iPad Pro Review: The Super Maxi-Tablet the iPad Should Have Always Been

By Gizmodo Australia on at

Goddamn. I mean…goddamn. When you look at the iPad Pro, it looks ridiculous. You’ll never find someone who isn’t flabbergasted by the sheer size. How could anyone ever love something this preposterously large? But when you stop fat-shaming the maxi-tablet and actually start using it, you’re almost instantly seduced by everything. Here's our full iPad Pro review.

What Is It?

The biggest iPad you’ve ever fucking seen in your life.

The iPad Pro has a beefed up Apple A9X processor as its beating heart, with 4GB of RAM coursing through its silicon. Unlike smaller iPads, it comes in three models: there’s a 32GB with Wi-Fi for £679, a 128GB Wi-Fi model for £799, followed by a 128GB with Wi-Fi and Cellular for £899. Ouch.

ipad pro review

The iPad Pro also comes with its own line of accessories — sold separately, natch. There’s the new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard which looks like a traditional Smart Cover but hides a nifty new keyboard, priced at £139, and the new precision art tool called the Apple Pencil, which comes in at £79.

What’s Good?

We usually start with how good the screen is on devices like the iPad, and the Pro is no exception. That 12.9-inch 2732×2048 screen is gorgeous to look at, and took a whole lot of engineering wizardry to fit inside a chassis that tiny. The whole thing looks and feels incredible, and weighs about as much as the prehistoric first-gen iPad does despite all the fancy new improvements.

When you first pick up the iPad Pro, you’re baffled by the size and the beauty of the design. After that, you’re sort of left wondering what the iPad Pro could be used for. Watching Netflix and reading magazines, only bigger? Sure, but that’s a bit of a reductive analysis.

The biggest draw cards the iPad Pro has are as the best mobile productivity solution Apple has ever released, and as an insanely capable graphics tablet for designers and artists.

iOS has actually come an insanely long way in the last few years. Rather than be a platform that’s designed solely to live on pocketable phablets and music players, it has graduated to something a grown-up could squeeze a tune out of. In a way, iOS has never looked better on the iPad Pro. So much so that’s it’s weird to think that an iPod Touch and the iPad Pro pretty much run the same operating system.

iOS finally supports split-screen multi-tasking on the iPad Pro in a glorious fashion. Because there’s so much screen real estate, you don’t lose anything by dragging two apps next to each other side-by-side. To be honest, it feels like you’ve got two iPad Air 2 tablets staring up at you in portrait when you split the screen right down the middle. That screen real estate bump also feels great when you need to drag up the keyboard.

iOS packs in a full-size on-screen keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro display, which instantly makes it a fantastic productivity tool. Familiar key spacing means that you instantly reduce (or eliminate altogether) the risk of keystroke errors. It doesn’t really even obscure the workspace you’ve got in front of you now, either thanks to how much screen space you’ve got going. The iPad used to be the device I’d write a post on if there was literally nothing else around, but the iPad Pro is now something I could see myself using every day as a lightweight, long-life replacement to my laptop.

Speaking of battery, the iPad Pro — despite its enormous screen, thirsty processor and great specs — still has 10 hours of battery life as quoted by Apple. Obviously, that’s a bit of a stretch in the real world. We managed to get up to 8 hours out of it, which is still impressive for something this thin and light.

The iPad is also still a great tool for content consumption as well as creation. The biggest improvement on the massive new Apple tablet? The sound.

Apple has thrown in four speakers as opposed to just one on the new iPad Pro, just because. The speakers are engineered in such a way that they genuinely feel impressive when you hold the tablet, as well as sounding great. The four speakers — one for each corner of the device — have their homes machined into the device for stability, before having the actual speaker hardware dropped in and sealed off with a carbon fibre cap. It’s going to make repairing the thing an absolute nightmare, but it yields loud, crisp and forceful sound. It has more bass than any of the other iPad or iPhone speaker systems we’ve tested before, and it’s insanely loud (no distortion) at top volume.

ipad pro review

Do you remember when you picked up the iPad for the first time to look at it? Like the very first time. I’m not talking about the iPad Air 2 or whatever the latest new one you held was. I’m talking about the very first one.

The first time I saw it I was in my old job, and the guy across from me bought one and was so smug about it. I got hands on and it blew me away. Of course, the original iPad looks practically prehistoric compared to the lightning performance and design of the new models.

Despite the new tech built into subsequent iPads, however, none of them have managed to re-capture that feeling of wonder you had when holding this massive new piece of tech.

In fact, since then, phones have got bigger and bigger and really made us wonder why we’d ever need an iPad again. iPad revenues have been declining for Apple, and it needed to do something big to recapture people’s imagination.

