The 2018 iPad Pro is the most compelling new iPad to be released since the original. Whereas all previous iPad models more or less have had notable but incremental refinements and improvements, this new 2018 iPad is the tablet that Apple has longed to make.
Thanks to its flat edges, the 2018 iPad Pro looks vaguely similar to the original version, but that’s where the similarities abruptly end. This machine is an absolute monster in so many areas, from its “all-screen” front panel, to its ludicrously-fast CPU, to the sheer amount of flash storage space and memory.
But performance is only part of the story. The 2018 iPad Pro features many additional refinements and enhancements, and several direct answers to complaints levied against previous hardware releases.
Unfortunately, iOS is still a major thorn in the side of would-be iPad power users. iOS has improved over the last few years, but it still chokes the hardware of much-needed oxygen. The good news is that iOS 13 is less than a year away, and it’s rumored to bring changes and enhancements to the iPad that will remove some of the friction currently hindering the experience.
Watch our full iPad Pro hands-on unboxing and review for more details.
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A visually stunning display
It’s hard to explain using mere words how different the new iPad Pro looks and feels based on its redesigned chassis. The display absolutely dominates this iteration like no version before it. It’s akin to going from an iPhone 8 to an iPhone X, but it’s even more eye-popping given the sheer size of the device.
But it’s not just the bezels, or lack thereof, and it’s not just the rounded corners that make for such eye candy. It’s the culmination of years of enhancements sewn together. There’s True Tone, which balances the white point of the display to match the ambient light around you, and there’s the P3 wide color gamut that provides eye-popping colors on such a large display.
These aforementioned items, coupled with 600 nits of brightness and an impressive antireflective coating, makes for a display that feels almost 3D in nature. Text and photos seem to almost hover on the surface of the display due to its color depth, clarity, accuracy, brightness, and ambient light rejection.
And let’s not forget about ProMotion. It was arguably the flagship enhancement for last year’s release, and of course it shows up on the 2018 iPad Pro models. ProMotion will automatically adjust the display’s refresh rate, up to a buttery-smooth 120Hz, based on your current task.
Two screen sizes
Just like last year, there are two screen size options for iPad Pro users, except this year the 10.5-inch iPad Pro has been replaced by an 11-inch model. The two sizes are still distinctly different from each other, but the 12.9-inch iPad Pro feels slightly less unwieldy thanks to the updated design.
Make no mistake, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is still very large, and a challenge to hold with one hand for an extended period of time, but Apple states that it features 25% less volume, which results in a dramatically reduced footprint. If portability is your primary concern, you might still prefer the 11-inch model, as it’s easier to tote around, but the decision won’t be as black and white as it was last year.
With the larger version you get to run two full screen apps side by side, and you get a slightly better Smart Keyboard Folio experience as well. The 11-inch display is still as functional as it is beautiful, but movies, games, websites, and virtually everything else is more immersive on the 12.9-inch display.
The original iPad that Steve Jobs revealed back in 2010 was just 13 mm thick — at the time, it was an extremely thin tablet computer. The 2018 iPad Pro is on a whole different playing field when it comes to thinness, however, as it measures a mere 5.9 mm thick. To put that in perspective, if you sliced the original iPad in half, you’d still need to shave an additional 0.6mm off to equal the thinness of the new iPad Pro.
Last year’s iPad Pro models were already exceptionally thin, with the 12.9-inch model measuring just 6.9 mm. The new iPad Pro shaves off an additional 1.0 mm — 15% thinner than before — and it makes a noticeable difference in the hand.
No Home button
The iPad has long featured gesture controls, but the removal of the Home button marks the beginning of a brand new era for the tablet line, where gesture controls fully take the helm. Like the iPhone X, and subsequent Home button-less iPhone releases, everything on the iPad, outside of a few exceptions, is performed using gestures.
There have been several iPad-centric alterations to iOS 12 that foreshadowed this inevitable move, so it comes as no surprise that the new iPad forces users to heavily rely on gesture controls.
Using gestures, one can invoke the App Switcher, quickly switch between apps, navigate back to the Home screen, etc. It takes some time to get used to not having a Home button, but it felt normal after a few hours of using the iPad Pro.
The TrueDepth camera system, which initially made a huge splash with the launch of the iPhone X, makes its way to the iPad for the first time. TrueDepth combines various technologies into a single sensor housing used to perform several functions on iPad Pro.
Unlike the iPhone, there’s no so-called notch found on the iPad Pro, because the sensor housing is hidden within the tablet’s bezel.
The TrueDepth camera system allows iPad users to enjoy features like Animoji and Memoji for the first time on an iPad. Just like you can do on iPhone X-era phones, users can create Animoji and custom Memoji avatars — sharing them via Messages and Group FaceTime conversations.
