The iPad Pro is a breakthrough device. With its generous RAM, fast CPU and GPU, USB 3, a gigantic display, multiple stereo speakers, Apple Pencil and Bluetooth-free keyboard, all combined with iOS 9 features, it sets a new path forward for iPads. Here's my report on my first weekend with this fabulous new iPad.
Image credit: Apple
For starters, I"m not going to tire (or dazzle) you with specifications because, while the hardware is impressive, there are many more important things to know about Apple's newest iPad. So, instead of a feature list, which you can find amongst the myriad of reviews, I'm going to tell you about my out of the box reactions.
- It's amazingly thin and light for its size. It weighs only a smidgen more than the original iPad from 2010.
- Once you fire up a movie from any source, the display and speakers suddenly make you realize that iPad is the full realization of what an iPad should be. The previous 9.7-inch models were a shadow, a promise of something better, yet unfulfilled.
- The technology to make an iPad this big, thin and powerful probably had to wait until Apple nailed the iPad Air 2 first. So it's an evolutionary product.
- The visual impact of various apps, especially things like the Apple Videos app, Netflix, Amazon video, Sky Safari (sky chart) and even Safari (and now, Firefox) is stunning. It's as if a clipboard had magically come to life as an unfettered window to the universe, borrowed from the bridge of the starship Enterprise.
- I looked at a magazine (Aviation Week & Space Technology) in Zinio, and it was amazing. Glorious. This iPad might well take me back to reading digital magazines. That didn't work out for me before on a 9.7-inch display.
- The temptation and allure of using it in landscape mode with split screen is a heady experience and portends even more capability to be unleashed in iOS 10.
- It's fast. Previously I used an iPad Air from 2013 with 802.11n and a mere A7 CPU. Despite the many more pixels to manage in the iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), 801.11ac, 4 GB of RAM and this display throw web pages up for viewing with pleasing speed.
- After an intensive weekend with the iPad Pro, I feel considerable disdain for the iPad Air (handed down to my wife). It seems awkwardly small, and one wonders how one ever lived with such a limited iPad.
Balance and Setting
Despite being thin and light, this iPad feels considerably different when held with one hand. With an iPad Air or iPad mini, the human hand is firmly in physical control of the device. However, the iPad Pro, being 12 inches (30 cm) across feels a gravitational torque that requires a firm grip. It's best held onto firmly with two hands when walking around. It does take some getting used to.
While all previous iPads could be placed just about anywhere, thrown about casually if you will, the iPad Pro wants to have its own dedicated place when not on your lap. When combined with either an Apple Smart Keyboard or the Logitech Create keyboard (which I bought), it wants to sit in its own space on a desktop. Make some room. Perhaps mindful of this, Apple has supplied a longer than typical Lightning cable: 6.5 ft (2 meters.)
Next to my 12-inch MacBook. The iPad Pro and Logitech Create keyboard dwarf it.
The virtual keyboard also feels unleashed. By that, I mean that a virtual keyboard on a 9.7-inch iPad, in relation to the size of a typical adult human hand, had to make compromises. The iPad Pro keyboard has the space to feel and look more like a regular MacBook/Air/Pro keyboard.
At last, a decent virtual keyboard. Finally, I can use two hands.
After testing in my local Apple store, I didn't like the feel of the keyboard on the Apple Smart Keyboard. It's awful, just about as bad as the one found on the Microsoft Surface Pro series. My intention is to put this iPad to work, and to do that I need a typist's keyboard. The Logitech Create keyboard, while not as nice as the one on my 2015 MacBook, is very good indeed. And it's backlit.
However, beware. The push-through areas for the sleep and volume buttons are so stiff, it requires a massive push to activate the buttons. Unless you have very strong fingers, this is not the keyboard you were looking for, and Logitech needs to fix this immediately.
The overwhelming feeling I got from the iPad Pro is that the hardware completely surpasses the capabilities of iOS 9. That's natural thanks to the timing of each product. It'll require iOS 10, 11 and beyond to extract the full potential from this iPad that's generally in the class of the Apple MacBook, more or less.
I found myself gravitating towards the landscape mode so I could enjoy split screen and two apps side-by-side. It's refreshing to feel like Apple is making serious progress, at last, with the evolution of the iPad.
I noted with glee that the Lightning port is capable of USB 3 speeds, however, Apple only supplies a USB 2-class cable at this time.
Speaker and Sensors
I've been complaining, in print, about the speakers on my iPads ever since Apple started shipping iPads. While the iPad Air made the leap to stereo, the volume, sense of stereo separation and the direction of the sound were lacking. This MacAlly case for the iPad Air, which I reviewed, has sound reflectors that bring the sound forward, and it was a feature that allowed me to endure the Air's terrible speakers.
With the iPad Pro, there are four speakers and the output according to Apple, is three times the previous level. Gone are the days when you'd rest an iPad Air in your lap and the sound would be muffled. And the speakers are smart. Whether in landscape or portrait mode, the top speakers provide the treble and the bottom two provide the bass.
Like my iPhone 6s, I was pleased to see that this iPad includes a barometer. I bring that up because, regrettably, some observers have made fun of the iPads for having a camera. But the real use of that forward facing iSight camera comes into its glory for geodesy and sextant apps on which a virtual sky is overlaid with the camera view.
Astronomy, sextant apps, virtual sky and other similar apps go beyond
just casual photography with the iSIght camera.
As I've said before, the sensors, the display size, and the speed will make this a perfect tool for military mapping, real estate, flight operations in the cockpit, aircraft maintenance, business presentations and creative design, especially with the Apple Pencil—which I have not yet been able to purchase.
This iPad Pro is the beginning of a new breed of iPads. With fabulous hardware, a display and audio that fulfills the destiny of a personal tablet, and the prospect of future iOS generations that can exploit the hardware, we've reached, I believe, an inflection point. While the iPad mini is perfect for certain kinds of mobility use cases, and the iPad Air series will be sufficient for many, Apple has given us a foretaste of the future of the iPad and launched it with style in this excellent iPad Pro.