Pros: Apple’s latest pair of iPad Pro models are now on par with one another, with the new larger iPad Pro gaining the True Tone display, significant camera improvements with flash, and “Hey Siri” support, while the smaller iPad Pro gets a 10.5” screen upgrade, along with 4GB of RAM, USB 3.0 support, faster USB-C charging, and now includes a 12W power supply. New “ProMotion” display technology in both models doubles the refresh rate to 120Hz, improving scrolling and Apple Pencil performance. Both models catch up with Apple’s latest technology, sporting both front and rear cameras equivalent to the iPhone 7 and an A10X processor that provides a significant performance boost over both prior models. Battery life remains exceptional, and a new 512GB model provides for the highest storage capacity of any iOS device to date. Both models continue to be compatible with the current Apple Pencil and existing Smart Connector accessories.
Cons: The 12.9” model is still a behemoth by iPad standards, making it more suitable as a tabletop or laptop device. Despite the reduced bezels, the 10.5” model is still slightly larger than the 9.7” model, limiting case options. 3D Touch support still remains absent on both models.
Apple’s 12.9” iPad Pro, debuted in late 2015, represented the company’s first attempt to take the tablet in a new direction, with a larger model targeted toward creative professionals or those looking at the iPad as more of a laptop replacement. The “Pro” designation was not only clearly earned by the larger form factor, but also supported by a number of other significant improvements, such as support for Apple’s first-ever stylus (the Apple Pencil), a new Smart Connector that provided plug-in compatibility for the Apple Smart Keyboard and other third-party keyboard cases and accessories, and significant video and audio improvements. It was clear that the 12.9” iPad was a tablet to be contended with, and while originally there was the feeling that the “Pro” capabilities would remain the exclusive domain of Apple’s largest iPad, the company subsequently unveiled a 9.7” iPad Pro model six months later, including most of the core capabilities of its larger sibling, while also adding a new True Tone display and significantly better cameras, but lacking USB 3.0 support and faster USB-C charging.
This actually created a rather odd dichotomy between the two iPad Pro models, with consumers being forced to choose between a larger display or a better display, a smaller tablet or one with faster charging and transfer speeds. To make matters even more confusing, the 9.7” iPad Pro also appeared to be slightly underclocked compared to the 12.9” model. It was a strange situation to have two iPad Pro models from the same generation with these kinds of feature disparities.
So with this year’s release of the 2017 iPad Pro models, it’s a refreshing surprise that Apple has actually brought both models to the same level; the only real distinction between the two new iPad Pro models is the size, although there are some minor differences in battery life and recharging times as well. Both models are also available in the same storage capacities, starting at 64 GB and then moving up from there to a 256 GB model and — for the first time — a 512 GB version, with Wi-Fi + Cellular options now available in all capacities. Basically, Apple has doubled capacities from the prior models at roughly the same price points.
As a result, there’s really no reason to review the two new iPad Pro models separately — while each one is a different sort of upgrade from its prior model, they both provide the same capabilities and features.
Body and Design
Physically, you’ll be hard pressed to distinguish the 12.9” iPad Pro from its predecessor — it comes in at the same 12” x 8.68” x 0.27” dimensions, although it sheds a few grams in weight that won’t be noticeable by most humans. This means that 12.9” iPad Pro users will be able to take advantage of the existing market of cases and related accessories. On the other hand, the 10.5” iPad Pro not surprisingly comes in slightly larger than the 9.7” model. Although Apple implied that it merely reduced the bezel to increase the the 10.5” iPad Pro, clearly it was still necessary to increase the physical size slightly to 9.8” x 6.8” x 0.24” — gaining about a half an inch in length and 0.2” in width, although the thickness remains the same and the weight comes in a few grams heavier than its 9.7” predecessor. New cases will obviously be required for the 10.5” iPad Pro, although we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the usual companies like Logitech and Speck ready to go with options right out of the gate.
Since the 12.9” iPad Pro remains physically unchanged, there’s not a lot more to say about its size — we already covered most of that in our original 12.9” iPad Pro review. It’s still large and unwieldy by iPad standards, with limited appeal to those who really need the larger screen and/or are looking to use an iPad as a full laptop replacement.