TrueDepth makes Portrait mode selfies a possibility, along with Selfie Scenes in Apple’s own Clips app. Third party developers can also take advantage of the camera’s detailed depth map capabilities to create new experiences via downloadable apps.
The new iPad loses Touch ID, a casualty of the Home button’s removal, but it gains something even better: Face ID. A more convenient biometric authentication option when compared to Touch ID, Face ID is a technology that’s been battle tested on the iPhone X.
Face ID on the iPad works just like it does on the iPhone, except its even more capable thanks to its ability to deal with different orientations — portrait or landscape — and different viewing angles common to the iPad Pro.
Face ID allows you to unlock your iPad Pro, pay with Apple Pay, and log in with apps just by looking at the TrueDepth camera. The technology provides one of the hardware’s best improvements, and goes a long way towards removing friction from the iPad experience.
Redesigned 12 megapixel camera
Due to the extra-slim bezels on the new iPad Pro, there is a lot less room present to accommodate a camera behind the bezel. Apple’s website notes that it redesigned the 12 megapixel camera to fit within the smaller area directly behind the bezel on the new iPad Pro.
Instead of the six-element lens found on last year’s iPad Pro models, the 2018 version is downgraded to a five-element lens, evidently due to the lack of space. More notably, optical image (OIS), a feature that makes it easier to capture images handheld, and improves shooting in low light, has been omitted in this year’s refresh altogether.
Because OIS requires physical lens movement, it also likely needed more space than was available behind the iPad Pro’s slim bezel area. To be sure, this is a disappointing reality for people who regularly shoot photos and videos with their iPads. The lack of OIS results in video footage that isn’t as smooth compared to footage shot with last year’s iPad Pro model.
That said, there are some noteworthy camera enhancements for the 2018 iPad Pro. For starters, Smart HDR, a feature first launched on the iPhone XS, is here. Assisted by the neural engine, Smart HDR enhances exposures for photos with outstanding highlights or shadows, compositing several photos together in an effort to provide an evenly-exposed final shot.
Along with Smart HDR, there is now stereo recording, and 4K24/4K60 resolution/frame rate options for video shooters. In addition, if you have 60 FPS set in the settings for the rear camera, the TrueDepth Camera will shoot 1080p at 60 FPS.
Improved speakers and microphones
A new woofer and tweeter pair makes an appearance in all four corners of the iPad Pro. The setup provides a wider stereo sound stage for a more cinematic experience. Apple notes that this is the thinnest speaker system than it’s ever designed, but it actually sounds better than last year’s iPad Pro, which was already surprisingly loud.
Yet, even with these improvements, physics deny the iPad Pro the sort of rich deep bass that you’d get from a proper stereo with more room to displace air. The speakers sound decent for what they are, but the sound is still emanating from a 5.9 mm thin enclosure. Set your expectations accordingly, and pack a pair of headphones if sound matters greatly to you.
In addition, there are now five microphones on the 2018 iPad Pro, compared to a dual microphone setup on last year’s model. The additional mics allow for improved FaceTime call quality, and stereo recording when shooting video.
It’s no secret that Apple has been absolutely killing the chip design game over the last few years, and the new A12X Bionic is the biggest testament to that fact thus far. This chip is an absolute beast, and it runs circles around last year’s model, which was already fast.
The A12X Bionic is a landmark in chip design for Apple in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it’s an eight core monster that’s 35% faster than the previous generation in single core operations, and an insane 90% faster in multi core operations.
Thanks to a custom performance controller, all eight CPU cores can be used simultaneously, a first for the iPad. It results in MacBook Pro-class performance, which is absurd given it’s housed in a passively cooled 5.9 mm thin chassis.
But it’s not just the CPU that yields impressive results. The 7-core GPU provides up to a 2x performance increase over the previous generation hardware, enabling what Apple refers to as Xbox One S-class GPU performance.
Flash Storage and memory
The iPad Pro comes in 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, and for the first time ever in an iOS device, 1TB of flash storage. Having 1TB of on board flash storage is a major win for professionals, especially those who edit RAW photos and videos.
As you might have guessed, the 1TB iPad Pro models are extremely pricey, clocking in at nearly $2000 after tax. There is, however, one major advantage that the 1TB SKUs have over every other iPad Pro model: 6GB of RAM.
Indeed, Apple includes an extra 2GB of RAM in its high end 1TB iPad Pro models, a notable upgrade that may help increase the overall lifespan of the tablet.
The effect of Apple’s move from Lightning to USB-C on the iPad Pro is immediately felt as soon as you unbox the unit. Inside, you’ll find a USB-C charging cable, along with a new 18W charger that can replenish your battery faster than the old 12W charger.
