iPad Pro – The Review

20160318_175455

Introduction

It’s perhaps no surprise to anyone in recent times that the iPad has been quite a slump in terms of sales. It has had a 20% decrease in year-over-year sales, which is actually a significant number. This is actually no fault of the iPad itself. It applies to pretty much every other tablet out there, mainly due to the increasing appeal of large-screen phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, LG V10, Nexus 6P, Huawei Mate 8 and even Apple’s own iPhone 6S Plus. Apple’s response to the decline of tablets? Make it way bigger and way more like a laptop. Enter the iPad Pro, the biggest (literally) change that has ever happened to Apple’s tablet line. Is it a recipe for success, or destined to failure?

Acknowledgement

This review was done on a gold iPad Pro without a cellular connection with 128GB of internal storage, finished in Gold. The tablet has been running iOS 9.2 throughout the review period and was used instead of a dedicated laptop wherever possible. The Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Cover was not used for the review. No modifications has been made to the tablet in any way, shape or form.

Technical Specifications

Processor Apple A9X with 2x Apple Twister cores clocked at 2.26GHz w/ custom PowerVR 7XT 12-core GPU – 16nm FinFET chip manufactured by TSMC
RAM 4GB of LPDDR4
Storage 32GB/128GB of internal NAND storage, NVMe-based controller, no expandable storage
Display 12.9” IPS LCD display @ 2732×2048, variable refresh rate between 30Hz – 60Hz, scratch-resistant, oleophobic coating.
Software iOS 9.1 (upgradeable to iOS 9.3)
Camera 8MP BSI sensor w/ 1.12-micron pixels + f/2.4 aperture (rear), 1.2MP sensor w/ f/2.2 aperture (front)
Battery 10,307mAh Li-Ion unit, sealed, no quick-charging, no wireless charging.
Features TouchID, Apple Pay, Apple Pencil, Smart Connector, Wi-Fi AC, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, quad stereo speakers, LTE*, GPS*, GLONASS*.

(* – Only on cellular models)

Design

DSC02488

Visually, the iPad Pro follows a similar design language with the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 4. The back housing is made entirely of aluminium, though Apple does not specify whether this is the Series 7000 version used in the iPhone 6S with the front finished in scratch-resistant glass with an oleophobic coating to resist smudges with the home button/fingerprint sensor on the bottom. On the left, there’s the 3-pin Smart Connector and on the right is where the volume rocker lives. The power button is nicely finished at the top and the Lightning connector is at the bottom, with the 4-speaker array holes’ position optimally at the top and bottom. There’s actually nothing much to talk about the design of the iPad Pro as it’s a simple design but also elegant. The aluminium also seems to have a degree of scratch resistance, as it didn’t suffer from any major scratches throughout my 3 months of usage without a case.

The device also feels rather sturdy. Although you will feel a bit paranoid over bending concerns when using it one-handed in landscape, the tablet has yet to bend and actually doesn’t feel all that heavy thanks to its equal longitudinal weight distribution along its massive size, with means that despite weighing more than the original iPad, it actually doesn’t feel all that heavy.

Overall, there’s nothing much to say about the Pro other than that it looks pretty and elegant in a simple manner, what you’ve come to expect from Apple (though some of their other products have……questionable design tastes. Looking at you, Battery Case.)

Display

20160318_104507
The iPad Pro features Apple’s most advanced Retina Display ever made

The first thing that strikes you when you power on the Pro for the first time is that display. Other than the obvious fact that it is a gigantic one (it’s hard to get away from that), it’s actually a pretty damn good one, especially for a tablet.

20160318_104557
Despite the seemingly-low 264PPI, the Pro’s display is still extremely sharp at a normal operating distance.

The Pro features a 12.9-inch IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 2732×2048 w/264ppi, making it the highest resolution display ever fitted on an Apple portable (yes, even higher than the 15-inch Retina MBP). While that PPI reading is rather low on paper (especially compared to 326PPI on the regular 6S), it’s actually perfect for an optimal tablet viewing distance. You will notice some pixelation if you squint, but at a normal operating distance, the Pro’s display doesn’t have any jaggies or weird artifacts.