Apple’s designers took that a bit literally, and came up with an iPad that features a massive 12.9-inch screen. Holy JESUS it’s big, and it represents the best thing that has probably happened to iPad since the first one came out: it delights, bewilders and baffles you at how good it feels to use.

It makes you feel like you’re using an iPad for the very first time all over again. You’ve never felt something so big be so elegant.

The iPad Air 2 impressed us because it was finally a device meant for reading, note taking and gaming that was thinner and lighter than a book or magazine could ever be. That experience has translated to the iPad Pro: it’s massive, but it’s so light and streamlined that you feel it could replace everything you currently use. It’s more convenient than your tablet, smarter than your A4 notebook and more beautiful than your current iPad could ever be.

It really comes to life when you use split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture movie mode in iOS 9, to be honest. It blows your mind when you see it working for the first time. It’s what the iPad should have always been.

What’s Bad?

ipad pro review

The iPad Pro is fantastic because of its size, but that bulk is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s finally good for letting you get stuff done, but by building it big and beautiful, Apple has relegated this new iPad to the couch when it comes to consuming content.

Unless you’re going to a cafe with ample table space, you’re never going to want to take the iPad Pro out to breakfast with you so you can read the headlines. It’s too big. You’ll spill your morning brew all over it, and then where will you be? Asking for a napkin to wipe off your impractical gadget, that’s what.

No, the iPad Pro isn’t something you’ll want to use absolutely everywhere. It sacrifices portability for productivity, and as long as you realise that going in, you won’t have much of a problem.

The size of the iPad Pro also means you start to question how capable iOS is at this sort of scale. Sure, it’s great on portable devices like the iPhone 6S and the iPad Mini, but on a massive device designed to straddle the mobility and laptop categories, it can be a little problematic.

For example, notification banners probably shouldn’t have a place on a device of this size. You’ve got the screen real estate and the ability to multi-task in split screen, why are we still poking in at the top of the screen where all of our controls are with notification banners? Bringing a Mac OS X-style ribbon that pops in from the top right hand side of the screen would be infinitely better. If you’re searching in mobile Spotlight, it’d be great to be able to key down the list of search results with your arrow keys, but sadly you can’t.

Split-screen multi-tasking is also insanely helpful, but not quite there for all apps. I found a few apps I couldn’t snap in while I was writing this review, which was kind of a drag.

iOS scaling also becomes a bit of an issue on a 12.9-inch display. Apple has a clever API that works to upscale textures without the developers having to ship new ones inside app packages, but even that nifty bit of kit can struggle in places on the massive iPad Pro.

Most apps look great, and will start to improve over time as developers adjust their apps for the new device, but when it comes to reading text, results can be a bit hit and miss, especially when it comes to magazine apps. Text can go from being fuzzy to beautifully clear between just a few different apps or pages, and that’s a bit of an obnoxious experience.

The iPad Pro is also expensive. Like, really expensive.

Sadly, the exchange rate means that we’re getting slugged almost £700 for the entry-level, 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPad Pro, with the keyboard and pencil gear costing extra. If you wanted to get the Apple iPad Pro with Cellular, an Apple Keyboard and an Apple Pencil, you’re looking at £1,117. That’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display money. It’s new MacBook money. Hell, it’s Surface Pro 4/Surface Book money.

When you consider bang for buck as far as replacing your laptop is concerned, a traditional laptop like the MacBook, or — at a stretch considering how different they are — the Surface Pro 4 are clear winners, which is a shame considering how long we’ve been waiting for the so-called “big iPad”.

Now that we’ve mentioned the elephant in the room, it’s probably time to talk about it. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the strongest competition the iPad Pro could ever ask for.

Microsoft has been working at this convertible tablet game for five years now, and it’s starting to get really good at it. Like, really good. The Surface Pro 4 gets a strong thumbs-up from us, and it has a few things that the iPad Pro simply doesn’t.

First of all, I don’t care how far iOS has come: it’s still an operating system that can’t fully replace your laptop. It has certainly come a long way, meaning that now it’s actually something I’d now consider ditching Mac OS X for on my MacBook, but it’s still missing a few key things, including full support for file formats, browser extensions, unlicensed apps, and deep access to a file system (which still shouldn’t be written off in 2015).

Because Microsoft packs Windows 10 into the Surface Pro — an operating system that’s designed to straddle desktop and laptop — it’s just ever so slightly more versatile for those on the go.

ipad pro review

The iPad Pro is fantastic as long as everyone is living inside the Apple ecosystem (Apple TV, Mac OS X, iPhone and more iPads), but not everyone in an office is these days. It’s sad to say, but Apple still has history working against it in this instance.

