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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  • MaxIT - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - link

    There is one reason for that: most PCs are just cheap computers compared to Macs Reply
  • ddriver - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    "90% of the professional software development studios I work with are almost solely Mac based"

    That has got to do with the urban legend, begot during the time of apple's pathetic "mac is cool, pc is for dorks" ad campaigns. Ignorant people with no tech knowledge genuinely believe the macs are a good deal. And while the hardware is OK, it offers too little value for the cost, software is... meh... more professional grade products run on windows than on macos. There aren't any notable macos exclusives, there are some professional products which do not support macos.

    The ipad "pro" software wise doesn't offer anything on top of the regular ipad, the same cheap, crippled, rudimentary applications. It is a little bigger and has a pen with the world's lamest charging implementation, that's about it.

    There is no software for the ipad a professional musician or produced could use, the apps which exist for that platform and light years behind the professional software you can run on a windows tablet. None of the professional DAWs, editors, synthesizers, effects or samplers are available for the ipad. Usually the companies which make such professional products have offer very basic and very scaled down versions of their flagship products, far below the requirements of professionals, really only suited for amateur beginners.

    That pretty much sums the ipad "pro" - it is a product for "professional" amateurs :)

    iOS is a walled garden, apparently, because apple deems its "smart user base" too dumm to deserve freedom and flexibility. And professional apps need that much as professional users do. Even if there are professional apps, they sure as hell won't be available on the apple store, and would require to root your device and void its warranty so it can be used.

    "but everyone who thinks that the surface pro 4 is even remotely in the same category of device, is utterly smoking crack"

    DO'H, of course they are not, the surface pro is a real professional computer inside a tablet, the ipad is a hipster/child toy inside a tablet.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Sunday, January 24, 2016 - link

    This is exactly the same type of argumentation that tried to "prove" that personal computers had to be "useless toys" – no, that graphical user interfaces were only for "useless toys" – no, that those silly laptop computers could only be "useless toys" – no, that touchscreen smartphones without hardware keyboards could only be "useless toys"...

    And now, after all these prior predictions have already crashed and burned, tablets are your last and only remaining hope that your oversimplified conclusions from your own preconceived notions might maybe not share the same fate.

    Good luck with that! B-)
    Reply
  • darwiniandude - Monday, February 29, 2016 - link

    iOS and OS X are low latency end to end, with built in audio hardware. Windows is not. iPhone 5s, iPad Air1, iPad mini 2, onwards, can record from 32 simultaneous inputs onto separate tracks with ease till their disk is full. And it's 100% solid. There is much capable and professionally usable iOS music software. And robust plugin and Interapp audio communication logins. Reply
  • jlabelle - Thursday, January 28, 2016 - link

    "the surface pro 4 (a mildly crappy laptop with a touchscreen that makes a bad, thick tablet and an underpowered, overheated laptop)"

    Strange way of seeing things when the surface Pro 4 is pretty much : 1/ the thinner laptop existing
    2/ the higher end version is like several order of magnitude more powerful than the MacBook and 3/ it has the same Intel processor as most over high end laptop and overheat the same way and it has an option of having a fanless / staying cold core M if this is your thing
    Reply
  • darwiniandude - Monday, February 29, 2016 - link

    Music applications iOS is the only game in town. Windows doesn't have low latency except if you use external audio hardware. Many PC notebooks even then cannot achieve low latency due to design flaws. A client recently bought an AUD$3500 Alienware purely for running Tracktor. Spent 6 months trying everything including reverting to Win7. It just crackles and jumps. I worked in the music industry building audio PCs for 8 years and I had a look over the system and tried everything. No dice. I told him it won't work. He bought an AUD$2500 MacBook Pro, installed Tracktor, works faultlessly. Of course.

    The issue here is more the Alienware craptop where audio is no priority at all, than Windows. Windows has the horrible burden of trying to support every combination of everything. I know this. But for some professional allocations there is no way I'd ever run a Windows system anymore.

    Look at anyone performing live with music. It's all Mac / iOS. The sound engineer guys will use a PC laptop because of the old editor utilities for audio equipment needing RS232 etc, but the music you hear is coming off Apple gear.
    Reply
  • leemond - Thursday, February 11, 2016 - link

    you took the words right out of my mouth! throughout reading this article i cannot fail to see the thinly veiled adoration for Apple held by the author and it is telling in the way he wields the pseudo negatives statements against the product. i was expecting an unbiased fair appraisal of this product but what i got was the Apple store salesman dressed up as an annnandtech reviewer. This product is simply two things the original iPad is not, 1) bigger and 2) has a pencil....not revolutionary and also not that impressive a feat....apple have lost the wow factor that won them so many new customers and they only have these fanboys left to applaud fanatically like a north Korean Army officer listening to KJU.. Reply
  • Constructor - Friday, February 12, 2016 - link

    Your own post positively reeks of a fanaticism which is simply absent in the article outside of what you're projecting into it from yourself.

    Major and remarkable features are:
    • A highly advanced CPU which has effectively closed the gap to Intel's Core i architecture at comparable TDP.
    • The Pencil which is at the very least among the best on the market.
    • A crazy-good speaker system for its size class which actually makes listening to music or watching movies enjoyable.

    Beyond that, yes, it is "just" a bigger, faster, better iPad, but as long as you're not looking for an awkward hybrid device, that's actually a plus.
    Reply
  • jlabelle - Thursday, January 28, 2016 - link

    It is utterly non sense. W10 is not more or less "insecure loaded-with-spyware-at-the-factory desktop OS" as OS X.
    If you want to have the same "secure" experience as an iOS tablet, just install only applications from the Windows Store and it will be the same. If you want to use more powerful program or software that do not exist in the Store, you must like OS X take care of installing them from a reputable source. Nothing complicated.
    Also, this is also utterly ridicule to claim that there are no good Windows Store app. There was examples given on the previous pages. There are plenty and you know that. You have ven some which are still quite unique like Polarr or DrawboardPDF.
    I know Apple users have a hard time (and the reviewer as well) understanding that having an Apple tablet and an Apple laptop OS is even more a Frankenstein experience than having only ONE OS with ONE UI, able to run ALL type of applications and able to support ALL type of inputs so you can choose what is best for the task at end.
    People consider that EVERY tasks that you have to do with a tablet is best without keyboard or mouse or pen. This is simply not true. Typing a long text with the on-screen keyboard is an exercise in frustration.
    Also people consider that EVERY task on a laptop is best without touchscreen or pen. This is also wrong. Annoting a PDF, surfing the web, manipulation by hand an object of a webpage is much easier with touch or pen.
    Having to go back and forth between 2 different devices that have silos input method IS what is a Frankenstein experience in my view.
    And last point, the Surface has provided a "paper and pencil" experience since 3 years, much prior Apple and is still providing a top notch experience, with a pen autonomy of more than 1 year, interchangeable tip and great performance.
    Reply
  • MaxIT - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - link

    Wrong because you said so ?
    Surface are just half baked solutions to a non existent problem. There are tasks where I require a tablet and tasks where I require a notebook. I don't want an half baked solution not good as a tablet nor good as a notebook....
    Reply

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