At this point it probably isn’t a secret that tablet sales have leveled off, and in some cases they have declined. Pretty much anywhere you care to look you’ll see evidence that the tablet market just isn’t as strong as it once was. It’s undeniable that touch-only tablets have utility, but it seems that the broader market has been rather lukewarm about tablets. I suspect at least part of the problem here is that the rise of the phablet has supplanted small tablets. Large tablets are nice to have, but almost feel like a luxury good when they’re about as portable as an ultrabook. While a compact laptop can’t easily be used while standing, or any number of other situations where a tablet is going to be better, a compact laptop can do pretty much anything a touch-only tablet can. A laptop is also going to be clearly superior for a significant number of cases, such as typing or precise pointing.

As a result, large touch-only tablets feel like they’ve been limited to home use as a computer away from the computer. Tablets are great when you’re on the couch or in bed, but once you get to this point there are some obvious questions as to whether it makes sense to drop $500+ USD on a tablet that seems to have relatively limited utility. The Surface lineup has been showing signs of growth, but in general the Surface is more of a mix between laptop and tablet rather than a tablet. I would argue that given the OS and overall design that the Surface and Surface Pro are really more laptop than tablet, even if at the hardware level the Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3 are basically tablets with kickstands and keyboard covers.

If you’re guessing that this means Apple has had some issues with growing sales of their iPad lineup, you’d be right. From my first experiences with the iPad 3, I was impressed with the improved user experience for things like web browsing and other smartphone tasks, but I never really felt like it made enough sense to get one for myself. The iPad Air 2 was once again impressive and I felt like I could recommend it to other people that wanted a tablet, but I personally struggled to come up with a reason why I would buy it.

This brings us to the iPad Pro. This is probably the first time Apple has seriously deviated from traditional iPad launches, putting together a tablet built for (limited) productivity and content creation rather than just simple content consumption, creating what's arguably the iPad answer to the Surface Pro. To accomplish this, Apple has increased the display size to something closer to that of a laptop, and we see the addition of a stylus and a keyboard cover for additional precision inputs. Of course, under the hood there have been a lot of changes as well, so the usual spec sheet can be found below to summarize those changes.

  Apple iPad Air 2 Apple iPad Pro
SoC Apple A8X
3 x Apple Typhoon @ 1.5GHz
Apple A9X
2 x Apple Twister @ 2.2GHz
GPU PowerVR 8 Cluster Series6XT
(Apple GXA6850)
PowerVR 12 Cluster Series7XT
RAM 2GB LPDDR3 4GB LPDDR4
NAND 16/64/128GB 32/128GB
Display 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD 12.9" 2732x2048 IPS LCD
Size and Mass 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm
437g WiFi, 444g LTE
305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm
713g WiFi, 723g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear-Facing, f/2.4, 1.1 micron, 1.2MP Front-Facing, f/2.2
Battery 27.3Wh 38.5Wh
Launch OS iOS 8 iOS 9
Cellular Connectivity MDM9x25 Category 4 LTE + GPS/GNSS in Cellular SKU
Other Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, Apple Lightning
SIM Optional NanoSIM
Price $499/599/699 16/64/128GB $799/949/1079 32/128GB/128GB LTE

At a high level, the iPad Pro gains a larger display with a higher resolution, more memory, a new SoC, and a larger battery to compensate for the change in display size. In addition to these changes, the iPad Pro also brings noticeable changes to the speakers, with an increase to four speakers which allow the iPad Pro to compensate for device orientation when projecting stereo audio.

Design

The most immediate change that you can see in the iPad Pro is the sheer size. The 12.9” display of the iPad Pro basically makes it feel like you’re carrying a laptop around. I would argue that this doesn’t actually affect the portability of the iPad Pro, but this is mostly because the iPad Air 2 was something that I only carried in a backpack to begin with. People carrying their tablets in a small bag, purse, or even just in their hands will notice the difference, so the change in size might be more or less noticeable depending upon how you carry things around.

The increase in size does affect weight. After significant use, I honestly don’t think the mass is a significant issue. It does feel heavier than the iPad Air 2, but the mass distribution is such that there isn’t a ton of battery hanging out at the edges of the device where it’ll affect the moment of inertia. This does raise the question of whether Apple included enough battery for sufficient battery life, but that’s a question best left for the rest of the review.

In terms of design, the iPad Pro is rather unremarkable if you’ve ever seen an iPad Air before; it is for all intents and purposes a bigger iPad Air. On the front, the display dominates, with some bezels on the sides and top. The top has the front-facing camera, and the bottom has the home button with TouchID.

Looking at the sides of the tablet, the top edge has the power button and 3.5mm port, along with two of the four speakers. The right edge has the volume buttons, and the bottom edge has the Lightning port and the other two speakers. The left edge is mostly empty, but contains the Smart Connector for the Smart Keyboard and similar accessories.

The back of the tablet is mostly unremarkable as well. For the LTE model, an RF window is visible on the top of the device to allow LTE and other connectivity to function. For the WiFi variants, it looks like the bottom display bezel and the bottom two speakers are the RF windows, so there aren’t any visible areas that indicate where the WiFi antennas are.

