Review: 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro – pricey, but perfect [Video]

The 2017 iPad that Apple launched earlier this year was inexpensive, but it was also about dealing with various compromises. The display, for instance, lacked anti-glare and lamination properties of more modern iPads, and the speakers weren’t nearly as good as the latest Apple hardware.

But price can be a compelling feature as well, and the 2017 iPad’s $329 entry point appealed to the masses.

The new iPad Pro, however, concedes nothing to price. It’s an all-in product that cuts no corners. Its starting price is basically double the standard iPad at $649, and can quickly balloon up to entry-level MacBook Pro and iMac territory.

But is the updated iPad Pro, with its newly available 10.5-inch form factor and 120Hz ProMotion display, worth it? Have a look at our hands-on video walkthrough for more details.

The best wireless keyboard for the Mac?

The most obvious difference between the new iPad Pro and previous iPad models is the new form-factor of the smaller version. The 10.5-inch Retina display found on the new iPad Pro is 20% larger than the 9.7-inch model it supersedes. 20% may not seem like a lot on paper, but it makes a noticeable difference when the device is in front of your face.

Apple was able to achieve such a feat by further reducing the bezel that surrounds the screen, and slightly increasing the area. The changes have resulted in a product that feels very similar to previous 9.7-inch iPad models in hand. In fact, the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro’s weight is in the same ballpark as the smaller device it replaces, at slightly over one pound.

Video walkthrough

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The 10.5-inch size is a definite improvement over the 9.7-inch models, which always felt a bit too small. That said, if you’re a 12.9-inch iPad Pro user, the 10.5-inch model will still feel small — you get much more real estate to run two apps side by side on the larger iPad Pro than you do on the smaller version. If your needs require the size of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I’d recommend sticking with it. Yet, if you find the 12.9-inch model to be unwieldy at times, the 10.5-inch form factor might be right up your alley. I definitely recommend walking into an Apple Store and trying them out for yourself to see what works for you.

Apple has also produced a brand new Smart Keyboard for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. Not only does the larger screen size afford a full-sized software keyboard in iOS, but the physical Smart Keyboard benefits from larger, more tactile keys than before.

The good news this time around is that, outside of areas related to physical size, there are no other differences between the two Pro models. Both feature the same A10X Fusion processor, both models feature 4GB of RAM, and both feature identical screen technology with P3 wide color gamut, ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate, and True Tone displays. In fact, both devices now share the same cameras, borrowed from the iPhone 7, that are more than capable of capturing high quality selfies and crisp 4K video.

That’s the beautiful thing about this generation’s professional iPads — there are no compromises between the two, just pick the size you want and you’re ready to go to work.

Yes, it’s powerful

The new iPad Pro is by far the most powerful and fastest standalone tablet that money can buy right now, and I’m confident that it will last years into the future thanks to the A10X Fusion, a six core processor that works similarly to the A10 Fusion found in the most recent iPhones. Three of the cores handle processor-intensive tasks, while the other three are assigned to more docile, low power operations. Such a configuration helps save on battery where possible, which allows these machines to retain the 10 hour battery life that Apple’s tablets are known for.

The 4GB of RAM will serve to further extend the lifespan of the new iPad Pro, as this should provide plenty of headroom for new iOS versions and new apps that take advantage of advanced features.

Lastly, the storage tiers are much better equipped to go the long haul, with an entry-level 64GB tier, a mid-level 256 tier, and a massive 512GB top-tier. Considering that the new iPad Pro can shoot high quality 4K video and provides faster media transfers via USB 3-enabled adapters, it makes sense to boost storage tiers.

…but it’s all about the display

We can harp about how Apple continues to buck the trend and yields ridiculous year-over-year processor gains thanks to its custom-designed chips. We can talk about the improved graphics power of the new iPad Pro as well — a noteworthy 40% increase thanks to its new 12-core GPU. iPads, and iOS devices in general have been trending closer and closer to desktop-class chip architecture over the past few generations, and the new iPad Pro only furthers this narrative.

But for the 2017 iPad Pro lineup, it really is all about that gorgeous piece of glass that stands out even more than in times past. The 600 nits of brightness makes the display brighter than the latest 5K iMac, and the P3 color gamut brings wide color to the larger 12.9-inch model for the first time.

Like previous Pro models, the new iPad Pro handles glare and reflections remarkably well. Apple’s custom-designed anti-reflective coating reflects just 1.8% of light. When combined with the 600 nits of brightness and a laminated digitizer, this is a device that’s significantly more capable of rejecting competing light sources.

True Tone was arguably the flagship feature of last year’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro launch, and no other device has receive a True Tone display up until this latest iPad Pro refresh. I forgot how much of a difference True Tone makes by providing a white balanced screen based on ambient lighting. It’s one of those things that you take for granted until you realize how inferior the screen looks with the feature turned off.

