SINGAPORE - When rumours of a supersized iPad were proven true in September, its unveiling along with the new iPhones made the wait for the actual product seem extra long.
But the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is finally here.
It comes in 32GB and 128GB Wi-Fi versions, while the Wi-Fi + 4G model is available only in 128GB (version tested). Curiously, the base model has only 32GB of storage. Given that this iPad is probably targeted at creative professionals such as architects and designers, 64GB would have seemed a more logical choice for a base model.
When viewed from afar, it can easily be mistaken for an iPad Air 2. The design ethos of the current iPad family permeates the Pro version.
It has the same aluminium unibody chassis and chamfered edges as the iPad and IPad Air versions currently available. The smoothness and premium feel of an iPad remains, while the build is rock solid. It also has a Touch ID home button, but the mute/orientation lock switch is gone.
What really sets the iPad Pro apart from its siblings are the four stereo speakers that neatly occupy the four corners. This nicely doubles the pair found on the iPad Air 2. During audio playback, the balance adjusts automatically to provide a consistent audio output whenever you change the orientation of the device.
While the iPad Pro has to be larger to accommodate the bigger display, it is still a skinny 6.9mm, that is, as thin as the iPhone 6, and thinner even than my iPhone 6s Plus (7.3mm).
Nonetheless, the iPad Pro still felt really light when I picked it up. Weighing no more than 723g, it is about the same as the original iPad. While that might not sound very heavy, bear in mind that 723g is the weight of two of the iPad mini 4.
While you can easily pick up the iPad Pro with one hand, in just five minutes or so, it really started to feel heavy. It is still better to use two hands.
The display has a resolution of 2,732 x 2,048 pixels. This gives it a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi), which is close to that of the iPad Air 2. The iPad mini 4 has a higher pixel density of 326ppi. But the Pro has 78 per cent more screen space, and therefore, some 2.1 million pixels more than the iPad Air 2 and mini 4.
That extra real estate is perfect for watching movies, playing games, and editing photos and videos. Furthermore, it is ideal for the Split View multitasking function in iOS 9.
Despite the plethora of pixels, the touchscreen display shows no lag in responding to touch or gestures. Photos and videos look brilliant and show lifelike contrast. And editing is easier because the bigger display offers correspondingly larger buttons, sliders and adjustment tools.
I can well imagine graphic designers or photographers using the iPad Pro to show off their portfolios to clients.
It was a joy to use the Pro to play Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft or Magic: The Gathering, and other games. Card-game fanatics might buy the iPad Pro just for this purpose.
On the downside, the display is still quite reflective, and it lacks the 3-D Touch capability of the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. My guess is that Apple will probably include 3-D Touch in the next iPad refresh.
The iPad Pro uses the new faster A9X chip with 64-bit desktop architecture. The Geekbench 3 benchmark software shows the A9X to be a triple-core 2.16GHz processor and the Pro has 3.89GB of system memory.
In the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, the iPad Pro scored an impressive 3,236 in the single-core test and 5,491 in the multi-core test, as against the 1,812 and 4,544 for the iPad Air 2. In real-life tests, there was no lag at all in editing 4K videos or photos using iMovie or Photoshop Express.
Playing graphics-intensive games, including Infinity Blade III, Dungeon Hunter 5 and Modern Combat 5, was as smooth as silk too. The graphics looked so gorgeous that, for a while, I thought I was playing the games on a desktop computer.
Using the Complete Anatomy app by 3D4Medical to see the human anatomy in 3-D is breathtaking. The app lets you overlay muscles, arterial or respiratory systems onto a skeleton. And the details and accuracy the app delivers were amazing. How I wish I'd had such a tool in Biology class!
Productivity apps, such as Microsoft Office 365 or Apple's Pages and Keynote, all work like a charm. Great for those mobile warriors.
The Pro is armed with the same rear 8-megapixel camera and 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera as the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4. The rear camera can shoot panoramic pictures, and shoot in burst mode as well as record slow-motion and time-lapse videos.
But who, I wonder, is going to use such a big tablet to take a picture, much less a video? Lifting up the iPad Pro to shoot your child's kindergarten graduation would surely be an invitation to be heckled.
Apple should have upgraded the front-facing camera, as I think people will be more inclined to use FaceTime on the iPad Pro because it is such a great way to communicate with friends and family when you are separated.
In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and the display at full brightness), the Pro managed an impressive 9hr 15min before the battery went flat.
Of course, mileage depends on usage. I found that if all I did was check e-mail, zip through news reports on Flipboard and read digital books or magazines, the iPad Pro needed to be charged only every other day. But if I used more resource-intensive apps, such as UMake 3-D drawing or Complete Anatomy, the battery level dropped to 75 per cent within an hour.
IPAD PRO ACCESSORIES
For the iPad Pro, Apple specially created new accessories in the form of the Apple Smart Keyboard ($268) and Apple Pencil ($148).
The Smart Keyboard looks like an iPad Smart Cover, just bigger. However, instead of the usual three panels, there is an additional panel that contains the full-size keyboard. The keyboard's magnetic strip has three metallic contacts that link it to the Smart Connector on the side of the Pro. This eliminates the need for a Bluetooth connection.
Tug the keyboard panel under two of the three main panels, and you can cover the display. You can adjust the panels such that the keyboard sits in front of the iPad docked at an angle of 45 degrees, or minus the keyboard with the iPad positioned at 60-degree angle as a stand for watching movies.
The top of the keyboard is made of a woven fabric that is part of the key mechanism, to optimise key feel and stability. In addition, the keyboard has a stain-resistant finish. Apple says that it is also water resistant. But I haven't worked up the courage yet to dunk-test it.
The keys are well spaced and typing was a breeze. No typos! Amazingly, despite being so shallow, the keyboard gives tactile feedback. The keyboard also passes the “lapability” test with flying colours. That is, you can sit the keyboard on your lap and type without difficulty.
On the downside, the Smart Keyboard does not have backlit keys. Not very good if you need to type in the dark during a long-haul flight.
We all know how much Apple co-founder Steve despised the very idea of a stylus. But with the huge iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil, now listed as an optional accessory, might actually become an essential tool for certain users, especially artists, designers and architects.
The Apple Pencil looks like a pencil. It has no buttons. The “pencil” tip is interchangeable and the pencil has a cap that can be removed to reveal a built-in Lightning connector. To pair the Pencil and iPad Pro, plug the Pencil into the Lightning connector, and the Apple Pencil icon will appear in the Bluetooth menu. Tap the icon to complete the pairing process and you are good to go.
Charging the Apple Pencil for a mere 15 seconds is supposed to give it 30 minutes of battery life. The stylus is said to last 12 hours on a full charge.
The Apple Pencil mimics a real pencil. If you apply light pressure, you get thin lines. Apply more pressure and the resulting lines will be thicker.
The new Notes app in iOS 9 will let you draw to your heart’s content. With more powerful apps, such as Autodesk Sketchbook that offers a range of pencil tips, sprays and brushes, the iPad Pro can truly be your canvas.
Verdict: With a large responsive display and speedy performance, Apple's iPad Pro is a portable dream tool for creative professionals, graphic designers and photographers. Or you could, like Tim Cook, use it for your productivity needs.
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