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Apple iPad Pro Review: A Beautiful and Powerful Tablet That Won't Be Replacing My Laptop Any Time Soon

17 November 2015, 9:40 am EST By Brian Heater Tech Times
Apple looks to redefine the tablet space yet again with a gorgeous 12.9-inch display and some serious horsepower. But is the Pro a true laptop replacement or just a big ole iPad?  ( Brian Heater )

Apple's relationship with the personal computer has been a begrudging one, at best. Given the integral role the company played in the home computer revolution lo so many decades ago, the company seems pretty eager to burn the whole thing down, while many of us stubbornly cling to our laptops and desktops.

In recent years, Cupertino has focused its software innovation on mobile, developing its biggest breakthroughs for iOS and eventually porting them over to OS X, all while taking great pains to blur the lines between platforms.

Perhaps it's part of Apple's push to tighten the reins of its software ecosystem, or maybe it's just the latest symptom of the company's love of simple machines. Whatever the case, it never had the hardware to back up its claims surrounding the death of the PC.

As its name suggests, the iPad Pro helps to close that gap in a big way - so much so that Tim Cook greeted the device's launch by telling The Telegraph, "I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?"

Strong words from the company that makes the iMac and whole line of shiny metal desktops.

With several generations of iPad building experience and a starting price of $799, does this mark the moment Apple fans finally start abandoning their computers en masse for flat colored, touchscreened pastures?

Design

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

Apple has seen the future - and it apparently looks like a really, really big iPad.

The company certainly wasn't looking to reinvent the wheel here - as the product's name clearly suggests. Rather, the iPad Pro is an attempt to fill in a gap in its offerings by tweaking an existing product line. Or, rather, by super sizing it.

If you've spent any time with an iPad of late, you pretty much know what you're in for here. Apple's build quality is, as always, on point. The Pro is a solid and beautifully designed piece of hardware - one that feels slightly awkward the first time you pick it up, due to the fact that its display size is more akin to a mid-sized laptop than a tablet.

There's still a notable bezel surrounding the display, particularly along the top and bottom, though the function may well be by design at this point, to give the user's hands a spot to hold the device without triggering the touchscreen. Along the top is a anemic 1.2-megapixel front camera and on the bottom a home button, which, as with the iPhone, houses a snappy fingerprint reader for unlocking the display.

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

The rounded glass front converges with a familiar metallic casing around the sides, which house a quartet of stereo speakers. Apple still stubbornly refuses to embrace front-facing speakers, likely for aesthetic purposes, but the placement is still well thought out, with a grille at the top and bottom of the right and left sides (when held in landscape orientation). There's ample room between so the tablet can be held with both hands without muffling the sound - though even you do wind up covering one, there's still plenty of sound to be had.

Flanking the top speakers are the headphone jack and power button, with the Lightning port smack dab in the middle to the device's bottom. Along the right side is the volume rocker and on the left are a trio of small, slightly concave circles that form the Smart Connector, a new port designed for Apple's Smart Cover Keyboard and a growing number of third party accessories - it's a subtle new addition that is easy to miss on first glance.

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

The rear is a familiar anodized aluminum, with a big shiny Apple logo smack dob in the center. There's an iPad logo toward the bottom, along with all of the standard FCC markings, and tucked in the upper left-hand corner is an eight-megapixel camera - again, low on the specs, but the fact of the matter is that users won't be taking a heck of a lot of photos with the tablet. I walked around the streets of Queens, snapping shots on a 13-inch tablet, and by the end of it, I wanted to beat myself up.

Because the iPad Pro is, in a word, big. It's a 13-inch tablet. There's nothing subtle about it - and at 1.57 pounds, it's not exactly light. Though, as has been pointed out elsewhere, that's not that much heavier than the first generation 9.7-inch model (and it's significantly lighter than most laptops) - and at 0.27-inches, the Pro is actually roughly half as thick as the first iPad - an impressive combination that makes for a surprisingly holdable device.

Audio/Video

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

The centerpiece of the device is, of course, that 12.9 inch screen. That's 0.9-inches larger than the screen on the MacBook. And, not surprisingly, it's gorgeous. The screen clocks in at 2732 x 2048 pixels, which works out to around 264 pixels per inch, making it higher-res than any of its iOS brethren - heck, those numbers are a lot more comparable to what's offered in the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

It's a downright delight. The color balance is great - it's bright without looking oversaturated, a fairly common issue with many of these high-resolution mobile displays. HD movies look terrific and photos really pop. And as for comic books, well, the iPad Pro feels like it was specifically designed for sequential art. That big display means you can have two pages open side by side without any straining to read the text.