Physically, the 10.5” iPad Pro is a much more interesting update, although not as much as you’d think. While the larger screen is certainly nicer, it’s actually only a diagonal increase of 0.8”, or about 8 percent. It wasn’t until we put it side-by-side with a 9.7” iPad that we really appreciated the difference — the additional real estate is definitely a nice bonus, but we wouldn’t say it’s enough to justify an upgrade from the original 9.7” iPad Pro in and of itself.
The only practical advantage to the larger screen is the same one that Apple pointed out during the keynote — it’s large enough to provide a more comfortable, natural on-screen keyboard. If you like to touch-type on your iPad screen rather than using an external keyboard, this is the one area in which the 10.5” screen will tip the scales, although of course the 12.9” iPad still has the upper hand with its full-sized virtual keyboard.
Under the Hood
The new iPad Pro models get a healthy CPU upgrade to the A10X Fusion chip with embedded M10 coprocessor. This is basically an expanded version of the A10 Fusion CPU found in the iPhone and iPhone 7 Plus, adding two extra cores — one performance core, and one efficiency core — as well as increasing the GPU to 12 cores from the six-core A10 GPU. Apple promises a CPU performance increase of 30 percent and a GPU increase of 40 percent over the A9X found in the prior-generation models. Both models also now pack in 4GB of RAM, doubling the memory found in the 9.7” iPad Pro.
With both models sporting the same CPU/GPU and RAM specs, Geekbench scores came out pretty much on par for each, showing about a 30 percent increase in single-core performance and a 90 percent increase in multi-core performance. Geekbench’s GPU test showed a Metal score increase of 75% over the earlier A9X-equipped iPad Pro models.
While these results are certainly impressive, they represent a performance boost that will likely only be of any real interest to hardcore iPad gamers or pro users who are working with higher-end video and photo editing and rendering apps. In practical daily use, it makes no difference to the speed at which the iPad Pro starts up, nor to the speed at which most apps launch. Of course, unlike the fifth-generation iPad released earlier this year, we think it’s fair to say that both iPad Pro models are targeted primarily at an audience who will appreciate these kind of performance increases — not to mention the developers who will build apps that can take advantage of this kind of power.
As an aside, the 12.9” iPad Pro also gains support for always-on “Hey Siri” — a feature that was included in the 2016 9.7” iPad Pro that we found an odd omission from the earlier 12.9” model, since there didn’t seem to be any limitations on specs that would account for that difference — both iPad Pro models used the same A9X processor and M9 coprocessor, the latter of which Apple advertised as a key component for efficiently implementing this feature. Of course, at this point it would be more surprising for the new iPad Pro to not support it, but its conspicuous absence from the first-generation 12.9” model makes the fact that it’s included worth mentioning.
The new 12.9” iPad Pro gains the True Tone display that was originally introduced on the 9.7” iPad Pro last year, again bringing both devices up to the same standard. This will be an especially important improvement for those who want to use the iPad Pro for color-dependent work such as photo processing — scenarios in which the larger 12.9” model may very well have been more attractive due to the larger screen, but where customers were previously forced to make the tradeoff between the better screen quality or larger screen size. Similarly, while the new display isn’t significantly brighter than the one found in the 9.7” iPad Pro, it’s noticeably brighter at peak brightness than the first-generation 12.9” version. As with the 9.7” iPad Pro, the True Tone display feature is optional, and still tends to make the display slightly warmer in most lighting environments, but it can be easily switched off from within the Settings app.
The other major display enhancement in both new iPad Pro models is what Apple is calling “ProMotion” display technology; the company has basically doubled the display refresh rate to 120Hz, which provides noticeably smoother scrolling as well as a much more natural feel when using the Apple Pencil. The higher refresh rate isn’t fixed, however — the display and iOS will automatically adjust refresh rates downward in scenarios where the faster rate isn’t necessary — when watching a movie, for instance — in order to optimize battery life.
While Apple accurately touts the new scrolling performance as “buttery smooth,” we can’t say that we’ve ever had reason to complain about scrolling performance on any other iPad model. It’s a nice to have, but certainly nothing particularly exciting. However, where the faster refresh rate definitely had us impressed was when working with the Apple Pencil — the whole experience of using it feels even more natural on the new display, and it’s a feature that will definitely have more direct appeal to artists and other creative users.