The iPad Pro is also missing a mouse/trackpad. iOS is perfectly designed for touch — unlike Windows — but it can be a little weird using something this large and not having a pointer. That’s a personal preference thing, mind you.


The iPad Pro is one of the first iPads to pack in its own stylus with the Apple Pencil and its own keyboard with the Smart Keyboard. Both sold separately, these gadgets go miles towards increasing the iPad Pro’s appeal to niche audiences of artists and productivity junkies alike.

Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

Third-party manufacturers have been making keyboards and keyboard cases for the iPad for years now. With the arrival of the massive new iPad Pro, Apple thought it would try its hand at making a first-party keyboard for the shiny, new, work-friendly tablet.

It’s sold separately to the new iPad, and will cost you £139.

What’s Good?

So what does Apple bring to the table with its Smart Keyboard that other third-party manufacturers haven’t been able to in recent years?

Well, for starters it connects to your iPad Pro in a whole new way. The iPad Pro packs a new port on its left hand-side edge that pumps power and data into the new accessory, meaning you can connect to it without having to power up the Bluetooth radio.

That “port” is also pretty inconspicuous when it isn’t being used, blending in with the back cover’s original colouring and sitting quietly as three recessed dots that sit level with the chassis.

One of the issues with other keyboard covers on gadgets like the Surface Pro 3 and Pro 4, is that they make the whole affair a little thicker than it should be. The Smart Keyboard certainly increases the overall bulk of the iPad Pro, but not in a way that’s distracting or annoying.

Apple have come up with some baffling origami (that can take a few goes to figure out) to get the Smart Keyboard to fold up onto the screen. The fold of the keyboard means that you don’t have to have the keys against the screen leaving annoying marks. It’s a great design.

The keyboard packs in the same layout as the physical keyboard you’re used to on a MacBook or iMac computer, so you’re not about to make any mistakes because of a shifted orientation.

You also get your MacBook-style Control, Option and Command keys for cursor navigation, highlighting and even keyboard shortcuts.

There’s a decent amount of key travel on the Smart Keyboard. Pushing each key feels a bit different to the recessed MacBook 2015 keyboard as the Smart Keyboard doesn’t have any in-key switches, just dome switches under each button. It almost feels like a cross between the half-travel keyboard of the MacBook and the full-travel keyboard of the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. It can take some getting used to, but you’re rewarded along the way with a nice tapping sound thanks to the fabric material used to suspend the keys.

What’s Bad?

ipad pro review

The Smart Keyboard is a great way to interact with the iPad Pro for productivity junkies, but it’s not without issue.

First of all, there’s no trackpad. iOS doesn’t exactly support a free-flowing mouse cursor, instead still relying fully on touch for on-screen navigation. That makes the iPad Pro and its Smart Keyboard a little confusing. I’ll admit, coming off the Surface Pro 4 and moving onto the Smart Keyboard did see me reaching for a trackpad that just isn’t there. It takes a minute to rewire your brain not to go straight for the mouse.

Other omissions? There’s no Escape key. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of the last time I actually used the ESC key at the top-right of the keyboard, but I almost guarantee someone will complain about it not actually being there.

The Smart Keyboard folds out to support your iPad Pro on a massive new Smart Cover-esque stand, while locking in above the keyboard deck to activate. The Whole thing leans back at around 120-degrees, and it’s comfortable to use both on your lap and on your desk.

The problems arise when you want to use it in another configuration. This was an issue Microsoft ran into on early-Surface models: the angle at which you use it isn’t going to suit everyone all of the time. For example: when you’re working in bed, the Smart Keyboard has to sit flat, so lying flat isn’t an option.

So while it’s very lapable in work mode, it’s not about to translate as a stand you can use in the bedroom or on the lounge.

Should You Buy the Smart Keyboard?

Before you go and buy the Smart Keyboard with your iPad Pro, take a second to think about both how much you’ll use it (the iPad Pro already has a great on-screen keyboard that’s the same dimensions as a physical keyboard) and where you’ll use it.

If it’s a tool for the office, a desk or on your lap out on the road, it’s great and you should absolutely indulge your inner-productivity junkie and tack the Smart Keyboard onto the purchase price of an iPad Pro (Godspeed, millionaires). However, if you want to use this as a Smart Cover first and a keyboard second, save yourself the cash. The Smart Cover has a few different configurations and is slightly more convenient when you want to just use the iPad on a stand rather than with a keyboard.

Either way, this is our new favourite way to use the iPad Pro.

Apple Pencil for iPad Pro

What Is It?

A fancy reinvention of pen and paper for the new iPad Pro.

