Oct. 30 Update: Apple's revealed its 2018 iPad Pros, which rock the blazing fast A12X Bionic CPU.
When I first saw the new iPad Pro's test results from our lab, I thought there was a big mistake. This new 10.5-inch tablet turned in performance scores so high that they blow away most laptops. In fact, the iPad Pro (starting at $649 for 64GB, $907 with keyboard and Apple Pencil) smokes the new 12-inch MacBook and rivals the 13-inch MacBook Pro. That's how powerful the new A10X Fusion chip is inside this 1-pound powerhouse.
But what can you do with all of that power? Actually, more than you might think, including performing sophisticated photo edits on the go, editing and processing video in seconds instead of minutes and creating finely detailed drawings with the Apple Pencil with zero lag, thanks in part to a new display that dynamically scales its refresh rate. Despite a slightly larger screen than before, the iPad Pro still isn't a great laptop replacement, even when you add in the optional keyboard. But that equation could very well change once the multitasking-friendly iOS 11 software arrives this fall.
The A10X Fusion chip inside the iPad could very well be the most powerful mobile processor ever. The six-core CPU and 12-core GPU combine to offer amazing power given the iPad Pro's slim profile. Part of the reason why the iPad Pro is so swift is because of the way Apple architected the chip; the CPU and GPU share the same on-board 4GB of RAM, so there's no waiting for the graphics to go out and grab separate memory.
The result is a tablet that beats most Windows laptops on the Geekbench 4 benchmark, which measures overall performance. The iPad Pro scored a crazy-high 9,233 on the multi-core portion of the test. That's more than double the Galaxy Tab S3 tablet with a Snapdragon 820 chip. More impressive, the iPad Pro's mark is whopping 42 percent faster than the Dell XPS 13 notebook with a 7th-generation Core i5 processor (6,498) and 17 percent faster than a Core i7-powered HP Spectre (7,888).
The iPad Pro also runs circles around the 12-inch MacBook with a Core m3 processor (6,853) and even rivals the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro on this test with a Core i7 chip, which notched 9,213. (We will compare the performance of the Surface Pro versus the iPad Pro once we are able to test the former 2-in-1.)
So is this kind of muscle overkill for a tablet? Not at all. I handed the iPad Pro to our senior video producer, Judi, and she used Adobe Premiere Clip to take three clips shot with a Canon 5D and then edit them together on both the iPad Pro and a 15-inch MacBook Pro. After choosing the same in/out points and applying the same filters and transitions using Adobe Premiere Clip on the iPad Pro and Adobe Premier Pro on the laptop, it took 22 seconds to render and export the clip on the iPad, versus 2.5 minutes on the Mac.
Granted, the bit rate of the file on the MacBook Pro was higher, which resulted in twice the file size (80MB versus 40MB), but the fact that the iPad Pro could complete this task so quickly is pretty mind-blowing.
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The iPad Pro is a graphics beast, too. The tablet scored 52,353 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Benchmark, which hit a relatively weak 20,891. The iPad Pro also once again beat the Dell XPS 13 (49,214) but not the HP Spectre (67,318). When playing Transformers Forged Fight, which has been optimized for the A10X chip, I experienced silky smooth gameplay as I morphed Optimus Prime into a truck and slammed into Starscream.
Design: Bigger screen in compact body
The iPad Pro looks slightly different than the last version, and that's because Apple increased the screen size from 9.7 to 10.5 inches while barely increasing the weight and keeping the same thickness. The new iPad Pro measures 9.4 x 6.8 x 0.24 inches and weighs 1.08 pounds, compared to 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.24 inches and 0.98 pounds for the older 9.7 inch model.
The overall aluminum-and-glass aesthetic is still the same, and you get the same three color options (Space Gray, Rose Gold and Silver), but it's nice to see less bezel around the display. You'll still find a Touch ID button underneath the screen, the Lightning connector on the bottom and the power button up top and volume controls on the right. The headphone jack is on the top left.
Retina Display with ProMotion: Raising the bar
To be clear, 10.5 inches won't be big enough for most people looking to replace a laptop; you'll probably want to step up to the bigger and more expensive 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($799) for that, but overall, this is a jaw-dropping canvas for work and play.
A true breakthrough, the ProMotion technology inside the Retina screen on the iPad Pro is the first on any mobile device to dynamically scale its refresh rate up 120 Hz. That's twice the rate of the last iPad Pro.
Using a dedicated controller chip, this slate is smart enough to know whether you need a faster rate, such as when you're drawing with the Apple Pencil or watching a movie, or when you need a slower rate, such as when you look at photos or read.
When scrolling in Safari or just flipping between pages of apps, I noticed even smoother performance versus the iPhone 7 Plus. The same thing went for pinching to zoom on photos; this is the closest thing I've ever experienced to my hands feeling like an extension of the screen.
As for the image quality, the 2224 x 1668-pixel display delivers dazzling colors and a razor-sharp picture. When watching the trailer for Justice League, I could make out all the harsh angles in Cyborg's silver metal suit, and the glowing red center of it really popped. The viewing angles were impressive, too, as there's a new anti-reflective coating that cuts down on reflectivity by 40 percent versus the last iPad Pro.
On our lab tests, the iPad Pro registered a very bright 477 nits, which is higher than the last version (432.8 nits), the Galaxy Tab S3 (441 nits) and Surface Pro 4 (382 nits).
