At this point it probably isn’t a secret that tablet sales have leveled off, and in some cases they have declined. Pretty much anywhere you care to look you’ll see evidence that the tablet market just isn’t as strong as it once was. It’s undeniable that touch-only tablets have utility, but it seems that the broader market has been rather lukewarm about tablets. I suspect at least part of the problem here is that the rise of the phablet has supplanted small tablets. Large tablets are nice to have, but almost feel like a luxury good when they’re about as portable as an ultrabook. While a compact laptop can’t easily be used while standing, or any number of other situations where a tablet is going to be better, a compact laptop can do pretty much anything a touch-only tablet can. A laptop is also going to be clearly superior for a significant number of cases, such as typing or precise pointing.

As a result, large touch-only tablets feel like they’ve been limited to home use as a computer away from the computer. Tablets are great when you’re on the couch or in bed, but once you get to this point there are some obvious questions as to whether it makes sense to drop $500+ USD on a tablet that seems to have relatively limited utility. The Surface lineup has been showing signs of growth, but in general the Surface is more of a mix between laptop and tablet rather than a tablet. I would argue that given the OS and overall design that the Surface and Surface Pro are really more laptop than tablet, even if at the hardware level the Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3 are basically tablets with kickstands and keyboard covers.

If you’re guessing that this means Apple has had some issues with growing sales of their iPad lineup, you’d be right. From my first experiences with the iPad 3, I was impressed with the improved user experience for things like web browsing and other smartphone tasks, but I never really felt like it made enough sense to get one for myself. The iPad Air 2 was once again impressive and I felt like I could recommend it to other people that wanted a tablet, but I personally struggled to come up with a reason why I would buy it.

This brings us to the iPad Pro. This is probably the first time Apple has seriously deviated from traditional iPad launches, putting together a tablet built for (limited) productivity and content creation rather than just simple content consumption, creating what's arguably the iPad answer to the Surface Pro. To accomplish this, Apple has increased the display size to something closer to that of a laptop, and we see the addition of a stylus and a keyboard cover for additional precision inputs. Of course, under the hood there have been a lot of changes as well, so the usual spec sheet can be found below to summarize those changes.

  Apple iPad Air 2 Apple iPad Pro
SoC Apple A8X
3 x Apple Typhoon @ 1.5GHz
Apple A9X
2 x Apple Twister @ 2.2GHz
GPU PowerVR 8 Cluster Series6XT
(Apple GXA6850)
PowerVR 12 Cluster Series7XT
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 4GB LPDDR4
NAND 16/64/128GB 32/128GB
Display 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD 12.9" 2732x2048 IPS LCD
Size and Mass 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm
437g WiFi, 444g LTE
305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm
713g WiFi, 723g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear-Facing, f/2.4, 1.1 micron, 1.2MP Front-Facing, f/2.2
Battery 27.3Wh 38.5Wh
Launch OS iOS 8 iOS 9
Cellular Connectivity MDM9x25 Category 4 LTE + GPS/GNSS in Cellular SKU
Other Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, Apple Lightning
SIM Optional NanoSIM
Price $499/599/699 16/64/128GB $799/949/1079 32/128GB/128GB LTE

At a high level, the iPad Pro gains a larger display with a higher resolution, more memory, a new SoC, and a larger battery to compensate for the change in display size. In addition to these changes, the iPad Pro also brings noticeable changes to the speakers, with an increase to four speakers which allow the iPad Pro to compensate for device orientation when projecting stereo audio.

Design

The most immediate change that you can see in the iPad Pro is the sheer size. The 12.9” display of the iPad Pro basically makes it feel like you’re carrying a laptop around. I would argue that this doesn’t actually affect the portability of the iPad Pro, but this is mostly because the iPad Air 2 was something that I only carried in a backpack to begin with. People carrying their tablets in a small bag, purse, or even just in their hands will notice the difference, so the change in size might be more or less noticeable depending upon how you carry things around.

The increase in size does affect weight. After significant use, I honestly don’t think the mass is a significant issue. It does feel heavier than the iPad Air 2, but the mass distribution is such that there isn’t a ton of battery hanging out at the edges of the device where it’ll affect the moment of inertia. This does raise the question of whether Apple included enough battery for sufficient battery life, but that’s a question best left for the rest of the review.

In terms of design, the iPad Pro is rather unremarkable if you’ve ever seen an iPad Air before; it is for all intents and purposes a bigger iPad Air. On the front, the display dominates, with some bezels on the sides and top. The top has the front-facing camera, and the bottom has the home button with TouchID.

Looking at the sides of the tablet, the top edge has the power button and 3.5mm port, along with two of the four speakers. The right edge has the volume buttons, and the bottom edge has the Lightning port and the other two speakers. The left edge is mostly empty, but contains the Smart Connector for the Smart Keyboard and similar accessories.