20160318_104306
There’s more to what makes a great display than just resolution

But displays aren’t just about resolution. There’s more to what makes a great display. Apple claims that the iPad Pro has “the most advanced Retina Display we’ve ever made”, and the Pro has some nifty engineering tricks up its sleeve to support that. The Pro’s display utilizes oxide TFT technology that provides faster pixel charging and better distribution of brightness and is also able to vary its refresh rate between 30 and 60Hz for better efficiency depending on the type of content that’s displayed. The molecules of the LCD are aligned using photo-alignment via UV light to improve contrast and a custom timing controller was designed to make that resolution possible on a mobile device.

20160318_104526
Engineering tricks in the iPad Pro’s display allow it to have deep black levels and high contrast while maintaining vibrancy without becoming oversaturated.

The effects in the real world are actually superb. The iPad Pro has loads of contrast while maintaining a certain degree of vibrancy without becoming over-saturated. Viewing angles are excellent and there is little noticeable “ghosting” and other unpleasant artifacts. Maximum brightness is a little lackluster, however, making it not as useful in outdoor environments.

20160318_104915
The iPad Pro’s display is great for just about anything, whether it’s editing with iMovie or just watching your 30GB anime collection.

Overall, the display on the iPad Pro is excellent. While it’s not very bright, it’s contrast and color accuracy is one of the best of any tablet, coupled with its high resolution and efficiency make it one of the best displays on any mobile device yet.

Performance

DSC02543
The iPad Pro is a screamer.

The iPad Pro is poised to become Apple’s most capable mobile device yet, and while from the spec sheet alone, it might not seem that way, it’s what lies much deeper down that counts.

A9X
The A9X is Apple’s most powerful processing package yet.

The Pro’s heart is Apple’s A9X processor, featuring the same Twister CPU cores from the iPhone 6S but clocked much higher at 2.26GHz (compared to 1.85GHz in the 6S’ A9 chip), and it’s paired up with a custom 12-core PowerVR 7XT GPU designed to handle the increased resolution of the display. 4GB of LPDDR4 is its memory package, alongside 32 or 128GB of internal storage depending on the variant.

IMG_1274
You don’t need a lot of high-clocked cores for great performance

At first glance, aside from the other hardware, the CPU doesn’t seem so powerful, looking almost like a Snapdragon 800 with 2 fewer cores. However, following Apple’s tradition of favoring IPC over clock speed and core count, the A9X’s CPU is a screamer, blasting past 3200 in GeekBench 3’s single-core performance benchmarks and 5400 in its multi-core performance benchmarks. Mind you, this is almost equal to the octa-core Exynos 7420 in terms of multicore performance and in terms of single-core performance, it’s better than even the AMD FX-8350, which is no small feat for a mobile processor.

IMG_1422

The iPad Pro also scored similarly well in Antutu, with a score of 186k, making it the most powerful mobile device in Antutu’s charts as of this time, aided by its GPU and memory package.

DSC02560
The iPad Pro’s beefy processor and ultrafast storage mean that demanding apps such as Infinity Blade 3 won’t give the Pro a sweat.

In the real-world, you can actually notice some of its performance benefits. While processor performance is hard to notice in daily usage, memory and storage performance do make an impact. While the faster memory makes things load from memory faster, it’s the storage that makes the biggest difference. Like the iPhone 6s, the iPad Pro uses a custom NVMe-based storage controller that improves read and write speeds substantially over eMMC-based controllers. The result is much faster load and save times from and to storage, especially in storage I/O intensive tasks, like loading a high-resolution video for iMovie and launching an app that isn’t saved in memory. In gaming, the PowerVR 7XT GPU does its job very well, giving exceptional gameplay performance without frame dips, stuttering and lag in all recent titles like Need for Speed: No Limits, while the NVMe-based storage controller improves load times substantially making this an excellent gaming tablet.

DSC02562
Like the BMW M4 featured in the device, this is a turbocharged tablet ready to take on anything.

