Apple iPad Pro review: why Apple's biggest iPad yet is the ultimate business tablet

Is the 12.9in iPad Pro still worth buying?

  • Amazing display; impressive speakers; flawless user experience
  • Expensive

Apple iPad Pro review: Display and audio

The iPad Pro's display is the real star here, however. It's huge in comparison to the iPad Air 2's screen at a 12.9in, and the resolution is a bumper 2,732 x 2,048. Eagle-eyed readers will spy that this delivers exactly the same pixel density as the iPad Air 2, so given that you're likely to hold or use the iPad Pro at distances further from your eye than the smaller iPad Pro 9.7, the pixel density should typically result in a higher perceived resolution at your eye.In other words, the iPad Pro's screen is as sharp as most people need. You won't be able to spy the pixels unless you get really close in.

As with other iPads in the range, the iPad Pro uses an IPS display, so colours look more natural and well-balanced than with most AMOLED displays. It benefits from the same anti-reflective treatment and lamination process as the iPad Air 2, which means even if the sunlight is streaming through your train window and onto the screen, you'll be able to see what you're doing.

When tested with an X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter, the iPad Pro's display is just as impressive. Contrast is as high as we've seen on an IPS panel at 1,552:1, ensuring a punchy, lively image; maximum brightness is a decent 393cd/m2; and colour accuracy is beyond reproach. The screen covers 98.2% of the sRGB colour space, ensuring everything just looks great, and its average Delta E dips below 1 (the exact score is 0.87), which is the sort of performance I'd expect from a professional monitor.

Delta E is a measure of colour accuracy, or more specifically, colour difference. A higher Delta E indicates a bigger difference from the ideal colour value and, therefore, lower colour accuracy. Any average Delta E figure below one is what you're aiming for if you're doing any kind of colour critical work, such as professional photo editing or design work. This is exactly the sort of work the iPad Pro is aimed at.

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It really is amazing, and yet what really stands out is the size of that screen. It's as wide as the iPad Air 2 is tall, so there's much more real estate on offer. When you're working on a video-editing app, this gives you a good-sized video window along with the editing timeline below.

And if you choose the multitasking Split Screen view, where you can have two simultaneously active windows side by side, both windows are substantial and usable in their own right. In fact, both in terms of resolution and size, the iPad Pro's display is the equivalent of having a pair of iPad Air 2 (or iPad Pro 9.7) screens stitched together, side-by-side.

That's a great boon for productivity, but bear in mind support for the iPad's Split View mode has to be specifically enabled by app developers, and the result is that a number of productivity apps don't work with it.

The biggest culprit, until recently, was Google, whose Drive apps would only run in full-screen mode - a real pain for those users who work a lot with the popular online productivity suite. Indeed, at first, Google's Drive apps didn't even run at the iPad Pro's native resolution. Now, however, Google's apps finally work with Split View, and in iOS 10 Apple has improved its Mail, Notes and Safari apps to better take advantage of the iPad's bigger screen.

The good news is that the iPad Pro now has most of the major office suites covered, with Google, Microsoft and, of course, Apple's iWork apps, all supporting Split Screen view. However, if there's another app that you just can't do without and use frequently, it's well worth investigating if it supports Apple's peculiar form of multitasking before you splash your cash on the larger iPad Pro.

If you're using the iPad Pro to consume rather than produce content, it's a joy. Video playback is butter-smooth and really shines on this display. Then there are those speakers. Even with four, I'd expect sound quality to be tinny and lacking in substance. Incredibly, that's very, very far from the case.

Somehow, Apple has managed to tune the speakers so that there's a modicum of body and bass. You'll not want to spend long listening to your favourite tunes, but for the odd TV programme or movie, it's more than okay.

In fact, the iPad Pro's audio is better than most laptops I've listened to, let alone skinny tablets, the four speakers adding a beefy sound and impressively high volumes. The stereo effect is clearly discernible, too.

Just for the hell of it, I measured the frequency response of the iPad Pro's speakers using a measurement microphone and compared directly with the HP Elite X2, which has Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers that aren't nearly as good.

In the comparison graph above, you can see that the region between around 70Hz and just over 400Hz sees a significant advantage for the iPad Pro (in green) over the HP, and that with higher frequencies the rise in volume kicks in later as well. This doesn't look all that dramatic, but it results in a much fuller, less tinny sound.

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Intriguingly, when you turn the tablet from landscape to portrait, the iPad detects this, switching the orientation of the speakers so the left channel continues to come from the two speakers on your left. The sound on this tablet is seriously impressive.

Apple iPad Pro review: Smart Keyboard and alternatives

The Smart Keyboard is one of the two essential peripherals for the iPad Pro. Just as the Type Cover improves Microsoft Surface tablets massively, so the dedicated keyboard turns the iPad Pro into a successful laptop substitute. Tim Cook recently said that although he still loves his Mac, when he travels he just takes the iPad Pro as his computer.

