Hands on: iPad Pro 12.9 (2017) review

A much-improved screen and more power make this an attractive tablet

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

Apple's most powerful tablet just got an energy boost - it's still expensive, but the improvements to the screen and internal performance make this a very attractive tablet indeed.

For

  • Great screen quality
  • Dynamic refreshing
  • Extra power

Against

  • Too expensive as a laptop replacement for some

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2017) is a reboot of Apple's original supersized tablet, offering a lighter body, the more powerful A10X Fusion chipset, a new 512GB storage option and improved front and rear cameras.

[Update: We've already reviewed the iPad Pro 10.5 - it's an impressive tablet that has an identical spec sheet to this larger iPad Pro so check out our full iPad Pro 10.5 review. We're currently putting the new iPad 12.9 through its paces and will have a full review up very soon.]

The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2017) launched back in June this year, and hit Apple Stores worldwide the same month.

Original review

We're big fans of the first iPad Pro 12.9, and to see it rebooted is a great thing. Yes, it was a bit expensive (and that hasn't changed much with the unveiling of the new iPad Pro 12.9) but it did something no other iPad did.

That was offering a truly big-screen experience with excellent entertainment powers... and the same thing lives on the new device, but with an improvement.

iPad Pro 12.9 price

If you're looking for the new iPad Pro 12.9, be ready to pay a pretty penny for it - but then again, you probably knew that was coming, giving this is easily Apple's highest-spec tablet.

Apple has made the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2 better value than its predecessor. The entry level Wi-Fi only device boasts 64GB of storage and a $799 (£769, $AU1,199) price tag - that's the same as the entry level original, but the new version now was double the storage.

Apple has ditched the 128GB mid-storage size and replaced it with 256GB at $899 (£859, AU$1,349) while at the top end you'll get 512GB for $1,099 (£1,039, AU$1,649).

If you want the Wi-Fi + cellular iPad Pro 2 12.9 you're need to part with $929 (£899, AU$1,399) for 64GB, $1,029 (£989, AU$1,549) for 256GB and $1,229 (£1,169, AU$1,849) for 512GB.

It's available to buy now, so if you're after the new tablet it's on the shop shelves now.

Design

The design of the device is pretty much similar to the previous model - dimensions of 305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm make it clean and clear, plus it's incredibly light in the hand... more so than the last model, curiously.

We're not sure what's been dropped to improve that weight, but the chassis is the same size and yet it's not so heavy in the bag.

The back is the same metal, although the plastic antenna at the top is now metal, which is a nice change through being more complete as part of the color scheme.

The four speakers are present and correct in the corners, with the same resonance chambers to improve the audio quality, and the Smart Connector sits on the bottom to let you connect keyboards or docks and providing data and power through it.

The only significant change to the design comes through the screen, and while it's still 12.9-inches, there are so many upgrades we were hoping to see that have appeared.

Firstly, there's a TrueTone display, changing the white balance of the screen depending on the lighting conditions. Considering we saw that on the iPad Pro 9.7 this isn't that surprising, but it's good to see here.

The more important change is the ProMotion Display with variable refresh rate, where the iPad Pro 2 12.9 is able to dynamically change the speed with which the frame rate is shown.

This means that when you scrolling around the screen, it looks insanely fluid, thanks to pumping up to 120Hz. However, if you're looking at a picture, the refresh rate is dropped right down to save power, with the intelligence of the iPad Pro sorting out the difference between.

It's hard to overstate how good the fluid motion is - scrolling through the home pages is excellent and flying down a web page lets you actually read the words as they pass by. This isn't crucial stuff, but it's the same way you spend more money on a 4K TV... it just works.

However, there is a question over how much of an upgrade this is in terms of necessity - with the iPad Pro 10.5 the technology didn't really add that much other than a smoothness of image for a lot more money.

In our full review of the iPad Pro 10.5 we found that the screen improvements were marked, but still not really offering a huge jump forward compared to what was there before. 

Scrolling is more fluid, the overall effect is smoother - but in terms of what you can actually do with it... well, that's just the same.

iOS 11

The iPad Pro was originally conceived as a replacement for a laptop, which is why there's such a big screen. However, this model takes that idea and moves quickly forward with it, by adding in more power and also the way iOS 11 really ramps up what it can do.

The first is Apple Files, which lets you navigate around the iPad to find documents easily and then share them to other applications. 

It works much better than anything before, and while it seems that the files you can manipulate are still locked to certain categories the bulk are there - plus you can access cloud files as well through Google Drive, Box and Dropbox.

The Apple Pencil works so much better with the iPad Pro 2 12.9, with the latency when sketching improved again. You can just tap the lock screen with the Pencil to start a note, and the feel under the stylus feels better.

It's still not perfect - it's just plastic / rubber on glass, don't forget - but the accuracy seemed a little better than expected.

The raw power is shown through the apps on offer as well - while these are obviously picked by Apple to show off the capabilities of the tablet to its fullest, the speed with which you can paint or manipulate images made us wish we had any modicum of artistic talent.

Audio and video

One of the very best things about the iPad Pro 12.9 from 2015 was watching movies on it - it's still something we do almost daily on the commute.

The screen quality was good, the output excellent (although not good for a train...) - and the boost in the screen has made movie watching even more enticing.

The contrast ratios are improved, the color gamut better and the brightness better. The iPad Pro 2 12.9 is HDR-enabled, but there wasn't any content to check out.

However, even a basic film looked crisp and clear - the media experience is even better.

Battery and camera

Apple has has kept the same 10-hour battery life on the iPad Pro 2 12.9 as on previous Pro models, but upgraded the camera to the same sensor that's found on the iPhone 7.

This means a better image, thanks to optical image stabilisation, but in our quick snaps it didn't impress the same was as on the iPhone.

Then again, we don't really care about good image quality here as nobody should use this device to take daily snaps - it's the sharpness that matters, as the iPad Pro 2 12.9 can take pictures of documents and annotate them through the Notes app instantly now, which means you need the megapixels for the sharpness.

There's a 7MP FaceTime camera on the front, so at least video calling will be improved again, even if this massive tablet isn't the right thing for taking a selfie when out clubbing.

Accessories

In terms of the things you can connect to the larger iPad Pro, you're relatively limited to the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil.

They both still offer the same power, but there's also a couple of new covers on offer: a leather case for the iPad with a Pencil holder is new for 2017.

It's fairly nice and looks roomy enough to hold an iPad Pro with a keyboard cover on top - and there's even a place to slot your Pencil.

And if you don't want the leather cover but still want to - inexplicably - protect your shiny white stylus, Apple is even making a small sheath to slip it into.

Early verdict

We liked the first iPad Pro 12.9, and the sequel is even better. We'd have loved to seen the device get smaller or have a larger screen, in the same way its iPad Pro 2 10.5 brother has managed, but this is a very similar shape to before.

The screen quality really sells this device - it's still going to be too expensive for most, as the smaller model will serve them just as well for less, or even 2016's iPad Pro 9.7, but if you're will to spend a bit more there's a lot love with the new iPad Pro 12.9.

As something to sling in a bag and do some work day to day, the improvements to iOS 11 will have a made a few people with ageing laptops glance in its direction - and you'll get a stunning media device to boot.

It's not going to perform all the laptop tasks, but it's got the best tablet on the market at its heart, supersized with an amazing screen - and that's a very powerful proposition.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.