Apple introduced the new iPad Pro with a spectacular series of statistics that made laptops seem like old news. More iPads are sold than any other company’s entire laptop lineup! The new iPad Pro with an eight-core A12X processor is faster than 92 percent of portable PCs sold today! The graphics performance is 1000 times faster than the first-generation iPad and now rivals an Xbox One S! It has a USB-C port that can drive 5K displays!
All of this data was used to support equally spectacular claims about what an iPad really is. It is a “magical piece of glass that can be anything you need it to be,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, adding that all that power is “going you can push what you can do on iPad, or on any computer, even further.” The overwhelming message was the the iPad is more powerful, more capable, and morethe futurethan any laptop — Apple’s own new MacBook Air included.
But computers are about more than just sales and processor specs: they’re about software. And the one thing Apple didn’t really change on the iPad Pro is iOS 12, which has all of the same capabilities and limitations iPad users have come to expect. Apple wants you to think that the iPad Pro is the future of computing, but if you’ve already used iOS 12 on an iPad Pro, you know exactly how you feel about that idea.
Apple gave me a completely maxed-out 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 1TB of storage, LTE, and the optional $199 Smart Keyboard Folio and $129 Apple Pencil to review. That makes for $2,227 of iPad Pro — more than all but one standard MacBook Pro configuration. It is impossible to look at a device this powerful and expensive and not expect it to replace a laptop for day-to-day work.
It’s also impossible to look at the iPad Pro and not be struck by its design. This is the first truly new Apple mobile hardware design in a long while, and it has a deeper connection to the MacBook Pro than the iPhone or previous iPads. Instead of rounded corners and soft shapes, the iPad Pro is all hard corners and flat sides, with massive, asymmetrical antenna lines on the back and a huge camera bump. Most people I showed our space gray review unit to thought it looked cool, but I think it’s kind of brutal looking — almost like a reference design.
What you will not find anywhere is a headphone jack, which is a curious omission since so many iPads are used essentially as televisions, and so many pro media workflows demand low-latency audio monitoring. Apple put AirPods in the reviewer package, so the company isn’t being entirely shy about how it expects iPad Pro customers to solve this problem. (That’s now a total of $2,356 for this iPad, in case you’re keeping track.)
There are four sets of speakers —a tweeter and woofer in each corner — five microphones, and the new USB-C connector around the sides. Like everything about the new iPad Pro, that USB-C connector is both remarkably powerful and incredibly frustrating.
With one huge exception, most normal stuff you’d plug into a USB-C port works without fuss, and a bunch of other things work if you have an app that supports it. I tried a handful of USB-C hubs with an assortment of USB-A, HDMI, card readers, and Ethernet ports, and everything worked as intended. An extremely corporate Dell USB-C hub even let me plug an external display into the iPad over VGA, which was truly a vision of the future.
External displays work just like the old Lightning-to-HDMI adapter: the system will simply mirror the iPad Pro by default, but apps that support an extended screen can do different things. Keynote will use the external display as the presentation monitor and show you the next slide on the iPad, for example. Djay will show visualizers on the second screen. But most apps don’t do anything except mirror, so don’t get too excited about your crazy multiple-monitor iPad Pro rig just yet. All of this is exactly the same as the older iPad Pro, which supported external displays using a Lighting-to-HDMI dongle — the only real changes are that the new Pro can support up to 5K displays, and run a display simultaneously with other USB-C devices.
Keyboards worked. A USB microphone showed up in Garageband. You can plug a phone or Nintendo Switch into it and get up to 7.5 watts of power to charge them. (That’s not really enough for a Switch, by the way.) Apple supports both analog and digital audio out, so virtually all USB-C headphones and audio dongles work, a huge improvement over the Android ecosystem.
If you’re the sort of person who might spend over $2,000 on a maxed-out iPad Pro, you probably know exactly why you need one, what you’ll use it for, and whether it’s worth it to you. You’ll undoubtedly find the switch to USB-C convenient, the new Pencil to be much nicer, and the A12X to be a significant performance boost over previous iPads. You will get what you’re paying for.
But if you’re thinking about spending $799 on the cheapest 64GB 11-inch iPad Pro to replace your laptop, you should really ask yourself what you need a computer to do. There isn’t a single other tablet on the market that can compete with the raw hardware of the iPad Pro, and there aren’t many laptops that can either. But Apple’s approach to iOS is holding that hardware back in serious and meaningful ways, and while USB-C makes life with this new iPad Pro slightly easier, it still has the same basic capabilities and limitations of last year’s iPad Pro.
Is the new iPad Pro a stunning engineering achievement? Without question. Has Apple once again produced mobile hardware that puts the rest of the industry to shame when it comes to performance, battery life, and design? Yep. Is the iPad Pro the best, most capable iPad ever made? It certainly is.
But you know what? It’s still an iPad.
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