In some ways this keyboard is better than Microsoft's Surface keyboard, because the keys (which at first glance look like they may not be up to much) are superb to use: firm but responsive and highly comfortable, even when used for long periods.

The base is solid enough for you to have it on your lap, too, but the big problem with it is that it can only prop up the iPad Pro at one angle. You may find this fits with your way of working, but there will almost certainly be a situation in which the tablet doesn't quite work perfectly.

Another issue is that, for now, only the US keyboard layout is available, although of course it's still possible to use it as a UK layout if your iPad is set up that way. This way the sign is right where it should be, even if the physical key shows the # symbol.

Other layouts will follow shortly and Logitech's cover is already available. It's a little cheaper than the Apple model (110), has backlit keys, and acts as a case to protect the rear of the iPad as well as the front. The key action is decent, too -- the keys are much more laptop-like -- and we found it very easy to type on.

This has its disadvantages, however: it holds the iPad up at a steeper angle that's less practical for use on your lap than the Apple keyboard, and it adds a lot more bulk and weight to the iPad Pro as well. It weighs a hefty 750g, more than doubling the weight of the iPad Pro.

Still, the thick, nylon weave material it's made from does provide a lot of protection, and the smooth aluminium surrounding the keyboard gives it a more classy feel than the Apple's cloth-topped keys.

Not available in the UK yet, but on pre-order in the US for $189, is the BrydgePro, a slimline Bluetooth keyboard that features an adjustable hinge for the most laptop-like experience yet. We haven't had the opportunity to test this one yet, but it looks promising, and according to the specifications on the Brydge website, has backlit keys, adds only 735g to the iPad Pro's weight, and has a battery that lasts up to three months.

Finally, we're also looking forward to testing the ZAGG Slim Book for iPad Pro. Another hinged keyboard, this one adds a protective cover to the back of the iPad Pro, effectively turning it into a useable laptop-style 2-in-1 device, with a magnetic attachment mechanism, no less. Its keys are backlit, allowing you to use the keyboard in the dark; it has 135 degrees of adjustment so it's more flexible than the standard Smart Keyboard; and it costs 110.

Apple iPad Pro review: Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is Apple's answer to the stylus. It's slim, perfectly weighted, and a quintessential Apple beauty: sleek, elegant and highly effective.

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If you've ever used a stylus with an iPad, forget everything you know: the Pencil is nothing like that experience. Whereas using a stylus with an iPad is a bit laggy, and a bit imprecise, the Pencil is fast, responsive and clean. Latency is, according to Apple, under 20ms -- which in the real world means that you don't notice it at all.

Unlike most capacitive styluses, it has a slender nib, which is firm rather than squashy to the touch. That's because the tip of the Pencil, like some styluses from Wacom and N-trig, includes sensors that recognise pressure, altitude and angle. Apple hasn't revealed how many levels of pressure the Pencil can spot, but it has a satisfyingly realistic feel to it.

More than any other stylus we've used, it feels most using a real pencil on paper, with just the right amount of slide and friction. Tilt the Pencil on its side and you can even add shading as you draw, and better still, if you make a mistake it's comparatively simple to correct the error, or add more detail by zooming right in.

Two things about the Pencil show off Apple's attention to detail perfectly. The cap, which covers the Lightning plug used to charge it, has a small metal ring and snaps to the top in a really satisfying way, and when you place it on a flat surface desk Apple has designed the weighting and shape of it so that it always rolls to a halt with the logo and branding facing up.

It seems Apple has thought through the practicalities as well. The top slides off to reveal an extended Lightning connector. This is used to pair the two and charge the Pencil -- and it doesn't need long to deliver a useful amount of charge; in fact Apple says that 15 seconds connected will give 30 minutes of use.

We can't vouch for the absolute accuracy of that statement, but it certainly seemed to have plenty of pep after the briefest of charges. And when it does eventually run flat, it's reassuring to be able to revitalise it in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

One negative point here is that there's no sleeve or place in the iPad Pro or the Smart Keyboard to keep the Pencil, so mind you don't lose it. At 79 it's also far from cheap, but if you want to make the most of the iPad Pro, which is already a fairly hefty financial commitment, you'd be mad not to seriously consider buying one.

One thing to bear in mind, however, is that not all art and photography apps support the Pencil yet, and many don't make the most of the bigger screen either. The excellent ArtRage painting and drawing app, for example, doesn't have support built in for the Pencil, despite the fact that the iPad Pro has been out for a some time now.

Still, over time, wider support is inevitable. Microsoft has recently updated its Office apps for iPad to support pressure-sensitive annotation and highlighting with the Pencil, while a small number of other apps now have full support. These include the popular Paper and Procreate apps, Adobe Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw, Sketchbook Pro and Forge.

And don't forget, there's always Apple's own Notes app, which is a joy to sketch on. We particularly like the virtual ruler, which offers spectacular precision for creating everything from straight-line drawings to quick-fire tables. It's an excellent tool for jotting down Scrabble scores.

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