When Apple introduced the iPad Pro in late 2015, it tried to convince consumers that their tablet can replace your work computer. That was for the most part, misleading, as iOS 9 was ultimately a mobile-first operating system. It lacked basic features like a dedicated file system for storage and organisation, and while you could run two apps at the same time, it was an extremely limited feature.
It took Apple almost two years, but iOS 11, released with the second-generation iPad Pro last summer, finally fixes that. The Files app brings a file system to iOS for the first time. Multitasking is much easier to use, and you can freely drag and drop text, pictures, URLs and more between apps. It’s a huge upgrade.
Working on an iPad
I used the iPad Pro as my work device for two weeks during this review period and came away very impressed. One of the many improvements in iOS 11 is the ability to pull up the app dock within apps, so I could jump from app to app without needing to go back to the homescreen.
While iOS has supported two apps running side-by-side on the iPad before, if you really want to push it, you can now have a third app running in a floating window that can be swiped on and off the screen. Sure, it doesn’t quite match a proper computer, which could in theory run many more different things at once before getting bogged down, but three apps at the same time is enough for productivity.
On a typical work day as a writer, I’d have Safari open alongside Google Docs in split-screen mode, with email or Twitter floating on top as a third app. Despite having only 4GB of RAM -- low by laptop standards -- everything ran smoothly without problems, because Apple’s A10X Fusion processor is so efficient. Battery life is best in-class, lasting roughly nine hours on a single charge.
To use the iPad as a computer, however, you must pair it with a keyboard. While you can use any keyboard that offers Bluetooth connectivity, the best option is probably the official Apple version -- the Smart Keyboard -- because it’s ultra-portable, doubles as a screen cover when not in use, and connects via Apple’s proprietary connector that does not require additional power or Bluetooth syncing. At US$159, it’s pricey, but that’s the case for all Apple accessories.
The Smart Keyboard offers a good, but not great, typing experience. The keys are evenly spaced but have very little travel. As a touch typer, it took a couple days to get used to. One downside of the keyboard is that it can only prop the iPad up at one angle -- about 45-degrees -- but the device’s excellent viewing angles do help.
New 10.5” screen
New to the 2017 iPad Pro lineup is a 10.5” model, which uses smaller bezels to pack a much bigger screen than the 9.7” iPad into a body that isn’t significantly bigger. The display is an LCD panel, which is less technically impressive than the OLED display found on the iPhone X (lacking the inky blacks of that screen) but Apple has done a masterful job of calibration. It’s easily one of the best looking LCDs on the market.
New to the 10.5” is a 120Hz refresh rate, which is a measurement of how often the screen displays a new image every second. Basically, the higher the number, the faster the refresh rate -- the smoother animations look. Almost all smartphones on the market (except for the Razer Phone) are stuck at 60Hz, so the new iPad Pro’s display is effectively twice as smooth.
While the superior refresh rate makes for a better scrolling experience on websites, the biggest benefit is that it reduces input lag of the Apple Pencil (aka stylus, sold separately of course) to virtually zero. I’m a terrible artist, but even I could tell that the combo of Apple Pencil and new iPad Pro is in a class of its own when it comes to simulating the experience of using a pencil and paper.
Even if you strip away all the accessories, the iPad Pro is an excellent tablet with arguably the best user experience. I’m someone who prefers Android to iOS on smartphones, but even I admit that when it comes to the tablet experience, iOS is far, far superior because of that Apple optimisation.
The rest of the hardware is top notch too. The iPad Pro has not one not two but four speakers, pumping out very loud stereo sound with deep bass to boot. This is a device that you can watch movies on without headphones.
In terms of camera you get a 12-megapixel shooter on the back and a 7-megapixel selfie lens, both are huge jumps over previous iPads. The rear camera, in particular, can record videos at 1080p resolution.
Power comes at a price
The iPad Pro 10.5” ticks every box for those looking for a tablet that can double as a productivity machine. It’s worth noting, however, that if you get the full package (iPad + keyboard + stylus), it can get quite pricey. The base variant of the device starts at US$699, but it only has 64GB of internal storage. That won’t be enough for most people, so you’re better off going for the 256GB version for US$799. Add the US$150 keyboard and US$100 stylus and you’re looking at over a thousand dollars -- putting the iPad Pro close to the price of an actual laptop, like Apple’s own MacBook.
Another option would be to find an older iPad Pro at a discount -- if you’re happy with the much larger size (as the older model only came with a 12.9” screen). iOS 11 runs just fine on the older model, and it’s the operating system that makes more of a difference than the hardware upgrade. iOS 11 raises the ceiling on what an iPad Pro can do, to the point where it can finally serve as a work computer for the average professional.