In addition to the new USB-C charger, Apple produces several USB-C dongles to use with the iPad Pro. There’s the USB-C to SD Card Reader, USB-C to Headphone Jack, and the USB-C to USB adapter, to name a few.
Users can also connect third-party USB-C devices, such as hubs, Ethernet adapters, microphones, and more. Unfortunately, iOS still lacks the ability to interface with mass storage devices, so connecting a USB flash drive or SSD is still out of the question for the time being. Here’s hoping that iOS 13 will bring about much needed changes in this area.
Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio
There are two must-have accessories for iPad Pro users, and unsurprisingly, they are the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio.
The second-generation Apple Pencil is a brand new device with a brand new design and functionality. The original Apple Pencil was lauded for its low latency and ease of use, but its design was far from perfect.
Issues with charging, pairing, storage, and cap misplacement were common criticisms. The new Apple Pencil provides answers for each of these complaints.
A new Magnetic Connector on the side of the iPad Pro allows users to:
- Store the Apple Pencil via magnetic attachment
- Charge the Apple Pencil via inductive charging
- Pair the Apple Pencil
Once connected to the Magnetic Connector, iOS will serve a brief pop-up showing you the current battery life of the Apple Pencil.
The second-gen Pencil also eliminates the removable cap, which was easy to lose or misplace on the original version.
Apple Pencil 2 gains a new double-tap gesture that allows users to switch between the current tool and eraser in the Notes app. The gesture can be further configured in Settings > Apple Pencil, and third-party apps can incorporate custom gestures within their own apps.
Like the Apple Pencil 2, the Smart Keyboard Folio sets out to address common complaints from the previous iteration. One big complaint about last generation’s Smart Keyboard, is that it didn’t provide coverage for the rear of the iPad Pro. The new “folio” form factor seeks to address this concern.
Another concern had to do with the lack of viewing angles. In response, Apple provides two magnetically attached viewing angles that can be adjusted on the fly. And a stronger magnetic system makes lap typing a much more comfortable and confidence inducing affair.
As you can see, the 2018 iPad Pro is one of the most impressive hardware refreshes we’ve ever seen come out of Cupertino. The A12X CPU and GPU provide massive performance gains, and the Neural Engine supports things like augmented reality, and Smart HDR for photos.
The significantly reduced bezel, and the Liquid Retina display that elegantly follows the corner radius of the iPad’s chassis, looks light years ahead of last year’s iPad Pro. And it’s not just about looks, the reduced bezels result in a noticeably smaller footprint, especially for the 12.9-inch model. The 2018 iPad Pro is also thinner than previous generations, adopting flat 90-degree corners that look modern in appearance.
FaceID eases much of the friction associated with unlocking your device and logging into apps and websites. And the long-rumored move to USB-C, though not quite where we want it to be currently as far as peripheral support is concerned, is already paying dividends with its faster 18W power adapter pack-in.
Apple has answered the wants of customers on numerous fronts with the 2018 iPad Pro, including its two must-have peripherals — Apple Pencil, and Smart Keyboard Folio. The Apple Pencil, with its inductive charging, and magnetic attachment, is now sure to go more places with iPad users, and be ready for use with an always-charging setup. And the Smart Keyboard Folio, which now covers both the front and rear of the iPad Pro, has a much stronger attachment thanks to a revamped magnet system, and two viewing angles.
Indeed, this is hands-down a marked improvement over the previous generation iPad Pro, but it comes at a cost. At well over $2000 for the desirable 1TB version with 6GB of RAM when configured with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio — the iPad Pro isn’t just professional by name, but it’s venturing into territory where people expect to be able to make their money back via the productivity that the device offers.
Unfortunately, as we’ve demonstrated, the iPad Pro, beastly as it may be, remains handcuffed by iOS in a number of key areas. Simple things, like transferring files from an SD Card, didn’t work at all for me. And the fact that media can only be dumped to the Photos app, means that iCloud storage can be needlessly clogged with huge files.
Despite Apple adopting USB-C, mass storage devices, like external SSDs and USB flash drives are still no bueno as long as iOS has anything to say about it. For a machine that’s been around for 8 years, and now costs as much as a well-equipped laptop, that’s simply unacceptable.
Yes, lots of people can get things done in a professional workflow with the iPad as it stands now. And even those like me, who struggle with the heavy hand of iOS, could probably make it work by adjusting my front-end workflow, and jumping through various other hoops. With a $599-$999 machine, I would consider living with that, but I won’t accept it for a device that’s as pricey as the 2018 iPad Pro.
Thankfully, iOS 13 is less than a year away, and it’s rumored to address some of the pain points currently associated with iOS on the iPad. Here’s hoping WWDC 2019 is where the beast is let loose.