Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) review: More pricey, but practically perfect
When it first launched in 2015, the iPad Pro was a big departure for Apple’s tablet – literally big, yes, but also the first device from Apple for some time which felt like it had been designed from the ground up with business in mind. Plenty of companies use Macs, iPhones and the older iPads, but the iPad Pro felt more like an executive device than a consumer one.
This year, Apple has updated the iPad Pro – not radically, but subtly – and it has introduced a new 10.5-inch model as well. The new versions come with a powerful A10X Fusion chip, a new Retina display with a feature called ProMotion, which automatically adjusts refresh rate depending on what you’re using the tablet for, and iOS 11, which will completely change the way you use your iPad Pro.
12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) review: Design
Beyond those key updates, however, this is very much the same tablet as before and it still has all the hallmarks of an Apple tablet. The front is all display, surrounded by narrow bezels on the longer sides and wider ones at top and bottom. A camera lens peeps out from the centre at the top and the home button with Touch ID capabilities nestles at the bottom – or the right-hand side if you happen to be using it attached to the Smart Keyboard accessory.
Every other detail, almost, is the same as on the smaller-screened Apple tablets. Power button on the top edge: check. Volume up and down buttons on the right edge: check. Whacking great Apple logo on the middle of the back: check. On the Wi-Fi and cellular model – plastic stripe on the back and SIM card slot on the right edge: check and check. Single loudspeaker on bottom edge: oh, hold on.
Instead of one speaker grille, or even two, the iPad Pro has four speakers, with two on the top and two on the bottom edge. There’s one other difference: on the left edge, three small circles sit innocuously in the middle. These form the Smart Connector, which attaches Apple’s Smart Keyboard or third-party accessories such as the Logitech Create keyboard case.
And, for all the similarities to previous iPads, the Pro has one major difference: its size. The 12.9in display may not sound much bigger than the regular 9.7in iPad’s screen, but it looks huge in comparison.
It’s heavier than the iPad and iPad Pro 10.5in, but still lighter than the first iPad and the 2017 version shaves off a few grammes as well, reducing the weight from 712g to 677g, and from 723g to 692g for the Wi-Fi and 4G model. That’s heavier than many rival tablets, but the way that Apple has balanced the weight of the device means it still feels light relative to its size.
12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro (2017) review: Display
The iPad Pro’s display remains the star of the show, however. It’s huge in comparison to the iPad Pro 9.7’s screen at 12.9in and the resolution is a bumper 2,732 x 2,048. Eagle-eyed readers will spy that this delivers exactly the same pixel density as the iPad Pro 9.7, so given that you’re likely to hold or use the iPad Pro at distances further from your eye than the smaller iPad Pro 9.7, the pixel density should typically result in a higher perceived resolution at your eye.
In other words, the iPad Pro’s screen is as sharp as most people need. You won’t be able to make out the pixels unless you get really close up.
As with other iPads in the range, the iPad Pro uses an IPS display, so colours look more natural and well-balanced than with most AMOLED displays. It benefits from anti-reflective treatment and the top glass is fully laminated to the LCD panel beneath, which means even if the sunlight is streaming through your train window and onto the screen, you’ll be able to see what you’re doing.
And on this new iPad Pro, you also get Apple’s TrueTone technology, the idea being to ensure what you see on screen is a close match to your surroundings. This has always worked brilliantly on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and does so at least as well here.
The big new feature with the 2017 iPad Pro, though, is its adaptive refresh rate 120Hz ProMotion panel, which makes the whole experience of touching, scrolling and sketching on-screen a much smoother-feeling process than before. It really does have to be experienced to be believed but take my word for it, 120Hz makes a significant difference to the way the iPad Pro feels to use. Scrolling, pinch zoom and fast-moving games all look ten times better.
When tested with our in-house X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017)’s display remains as impressive as it always has been. Contrast is high at 1,421:1, which is a slight drop from the original iPad Pro’s 1,552:1, but still good, ensuring a punchy, lively image.
Maximum brightness has improved noticeably and now reaches 514cd/m2 while the previous iPad Pro was a smidge below 400cd/m2 and colour accuracy is beyond reproach. The screen covers 95.5% of the sRGB colour space, ensuring everything just looks great, and its average Delta E hovers around 1 (the exact score is 1.19), which is the sort of performance I’d expect from a professional monitor.
|Delta E is a measure of colour accuracy, or more specifically, colour difference. A higher Delta E indicates a bigger difference from the ideal colour value and, therefore, lower colour accuracy. Any average Delta E figure below one is what you’re aiming for if you’re doing any kind of colour critical work, such as professional photo editing or design work. This is exactly the sort of work the iPad Pro is aimed at.|
Technically, the iPad Pro’s display is incredible, and yet what really stands out its size. It’s as wide as the iPad Pro 9.7 is tall, so there’s much more real estate on offer. When you’re working on a video-editing app, this gives you a good-sized video window along with the editing timeline below. And if you choose the multitasking Split Screen view, where you can have two simultaneously active windows side by side, both windows are substantial and usable in their own right.
In fact, both in terms of resolution and size, the iPad Pro’s display is the equivalent of having a pair of iPad Pro 9.7 screens stitched together, side-by-side. iOS 11 makes that extra screen size even more effective by, essentially, turning your iPad into a portable iOS laptop capable of multitasking and even having a dock bar akin to macOS.
12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017) review: Audio
Then there are those speakers. Even with four, I’d expect sound quality to be tinny and lacking in substance. Incredibly, that’s very, very far from the case.
Somehow, Apple has managed to tune the speakers so that there’s a modicum of body and bass. You’ll not want to spend long listening to your favourite tunes, but for the odd TV programme or movie, it’s more than okay.