The panel produced 122 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is about the same as the last version and better than the Surface Pro 4 (99.7 percent) but behind the 188 percent offered by the Tab S3's AMOLED screen. The color accuracy is near perfect, too, as the iPad Pro's screen scored a very low 0.2 (0 is perfect) on the Delta-E test. That's better than the Surface Pro 4 (0.35) and Tab S3 (3.44)
The iPad Pro will eventually support HDR content, which means you'll enjoy more colors and better contrast in videos, but compatible services aren't available yet for the iPad. (Apple will announce those at a later date.)
Apple Pencil: Superior performance, but iOS 11 will make it better
Lag is the enemy of any good artist or note-taker, and Apple has all but eliminated it with the Apple Pencil ($99) on the new iPad Pro. The same ProMotion tech that enables the screen to increase the refresh rate also allows for an even smoother drawing and writing experience. In an app like Procreate, the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil combo was the closest thing to pen and paper (or pencil and paper) I've experienced on a device. The Apple Pencil can sense force for creating darker or lighter lines, as well as the angle of your hand for creating shading effects.
But Apple knows it needs to make the software better in order to keep pace with Windows 10 Creators Update, and it's doing that with iOS 11. With that update, which is slated for a fall release, you'll be able to tap the lock screen to jump right into the Notes app and start scribbling away. You'll also be able to mark up documents, create in-line drawings (text will just move over automatically) and search your handwritten notes.
You'll even be able to take a photo of a document, which will turn into a digital doc you can sign. That's a huge time-saver. What I still don't get is why there's nowhere to store the Pencil; the Surface Pro lets you magnetically attach its pen to the side. Sure, there's a nice-looking $129 leather sleeve with a slot for the Apple Pencil, but that's a lot of extra dough.
Smart Keyboard: Where's the cursor control?
I don't really have high expectations for fabric keyboards, but the iPad Pro's optional Smart Keyboard ($159) is pretty good. The raised keys offer a decent amount of travel, and the tablet stayed fairly stable on my lap during my daily bus commute into New York City. I averaged 69 words per minute with 94 percent accuracy on the 10FastFingers typing test, which is not bad but below the 73 words per minute I scored on the 12-inch MacBook.
My biggest issue with the keyboard is the utter lack of cursor control. There's no touchpad built in as there is with the Surface Pro's keyboard. That means that I needed to touch and hold the screen to select text or cut and paste text while using Google Drive, which is annoying. iOS 11 should make this a little bit easier with its drag and drop capabilities, but app developers will need time to optimize their wares to take advantage.
Perhaps Apple could take a page from BlackBerry with its KeyOne and turn the surface of the keyboard itself into a giant touchpad.
Cameras: iPhone 7 good
If you're going to pack enough horsepower to edit 4K video and photos like butter, you better have cameras to back it up. The iPad Pro's cameras are simply superior to anything else you'd find on another tablet or 2-in-1, because they pack the same shooters as the iPhone 7.
There's a 12-megapixel camera in the back, and a 7-MP selfie cam up front, and they produce remarkable results. A shot of neon pink flowers I took in the shade looked very bright, and I could make out the fuzz on the stems when I zoomed in. Indoors, a picture I took of a wet bar exhibited a bit of grain when I zoomed in, but overall it's a crisp-looking shot.
A video clip I shot of my two dogs in the backyard was very sharp, but contained a lot of background noise due to the highly-sensitive microphones. I could hear my air conditioner working overtime in the background during playback.
Battery Life: Epic endurance, slow charging
The iPad Pro is the longest lasting tablet on the market by a mile. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi, the device lasted a fantastic 13 hours and 55 minutes. That's about 3 hours longer than the last iPad Pro and and nearly 5 hours longer than the Galaxy Tab S3.
It's just too bad that you have to wait so long for the iPad Pro to juice back up. It took an agonizing 1 hours and 7 minutes for the battery meter to go from 2 percent to 17 percent. Apple should definitely work on adding some sort of quick charging technology.
iOS 11: Game-changer on the way
Today iOS 10 offers some multitasking features, such as a Slide Over and Split View, but they feel kind of clumsy. You swipe in from the right, scroll down a list and then select an app you want to run side by side with the current one. iOS 11, which will be available as a public beta this summer and officially released this fall, will make the iPad feel much more desktop-like.
For starters, you'll be able to fit a lot more apps in the dock -- 13 of them, compared to just six today. You'll be able to just drag programs down to the dock. then, to open app two apps side by side, you'll just select an app from the dock and drag it up and position to the left or right. You'll even be able to open a third app as a floating window.
Apple has really thought through a new approach to dragging and dropping as well. iOS 11 enables you to select multiple files at once (even using more than one finger) and drag them onto an app icon, such as picking a bunch of photos to send in an outgoing email. You'll also be able to drag and drop urls, text and photos from one app into the other, something you unfortunately can't do today.
A redesigned app switcher is another welcome addition, as you'll be able to see all of your open apps in a single view along with Control Center on the right side. Plus, unlike macOS, you can close apps (or groups of apps) from this view with a touch.
Last but certainly not least, a new Files app will finally let you view all the files on your iPad in a single place. The left pane will also show third-party services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive.
The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever, but at a time the entire market is on the decline, that seems like faint praise. But this is much more than a tablet, because the sheer speed offered by the A10X chip -- coupled with high-quality apps -- enables creative pros to do things that used to require a laptop. I also appreciate the nearly 14 hours of battery life, innovative ProMotion display and iPhone-caliber cameras.
However, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro isn't a laptop replacement -- at least not yet -- for two reasons. First, the screen is on the small side, and the Apple Keyboard doesn't offer a touchpad to control the cursor. If you're on the fence, I'd wait until iOS 11 arrives, as that software will finally offer a real File system along with much improved multitasking. At that point, I could see myself potentially using the iPad on the road a lot more as my daily driver. And that's pretty impressive for a 1-pound tablet.