What’s Good?

Look, I’m not much of an artist. We’ve given it to a few graphic designers over the last few days to test it, and a few thoughts will follow below.

What I’ll say first up is that this is a fantastic-looking piece of tech for designers, sketchers and doodlers. It’s a delightful bit of kit that has so much going on under the surface in the way of tilt sensors, accelerometers and all the gear under the screen that boosts pencil pressure recognition and angle that I’m flabbergasted it works and still comes in for under £100.

Here’s what our graphic designer at Gizmodo thinks:

It’s so life-like. The mark-making is on point and mimics real life so well, that quite often I tried to use my finger to smudge the pencil marks as I will often do when drawing on paper.

The pen is nice and heavy in my hand, which I love. There is such ease of movement. I am able to do quick, flowing form sketches on this device. The movement and energy of my marks are comparable to the energy of life drawing on paper.

What’s Bad?

Honestly, from a non-artist’s perspective, I can say that it’s super disappointing I can’t pick this up and pair it with every iOS device. FiftyThree make the Pencil, which is a great note-taking tool for those who want to write on their iPhone. Apple makes a much better Pencil, and all I want to do is jot notes down on my iPhone 6S Plus, with it, but sadly, I can’t.

Here’s what our designer thinks isn’t so hot:

I miss the feel of texture. I like to press hard as well, so at some point I’d be worried about shattering the screen. In that way it does separate myself from the device, as I’m aware of the possibility of shattering or at least scratching the screen, whereas with pen and paper I have much more freedom.

I also thought it was strange that the pencil doesn’t colour blend when I layer colour. For example, if I layer yellow over blue in Apple’s beefed up Notes app, I should get green. I mean, surely this should happen, even though it’s digital imitating analogue? If I layered a 50% yellow div and a 50% blue div in HMTL5 the outcome IS A GREEN DIV. It’s shattering my basic knowledge of colour theory.

Should You Buy It?

This is such a fantastic tool for artists who want to sketch while on the move, but I feel like its functionality is limited to just that target audience (if you discount its appeal as a tool for distracting children from drawing on your walls). However, I’m sure a very talented digital painter would be able to make some solid artwork with these new functions. For the average person who likes to sketch, I reckon it’s perfect.

Should You Buy the iPad Pro?

Back to the heart of the matter: should you buy the iPad Pro?

As a tablet for the couch? Yes, but it’s a bit expensive and probably a waste of its potential though. The biggest question here isn’t whether or not you should buy it as a productivity tablet. The biggest question is whether or not you should (or even could) buy the iPad Pro to replace your ordinary laptop.

Apple has long since been on a journey to realise its “post-PC world” vision laid out by Steve Jobs when the iPad was first introduced. As someone who would love nothing more than to divorce my laptop in favour of a slinky tablet, I’ve been trying to enter said post-PC world for many years with no success. The apps weren’t ready, the battery was never long enough and the accessories weren’t ready for primetime. Actually, the whole experience of doing your daily workload on a tablet felt like a stupid proposition.

The iPad Pro, however, is the first device I genuinely feel like I could swap my laptop for and be satisfied.

It’s not just a consumption device anymore. It’s not just for Netflix, notes and social networking anymore. The iPad Pro is here to help you get shit done. And that’s about more than just the tablet.

The beautiful new accessories — like the Apple Pencil and the beautiful Smart Keyboard — are just as capable as the gorgeous and powerful tablet itself.

But that doesn’t mean that the whole iPad range is as lucky as the Pro. No. Until those clever, new accessories find their way into smaller iPads like the Air and Mini range, the iPad Pro will be the only tablet Apple makes that’s ready for this sort of productivity punishment.

For many, the recommendation to buy the iPad Pro comes as a bit of a slap in the face. By “many”, of course I mean Microsoft users who have had four generations of Surface to realise that the concept of a portable tablet with a clever keyboard is a Good Thing.

The existence of the Surface Pro 4 doesn’t make the iPad Pro any less of a feat. Nor does the existence of the iPad Pro make the Surface Pro 4 any less of a marvel. The two are incredible pieces of hardware that are insanely well matched. The arrival of the two at the same time signals that we’re in a new era of platform conflict. We’ve finally hit that post-PC world, and Microsoft and Apple are both still here to fight the next phase of the battle.

So, should you buy the iPad Pro? If you can afford to replace your laptop with this shiny piece of portable kit, you absolutely should. It’s the perfect fusion of the world’s best content consumption device alongside a new and exciting way to get stuff done in the iOS ecosystem.

The iPad Pro in a way is Apple turning a corner: it’s more than just a tablet. It’s Apple’s first proper 2-in-1.