In fact, the iPad Pro’s audio is better than most laptops I’ve listened to, let alone skinny tablets, the four speakers adding a beefy sound and impressively high volumes. The stereo effect is clearly discernible, too.
Just for the hell of it, I also measured the frequency response of the iPad Pro’s speakers using a calibrated microphone and compared directly with the HP Elite X2, which has Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers.
In the comparison graph above, you can see that the region between around 70Hz and just over 400Hz sees a significant advantage for the iPad Pro (in green) over the HP, and that with higher frequencies the rise in volume kicks in later as well. This doesn’t look all that dramatic, but it results in a much fuller, less tinny sound.
Intriguingly, when you turn the tablet from landscape to portrait, the iPad detects this, switching the orientation of the speakers so the left channel continues to come from the two speakers on your left. The sound on this tablet, not something I have ever concerned myself with on a device of this type before, is seriously impressive.
12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro (2017) review: Smart Keyboard and alternatives
The Smart Keyboard is one of the two essential peripherals for the iPad Pro. Just as the Type Cover improves Microsoft Surface tablets massively, so the dedicated keyboard turns the iPad Pro into a successful laptop substitute.
In some ways this keyboard is better than Microsoft’s Surface keyboard because the keys (which at first glance look like they may not be up to much) are superb to use: firm but responsive and highly comfortable, even when used for long periods.
The base is solid enough for you to have it on your lap, too, but the big problem with it is that it has only ever been able to prop up the iPad Pro at one angle and Apple hasn’t seen fit to improve matters with the 2017 model.
You may find this fits with your way of working, but there will almost certainly be a situation in which the tablet doesn’t quite work perfectly. One issue that has been resolved, however, is that – at last – a proper UK keyboard layout is available complete with Sterling and Euro symbols above the 2 and 3 keys.
If you don’t get on with the official keyboard, however, there are other keyboards available, produced by third-party manufacturers like Logitech and, since the position of the Smart Connector hasn’t changed, 2017’s iPad Pro is backwards compatible with existing keyboards.
Logitech’s Create keyboard is one such keyboard and it’s great. It’s a little cheaper than the Apple model (£110), but has backlit keys and acts as a case to protect the rear of the iPad as well as the front. The keys are much more laptop-like than the Smart Keyboard and I found it very easy to type on.
It has its disadvantages, however: it holds the iPad up at a single, slightly steeper angle that’s less practical for use on your lap than the Apple keyboard, and it adds a lot more bulk and weight to the iPad Pro as well. It weighs a hefty 750g, more than doubling the weight of the iPad Pro.
Still, the thick, nylon weave material it’s made from does provide a lot of protection, and the smooth aluminium surrounding the keyboard gives it a classy feel.
Apple iPad Pro review: Apple Pencil
The Apple Pencil is Apple’s answer to the stylus and it, too, is improved for 2017, although not in the way you might think. In fact, it’s the same slim and perfectly weighted device as before, but it’s now more responsive than before thanks to the new ProMotion 120Hz display.
Apple claims the latency of the pencil (the lag between physical input and digital, onscreen output) has been reduced to 20ms. This results in a smoother, more responsive feel than before, a difference you’ll notice immediately if you’ve already used the Pencil on previous iPads.
And if you’ve only ever used a regular stylus with an iPad, forget everything you know: the Pencil is nothing like that. Whereas using a capacitive stylus with an iPad is a bit laggy and a bit imprecise, the Pencil is fast and ultra-responsive and clean.
Unlike most capacitive styluses, it has a slender nib, which is firm rather than squashy to the touch. That’s because the tip of the Pencil includes sensors that recognise pressure, altitude and angle. Apple hasn’t revealed how many levels of pressure the Pencil can spot, but it has a satisfyingly realistic feel to it. More than any other stylus I’ve used, it feels most using a real pencil on paper, with just the right amount of slide and friction. Tilt the Pencil on its side and you can even add shading as you draw.
Two things about the Pencil show off Apple’s attention to detail perfectly. The cap, which covers the Lightning plug used to charge it, has a small metal ring and snaps to the top in a really satisfying way, and when you place it on a flat surface desk Apple has designed the weighting and shape of it so that it always rolls to a halt with the logo and branding facing up. If you don’t believe me, check out the video above.
It seems Apple has thought through the practicalities as well. The top slides off to reveal an extended Lightning connector. This is used to pair the two and charge the Pencil – and it doesn’t need long to deliver a useful amount of charge; in fact Apple says that 15 seconds connected will give 30 minutes of use.
I can’t vouch for the absolute accuracy of that statement, but it certainly seemed to have plenty of pep after the briefest of charges. And when it does eventually run flat, it’s reassuring to be able to revitalise it in less time than it takes to make a cuppa.
One negative point here is that there’s no place on the iPad Pro or the Smart Keyboard to keep the Pencil – although the new sleeve (£129) does have a slot to keep it in. And at £99 it’s also far from cheap. If you want to make the most of the iPad Pro, though, (already a fairly hefty financial commitment) you’d be mad not to seriously consider buying one.
Apple iPad Pro specifications
|Processor||Triple-core 2.38GHz Apple A10X|
|Screen resolution||2,732 x 2,048|
|Front camera||7 megapixels|
|Rear camera||12 megapixels|
|GPS||Yes (Cellular model only)|
|Compass||Yes (Cellular model only)|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Wireless data||4G (Cellular version only)|
|Dimensions||306 x 6.9 x 221mm (WDH)|
|Weight||677g (Wi-Fi); 692 (cellular) – without keyboard|
|Operating system||Apple iOS 10|