You could argue about this, but the Apple iPad kick-started the tablet segment five years ago and has stayed firmly on top of the premium slice of the tablet market pie. However, in recent times, the iPad hasn’t exactly been setting the market on fire. Ergo, say hello to the iPad Pro, the biggest iPad ever at 12.9 inches.
It is aimed squarely at the professional market—but please don’t read that as just corporate types, but creative types such as musicians too, many of whom have been Apple customers long before Apple got to the top of Mt Technology driven by iPhone sales.
As computing evolves, tablets have become another silo, or an in-between category—between smartphones and computers, when the original intention was to replace computers. However, that hasn’t happened (I have personally tried with iPads and keyboards), but the iPad Pro may just be the first device that delivers on that promise, given the screen size and the specs it brings. So it’s a tablet, but in a way, it’s also a whole new category, because of its sheer size and new use cases. Which is why it’s a bit tougher to provide first impressions on this one. With a new smartphone, it’s fairly easy, but with a gadget where use cases are reimagined and with which you interact in new ways, things are a bit tricky.
But we’ll try nevertheless. First up, it’s big and when you see the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard, it seems bigger than a 13-inch MacBook Air largely because of the screen. But, it’s also surprisingly light—you expect it to be heavier, and so it’s a pleasant surprise. The cellular (4G) + Wi-Fi model we got weighed 723 grams. It’s not something you can carry in one hand for the entire day, but for its size the iPad Pro is perhaps as light as it could be. And at 6.9 mm thick, it’s up there with the iPhone 6s, and in fact, is thinner than the 6s Plus, which is 7.1 mm thick.
Display – It’s not just about size
The gorgeous screen hits you at first go. Apple says that with 5.6 million pixels, the iPad Pro features the highest-resolution Retina display of any iOS device and in fact that’s true compared to all other tablets too. There’s also some nifty work done to save battery life despite the big screen—the display figures if you are watching dynamic content like a video or a game, adjusts refresh rate accordingly, while bringing refresh rate down in case of static content.
But what struck me was the also the sheer waste of real estate. Perhaps it’s me living in crowded Mumbai, but so much wasted screen space makes me feel uncomfortable. So many more icons could have been fitted on that lovely display, and reduce the need for multiple screens. Given itssize, the iPad Pro is sized similar to most magazines and I browsed through some magazines with Magzter and Zinio. Was a great experience—better than any I’ve had on any tablet till date.
Having said that, I simply don’t see too many use cases for the iPad Pro just by itself like other tablets and earlier iPads. I think you would need a keyboard accessory or the Apple Pencil. So, if I get one to replace my notebook computer, I might use it for browsing and some video watching (the latter would be tough in cattle class on airplanes though), but I wouldn’t buy one just for reading or watching videos. Another miss is the surprising omission of 3D Touch, which again leads me to believe that the iPad Pro is meant for use with another accessory and with both hands, and it’s not the kind of device you hold in your hand and where you’d press harder with your finger to go to another screen or menu.
Performance and Sound
Performance is at the top of the range, given the A9X processor with 64-bit desktop class architecture. Nothing we threw at it, from 4k video to graphics intensive games bothered it one bit. We’ll be throwing more at over the next few days, but I suspect we’ll be disappointed if we are looking for lag.
Another initial impression was that of the sound levels the iPad Pro throws out. Apple claims it is louder than the MacBook and while we couldn’t test that, we all agreed that it very loud and clear. Another interesting aspect is that four speakers are placed in four corners, with the top speakers reproducing higher frequencies and the lower ones reproducing bass notes, but this changes dynamically as you change orientation. Pretty cool that.
We got the Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil to try out the iPad Pro. I’ve used third party keyboards with iPads and despite trying hard to make an iPad a notebook replacement, I’ve struggled for a week or so before giving up. Going by initial impressions, I think my long-time quest might just find its solution in the iPad Pro, though the long loved use of a mouse or tracking device might still stump me here.
The Apple Pencil also needs to put through its paces—and we’ll get a design professional to do so in the final review–but Nash David, Technology Editor at Firstpost, started sketching a face just after spending 30 seconds with an iPad Pro and had everything from shading to fine lines with detail in a minute or so. This might just interest professionals in the architecture, engineering and construction industries too once relevant apps are available.
Which brings me to apps. Many are not optimised, including Facebook, where I got a far better user experience with optimal use of the large screen on Safari rather than the Facebook app. This is a matter of time though, given Apple’s installed base and market heft.
Summing up initial impressions
When you include the Apple Pencil, which is a whole new input device for Apple, the new iPad Pro has far more use cases. But whether it will truly be a notebook replacement remains to be seen and that’s something our final review will focus on, because after all, that’s the true intention behind the iPad Pro. It does have a great display, fantastic size-to-weight ratio and you are left amazed at how Apple can fit in a powerful processor that delivers all the power you need in such a thin package.