WITH A SUPER SCREEN AND PRO-LEVEL POWER, THE AGE OF THE WORKING TABLET IS HERE
There’s an adage for most new tech: don’t buy the first version. No matter how groundbreaking that first one is, the second will be even better. Remember how much better the iPad 2 was than the iPad 1? And the iPhone didn’t really hit its stride until it had 3G access, no matter how much people loved that first model. And so it should be no surprise that the smaller iPad Pro’s second version leaves its predecessor looking like a half-finished thought.
With its eye firmly on the ‘Pro’ side of things, Apple has improved things in three key areas from the 9.7-inch iPad Pro this replaces: the amount of space to work; the quality of the display; and the performance. The move to a 10.5-inch screen with a higher resolution of 2224 x 1668 adds around 20 per cent more area, while keeping the same sharp pixel
density (and barely any extra size to the chassis, thanks to the new design). Items on the screen generally stay the same size as they were on the 9.7-inch model, but you have more space to play with, and it allows for bonuses, such as the on-screen keyboard (and attachable Smart Keyboard) being just about full-size, which does help for typing speed. The size difference is subtle overall, but it’s instantly obvious if you work in Split View a lot. Before, it was a little cramped on the smaller Pro – usable, but you tended not to stay long in Split View if you could help it. Now, we found we could happily do all kinds of work with our email app locked permanently into the right-hand quarter of the screen. That little bit of space tipped it over the threshold from awkward to totally comfortable. Obviously, the 12.9-inch model is even more comfortable for Split View work, and will be the best platform if you’re considering using the option of four apps simultaneously that iOS 11 will
enable (see below), but this screen is now a really strong balance between space and portability. Whether you go for it or the big Pro comes down to preference,
and the kind of work you’ll use it for – they’re essentially identical otherwise.
But the new 10.5-inch size isn’t the only update to the screen. The marquee feature is 120Hz support, which doubles the number of frames per second the screen shows compared to all of Apple’s
previous displays. It makes animations look super-smooth, and scrolling text more readable, which is lovely, but is largely ultimately
fluff (though it does make all other screens look old-fashioned in comparison).
But it also makes the screen twice as responsive, effectively,
because it shows the result of any interactions twice as fast. This is huge in the case of the Apple Pencil, since apps can now show what you’re drawing pretty much exactly as you draw, rather than a noticeable fraction of a second after. But the point of the ProMotion screens is that they
don’t always operate at 120Hz. If you’re watching a movie at 30 frames per second, the screen only runs at that rate, saving power. If
you’re reading a book, it keeps the frame rate low, since the image on the screen rarely changes. And if you start drawing, it ramps the frame rate back up instantly, to
give you the best feedback. Of course, this is all essentially unnoticeable, but the Pros do have excellent battery life, so it seems to do its job. We spent a couple of hours writing this review, then another hour browsing the web, and viewing and editing photos. Then left it on standby overnight.
In the morning, we still had 80 per cent battery left. Different tasks use up more battery, but in light work use, 12 hours (or more) is no problem for this machine, or its big-screen brother.
The screen has one more improvement too: the brightness has been amped up. Combined with the wide colour gamut, it makes photos look astoundingly vibrant, and helps with viewing in bright light (along with an improved anti-reflective coating). And it’s even good enough to display HDR video, but support for this won’t arrive until iOS 11, so mark that down as potential for the future. Even before that arrives, these are still surely the best screens Apple has made yet, and they make everything else look dull after just a few minutes with them. (The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has also gained the brilliant True Tone feature that changes the colour temperature to match the ambient light – the smaller Pro already had this.)
The screen is the big change that everyone benefits from in the new iPad Pro, but there’s another huge boost that’s less immediately obvious: the sheer, raw computing power. That the new A10X chip is based on last year’s tech is a testament to how far ahead of its competitors Apple is, because the processor in this thing is a barely caged beast. It’s a triple-core chip (up from dual cores in the A9X), with 4GB of RAM (an improvement in this 10.5-inch model, but is the same for the 12.9-inch), with a new, more powerful graphics unit to match.
When you just switch between apps, you’ll notice that it’s very fast, but then other iPads don’t tend to feel slow. It’s in intense testing you see its power: in Geekbench 4, it scores 81 per cent higher than its
predecessor for processing power, and 42 per cent higher than the latest generation of 12-inch MacBook. In fact, its score beats most 13-inch MacBook Pro models…
In real-world tests against its predecessors, you see less dramatic results, but still big. To test the processor, we used WinZip to compress a 1.2GB folder of files, and the new Pro performed the task in 25.16 seconds, which is 30 per cent faster than the 39.93 seconds of the 9.7-inch Pro.
The thing is, apps on iOS tend to work fairly differently to desktop, with even creative ones accelerating tasks using the graphics chip, making pure CPU power not that important – but then, the GPU computing power is also around 80 per cent higher in benchmarks.
It all makes this machine hugely future-proof as more and more powerful apps appear. Take Affinity Photo, which is basically full-fat Photoshop on the iPad. On the old Pro, it works great, but with some pausing after you apply certain brushes. No such thing on the new Pro – it has acres of headroom for more desktop-level apps.
THE LITTLE THINGS
There are improvements for pros in other areas too, such as the option for up to 512GB of storage (for a price), and USB 3 support over the Lightning connection (previously restricted to the 12.9-inch model only). The speakers are still great, too, and while the Smart Connector hasn’t been changed, it’s handy for accessories like the Smart Keyboard, which is arguably essential if you’re to use this as a laptop replacement, but is still eye-wateringly expensive – we’d wait to see if third-parties beat Apple at this game with an option that has backlighting and media features, if you can wait.
So should you get this iPad? Absolutely – if you’re looking for a portable work machine. For just
an entertainment tablet, its HDR support is great, but it’s very much overkill – the fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad is almost half the price, and fantastic for non-pro stuff.
But with its gorgeous screen, oodles
of power and amazing drawing prowess, this really can be a laptop replacement for a lot of people. In fact, it might be our favourite
portable computer in years.
ABOVE Size matters: the 10.5-inch screen is 20 per cent larger than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro screen
ABOVE The camera matches the quality of the iPhone 7 – nice for tablet photo fiends