iPad Pro 12.9″ (Late 2015)

Rating:

Since its inception, the iPad has been this fantastic media consumption device. Portable, compact, simple enough to surf the web, watch movies, read books and comics, all in a great little form factor. The subsequent iPad Mini took this even further by shrinking the form factor, while still allowing for a great level of immersion for something the size of your average paperback novel.

While perfect for consumption, it was a little bit more difficult to create on the iPad or iPad Mini, which Apple recognized: say hello to the iPad Pro.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

The iPad Pro increased the size of the screen, packed in some high-performance internals, having it a battery that lasts for approximately 10 hours, as well as building some incredibly useful and functional accessories.

Hardware, Form Factor, and Usability

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

Digging down into the specifics: the iPad Pro has a 12.9″ touch screen display at 2732×2048 resolution, giving a pixel density of 264 ppi. On-device storage offerings include 32GB, 128GB, or 256GB (this review unit had 32GB), and is the only real way to differentiate between iPad Pro 12.9″ models, aside from being able to choose between Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular for the 128GB and 256GB models. Otherwise, the iPad Pro 12.9″ packs Apple’s latest A9X 2-core processor, clocked at 2.26GHz, an Apple M9 motion co-processor, a 3MB L2 cache, a PowerVR Series 7XT graphics card, and 4GB of RAM.

Aside from the mighty fast internals, the iPad Pro is one of the thinnest and lightest devices I have ever used, especially considering just how large this really is. For reference, I held both the detached Surface Book screen in one hand, and the iPad Pro in the other, and the difference was night and day in terms of weight and stability. Not surprising, given that the iPad Pro has a 12.9″ screen but only weighs an extremely svelte 1.57 pounds.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

And that display. That display that rivals existing laptops on the market and even beats some in terms of resolution and pixel density. A screen that feels small enough to carry in your backpack, yet large enough to get immersed in a fiction novel or comic book. At such a high resolution and picture quality, the iPad Pro is amazing for kicking back on the couch and watching YouTube videos or movies and television shows on Netflix, liking your friends photos on Facebook or Instagram, and even just reading through your favourite authors on Medium.

The iPad Pro 12.9″ is great when held in your hands, laid flat on a table, or leaning on your lap while on the couch, but this review unit included the Apple Smart Keyboard, as well as the Apple Pencil, and both of these accessories shift the level of usability and functionality to the iPad Pro.

Apple Smart Keyboard

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

The Apple Smart Keyboard is a curious accessory: building on the success and ingenuity of their Smart Cover, Apple has managed to embed a wireless keyboard into that same Smart Cover. And that’s not even the most magical part about it: the Apple Smart Keyboard has a paper-thin sheet of nylon with metal embedded into the cover itself, allowing for a two-way flow of power and data, without any wires, without any bluetooth connectivity, and without any need to charge a portable keyboard.

What.

The Smart Keyboard is exclusive to the iPad Pro because of the magnetic connection strip on the left-hand side where keyboard and iPad meet, and is how the keyboard draws its power, as well as how the iPad Pro receives input on which keys are being pressed.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

Being part of the cover, the iPad Pro rests on the folded triangle of the cover as it connects to the keyboard, allowing it to be propped up into an angle that is similar to how a laptop looks while in use, but also allows for the magnetic connection to remain active and strong. When not needed, it folds up and acts as a cover for the iPad Pro itself, which is actually one of my gripes about this accessory: it’s on the thick side. Due to the particular way the keyboard is folded when the cover is closed, it creates a raised portion, almost a bulge, that looks rather unsightly and feels a little less portable compared to the original iPad Smart Cover. In addition, the angle when seated in the Smart Keyboard dock is not adjustable, and forces you to adjust your seating position rather than the device itself.

On a positive note: the keys and keyboard itself does feel rather rugged and durable, given that it looks and feels like a keyboard, but without any of the mechanical keys or protruding wires that most keyboards would be known for.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

The Apple Smart Keyboard really does make the iPad Pro feel like a completely different animal. Before I unwrapped the keyboard and attached it, I was familiar with the touch screen typing required for the iPad and I was generally decent with it, having owned iPads in the past, and could achieve relatively good typing speeds with just the touch screen keyboard. However, once the Smart Keyboard was attached, it honestly felt like I was typing on my laptop’s keyboard, with minor adjustment required for the lower profile of the keys themselves. The keys feel almost as satisfying as a full keyboard when pressing them in, and touch typing on them feels easy and intuitive. However, my favourite fact about the Apple Smart Keyboard is that a lot of OSX keyboard shortcuts become available with the Smart Keyboard, which is incredibly useful as a daily OSX user.

How effective is the keyboard? After 20 minutes of using it to write a few paragraphs, I decided to write this entire review you’re reading on the iPad Pro with the Apple Smart Keyboard. Top to bottom, using the Smart Keyboard in concert with the iPad Pro 12.9″.

Apple Pencil

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

The Apple Pencil is a bluetooth-connected, wireless stylus that looks and feels like an Apple design: sleek, minimalistic, solid heft and weight, and very few lines found anywhere. The tip is replaceable in case of wear and tear, while a Lightning charging connector can be found on the other end, underneath a magnetic cap, which ensures a tight seal and a strong connection.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

After a brief set of instructions on how to connect the Apple Pencil to the iPad Pro, I fired up a few drawing apps to test out functionality.