ProMotion is simply a game changer

The aforementioned features are all great, but it’s really the new ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate display that sets this tablet apart from any tablet before it. This display, with its variable refresh rate, looks absolutely stunning in person. I’ll repeat the ongoing narrative that I’ve seen in several other reviews — you have to see it in person to truly understand the difference that it makes.

Trying to illustrate the benefit of ProMotion in a way that can be truly grasped, is like trying to explain the benefits of a Retina display to someone who has never seen one before — it’s possible, but nothing is better than simply seeing the device in person. Once a person tries a Retina display, the majority don’t ever want to go back. The same thing can be said about ProMotion — it’s a technology that significantly enhances on-screen content.

One of my biggest gripes with the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro was the amount of “ghosting” that occurred when scrolling fast on the screen. It looked as if the screen was having a hard time catching up to refresh the content to match the scrolling, and that’s essentially what was happening. With the new iPad Pro lineup, this is no longer an area of concern. The 120Hz refresh rate is fast enough to keep up as you scroll, so text is still highly legible, even while scrolling.

ProMotion displays lend huge benefits to text legibility while scrolling, but it also benefits on-screen graphics and animations. And for those times where you don’t need the full 120Hz refresh rate, the iPad’s variable refresh properties mean that it can down shift, as it were, to match the content being displayed. So if you’re viewing a static image on-screen, it can automatically drop the refresh rate to save on battery life. ProMotion is also capable of dropping all the way down to 24Hz for displaying 24p content in movies without having to resort to 3:2 pulldown.

The 10.5-inch advantage

Although both the small and large second-generation iPad Pro models are both the same from a technical standpoint, the 10.5-inch model does benefit from its reduced bezels. While the 12.9-inch iPad Pro stays exactly the same as the previous model from a physical standpoint, the 10.5-inch model’s screen stands out more thanks to the increased size and slimmer bezels.

If you use the Space Grey 10.5-inch iPad Pro, it can almost look like the screen is floating in mid-air when engaging in certain activities. It’s hard to explain without seeing it in person, but that’s one major advantage that the smaller version of the iPad Pro has over the larger version. The 10.5-inch is the better looking product of the two.

Apple Pencil improvements

There is one additional major benefit to the ProMotion display, and that’s reduced latency with the Apple Pencil. Apple says that there’s now 20ms of latency when drawing with the Apple Pencil thanks to ProMotion. What does that actually mean in practice? Let’s just say that the Pencil feels a lot more natural and responsive than it did with previous iPad hardware.

The Apple Pencil, when mated with the new iPad Pro, is hands-down the most realistic digital drawing setup that I’ve ever experienced. What’s awesome is that you don’t need to upgrade your Apple Pencil in order to take advantage of the reduced latency, as the refreshed iPads provide everything your need to benefit from the improvements.

Cameras, speakers, Touch ID, and USB 3

For the first time the cameras on both iPad Pro models are the same, and Apple has spared no expense to make sure that you can take great-looking photos and videos, no matter how silly you might appear to onlookers.

As previously mentioned, the cameras are the same 12-megapixel rear camera with OIS, and front-facing 7-megapixel 1080p FaceTime HD camera that’s found on the flagship iPhone 7. The only thing you won’t find on the new iPad Pro is the dual camera setup from the iPhone 7 Plus, but nonetheless this is the best camera setup ever put in an iPad, and it makes this device a legitimate photography and movie-making machine.

The only downside stemming from the camera is an annoying camera bump that protrudes out of the iPad Pro’s otherwise svelte body. Since both the 10.5 and 12.9-inch models features this upgraded camera, both are subjected to that ugly bump. Unfortunately, that’s the price that we’ll have to pay in order to have better cameras on an iPad that’s this thin.

Like the first-generation iPad Pro lineup, the new devices feature a four speaker setup that’s much louder and clearer than lesser iPad models. All four speakers work together, presenting stereo sound that automatically adjusts to output the best sound based on whether you’re holding the device in landscape or portrait mode.

For the first time ever a second-generation Touch ID sensor has found its way to the iPad line. Touch ID 2, which debuted with the iPhone 6s, is a noticeably faster finger print sensor that will allow you to unlock your iPad or authenticate purchases even faster than before.

Last generation’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro supported things like USB 3 data transfers via the Lightning to SD Card Reader and Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapters, along with fast charging via a 29W adapter. Unlike the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which lacked support for these features, the new 10.5-inch version does. This results in improved turnaround times for pro-oriented workflows, such as transferring large video files to the iPad’s internal storage via an SD Card.

