Apple’s 2018 iPad Pro
The iPad Pro is massively expensive for a tablet. The 11-inch model starts at $799 and the 12.9-inch model starts at $999. That’s for a 64GB, Wi-Fi unit, though. There are also 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB units. Adding an LTE modem is an extra $150. A 12.9-inch, 1TB unit with cellular costs $1,899, without a keyboard or stylus. The Smart Keyboard Folio costs $199 for the 12.9-inch
In other words, it is now possible to pay more than $2,000 for an iPad.
Of course, if you simply want an iPad, there’s the $329 base-model 6th-gen iPad. You have to stop thinking of the Pro as an iPad, though. To justify its price, it has to do a lot more.
Design and Accessories
As mentioned, the iPad Pro comes in two models, 11 inches or 12.9 inches. We tested the 12.9-inch, 1TB unit. They are both smaller and lighter than last year’s iPad
I can’t conceive of this tablet being used without Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, a magnetic keyboard case/cover. It has two positions to put your screen in: a more upright one that tends to be a little too reflective, and a more angled one that gives you a better view. The fabric-covered keys actually feel better to type on than a second-generation MacBook Pro; they have a definitive click, but it’s a soft one that doesn’t hurt your fingers if you’re a hard typist
The new Pencil is one of the strongest reasons to buy a new iPad. If you’re a regular Pencil user, you’re probably irritated by its two major structural flaws: Its cap is easy to lose and its perfectly cylindrical shape will roll off of anything. There’s also nowhere to store your Pencil.
The new Pencil has a matte finish and a flat side. If you put it on the table and push, it will come to a stop. The back end isn’t removable, and the Pencil securely, magnetically docks to the top of the iPad, where it also charges. This is such a big improvement. It means you always know where your Pencil is, and it’s always charged.
There’s new functionality, too. Double-tapping on the barrel of the Pencil switches modes, for instance between pencil and eraser; it’s controllable by individual apps. This is similar to Wacom
The Pencil is as sensitive as ever, with amazing pressure and tilt sensitivity. Call up, say, a watercolor brush in an app like Procreate, and the Pencil’s pressure and tilt sensitivity will feel practically like a brush. The new Pencil only works with new iPads, so if you make your money based on artistic endeavors, that’s a strong argument for getting the new models.
Apple’s A12X processor benchmarks as well as a pro laptop. It’s stunning what this thing can do. I compared it with three of this year’s Macs using Geekbench, a CPU benchmark I’ve always thought is a little biased toward iOS; GFXBench, a relatively neutral graphics benchmark that uses Apple’s Metal APIs; and Basemark Web, which tests rendering performance in Safari. Take a look at the results.
That said, when we tried to go into other workflow comparisons, we couldn’t. The pro applications that we like to use on other operating systems, most notably Photoshop and Handbrake, just don’t run on iOS, and the workflow benchmarks we like to use, like PCMark and Cinebench, don’t run on iOS either
This illustrates the problem for the next thing I want to say, which is that Apple could think about casting off low-power Intel chips and instead make its first A13 laptop next year. While the A-series processors, in terms of raw power, are now faster than many Intel chips, macOS and especially third-party Mac applications are compiled for Intel, not A-series processors, and there’s a significant emulation tax.
How bad is the emulation tax? The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 runs Windows 10 on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor, an amped-up version of the
So if you try to run macOS Adobe apps on this processor, for instance, they will probably perform much more poorly than the benchmarks indicate unless Adobe goes through the complex, heavy lifting of recompiling them for the different instruction set. There’s no easy answer.
Networking and Battery
The iPad’s networking abilities are as fine as its processor performance. Like the iPhone XS Max, the cellular iPad Pro is based on the Intel XMM7560 modem, which can handle up to gigabit speeds. It has a physical SIM card slot and an embedded, software-configurable eSIM. They don’t both work at once, but you can switch between them. The physical slot supports all the US and Canadian carriers; the eSIM supports AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and you can pick a service plan right from the Settings app.
LTE-wise, the Pro supports a wide range of US and international bands, including all the bands that each of the major US carriers
For Wi-Fi, it can do simultaneous 2.4/5GHz 802.11n/ac with 80MHz channels. It has Bluetooth 5.0. Connectivity is, simply put, excellent.
We still need to run battery tests, but we have no reason to disbelieve Apple’s quote of 10 hours of use at about half screen brightness, similar to the previous iPad Pro generation. This is shorter than some laptops we’ve seen, but most people find it adequate, and you can fast-charge the iPad with the largest USB-C power brick you can get your hands on (like the ones from recent Macs). It ships with a new 18W charger, but you should get a 30W charger, like the one Apple sells for $49, instead.
Camera and USB-C
The lack of a home button makes the iPad’s cameras more relevant than ever. The 12-megapixel, f/1.8 camera is definitely better than the base-model iPad’s 8-megapixel camera, and it seems quite similar to the iPhone X camera, which is great. Fast autofocus, LED flash, and 4K video recording are all supported.
