Nov 13, 2015

    Apple's new iPad Pro proves big is beautiful

    IT WOULD be tempting to dismiss the Apple iPad Pro ($1,188 for the basic 32GB Wi-Fi-only model and topping out at $1,648 for the top-of-the-line 128GB Wi-Fi and Cellular model), at first glance as nothing more than a giant iPad.

    To be blunt, we were squarely of this view - until we actually tried it out. The iPad Pro is more than the sum of its parts and is certainly more than meets the eye.


    The design of the iPad Pro follows closely that of Apple's other iPads. However, it remains remarkably slim at just 6.9mm thick, or merely 0.9mm thicker than the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4. In fact, 6.9mm is the same thickness as the iPhone 6.

    Even with the expansive 12.9-inch display, the iPad Pro weighs just 723g (the non-cellular model is lighter at 713g), or the same as the first-generation iPad which has a smaller 9.7-inch display.

    Like iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4, the iPad Pro is mostly devoid of physical buttons and switches. Beneath the display is the home and Touch ID button and there's a power button on the top and volume buttons on the side.

    In terms of connectivity, the iPad Pro has the same headphone jack and Lightning connector as the tablets that came before it, so no surprises there.

    And like the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4, the iPad Pro has an all-aluminium body with chamfered edges. It also comes in the same colours - silver, gold and space grey. Sadly, there is no rose gold option for now.


    The iPad Pro is mostly about the display. At 12.9 inches, the iPad Pro actually offers 78 per cent more screen real estate than the iPad Air 2. And with a display resolution of 2,732 x 2,048 pixels and a pixel density count of 264 pixels per inch, the iPad Pro's display surpasses the Retina MacBook Pro notebooks. In fact, the iPad Pro's display is so large that you can comfortably fit two iPad Mini 4s within. Coupled with iOS 9's support for multitasking, you can begin to appreciate just how much more productive you can be with the iPad Pro.

    With iOS 9, Apple finally introduced split-screen multitasking to their iPads but it works for only compatible apps - so it works mostly with iOS 9's native apps for now.

    Apart from Split View, there are also other modes such as Slide Over, where the second app takes up a quarter of the display; and Picture in Picture, where users can minimise their videos so that it continues playing in a corner of the display while running a main app.

    The iPad Pro's display is bright and shows images crisply. Text looks incredibly fluid, making reading on the iPad Pro a pleasure.

    But size aside, the two most major improvements to the iPad Pro's display are its upgraded multi-touch system and its variable refresh rate. The multi-touch system has been thoroughly reworked and the display now scans for input at a much higher rate, so that touch input can be more quickly and accurately captured and recorded.


    Another thing that has been dramatically improved is sound. The audio performance of previous iPads was nothing to shout about but Apple wants to change that with the iPad Pro. Look around on the iPad Pro and you will notice that there are speaker grilles located at all four corners of the device. The four speakers are sealed with carbon fiber caps to produce a deeper and fuller bass.

    Regardless of the iPad Pro's orientation, the top two speakers are always dedicated to produce the mid and high frequencies and will automatically adjust themselves to match the iPad Pro's orientation.

    It produces a respectable sound stage and convincing stereo effects - whether you hold it in landscape or portrait orientation. Apple claims that it is more than 60 per cent louder than the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 and it is just as loud, if not louder, as a MacBook Pro. Plus, it can play at maximum volume with very minimal distortion to the sound.


    Powering the iPad Pro is Apple's new A9X processor that offers desktop-class performance. Compared with the A8X in the iPad Air 2, the A9X offers 1.8 times the CPU performance and twice the GPU performance.

    On 3DMark, it recorded a score of 33,790, an improvement of 55 per cent over the iPad Air 2 and more than 80 per cent over the iPad Mini 4. It is also more than 50 per cent greater than the Sony Xperia Z4 tablet, which is powered by a high-end Snapdragon 810 processor; and more than 35 per cent greater than the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, which are powered by Samsung's powerful Exynos 7420 processor. The iPad Pro also scored more than 210 per cent higher than the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.


    If you think taking photos with iPads is ridiculous, it's even more so with the iPad Pro. Even so, Apple hasn't cut corners here and has outfitted the iPad Pro with the same front and rear cameras as the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4. This means an 8MP rear camera with a f/2.4 aperture also records full HD videos at 30fps and slow-motion videos at 120fps, as well as a 1.2MP front-facing camera with a f/2.2 aperture.

    The iPad Pro's imaging performance is pretty good if you have decent lighting but it's no match for smartphones. Images are a little noisy but certainly usable for most instances. Colour reproduction is also good and focusing is quick.


    The iPad Pro has a fairly large 38.5Wh battery, which is actually comparable with many ultraportable notebooks and tablets such as the Apple MacBook and Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

    Our standard battery test for tablets includes the following parameters: Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100 per cent; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on; constant data streaming through e-mail and Twitter.

    Our tests found that the iPad Pro has a battery life of around 4hr 17min, which is considerably shorter than both the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4. Clearly, either the iPad Pro's display or the A9X processor is not quite as power efficient as it needs to be.


    With the iPad Pro, Apple is also introducing two new accessories and one of them is the Apple Pencil ($148). Apple calls it "revolutionary" and we are inclined to agree. It is the best stylus we have ever used for any iPad.

    With the exception of its slightly long length, the Apple Pencil feels like a premium ballpoint pen in my hands. It's slightly heavy but it feels nice to hold.

    With the new multi-touch system, the iPad Pro now scans the display a staggering 240 times per second whenever it detects the Apple Pencil in the vicinity. My input was quickly and accurately recognised and there was only a small amount of lag when I was writing quickly.

    The Apple Pencil also features sensors in the tip that measures the amount of pressure, allowing you to draw wispy lines or thicker, harder lines simply by adjusting the amount of force applied. Additionally, tilt sensors in the Apple Pencil can calculate your orientation and angle to create shading effects, just as if you were using a traditional pencil.


    The other accessory Apple is introducing for the iPad Pro is the Smart Keyboard ($268), a cover and a portable keyboard for the iPad Pro all rolled into one. The Smart Keyboard connects magnetically to the iPad Pro via the Smart Connector and not via Bluetooth. It also draws power directly from the iPad Pro through the Smart Connector, so it can be used on demand without worry of it running out of juice or its last charging state.

    The Smart Keyboard has full-sized keys and the keys have a comfortable amount of travel, despite the Smart Keyboard being just 4mm thick. The keys are also completely covered by highly durable custom-woven nylon fabric which holds the keys in place and provides the spring-like tension for each key. The fabric is also spill and stain resistant.

    In my use, I found that it feels like typing on Apple's new MacBook but with softer keys. It's a worthwhile investment for those who intend to use the iPad Pro as a productivity tool. The onscreen keyboard is usable but there's no beating the feeling of typing on a proper tactile keyboard.


    The iPad Pro's display is gorgeous, its overall performance is brilliant, plus it is really thin and light despite its size. It's a beast of a tablet that will appeal to professionals such as artists and writers.

    But it's pricey and so are its accessories. Battery life is a tad disappointing and multitasking works for only some compatible apps for now.