Cameras and Audio
While we’re still not sure of the appeal of using an iPad for photography — especially in the case of the larger 12.9” model — both of this year’s iPad Pro devices gain the same camera hardware found in the iPhone 7.
This means the rear iSight camera gets a bump to 12 megapixels with an f–1.8 aperture, six element lens, wide color capture, and quad-LED True Tone flash. It also gains optical image stabilization for both video and audio, and 4K video recording at 30fps. It’s a modest but nice upgrade over last year’s 9.7” iPad Pro, but it’s a huge step up for users of the first-generation 12.9” version, which was more equivalent to the camera found in the 2014 iPhone 6.
Similarly, the front FaceTime camera gets bumped to 7 megapixels with wide color capture, 1080p video recording, and image stabliziation as well. It’s a decent bump to the 9.7” iPad Pro’s 5MP/720p FaceTime HD camera, but once again a huge upgrade to the 1.2MP version found in the first-generation 12.9” iPad Pro.
As the comparison shots above show, photos taken with either of the new iPad Pro models were essentially indistinguishable for the same photos taken on an iPhone 7 Plus. About the only thing the iPad Pro lacks by comparison is the dual-lens capabilities for optical zoom and Portrait mode features.
On the audio front, there’s not as much to say about the new iPad Pro models except that the audio still sounds great. The same four-speaker design is still used in the new models for rich stereo sound, and they continue to intelligently adjust to provide the best sound in whatever orientation you’re holding your iPad. Apple has also stepped up the speaker game in the smaller iPad Pro; while we observed that last year’s 9.7” iPad Pro wasn’t up to the same audio quality as its larger sibling, the audio quality between the two devices is now definitely much closer. There’s still a difference — the 12.9” has better depth, likely due to its larger speaker enclosures — but it’s not as significant as before, and it’s not something most users will care about unless they’re comparing the two devices side-by-side. That said, if you’re going to use your iPad primarily for watching movies, the richer sound quality on the 12.9” model complements the larger screen, providing a noticeably better experience overall.
Battery and Wi-Fi Performance
The new iPad Pro models offer no real surprises in the area of battery life, providing around the same run times as the prior models, despite the upgraded processor and screen. Of course, mobile processors like the A10X Fusion are all about running more efficiently, so even though the processor is faster, the lower-power cores offset that in much the same way as they do in the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion chip. Similarly, the ability of the newer display to select lower refresh rates — even lower than on prior iPad models — is going to account for some increase in power efficiency as well, especially when performing more straightforward tasks like playing videos or simply surfing the web.
The 10.5” iPad Pro includes a 30.4 Wh (8064 mAh) battery, while the one in the 12.9” version is 41 Wh (10875 mAh). These both represent a relatively small bump over the 27.91 Wh and 38.8 Wh batteries found in the prior iPad Pro models, and with actual run times coming in around the same, it’s fair to say that power consumption has increased slightly.
Basically, when running our standard Wi-Fi browsing test, the 10.5” iPad Pro ran for just over 12.5 hours, while the 12.9” model got around 13.5 hours. Video testing results showed similar run times of between 14 and 16 hours. These numbers represent a modest increase of about 30 minutes over the prior iPad Pro models in each scenario.
What’s particularly interesting is that despite the larger batteries, recharging times actually dropped a bit, suggesting that Apple may have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of the charging circuitry. Using the included 12W adapter (which is also now packed in with the smaller iPad Pro as well — the 9.7” model only included a 10W adapter), the 12.9” iPad Pro went from a dead battery to a full recharge in 4.5 hours, while the 10.5” model got to the same capacity in 3.5 hours. Both models now also support faster USB-C charging, so if you’re willing to spring for Apple’s USB-C to Lightning cable and 29W USB-C power adapter, you can fully juice up the 12.9” iPad Pro from a dead battery in 2.5 hours, and the 10.5” model in just under 2 hours. While we tested the recharge times with Apple’s own power adapters, any proper USB-C power source should provide similar results — for example, the NIFTY Mobile Charger we reviewed last week was able to bring a 10.5” iPad Pro from a dead battery to 48% in just under an hour before its own battery was depleted.