The back of the tablet is mostly unremarkable as well. For the LTE model, an RF window is visible on the top of the device to allow LTE and other connectivity to function. For the WiFi variants, it looks like the bottom display bezel and the bottom two speakers are the RF windows, so there aren’t any visible areas that indicate where the WiFi antennas are.

Overall, the iPad Pro feels like an iPad, with nothing all that remarkable beyond its size which is carried well. I never really noticed the mass or size of the iPad Pro even if it is clearly larger and heavier than the iPad Air 2. I also didn’t notice any issues with the back cover flexing, but given enough pressure on the back cover pretty much any device this large will see some screen distortion or bending. The iPad Pro does technically regress in thickness compared to the iPad Air 2, but I never noticed the difference in practice, especially when the larger display is really what matters more.

SoC Analysis: Apple A9X
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  • Jumangi - Saturday, January 30, 2016 - link

    Why wouldn't it? It's in a similar price range and is pushed as a "professional" device for use in business. Reply
  • eNT1TY - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    I only owned the device for 3 weeks before returning it but i must say the apple pencil was fantastic. For my needs the ipad pro wasn't particularly any more "pro" than an ipad air 2 but combined with the pencil comes pretty damn close to being something special for graphics work though you are ultimately still not going to finalize/complete any work on it but you can get a hell of a start. File management sucks, like going around your ass to get to your elbow.

    But back to the pencil, it is amazing when the app takes full advantage. Adobe sketch is not that great even pen optimized but procreate is a different beast. The pencil has no perceptible lag, something even my wacom pro pen on my cintiq 27qhd can't claim and has more accurate angle recognition and doesn't distort drawing on the edges of the screen. Procreated is the real deal and much better at exporting a complex psd's than adobe's own. Adobe Draw fared a bit better than Sketch as far as responsiveness to pencil. uMake is no solidworks and is too basic and weak for a $15 monthly subsciption app but it felt intuitive with the pencil.

    I can wait for the pro 2, it will have a mature selection of apps by then and hopefully that newer version of ios will have better file management solutions. Man apple just needs to make a pencil compatible imac as well and stick it to wacom.
    Reply
  • jjpcat@hotmail.com - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    It's interesting to compare A9X and Intel M. I am wondering if Apple has any data to back up its claim that A9X is faster than 80% of portable PCs released in the past year.

    I would like to see more info:

    1. Die size: A9X is 147 mm^2 while is 99 mm^2. So Intel may have an advantage here. But I am not sure if we can come to the conclusion that Intel has a cost advantage.
    2. Where's the GPU comparison?
    3. I don't trust Intel's TDP claim. It's better to include that in your power consumption test.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    1. Processes are different, as are the respective chip designs on the whole (including what's on the chips), so the physical size doesn't say that much.

    2. In other tests. The A9X looks quite good in these.

    3. TDP doesn't say much about actual consumption in real life anyway. It only says how much heat the cooling solution will have to move away at maximum. Battery usage can still vary substantially even at the same nominal TDP if – for instance – one of the chips can do "regular work" at lower power than the other. TDP comes only really into play when the chips are ramping up to maximum performance and try to stay there.

    The CPU comparison part of this test is pretty sketchy. Not necessarily wrong, but likely disregarding crucial influences on the particular benchmarks (vectorization by the compilers being part of it).
    Reply
  • rightbrain - Friday, January 29, 2016 - link

    Another useful comparison would be die size, since it gives a rough but real cost comparison. Reply
  • Constructor - Friday, January 29, 2016 - link

    Not really, because densities are different and so are yields as well as process and SoC development costs. Reply
  • ads2015 - Monday, February 1, 2016 - link

    Apple's SPEC06 option "-O3 -FLTO" not "-Ofast". All cases are ok
    http://llvm.org/devmtg/2015-10/slides/Gerolf-Perfo...
    and llvm has 30+% performance headroom for SPEC06.
    Reply
  • Delton Esteves - Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - link

    Biased review.

    Ipad Pro

    No usb ports
    No display port or HDMI
    No memory card
    No Kickstand
    No pen included

    Keyboard:
    Is expensive
    No backlit
    No trackpad
    No function keys
    There is no place to rest the hand
    Very complicated to set up

    Ipad Pro runs a Mobile OS

    Summing up, Ipad Pro cannot be considered a Pro device, so, stop being a Fanboy. Surface Pro 4 wins
    Reply
  • Crisisis - Thursday, February 4, 2016 - link

    Just.in.the.same.paragraph: "stop being a Fanboy" and "Surface Pro 4 wins". A new definition of irony. Reply
  • Delton Esteves - Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - link

    "A new definition of irony". why do you think Ipad Pro is better? Justify? Reply

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