Let me say this: the Apple Pencil feels like it opens up a different world of capabilities on the iPad Pro. You can use it to navigate through menus and tap on icons, you can use it to scroll up and down on a website, and you can use it to handwrite notes inside of the Notes app, if you just need to do a quick scribble.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

More importantly however, is that the true power really shows up when you’re using an app that fully supports the Apple Pencil. I used Adobe Photoshop Sketch for this image, which allowed me to create light strokes, thicker strokes, light to thick to light strokes without lifting the Pencil, and even do shading strokes, without having to switch brushes or tools in between them. You achieve this by using the appropriate amount of pressure while drawing with the Apple Pencil, or tilting the Pencil to the side to do shading.

While I am no artist, I cannot ignore just what this means for anyone that has a decent drawing bone in their body: illustrations, sketches, and digital painting have all become significantly easier thanks to the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro, and this is a great thing. People have made efforts to showcase just how the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro has really taken their illustrations to the next level.

What is it for? Who is it for?

The iPad Pro initially felt like a device that was a larger version of a general media consumption and creation tool. The larger screen makes it easier to remain immersed and focused on your work, and the performance of the internals allows for smoother and faster playback, multitasking, and manipulation of media.

However, taking a closer look at it, I feel like it covers two very different audiences: people looking for a portable computer (possibly as a replacement), and serious artists who want a different approach to their work.

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

Those looking for a very portable machine, and don’t ask for too much for their day-to-day computer usage, can be quite satisfied with what the iPad Pro has to offer. Even more so, now that the 9.7″ iPad Pro has become available. The iPad Pro, while more expensive than your run-of-the-mill, generic laptops, also comes with a higher level of performance than most, and is even possibly more portable with a very different degree of interactivity available at your fingertips. While storage and traditional usability is less available to the iPad Pro, it also becomes the perfect companion for any and all occasions, given its light weight, familiar form factor, and very powerful accessories. Once you attach a Smart Keyboard onto it, you essentially have an Apple laptop that can do practically anything that you ask it to.

More importantly, the iPad Pro has potentially shaken up the world of professional illustration. After quite a bit of discussion with several artist friends, it has become clear that the iPad Pro, in combination with the Apple Pencil, has created a portable and very powerful and capable alternative to the traditional desktop pen tablet setup for illustration and design. You can pick up the iPad Pro and take it for a walk, you can start drawing on it anywhere at anytime, and there are a multitude of apps available for professionals who want to create real work. Apps like Procreate and Adobe Sketch take full advantage of the Apple Pencil’s capabilities and the iPad Pro’s performance and form factor to allow for a truly portable workstation. Creativity shouldn’t be chained to a big and heavy screen situated at an office table, it should be taken anywhere and everywhere, like what the iPad Pro offers.

In addition, the multitude of apps available in the iOS App Store, especially those focused on iPads, really have expanded the capabilities and functionality available to the iPad Pro in general. Apps like Quick Fit are making it easy to get into a daily workout routine, while apps like Duolingo and ALEC are creating fun and interactive ways to learn new languages. Apps like Yummly make it easy to track and shop for healthy recipes, and Medly lets you build some seriously impressive tunes quickly and easily.

One of the real strengths of an Apple iOS product has is that there are so many apps for so many different things, that you can do anything and everything you want and/or need to do. And that’s an incredibly powerful offering.

As powerful as that offering is, however, you do run into one of the largest issues with viewing an iPad Pro through the lens of a possible replacement computer: you’re still on iOS. This isn’t your typical desktop experience, and that has to be recognized if you’re considering it as your next primary device. You won’t get a traditional file system, you don’t have a mouse or cursor available, and how you move from app to app is very different than your traditional Windows or OSX flow. If your day-to-day needs don’t change or become negatively affected by this change, then the iPad Pro is an amazing device to consider.

The Bottom Line

iPad Pro 12.9" Review

The iPad Pro is a fantastic device.

It feels like a great evolution to a very strong product line, that is moving in the right direction. High performance, fantastic screen, a battery that keeps going, accessories that expand its functionality, and a ridiculous number of apps available for doing anything and everything.

If you’re looking for a general purpose device, that is very portable and has a sleek form factor, then the iPad Pro is for you. If you’re looking for a brand new way to take your illustrations anywhere and everywhere, with an extremely powerful accessory in the Apple Pencil and several professional-grade apps at your disposal, then the iPad Pro is for you.

This product is perfect for: people who want a powerful and portable device, that is great for general, day-to-day activities, or serious, professional-grade level illustration.

Key things to be aware of: on the pricier side, especially with accessories thrown in. Not a traditional computing experience, if you’re looking to replace your existing computers.

Final review score: 5. The iPad Pro is a fantastic device. Portable, performant, durable, and highly functional, the iPad Pro delivers on all fronts.

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Jon Lim

Jon Lim is a professional developer, writer, and an avid technologist. He has written creatively for the past 16 years, and professionally for 4 years.

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