Overall, the iPad Pro is a serious speed machine, both on paper and in the real-world, aided by its excellent hardware and optimizations throughout iOS. The Pro is one of the more future proof devices in the world due to its sheer performance, which means it can handle all basic tasks without issue for years to come.

Hardware

Being Apple’s flagship tablet, the Pro packs in every bell-and-whistle you’d expect out of an Apple product.

DSC02551
TouchID is still as excellent as ever

At the front is where Apple’s excellent TouchID sensor lives that’s also a home button. Speed and response has been excellent though the sensor does have trouble detecting your finger when it is wet or full of sweat. Apparently, the more reliable and faster scanner used on the 6s is not found here, so that might explain it.

DSC02553
It might seem weird, but those 3 prongs are for a keyboard.

The Smart Connector is one of the newest additions to the iPad Pro. The connector transfers both power and data through it, making it an ideal connector for a secondary input device, such as keyboards, of which 2 keyboard cases are officially supported by it; Apple’s Smart Keyboard and Logitech’s CREATE. I haven’t had the chance to test both cases so I can’t say how it’s like, but it looks like a worthy alternative to Bluetooth, especially since these cases don’t have batteries that degrade over time.

prospeakers
The iPad Pro’s speakers are nothing short of superb. Try them out in person.

The speakers on the iPad Pro are also worthy of attention. The Air 2 utilized stereo speakers but are positioned on the bottom of the device, so there’s not much of the “Stereo effect” due to its position. With the iPad Pro, Apple has used a quad-speaker array that’s also a bunch of stereo speakers. They didn’t just add a bunch of speakers and called it a day, however. The housings are actually machined into the aluminum unibody of the device and sealed with a carbon-fiber cap, giving the Pro 61% more back-volume and 3x more output than all iPads before. The top speakers are biased towards high-frequency audio for more balanced sound, and they automatically change their calibration based on the device’s orientation. In the real-world, the Pro’s speakers are actually very, VERY good. It’s probably the best set of speakers on a mobile-device, period. It’s very loud and offers great audio, although you won’t see it beat a dedicated set of speakers anytime soon, which is expected out of a mobile device. The only real issue is that, like all iPads before it, you can easily cover any one of the 4 speaker grilles, though because there’s 4 of them (one on each corner), you won’t completely muffle-out the sound, but it does sound a little bit different when any one of them are covered.

DSC02556
You’ll find every essential modern connectivity standard here. The Pro also supports AirDrop.

The tablet also comes with the usual connectivity features. Wi-Fi with 802.11ac Wave 2 support, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for Bluetooth LE, LTE, GPS and GLONASS on the cellular model, a barometer and the reversible Lightning connector that’s also compatible with USB 3.0, allowing for superquick data transfer speeds. Wi-Fi performance has been excellent using an ASUS RT-N66U and some Ruckus R700 APs. Bluetooth performance was also very good with low energy usage and no dropped connections. I didn’t appreciate reversible connectors until I used the Pro, which meant that I no longer had to figure out which was the right way. I could just plug it in any way I want, which is actually a super-convenient feature.

Overall, the Pro packs in every feature you’d expect out of an Apple tablet. All of the latest connectivity features, TouchID and whatnot along with a couple of extras like the Smart Connector and quad-speakers. Oh, and the Apple Pencil if you’re into that.

 

Camera

DSC02212
Still capable?

The iPad Pro shares its camera package with the iPad Air 2, which isn’t actually too much of a bad thing.

On the rear, there is an 8-megapixel 1/4″ sensor with a pixel size of 1.12-microns housed behind an f/2.4 aperture while on the front, you are greeted with a 1.2-megapixel sensor housed behind a slightly brighter f/2.2 aperture. On paper, that doesn’t sound impressive, but in the real-world, results were actually considered more than acceptable, to the point where I would say it is a capable shooter, given the right conditions.

In broad daylight, the iPad Pro’s 8MP shooter performed quite well, with lots of details and adequate exposure plus dynamic range. Colors were also pretty saturated, although compared to some phone cameras, it is a little undersaturated, causing some subjects to appear a little dull, but I doubt that this is a serious issue. It’s actually pretty good for daytime shots, which is a pretty big deal for a tablet.