In addition to USB-C charging, the smaller iPad also gains USB 3.0 support via the Lightning port — something else that was previously the exclusive domain of the 12.9” iPad Pro. This means that, provided you’re using Apple’s newest Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, you’ll be able to pull in your photos from your SD cards at faster speeds, adding to the appeal of both iPad Pro models for serious photographers.
In terms of Wi-Fi performance, the new iPad Pro models both include the same alphabet soup of Wi-Fi standards as both of the prior models, getting full 802.11ac speeds, and we saw no significant performance increases in that regard. We didn’t conduct LTE tests as there’s really little point in doing so anymore, but it is worth noting while the 9.7” Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad Pro was already ahead of the first-generation 12.9” model with its support for LTE Advanced bands 12, 27, and 30, both models take this a step further with support for LTE bands 11 and 21, used primarily in Japan. While it’s a minor bump for users of the smaller iPad Pro, it can make a tangible difference for users the 12.9” iPad Pro for LTE use on carriers such as Bell Canada (band 12) and AT&T (band 30), likely resulting in faster and more reliable coverage in certain areas.
Apple’s two new iPad Pro models solidify the company’s “pro” tablet lineup in a meaningful way, bringing the two into feature parity so that the only factor users need to consider when deciding which one to buy is really just how big they want their iPad to be.
The 10.5” iPad Pro is admittedly a smaller upgrade over last year’s 9.7” version, but it does add a larger and faster screen, a nice performance boost, and USB-C fast charging and USB 3.0 support. We don’t think it’s enough that most users will be able to justify the upgrade — especially for an iPad that starts at an asking price of $650, almost double the price of the standard 9.7” iPad — but it can certainly tip the scales if you’ve been on the fence about the smaller iPad Pro.
On the other hand, the second-generation 12.9” iPad Pro is a much bigger deal. In many ways, last year’s release of the smaller 9.7” version added a number of features that made its bigger brother feel old before its time, such as the True Tone display and better cameras. The specs on the second-generation 12.9” iPad Pro are a significant increase over its predecessor, especially in the area of the cameras. Even if you don’t use your iPad Pro for traditional photography, the front FaceTime HD camera increase alone is significant. The second-generation 12.9” iPad Pro definitely makes the argument for exercising caution when purchasing first-generation Apple products, and we can see how the upgrade could be justified for serious “pro” users, even at the $800 starting price point. Further, while it doesn’t come cheap, the availability of a 512 GB model is something that serious photographers and videographers on the go will likely find even more appealing; the small storage footprint of iOS means that most of that storage will be available for storing large photo and video libraries, reducing one’s reliance on cloud services and the corresponding data usage.
Apple’s iPad Pro models still aren’t for everyone — something Apple tacitly admits by the very existence of its fifth-generation iPad — but those looking to do serious creative work will appreciate everything that either of the new iPad Pro models offer. Although we still don’t see the iPad Pro widely replacing laptops at this point — we’ve given it the old college try ourselves and still prefer our trusty MacBook Pros for our purposes — we can definitely see its appeal for users who are focused on more creative or artistic pursuits such as photography and design. While it’s a slightly tougher call, we can also see the appeal for more casual laptop users who only pull out their computer to surf the web, check Facebook and browse through photos and videos, but want better audio and video quality than what the basic iPad model offers; the audio quality alone makes the experience of watching videos significantly better than the fifth-generation iPad, but of course whether that improvement justifies the price is going to ultimately be a personal decision. It’s our take, however, that it’s well worth if if you have the money to spend and expect to use your iPad for anything more than basic web browsing and productivity tasks.
The bottom line is that both new iPad Pro models are solid entries in Apple’s iPad lineup, which now includes something for everyone. While users who simply want a basic iPad to supplement their smartphone or laptop for surfing, reading and productivity tasks will be well served by the standard fifth-generation iPad, the iPad Pro models will definitely appeal to serious iPad users who are willing to spend the money for top performance. Both models earn our high recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: iPad Pro
Price: $649 – $1,229