New iPad Pro keeps Apple at top of tablet game

The new iPad Pro improves on a lot of last year’s shortcomings with a redesigned screen, keyboard case and Pencil. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni
The new iPad Pro improves on a lot of last year’s shortcomings with a redesigned screen, keyboard case and Pencil. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — As far as its non-phone devices go, Apple’s approach is to create “Pro” versions that are clearly marketed to power users.

The question to ask when facing a new Apple device is: who is this for? The iPad Pro is specifically for those for whom direct interaction with the touchscreen comes first, then portability.

It is the conclusion I came to after reviewing various iPads, the latest being the 12.9-inch version of the latest iPad Pro. 

There was one time I woke up in the middle of the night realising I had forgotten to include a specific picture with an article.

I tried to address that with the iPad Pro but unfortunately the steps required were lengthy—having to open an image-editing app, specifying file size and type, manually resizing and then renaming my result.

On a MacBook, it just required opening said file in Preview, resizing, renaming and then sending it over: in barely a minute.

Clearly this kind of task was not what the iPad Pro was designed to do specifically. Why then would you buy one? I could think of a few reasons.

Is bigger better?

If you’re used to regular iPads, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro might seem huge. The new redesign also means that it has smaller bezels and no home button. Think a really big iPhone X screen and you’ll get the gist.

It’s not an OLED screen but a Liquid Retina IPS display, similar to the one on the iPhone XR. Not that it isn’t good—you still have the ambient lighting display from TrueTone, an impressive colour gamut that keeps colours bright yet accurate and 264ppi resolution. 

The four speakers Apple included with the last iPad Pro are still here but Apple has improved them. 

I’ve added NCT U’s Baby Don’t Stop to my audio track test list—it’s an interesting tune that melds a driving bass with lo-fi synth and vocal work that runs from whispers to melodic riffs/rap.

I wasn’t expecting the iPad Pro to do as good a job as it did with the song—the vocals were clearly defined, as were the percussive elements and the bass is so much more robust-feeling than with last year’s iPad Pro.

Also getting a fresh design was its keyboard case that now covers both the screen and the back when closed. I guess Apple got the memo that leaving the back exposed and easily scratched wasn’t a good idea.

The new keyboard case also addresses the issue with last year’s case—that easily lost connectivity with the iPad, forcing you to detach and reattach the iPad from the case until it started working again.

As for the feel of the keys—my hands are fairly small with small-to-medium length fingers so I found the layout comfortable enough. While I had no issue with the two viewing angles afforded by the case, some might wish for a kickstand similar to Microsoft’s Surface.

I prefer typing on iPad Pro keyboards than laptop keyboards on the plane as they’re a lot more suited to cramped conditions. 

One of my fellow tech reviewers with much larger hands hated the new keyboard (and last year’s) so your mileage will definitely vary. Try the keyboard in the store if you can before you buy.

An artist’s dream

A friend of mine helped me test the new Apple Pencil—not that I didn’t do any drawing/writing with it myself but I wanted her perspective as someone more skilled with paint/art programs.

She found the pencil very responsive and was particularly impressed with how well it handled shading and pressure detection.

What she balked at most was the price. “Why should I buy an iPad when I can just buy a tablet and hook it up to my PC? It’s cheaper too.” This is where I also mention she was previously an auditor, the greatest enemy of IT department procurement.

Back to the Pencil. The previous Pencil gave me many, many heart attacks by either getting lost in my bag or rolling off surfaces. This one at least sticks to your iPad with magnets and charges while it’s attached. You also get a popup showing just how much battery the Pencil has left.

Only sore point here is, that it still detaches easily from the iPad when carried in a bag. Does it need stronger magnets? Maybe Apple could just start including that classic addition to cases: the pen loop. It’s old-school but sometimes you can’t beat the classics.

The iPad Pro’s new A12 Bionic chip is crazy powerful—enough that you can now run actual Photoshop on the tablet. Why is this a big deal? Because being able to directly retouch an image via a display is so much easier than using a drawing tablet while seeing the results on a separate screen.

This is really where the iPad Pro shines—while artists and designers, not to mention photographers, have embraced the iPad Pro’s high specs and image editing capabilities, being able to run Photoshop is a game changer. 

Something Android tablets won’t be able to manage and Windows tablets like the Surface can’t deliver with the same fluidity as an iPad.

Your laptop replacement

If all you do is word processing on your laptop, then perhaps the iPad Pro isn’t for you. It’s pretty much overkill.

For people who are extremely mobile, there is a good argument for an iPad Pro. Being able to annotate PDFs, immediately get digital documents signed, or being able to show clients video or photo demos on an iPad is much less a hassle on an iPad than a laptop.

The MacBook Pro is a powerful machine but even the newer models are not fun to carry around, even in a backpack. An iPad Pro however is super-light, super-thin and is far more capable than the svelte MacBook.

As an entertainment machine, the larger screen and great speakers mean you have a very portable Netflix box. With the high specs, of course gaming would be no issue especially with the growing gaming library on the App Store as well as the various ports of games from other platforms to the iOS.

If you don’t actually plan to type much on the iPad Pro, you could get away with not getting a keyboard case especially if you plan to primarily work with graphics. Get a nice sleeve instead.

What I have mixed feelings about is the Type-C port. It means that you can’t just plug in any Lightning-connected accessory you have though it does mean you can plug in any Type-C hub, and not just the ones Apple makes.

Apple’s “just get a dongle” philosophy to strip out almost every extraneous port is somewhat irksome but on the iPad Pro it makes sense. This is after all a device optimised for portability and adding extra ports seems illogical. 

For you, maybe?

If it wasn’t for some of iOS’ limitations I’d really prefer using the iPad Pro over anything else for, well, everything. 

It’s easier to carry around. Less of a hassle to charge. Generally faster to use and I’m not the type who will open 10,000 tabs. Side-by-side windows in the screen works just fine for me—easier to focus and quick swiping for what I need feels more intuitive to me than grappling with a mouse for everything.

Let’s just address who this isn’t for: people who spend most of their time with their work machine grappling with Microsoft Excel’s formulas or mostly do word processing, or use proprietary system applications. 

If you use a keyboard more than anything else on your machine, you’re not looking for an iPad.

If mobility matters, then an iPad Pro might be your best friend. Photographers embrace being able to keep their heavy laptops at home—their cameras and lenses are heavy enough as it is.

Artists now can quickly share their work on social media from an iPad, while also enjoying the quicker turnaround time. No switching on a laptop, waiting for Photoshop to load, connecting an extra tablet. Instead you open up Photoshop or Procreate, make the edit with a Pencil and click to share. 

If you’ve convinced yourself you need an iPad Pro, which should you get? If this is going to be the machine you spend most of your time with, the 12.9-inch is it, no question. 

If it’s going to be an additional, complementary device, go for the smaller 11-inch device instead. Both are super-light at under 470g for the 11-inch and under 670g for the 12.9-inch model.

As for storage space, you can choose between 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. 64GB is only if you’re on a budget: 256GB is really the sweet spot between spreading out storage on your tablet and the Cloud. 1TB is overkill for anyone except those who keep their entire graphic portfolio on their iPads or photographers with their Lightroom workflows.

The iPad Pro is now available from RM3,499 for the 11-inch and RM4,349 for the 12.9-inch model.

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