Smart Keyboard

I’ve never owned a Smart Keyboard until now, so I don’t have much to go on as far as improvements are concerned. The 10.5-inch form factor affords a larger, full-sized keyboard that’s nicer to type on. An Apple Store employee told me that the new keyboards feature a better feel with improved “clickiness,” but I’ve not been able to compare the old and new keyboard side by side to vouch for this claim.

As someone who is interested in replacing a MacBook Pro, a keyboard was a must, and the refined Smart Keyboard appears to be the best option for portability. I’m still not sold on the origami styling, but I really appreciate being able to quickly attach the keyboard to the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector, and start typing without worrying about batteries or pairing.

Unfortunately, the Smart Cover and Smart Keyboard only protect the front of the iPad Pro, not the rear. Oddly enough, Apple doesn’t seem to be producing a rear cover for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which makes no sense to me. As of now, the only way to protect the rear is to opt for a third-party 10.5-inch iPad Pro case of some kind off of Amazon. These cases work, but may need to be modified to work with the Smart Cover and/or Smart Keyboard.

Build quality

Like most of the products that Apple produces, the iPad Pro exudes quality from the moment you remove it from its packaging. The rear of the device is a full slab of aluminum — in either Space Grey, Silver, Gold, or Rose Gold (10.5-inch only), while the front of the display is all glass.

Unlike the lesser 9.7-inch iPad that launched earlier this year, the iPad Pro models retain the shiny chamfered edges that reflect light like jewelry. The 10.5-inch model, at 6.1mm, is just as thin as the previous generation 9.7-inch iPad Pro, while the larger 12-9-inch model comes in at the same 6.9mm measurement as its previous generation.

Area-wise, the 12.9-inch model is the same as the outgoing model, but the 10.5-inch iPad Pro has obviously gained some size. You’ll now find a 9.8-inch-by-6.8-inch area compared to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s 9.4-inch-by-6.6-inch area. Considering the amount of power that’s underneath the hood of these iPads, it’s remarkable that they’re both as thin and as light as they are.

The future of iPad software is bright

The new iPad Pro comes bundled with iOS 10.3.2 out of the box. That means that all of the new features like the dock and drag and drop are not yet available. It’ll be later this fall before iOS 11 brings all of the just-announced powerful features to the iPad Pro, which means that early adopters have a whole lot to look forward to.

That’s not to imply that the current software is bad, because it isn’t. It’s just that iOS 11 is such a stark improvement in functionality and usability that it almost feels like a brand new device. A public beta should be available soon for those willing to take the plunge, but I hesitate to recommend that for a machine that’s geared towards serious work.

Just know that the future is very bright for iPad owners, even if you own one of the older models that will support iOS 11. The software update fundamentally changes what it means to do work on an iPad for the better.

For a sneak peek at some of the goodies that iOS 11 will offer, be sure to watch our video outlining 100 new features in Apple’s highly-anticipated software update.

Conclusion

If you already own a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and you’re satisfied with its performance and size, I don’t personally see the need to upgrade right away unless you just want to. ProMotion is quite the compelling feature, but you’ll pay for the privilege with the entry-level 64GB model starting at $649. Couple that with the fact that you’ll have to purchase a new Smart Keyboard (if desired), and you’re easily looking at over $800 for the base model + keyboard.

As someone who plans on using an iPad for work, I purchased the cellular-enabled version, which comes at a $130 tax. That’s a hefty price to pay, but if this is going to be your main on-the-go work machine, it’s worth considering due to the convenience it presents. Apple’s cellular iPad Pro comes with an empty SIM card slot along with an embedded Apple SIM that allows you to quickly connect to a variety of different cellular networks using a pre-paid or post-paid model.

If you’re the owner of a previous-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the upgrade to either new Pro model is a lot more tempting. The old iPad Pro lacked many of the niceties that 9.7-inch owners currently enjoy, like better cameras, and True Tone. Couple those things with ProMotion and enhanced A10X Fusion chips, and you have a much more concrete reason to consider upgrading to the new and improved 12.9-inch model.

And what if you’re a current 12.9-inch owner, but you find the device to be a little too large? Then the 10.5-inch version may be even more appealing, and significantly less expensive. The 10.5-inch model, with its slim bezels, also looks much better than the 12.9-inch from a design perspective.

Regardless of what you decide to do, the real fun comes later this fall when iOS 11 is released for the iPad. I’m sold on the future of this device, as Apple has shown that it’s fully invested and committed to the future of the iPad. I’ve personally gone all in by selling my MacBook Pro, opting for a desktop iMac for at home computing, and am now using a 256GB cellular-enabled Space Gray 10.5-inch iPad Pro as my new on-the-go work machine.

What about you?

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