In indoor lighting, the iPad Pro falters a little bit due to increased noise that eliminates some of the detail and the lack of OIS also means that you have to be a little more steady to get a clear shot, but overall, it’s still pretty adequate.

Low-light and night shots is where the Pro’s camera exposes its weakest link. Due to its small pixel size coupled with the lack of OIS, there is substantial amounts of digital noise in the photo. There’s also some blur in the photos if you’re not steady since the software opts for a lower shutter speed to compensate for the lower amount of light that’s going to the sensor, and since it does not have OIS, you need to remain steady. This is to be expected out of a tablet camera, however, since they typically don’t pack in the same bells-and-whistles as a typical top-end smartphone camera.

The 1.2MP f/2.2 front-facing camera is serviceable for video chats but overall, it’s not a great shooter, with a lot of noise and a general lack of detail. Given how the iPad Pro is not designed for the selfie crowd, however, it does its job adequately as a video-conferencing camera.

IMG_1421
The camera app is quick and simple to use

The camera app itself is simple and easy to use, using swipe gestures to switch between camera modes though with the addition of some new modes, it’s not exactly quick to switch modes, especially since it can miss swipes sometimes. But overall, the app itself is easy and simple to use with tap-to-focus, sliding vertically to adjust exposure and a shutter, although I wish its position could be adjusted to a more ergonomic position. If you want a little more control, however, there are some third-party apps that bring a degree of manual controls if you wish.

Overall, considering that it’s a tablet, the Pro has a surprisingly capable camera. While it will never surpass any current high-end smartphone, the Pro’s camera package is able to hold its own given the right lighting conditions. Attached above is the iPad Pro’s camera compared to the LG G4’s camera, regarded as one of the best phone cameras of 2015, showing how the Pro can actually hold its own even when its up against one of the world’s best. Props to Apple for putting a capable camera in a tablet, especially since the cameras on many other tablets were mediocre to absolutely dreadful.

 

Software

DSC02550
Not much has changed, but one thing stands out…

Like any other Apple portable that isn’t a Mac or Apple Watch, the iPad Pro runs iOS, Apple’s UNIX-based mobile OS. The Pro runs iOS 9.1, a version of the 9th iteration of the iOS, and can be upgraded to iOS 9.2.1 as of the time of writing.

IMG_1417

Aside from a major design overhaul in 2013 with iOS 7, the OS really hasn’t changed all that much since its launch with the original iPhone back in 2007. You still have your grid of app icons on the “Springboard” and navigating throughout the OS is still as simple as ever. Due to Apple’s locked-down ecosystem and closed-nature of iOS, you won’t find launcher, themes, or any form of true customization here unlike Android, which is a more-open OS. However, its biggest flaw is also its prime source of strength. Unlike Android, which is prone to fragmentation due to its open-nature and OEMs putting their own flavors on top of Android, making every experience different, Apple controls how the OS looks and functions, and also limits it on their own devices. This means that each device looks and works consistently with others and the small portfolio means that Apple is able to push timely software updates to devices even as far back as 2011, with the iPad 2 (launched in early 2011) being the oldest device to support iOS 9. In contrast, an equivalent Android phone of the same age has not seen a software update since 2012.

While I would have loved much more customization, iOS is actually a solid tablet OS at its core. While the UX does not seem to take much advantage of the increased screen real-estate, there are some features that do. With iOS 9, Apple has added some nifty multitasking features; Slide Over, Split View and Picture in Picture.

In essence, Slide Over slides any supported app over any app that’s currently running, which is useful for a quick reply to a message or getting some notes, while Split View is very nifty if you want to browse the web on one side and jot down some notes on the other side without leaving either app, and given that the height of the iPad Pro in landscape is about the same as the height of the iPad Air 2 in portrait, it offers a ton of screen real-estate for Split View. Picture-in-Picture basically shrinks a video or FaceTime call to a small window that can be resized and reposition, allowing you to stay in the call or keep watching a video while doing something else. It’s a fantastic set of features and I have been using them constantly during my 3 months of using the iPad Pro. It is a serious boost in the iPad’s capabilities and makes it much more suitable for productivity, especially when using it to get research information from Safari while jotting down some research notes for a project in Microsoft Word or taking a quick reply from Facebook Messenger, all while some anime is playing in a small window in the background. It is a big deal on a large tablet, and I am glad that Apple has put such a feature in iOS, although apps will have to be updated to support it. The roster is limited but constantly growing.