That said, I think the main camera’s real use (and the real use for its better low-light performance) is in augmented reality applications, and the Pro places objects on horizontal and vertical surfaces very quickly.
The front-facing camera is a gigantic step up from the standard iPad, going from a 1.2-megapixel camera to a 7-megapixel sensor with 1080p video recording and 3D imaging that supports Face ID, Animoji, and
USB-C is a big step forward for the Pro, but not as big as it could be. Once again, it’s held back by iOS. You can plug in keyboards, and you can plug in docks that branch out into USB-A ports,
I’m not too bothered about the fact that you can’t plug in a mouse or trackpad on an OS that has no facility for a pointer. But you can’t plug in arbitrary external storage or printers, and those are two big gaps. Ideally, you should be able to just plug in a drive and have it show up in the Files app, but that doesn’t work: You need to use special drives that have iPad app support. Printing is wireless only. Apple could have created generic external storage drivers for the Files app without breaking
Also, iOS’s handling of multiple monitors is far from ideal. You can attach USB-C DisplayPort monitors via the USB-C port, or translate to DisplayPort or HDMI (but not Thunderbolt) via a USB-C dock. But because iOS doesn’t have a desktop, every application gets to figure out how to handle secondary monitors. Sometimes, they’re for showing presentations while you look at notes on the main screen. Sometimes, they’re for zooming in or out of
No Pro Flow
The iPad Pro runs iOS 12. According to a poll we ran, about a third of people say they’ll be able to use the iPad Pro as their primary computer. This is important because the price is just so darn high.
But in testing, I just kept running into the same old pro workflow issues that have bedeviled iPad owners for a while. For instance, my daughter is applying to a local arts high school. She wants to learn Toon Boom and Photoshop, standard apps in the animation industry. The Pro sounds perfect for that, right? There is no Toon Boom for iPad, however, and Photoshop is coming sometime in 2019.
I love to create data visualizations. Excel on the iPad Pro lets me insert charts and write directly on them, which is very cool. But I can’t drag them into a Word document, even if the Word document is open in split-screen mode. I have to screenshot them, crop them, save them to the camera roll, and import that. Also, changing and moving around the axis titles is really buggy, unlike with Excel on every other operating system.
There are even some compatibility issues with iPad apps! Animatic, an animation program, crashes. Videoshop, a video editing program, doesn’t go into landscape mode. LumaFusion, the best pro video editing app, has, let’s say, an uncomfortable relationship with my OneDrive account.
The iPad Pro doesn’t do a lot of existing work as well as the existing machines that do it. This is not down to the hardware. The processor, screen, and Pencil are top-notch. This is down to iOS’s lack of mainstream pro applications and poor handling of peripherals and multi-application workflows. It’s the same old story that we’ve been telling for years.
The basic $329 iPad does a lot of the basic iPad tasks well. Want a great-looking, virus-free, well-supported computer for email, word processing, games, and cloud-based school work? Maybe a nice little SSH terminal? There’s no need for an iPad Pro for any of those tasks. The A12X processor here is just overpowered for those workloads, and the other big Pro features you’re paying for—the ProMotion screen, the new Pencil, the better speakers—don’t add up to $500 of actually useful value.
So what does the Pro do well? Multilayer sketching is gorgeous. Apps like Procreate and a dozen other art titles can handle an essentially infinite number of layers with butter-smooth transforms.
The Pro does CAD and AR like no other device. I saw some demos of enterprise instructional systems using AR objects for things like jet engine repair, the sort of stuff that you’d otherwise probably want expensive AR glasses for, and which generally runs a little janky on Windows tablets or less expensive iPads. The Pro is amazing for this, but it’s niche.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The standard $329 iPad, which is really $600 to $800 once you add the keyboard, Pencil, and storage options you want, is a great little computer at the right price. For drawing, word processing, web browsing, a bit of photo editing, some content consumption, and gaming, an iPad turned into a 2-in-1 is efficient, no-nonsense, and virus-free. That’s why it’s an Editors’ Choice and one of the products we most recommend.
The things you can’t do with a base-level iPad aren’t generally because of the hardware, they’re because of the software, and the iPad Pro, unfortunately, still runs the same software. That puts the Pro miles behind more flexible Windows 2-in-1s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 when it comes to running workflows like office apps, Photoshop, Lightroom, or, say, Toon Boom animation software. The Pro just can’t step up. Its operating system and applications won’t let it.
The Pro shines as a secondary tablet in costly creative setups. I’m talking about artists, animators, and photographers who don’t mind spending up to five digits on their workspace and want the best. It beats a Wacom Cintiq, and it can be a useful tool for photographers on the go who want the best possible representation of their work.
Apple’s engineering work is epic here. The iPad Pro is