nice, compact package with an unrivaled battery life. Then, not long into 2018, the Apple rumor mill started up again and we started hearing whispers about the next iPhones and eventually the newest iPad Pro, which would boast some “revolutionary” new design.
I want to take a moment to mention that, in spite of my fanboy status, I really do get tired of the rumors that lead to a company’s product release. Sure, I get excited about new products, and more to that point, I HATE to be surprised…but there’s a bit of magic lost when everyone knows what the product is going to look like weeks, or even months, before it is actually announced. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I always feel compelled to have the latest, greatest tech–and when I see it, but can’t have it, I get sad.
In any case, when the next iPad Pro was officially announced and released, I was quick to preorder. I’ve had it now for a few months, and it has not-so-surprisingly taken place of my previous iPad Pro (which I sold to a nice man in Miami whose child had taken over his previous tablet). And I’ve found that many of the feelings I had about my old iPad have carried into the latest generation.
A few things to get out of the way:
Yes, I also got the Apple Keyboard case. This one is (in my opinion) superior to the previous for two reasons. For starters, it is entirely symmetric–no weird lump or thick part of the keyboard; everything fits nicely into a folio-style case and stays secure to the iPad. Secondly, being able to set the iPad at multiple viewing angles is a nice addition. But, much like the last keyboard case, it is extremely hard to keep clean unless you wash it every day, so it can look a little ratty if you’re like me and you get clammy hands (eww, gross).
Also, I again stayed away from the Apple Pencil. In spite of being a pretty avid and heavy iPad user over the last year and a half, I have yet to find myself feeling I’ve missed out on something. Keyboard? Yes. Pencil? Pass.
And finally, as the title suggests, it was the 12.9″ model that ultimately piqued my interest this year. I admit, there was something enticing about a device with the same screen size, but a significantly smaller footprint that my previous model, and I almost pulled the trigger on the smaller 10.5″ model and saved some money. However, equally enticing was a significantly larger screen size in virtually the same footprint as my previous model, so that ultimately did me in.
Fun side note, though…according to Apple’s website, your 12.9″ iPad Pro doesn’t actually have a 12.9″ screen:
Eh well, close enough.
As with any “next” generation, there are going to be similarities and differences. And the similarities, although usually glazed over on any number of review sites, should not be undercut: The screen, even though it’s still “just” a 120Hz panel, is still frickin beautiful. It’s crisp, clean, and snappy–arguably more than we need in a tablet screen, but Apple continues to put out great screens on their high end devices.
How about the price–that’s different, right? Well yes, but not in the sense that it’s extremely [extremely] high, even higher than last year. Price of admission to this theme park is the most premium you’ll pay for a tablet that isn’t, well, a full computer. Then again, Apple is no stranger to premium products at more-than-premium prices; while people were still getting over the $1100 price tag on the iPhone XS Max (yep, got me one of them, too), we had to stomach a starting price of the 12.9″ iPad Pro of $999, without Apple Care and without accessories…a $200 premium over the previous generation iPad Pro 12.9.
Hardware optimization didn’t change, either, at least not in any negative way…if it had gotten worse, you would have heard about it. But you didn’t, and as such, Apple’s hardware and software designs continue to work in tandem to create a truly remarkable user experience. This, for what its worth, is where I feel Apple’s biggest strength lies.
The keyboard case, albeit larger than the 10.5″ Pro’s keyboard, STILL DOESN’T HAVE A fn KEY. So, that’s the same, and I’m still bothered by this. I really don’t need a dedicated key to get me to the emoji keyboard. And iOS 12 is, well, amazing, but not a significant enough update from iOS 11 to get me really excited. Multitasking has surely improved, and the extra screen size makes it more manageable…but much like its predecessor, this is still NOT a laptop replacement.
And, the camera still sucks.
There were plenty of things that did change: a completely new design, for instance, which brings uniform bezels to all sides (with some weird inconsistent corner-rounding, which I still don’t understand), the full array of sensors from the iPhone X, and the removal of the Home Button (we’re supposed to capitalize that, right?) in favor of Face ID. The hardware facelift alone might make you think paying $200 more than last year’s model would be worth it…but then, there’s all the other hardware stuff.
Like the speakers: Holy balls, those speakers. I love the speakers on my MacBook Pro; when the Touchbar models hit a couple years ago everyone was floored with the volume and punchiness that they put out–the latest iPad Pro lineup follows suit with arguably the most formidable tablet speakers on the market. No bluetooth speaker? No problem.
Then there’s the A12X Bionic chip, Apple’s crown jewel 7 nanometer octa-core processor. The thing is a beast, everything we’ve come to expect from Apple’s processors. And, while it’s totally amazeballs just like last year’s processors, it really just needs to be mentioned. I swear…when these processors hit the MacBook line…it’s going to be something special. But, in an effort to leave out geekbench scores, it’s really [really] fast.
And speaking of MacBooks, the iPad Pro this year finally went to USB Type C, one of the many long holdouts for Apple (and frustratingly enough, a holdout that continues with the iPhone). Finally I can charge my MacBook and my iPad with the same bits and bobs, which solved one of the biggest first-world problems I’ve faced over the last year and a half. Paired with battery life that continues to impress, the iPad does extremely well when it comes to all things electricity.
But how is it as a device? Well, it’s great. But…it’s not a laptop. At this point, I think that’s what most people want–something that looks like the iPad but runs MacOS. And maybe I’m in the minority here, but sometimes I just want something a little more lightweight. My MacBook is a great media consumption device, but it’s not my go-to media consumption device. Likewise, while my iPad is fully capable of (for instance) creating and managing my iTunes playlists, editing spreadsheets and doing some light photo editing…I’d much rather do those things on a computer (call me old-fashioned). Sometimes, you need a file system…and not some hokey, half-assed file system like the Files app in iOS.
Much like 2017’s iPad Pro and iOS 11, the fully customizable dock and multi-tasking features in iOS 12 with the latest iPad Pro gets you remarkably close to a laptop analog, close enough to get you by. But, I’ve never been one of those folks looking to replace my laptop with an iPad. Don’t get me wrong–if someone ports MacOS to the iPad in a way that doesn’t require a ton of coding and brainpower, I’ll be happy to try it out.
In the meantime, though, judging how “good” the iPad is as a device shouldn’t be done based on the merits of a laptop. You are of course free to choose if the price tag is worth what it gets you, but there’s absolutely no question about whether or not it performs those tasks well–the ones it’s intended to perform. The app ecosystem is getting better and better each year, and is good enough for many on a companion device. But clearly, the hurdle to overcome here has nothing at all to do with performance–because that’s spot on.
I’ve not really given much thought to the cost of the 12.9″ iPad since I bought it…in fact, while writing this, I had to look up the original cost because I had forgotten. And that, as I’ve said before, is a true testament to how good of a product it is: that I haven’t really considered it’s unquestionably high price tag, and have had zero buyer’s remorse since picking it up. I can’t say the same for the Apple Watch Series 4, which I returned in favor of a used Series 3…but this iPad really is something special.