IMG_1470
Even with Safari and Apple Maps running at the same plus alongside a video playing in an overlay, the Pro did not skip a beat.

In terms of general performance, this is another department where iOS’s closed-nature shines. Because it is on a limited roster of devices, it is not difficult to optimize the OS for the devices it is on. In the case of the iPad Pro, iOS seems to be very well-optimized to take advantage of all the hardware bells-and-whistles in the Pro. Apps open and close very quickly and they were all extremely responsive and exhibited little to no lag. Memory management was also very well-executed, being able to store more than 10 medium-heavy apps and having none of them killed in the background, even having a game kept in memory even after 24 hours of it being a background app, taking full-advantage of that 4GB of memory. In general, performance was great.

Unfortunately, it’s not all bells-and-roses for the software. Bugs were still quite an issue. I had several apps freeze on me, requiring a force-close and in worst cases, froze the entire device, requiring a forced reboot. An issue occurred to me once where the device froze entirely while using Slide Over. While the device could be put to sleep, I wasn’t able to wake the device, requiring a forced reboot to get it working again. Many of them seem to have been sorted in 9.2.1, but some still exist. Also, I feel that the Pro’s capabilities are not fully-realized yet. iOS is still limited in its capabilities as of this time, which is quite a shame given how capable the hardware  is in the iPad Pro. Given Apple’s positioning of the Pro as a “laptop-replacement”, it’s frankly too-limited to be considered a true laptop replacement, though many of them could be placed on the fact that it is an ARM tablet, and thus, is unable to properly run an x86 OS.

DSC02563
Still a very solid tablet OS

Overall, the software is actually quite good. It’s very fast, snappy, takes advantage of all that hardware and screen size plus timely security updates for even older devices, which is a huge plus. However, for the Pro’s positioning, it’s still rather limited and it’s also somewhat buggy, something we’ve usually come to expect these days, but a little surprising from a company like Apple, who usually pays attention to the little details.

Battery

DSC02549
Battery life on the Pro is pretty good, and you won’t need to recharge it often

One advantage of the very size of the iPad Pro is battery capacity. The iPad Pro packs in a very juicy 10,307mAh Li-ion battery that’s sealed in the device and thus, cannot be replaced by the end-user as easily as a device like the LG G4.

10606486_1134316759911869_8942006756045491173_n
On my usual usage pattern, the Pro lasted me a good 2 days with 12 hours of usage, which is no small feat considering its hardware.

At first, you might think the iPad Pro will last for a week on a charge. After all, that’s a really huge battery. However, you need to take into account that it has a 2732×2048 display, a larger display size, a more powerful processor and other stuff. As such, as a package, it actually has a smaller battery than the iPad Air 2 if you take into account the display and other stuff. Despite that, the iPad Pro actually delivers excellent battery life that’s on par or sometimes better than the iPad Air 2.

With my usual usage pattern (Wi-Fi on all the time, multitasking frequently, 45% brightness, some gaming, and video streaming), I can get up to 2 days of battery life, which is actually very impressive for such a tablet, especially when you consider the amount of power that it has. More frugal users can stretch to 3 or even 4 days on a single charge depending on how frugal your usage pattern is and if you’re a heavy user, the tablet can last for a day, which is certainly no small feat for a portable device considering the amount of power it’s packing under the hood. Of course, this is helped by the more-efficient 16nm FinFET manufacturing process of the processor, variable refresh rate of the display, software optimizations and some other small stuff. In fact, the only weakness of the Pro is that it charges quite slowly. Even though the included 2.4A adaptor is quick, considering the size of the Pro’s battery, it does take an age to charge up (more than 3 hours to be exact).  The lack of quick-charging definitely hurts here, but considering that the Pro has excellent battery life to boot, it’s more of a nitpick than a serious deal-breaker.

