Last year, I reviewed Apple’s new iPad Pro and found that it was not quite the laptop replacement that we had hoped for. But with the tablet that Apple announced last week, the company is closer than ever, especially once iOS 11 is released.
I tested the device for several days, on the road and at home. Apple lent me a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which is the newest size — up from 9.7 inches, which has been the basic screen size for the iPad since it was introduced. Apple also has a refreshed 12.9-inch iPad Pro. But the smaller iPad Pro, the company said, has become a customer favorite.
The bulk of the iPad's upgrade involves screen improvements. The display’s size bump is noticeable, particularly when watching video, but it hasn’t added much to the device’s weight. (At about a pound, it’s still pretty light.)
The larger screen makes typing easier, though for serious work you will still want to use the keyboard cover or another external keyboard. In fact, as with the previous generation of the iPad Pro, the tablet is best when you add accessories. That probably means Apple’s $159 smart keyboard case as well as the $99 Pencil, if you’re looking to sketch. Those are costs you should consider on top of the iPad Pro’s $649 starting price tag (for a tablet with 64 gigabytes of storage).
The screen is the key component of the tablet, of course. Apple has improved the iPad’s screen with something it calls ProMotion, which essentially optimizes your iPad’s screen to display whatever you’re looking at. Text is sharper. Video playback is smoother. Scrolling through a page feels less floaty, with a less noticeable blur in text as you race by and a more immediate clarity when you stop.
These are all small things — if you didn’t know that the iPad Pro had a more responsive screen, you might not pick up on it. I’m not sure I would have sensed that without being told to look for it. Still, it’s a change worth noting because it improves your experience looking at the screen, particularly if you’re doing a lot of online reading on the tablet.
With the addition of an Apple Pencil, the screen’s improvements get a little more noticeable. As a person who still takes a lot of notes with paper and ink, I’m always interested when companies claim that their tech can replace my ever-growing pile of notebooks. With this iPad Pro, Apple comes closer than ever to simulating that experience. It’s more than adequate
for jotting down notes during a meeting or for writing a reminder.
The new size is certainly a plus if you’re considering using the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement. For creative work and digital note-taking, you’ll notice even less latency than before, which is saying something.
But, in one big way, reviewing the iPad Pro now as a device for real work would be telling only half the story. The real changes to the iPad Pro — and all of Apple’s iOS 11-compatible iPads — will come with the release of iOS 11 in the fall.
Based on the demonstrations Apple has shared, the software update will make the iPad much more like a laptop, using Apple’s familiar file structure plus a number of multitasking features that will make it feel more robust. Once iOS 11 hits, it will be possible to run up to four apps on the screen at a time — two side-by-side, one floating and video in picture-in-picture. Then, the combination of the slightly larger size, faster processing power and new software could make the new iPad Pro stand out against the rest of the line.
This may make the proposition more confusing if you’ve been considering something light, like a MacBook Air (which hasn't been updated in years), against the tablet. If you're looking for something portable that you can watch videos on or use to write documents and emails, then it comes down to whether you want to be able to use a touch screen.
Overall, if you have a first-generation iPad Pro and are happy with it, you may not find a compelling reason to upgrade. But if your laptop is getting up there, and you’re looking for a light device to replace it, the iPad Pro will soon be able to fill that gap with fewer compromises than ever.