After spending plenty of time with the iPhone 6s of late, the lack of 3D Touch is a notable oversight. Given that the iPad Pro is the most premium and highest priced entry in the iOS family, Apple's cool new screen functionality would play really well on the big screen here, particularly with the myriad different functionalities of this massive tablet. But, then, Cupertino needs to save a few tricks for the next generation, right?

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

The quartet of speakers aren't the best I've ever heard from a mobile device, but they're solid nonetheless. They're clear, get plenty loud, and have a full sound that perfectly complements the excellent display. The iPad Pro is a powerhouse multimedia machine, though there is the issue of how to position it when it comes to watching anything for an extended period of time. At more than a pound and a half, it's not something you're necessarily going to want to hold onto for the length of a feature. As with so much of the Pro's functionality, the device doesn't really come into its own without the proper accessories.

Software

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

The Pro feels like the culmination of several generations' worth of iOS upgrades. In years past, the idea of a true productivity machine built around Apple's mobile operating system has seemed downright silly. Sure, there are plenty of work-related applications in the ecosystem, but earlier builds of iOS just weren't built for the sorts of heavy lifting required to get real work done.

Thanks to the addition of essential functionality, like multitasking in recent upgrades, however, it's perhaps not such a far out thought after all. Those additions coupled with some extra upgrades and the possibilities that come with laptop-sized screen real estate open up a lot more possibilities for users.

Most of the big adds here revolve around one of iOS's longstanding productivity Achilles heels - the ability to have multiple applications open simultaneously on the desktop. As I type this, Word, Google Hangouts, Firefox, Spotify, and Slack are all visible on my laptop's display. And then there are all of the different tabs currently open in my browser.

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

What the 12.9-inch display brings is the potential to truly multitask. Say you want a browser open as you're writing in Pages, or maybe you want to look at a map while reading a restaurant review. Like Samsung tablets before it, iOS 9 offers a few ways to accomplish this with a couple of swipes of the finger.

You can either open a small side bar or split the screen down the center. Picture-in-picture, meanwhile, makes it possible keep a small video screen open for watching movies or Facetiming. At present, there are still a number of high profile apps that don't support split screen, but that's likely set to change in the not so distant future. The ones that do work with the new features do so quite smoothly, thanks in no small part to what's running beneath the hood.

Internals

(Photo : Apple)

The whole shebang is powered by the A9X, a proprietary processor that the company says can rival desktop chips. It is, indeed, a powerful thing - certainly the most powerful Apple has ever stuck inside a tablet. According to Ars Technica's benchmarks, the dual-core chip clocks in at around 2.25GHz, and indeed, it was capable of taking whatever I threw at it in stride.

The big tablet also sports a big battery. Apple lists the slate's life at around 10 hours of use on a charge. And indeed, I've been able to get through a couple of days of moderate use without having to plug the tablet back in. It'll certainly be able to make it through most plane rides without a problem.

The iPad Pro is hands-down the most powerful and capable iOS device the company has ever created.

Time to Chuck the Laptop?

I'm really eager to take the Smart Keyboard Cover and Pencil for a spin in the near future. As noted above, the device feels incomplete without them. On its own, the iPad Pro is, as put simply above, a really big iPad. Sure it's the company's biggest, brightest, most powerful, and overall most impressive iPad to date, but the idea of, say, typing this review on the touchscreen sends shivers down my spine.

The Pro certainly seems powerful enough to work as a primary laptop for most users, but even with the new multitasking features, operating system just can't replace the full functionality of Windows 10 or OS X. And the idea that Apple and Microsoft may be looking to push us all in that direction is still a little unnerving. I, for one, relish the relative openness provided by a PC when it comes to actually getting an work done.

As a supplementary device to a desktop or even a less portable laptop, however, products like the iPad Pro and Surface Book begin to look pretty compelling. Though, when you start to bundle accessories like the $169 Smart Keyboard Cover into the Pro's $799 starting price, things start to add up pretty quickly.

This ain't no netbook, after all.

Wrap-Up

(Photo : Brian Heater | TechTimes)

No surprise, there's a lot to like here. The iPad Pro is a beautifully designed piece of hardware with a gorgeous screen and some real power under the hood. I, for one, won't be throwing out my laptop any time soon, but I could certainly see plenty of scenarios in my life when the Pro would really fill in the gap, delivering all of the benefits of a tablet with some added productivity firepower.

At the very least, it's a compelling device and one that seems to signal the beginning of a new future for Apple mobile devices.

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