Overall, the iPad Pro feels like an iPad, with nothing all that remarkable beyond its size which is carried well. I never really noticed the mass or size of the iPad Pro even if it is clearly larger and heavier than the iPad Air 2. I also didn’t notice any issues with the back cover flexing, but given enough pressure on the back cover pretty much any device this large will see some screen distortion or bending. The iPad Pro does technically regress in thickness compared to the iPad Air 2, but I never noticed the difference in practice, especially when the larger display is really what matters more.

SoC Analysis: Apple A9X
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  • MaxIT - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - link

    Reality check: the "nonplussed" product sold more than the well established surface pro in the last quarter.... So maybe you are just expressing YOUR opinion, and not "everyone's ".... Reply
  • lilmoe - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    The performance is "great" for iOS, FTFY. It would suffer on anything "Pro".... Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    Performance is better than a high end workstation from 10 years ago, a system which was capable of running professional tasks which are still nowhere to be found on mobile platforms. And it has nothing to do with performance. It has to do with forcing a shift in the market, from devices used by their owners to devices, being used by their makers to exploit their owners commercially. And professional productivity just ain't it. Not content creation but content consumption. People flew in space using kilohertz computers with kilobytes of memory, today we have gigahertz and gigabytes in our pockets, and the best we can do with it is duck face photos. That's what apple did to computing, and other companies are getting on that train as well, seeing how profitable it is to exploit society, it is in nobody's interest to empower it. Reply
  • Phantom_Absolute - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    I just created an account here to say...well said my friend Reply
  • lilmoe - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    I was trying really hard to understand what you were trying to say.
    Computers didn't get us to the moon. They sure helped, a LOT, but it was good ole rockets that did.

    Anyway, point is (and I exaggerate), even if you shrink the latest 8 core Xeon E3 coupled with the fastest Nvidia Quattro into a 3-5W envelope and stick in an iPad, it won't make it anything close to a "Pro" product. It's about overall FUNCTION.

    An iPad "Pro" with a revamped version of iOS, more standard ports, and a SLOWER SoC would be a much better "Pro" product than what we have here.

    Even Android sucks for Pro tablets. Only Microsoft has a thing here.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    What I am trying to say is mobile hardware IS INDEED capable of running professional workloads. Of course it won't be the bloated contemporary workstation software, but people have ran workstation software on slower machines than that, and it was useful. So yes, this device has enough performance for professional tasks. There is no hardware lacking, only the software is.

    I can assure you, no matter how many rockets you have, you will never reach the moon absent computer guidance. The rocket is merely power, but without control, power never constructive and always destructive.
    Reply
  • lilmoe - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    "There is no hardware lacking"
    "The rocket is merely power, but without control, power never constructive and always destructive"

    You seem convinced that you can be productive on a screen with only a fast SoC attached. I don't know where to start.

    With all due respect, your analogies are ridiculously irrelevant (hence why I was having trouble understanding them). Workstations in the past had much more FUNCTION that any iPad today. IT'S NOT ONLY ABOUT THE COMPUTING POWER. These workstations, despite lacking power by today's standards, were built with certain function in mind, and were used for their intended tasks.

    iPads are consumption devices, first and foremost. Apple did nothing for "computing", but they did a lot for consumerism. iDevices got popular because they addressed consumption needs by lots of consumers that they didn't even know they needed/wanted, I'll give them that. But Apple's *speed* of forcing "new technology" on people's throats, and turning perfectly functional products unusable is unprecedented, and bad. Your "Pro" device is NO exception, and isn't going to last, nor function, as long as the _workstations from 10 years ago_...

    The Pro moniker is being abused. What does it even mean now? Relative speed? Function? Value? Multiple products in one? I don't know anymore. But I'd like to believe that Microsoft's definition of a Pro products sounds easier on my ears.

    You seem to be extremely sold on marketed idea that disposable technology with a timed bomb to obsolescence is a good thing. Technology that does nothing but harm the industry and its consumers. To each their own I guess.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    You are ridiculously ignorant. Both a workstation from 10 years ago and this product are in terms of hardware general purpose computers. What specifies one as a workstation and another as a content consumption device is the software that runs on that general purpose computer. A 10000$ contemporary workstation would only be good for content consumption without the workstation grade software. Much the same way that this device can be good enough for workstation use with the proper software. Once again, clean up your ears - there is no limitation on a hardware level. It is all about the software.

    Your problem with understanding my analogies stems from the fact you are a narrow minded person, and this is not an insult but a sad fact, most propel are, it is not your fault, it is something done to you, something you are yet to overcome. You are not capable of outside the box thinking, you are conceptually limited to only what is in the box. Why is why you perceive outside the box opinions as alien and hard to understand.
    Reply
  • lilmoe - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    lol, I should really convert to the Apple religion just to stop being ignorant. Take care man. Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, January 22, 2016 - link

    You should just sit down and carefully reevaluate your whole life, I mean if "apple religion" is what you were able to take out of all the apple bashing I went through :D Since you obviously missed that obvious thing, let me put it out directly - I am criticizing apple for crippling good hardware to useless toys. Reply

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