DSC02559
The Pro’s biggest Achilles’ Heel is actually the opposite of what we saw from many 2015 devices; charging time rather than battery life.

Overall, the iPad Pro has excellent battery life despite the more demanding hardware it packs. Having roughly equal or better battery life than the Air 2 is certainly no small feat when you consider that the Pro has a 78% larger display area, nearly 2.4 million more pixels, and more powerful hardware than the Air 2. The bigger battery definitely helped here, but also the efficiency of the display, processor and software optimization, proving that other factors matter too besides the size of the battery.

Price

This is perhaps one of the main “Ouch!” points of the iPad Pro.

pricepro
Pro-level performance comes with pro-level pricing.

The base 32GB model with only Wi-Fi starts at $799. 32GB of internal storage is fine if you’re a heavy user of the cloud, but a “usable” 128GB model with only Wi-Fi starts at $949. If you want LTE, that adds another $100 that brings the price up to $1079.

proaccessories
Enticing, but also expensive.

And we haven’t even got into the accessories. The Smart Keyboard cover is $169 and the Apple Pencil is $99. The Logitech CREATE keyboard case is $150 if you choose to go with that. If you choose to get a 128GB Wi-Fi-only iPad Pro with a CREATE keyboard and Pencil, the grand total would be nearly $1,200. That’s actually A LOT of moolah for a tablet, especially when you consider that a 256GB MacBook Air costs the same.

macbookair
A 128GB iPad Pro with Pencil and CREATE keyboard is right up in the same price-alley as the 256GB 13-inch MacBook Air.

Now, not everyone is going to need a Pencil and a CREATE keyboard case. But frankly, if you want to get the full Pro experience, you kinda need those and they ain’t cheap. Considering that the Pro is less capable than the 256GB MacBook Air that costs the same as a 128GB Pro plus Pencil and CREATE keyboard, it doesn’t seem like the greatest value buy ever. But hey, it’s Apple. You pay a premium for their products and their accessories. Despite that, the fact that a 128GB iPad Pro with its included accessories costs the same as an actual laptop is a pill that many will find it hard to swallow and will hurt the device’s appeal.

Conclusion

DSC02564
Going where no iPad has gone before.

Pricing concerns aside, the iPad Pro is probably Apple’s best tablet yet. Offering a tried-and-true design with its size cranked up to 11, while offering a display, processor and other hardware that’s a perfect match for its size and its name. Couple that with great battery life for the hardware and it’s pretty much a winning combo.

DSC02567
Will the iPad Pro replace a dedicated laptop? For this guy, not entirely.

It’s not flawless, though. Even though it’s a great tablet OS, iOS could use a few more stuff to take more advantage of the iPad Pro’s hardware (user accounts in iOS 9.3 is a great start) and the price can be a little too much for many to swallow. If you can afford it and you already have a capable laptop but don’t want to lug around one all the time, the Pro is actually a pretty good offering. It delivers on the Pro moniker for light productivity and even some photo and video editing on-the-go, while having a great display and speaker combo for multimedia. Couple that with the Apple Pencil and keyboard (still expensive) and the Pro is actually a solid do-everything device that will satisfy those who just want it for the sort of daily use that most laptops endure.

FINAL RATING: 8.8/10

The iPad Pro offers a compelling hardware package baked in with the software to match. It is an excellent do-everything tablet, although it is very pricey, especially when you take into account its accessories.

WHAT IT HAS GOING FOR IT WHAT IT’S NOT-SO-HOT IN
§  Simple but elegant design

§  Great display

§  Superb speakers

§  Exceptional performance

§  Surprisingly capable rear camera

§  iOS 9’s multitasking features

§  Timely updates

§  Excellent battery life

§  iOS 9 is still somewhat buggy

§  Underwhelming front-camera

§  Still rather limited for a laptop-replacement

§  Very expensive for both the tablet and its accessories, almost as much as a laptop.

 

 

Advertisements
iPad Pro – The Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s