Tech review: Apple iPad Pro (2018) - A tablet closest to a laptop

In addition to losing the Home button, the iPad Pro also loses the headphone jack and Lightning port. But it gains a USB-C port.
In addition to losing the Home button, the iPad Pro also loses the headphone jack and Lightning port. But it gains a USB-C port.PHOTO: APPLE

DESIGN

The new iPad Pro has lost the Home button, used for the Touch ID fingerprint recognition function. As such, Apple was able to push the iPad Pro's display closer to the edges of the tablet for an all-screen design with very thin bezels.

The result is the smaller of the two new iPad Pro models now comes with a bigger 11-inch display, instead of its predecessor's 10.5-inch one. The 12.9-inch model (version tested) might have the same screen size as its predecessors but it is much smaller than them. I still remember the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro feeling like a laptop not because of its weight but its bulk. The latest version feels like a tablet again.

Despite its thin bezels, the new iPad Pro does not have the "notch" found in the iPhone X series phones, which houses the TrueDepth camera needed for Face ID, Apple's face-detection technology. Instead, the TrueDepth camera of the iPad Pro resides in the top bezel. Also, while Face ID only works in portrait orientation for the iPhone X series, the iPad Pro's Face ID works in both the portrait and landscape orientation.

If you happen to block the TrueDepth camera, the tablet will alert you with an arrow to show the camera's position so you can unblock it.

In addition to losing the Home button, the iPad Pro also loses the headphone jack and Lightning port. But it gains a USB-C port.

Its aluminium unibody, which comes in silver and space-grey (version tested), has undergone some changes with flat sides instead of the curved sides of its predecessors. The Smart Connector has been relocated to the rear, near the bottom USB-C port, where the Lightning port used to be.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: From $1,499 (12.9-inch 64GB Wi-Fi) to $2,839 (12.9-inch 1TB Wi-Fi + Cellular, version tested)

    OPERATING SYSTEM: iOS 12.1

    Processor: A12X Bionic with Neural Engine, M12 co-processor

    DISPLAY: 12.9 inches, 2,732 x 2,048 pixels

    CAMERA: 12-megapixel rear camera, 7-megapixel front-facing TrueDepth Camera

    WEIGHT: 631g (Wi-Fi), 633g (Wi-Fi + Cellular)

A subtle change that adds to the design unity is that the corners of the display are now rounded to match the corners of the unibody, unlike the angled corners of previous iPads' displays.

The new iPad Pro looks more minimalistic than ever before. It is easily my favourite iPad design thus far.

DISPLAY AND SPEAKERS

If you are an iPhone X or XS user, you will be familiar with the gesture controls in the new iPad Pro. For example, you swipe up to go to Home screen, swipe down from the top left of the display for the Control Centre and swipe down from the top right to get notifications.

Like its predecessor, the new iPad Pro's display has a refresh rate of 120Hz. This means the display is super responsive when you are swiping through pages. Not to mention, games and movies are now smoother.

The smooth visuals are further enhanced by the great audio delivered through the four stereo speakers - each with its own tweeter and sub-woofer - at the four corners of the tablet. It is amazing how much oomph the speakers have.

On the downside, the display continues to be a fingerprint, smudge and dirt magnet.

PERFORMANCE

Both the new iPad Pros are powered by the new Apple A12X Bionic chip that is said to be faster than 92 per cent of the portable PCs sold today.

The new 12.9-inch model scores 5,014 (single-core) and 18,256 (multi- core) in the Geekbench 4 benchmark test. It easily outperformed last year's 10.5-inch iPad Pro (3,963, single-core; 9,460, multi-core) and even 2017's 13-inch MacBook Pro (4,431, single-core; 9,551, multi-core).

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]

Using Pixelmator to edit photos and iMovie to edit videos was quick and seamless. And with the full version of Adobe Photoshop CC coming to iPad next year, I can already imagine how well it is going to perform on this tablet.

Playing first-person shooter games like PUBG Mobile and Fortnite on this iPad Pro was awesome with great graphics and smooth gameplay. The portability of this device along with the fantastic big screen makes it a great gaming device on-the-go. I am looking forward to playing the upcoming action role-playing game Diablo Immortal on it.

ACCESSORIES

With the new design, the iPad Pro requires a new Smart Keyboard Folio ($299 for 12.9-inch model) and a new Apple Pencil ($189) stylus.

And if you are getting the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, getting the Smart Keyboard Folio is a must. This accessory now covers the front and back of the iPad, unlike the previous version that protects only the front.

There are also two viewing angles instead of one when the iPad is docked to the folio. But you can only use the folio's keyboard with the iPad in landscape orientation. And there is still no backlight for the keys.

However, the keyboard has some neat tricks. For example, you can double tap on the Space Bar to unlock the screen via Face ID without swiping up on the screen. And if you are unsure what shortcuts an app has, press and hold the Command Key to see them when you are in the app.

The new Apple Pencil might not be as essential as the Smart Keyboard Folio for most, unless you are an artist. But even if you are not an artist, the Apple Pencil should prove useful. For instance, I find using the Apple Pencil makes the dodging or burning process during photo editing more accurate.

Unlike with the original Apple Pencil that plugs awkwardly into the Lightning port for charging and pairing, you attach the new Apple Pencil to the right side of the tablet. It magnetically attaches there for both pairing and charging. It is also a neat way to keep the stylus with the tablet.

 

Not to mention, you can switch between a pencil and an eraser when you are sketching something in Notes with the Apple Pencil by simply double tapping on the flat side of the stylus.

USB-C

The iPad Pro's USB-C port is much welcomed. Especially if you have a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 monitor that you can directly connect the iPad Pro.

While I do not have such a display, I was able to plug the iPad Pro to my HDMI monitor using a USB-C-to-HDMI cable as well as via a USB-C adapter with a HDMI port.

However, it is quite disappointing that most of the time, the monitor just mirrors what is on the tablet's display. Only when you use supported apps like Apple's Keynote presentation software, that you can have the presentation slides on the monitor with the presentation notes on the iPad.

The iPad Pro is also pretty picky in accepting USB-C devices. For example, none of the USB-C thumb drives and hard drives I plugged in work.

But surprisingly, Creative's Super X-Fi USB-C surround sound audio adapter works perfectly fine.

However, the iPad Pro is able to import photos and videos directly from the GoPro Fusion 360-degree camera via a USB-C cable. In addition, I was able to import photos from an SD card to the tablet using a HyperDrive USB-C Pro Card Reader. But all the photos can only be imported using the native Photos app.

My usual workflow is to organise my stories - written in text documents - with voice recordings, raw photos and edited photos into one desktop folder. I have a folder for each particular interview or event.

This is something I cannot do on the iPad Pro. Of course, I can change my workflow but that would mean too many workarounds and a less efficient workflow. To me, this is a big impediment to the iPad Pro being used as a productivity device.

BATTERY

In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi switched on and the display at full brightness), it lasted 10hr 5min. In comparison, the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro clocked 9hr 15min.

Mileage will of course depend on usage. Using it to check e-mails, type articles, read news articles on Safari and the News app before sleeping and occasionally playing PUBG, I found myself needing to charge the iPad only once every two days.

PRICE

The iPad Pro is a hefty investment. Our review unit, which is the fully-souped up 1TB version, costs $2,839. Add the Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil and the total price tag comes up to $3,327.

To put things in perspective, you can buy a Razer Blade Stealth laptop ($3,199) featuring a 13.3-in QHD+ touchscreen display and 1TB flash storage for slightly less.

Verdict: The Apple iPad Pro (2018) might not be a laptop replacement or killer, but it is the tablet that is the closest thing to a laptop.