iPad Pro 12.9 review

Apple's biggest tablet takes the iPad in a new direction

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The iPad Pro 12.9 is a divisive tablet. It's just a bigger iPad, which is boring and 'so Apple' to some. To others it's a bigger iPad, and that's simply awesome.

But your affection, desire or interest is purely limited to what you use a laptop or tablet for already. If you're a hardcore laptop fiend, crouching over it at every possibility throughout the day, the iPad Pro is going to have a very different set of criteria to the person who idly uses the tablet around the house and occasionally pulls it out on the train to quickly update documents or fill out a to-do list before work.

The iPad Pro might, in the future, be seen as normal, in the same way that a 5-inch screen on a phone is viewed as regular now, where just five years ago you looked like a mental early adopter holding a massive device to your ear to use such a thing.

iPad Pro review

Just remember: the iPad Pro 12.9 is oversized to solve a problem and you'll have to actively want that extra size to really enjoy it. If you want an average tablet, you might find this a bit too much.

We liked

There's something intangibly great about the iPad Pro the minute you pick it it up. You'll recognise it instantly as an iPad as it retains a very close design language to the others in the range, but it just looks... bigger. That sounds so ridiculously obvious, but it's like seeing a school friend after the summer and finding they've spent the entire time bulking up.

It's familiar, but it's a whole new way of looking at them - and it's great.

I've relegated my iPad Air to my bag, pulling it out for a spot of media once in a while and finding my phone is good enough for most tasks. But the iPad Pro has reinvigorated my love of tablets, causing me to look forward to the idle commuting moments when I can pull it out and use it for everything from movie watching to editing word docs to uploading to the CMS (the latter being quite a hassle and fiddly though).

The four speakers on the side of the tablet are something to really show off too (not on public transport of course) - the sound that's emitted from them not only reminds me of the impressive HTC BoomSound, but also puts the other mono speakers on the iDevices to shame.

I almost didn't want to use headphones to watch movies and listen to music on the Pro, such was the power.

Speaking of power, this thing has it in spades. It smashes benchmarks, rips through any task and can perform image modifications in a heartbeat. I don't usually put much stead in how things function in terms of simple numbers, but the jump here is so vast that, again, you can see that Apple has made a tablet that's more than just a bigger version of what was there before.

This might not be a huge amount of use right now, but in the coming months and years of having the Pro you'll benefit from the power.

The Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard are well thought-out devices: the stylus' multiple sensors, and the execution of pressing down on different areas, are delightful... but not the first time we've seen it, with many other brands using such a tool.

However, it's the developers that will make this a success, as time and again there have been situations where Apple has launched a thing that others have before only to make it popular - moving photos, contactless payments and more.

It's a massive shame the Pencil and Keyboard aren't bundled, and they're not cheap... at least they're powerful enough to warrant a higher price.

And finally - the apps themselves. There's nothing more powerful in Apple's arsenal than the huge array of instantly accessible titles, as they instantly transform the iPad Pro with a few downloads. I've suddenly got a free suite of office apps, multiple games that look great on the new screen and reams of media to play with.

We disliked

Could I use this as a laptop replacement? Well, it depends what you're using your laptop for now. If it's idly browsing the web and thinking about writing a novel one day, then absolutely. Anything beyond that, you're still going to need to keep one around.

The thing is, this is iOS. It's not El Capitan. That means - despite Apple's efforts with Split Screen mode - you can't truly multi-task. As my efforts described above revealed, you can't use the iPad Pro to post a full review, interact seamlessly with a CMS or upload photos with great ease. It's POSSIBLE, just not simple.

The weight will be an issue for some tablet users too - this is a heavier device, and not one that can be held in one hand for a long time. That's kind of obvious, given the size, but it would have been a nice delight to find that it somehow manages to have the same heft as a smaller iPad.

iPad Pro review

The battery life isn't brilliant - but that's because I've been using the iPad Pro so differently to other tablets. Most of those are like larger phones, being used in such a way, where I've been sketching, typing and moving reams of information around on this thing. It's fine, but doesn't last a week and a half like most of the other tablets I've used - more three quarters of a day with active tappings.

Then again, I feel like I've written that phrase a thousand times when reviewing stuff: shocker, the more you use something, the more the battery dies. It's just not what I expected.

And then there's the issue of price: US$799 / £679 / AU$1249 is a decent start, and even US$1229 / £1019 / AU$1949 for the 256GB Wi-Fi and Cellular version isn't terrible. But you need to buy the accessories to get the best out of the iPad Pro, and given this won't be a dedicated laptop replacement for some, it's a little higher in cost.

Verdict

The iPad Pro isn't a laptop replacement in the way power users will hope. But it is, by some distance, one of the most brilliant tablets I've ever used. And in the following weeks, it's not faded into the background, relegated by the fact my phone can do everything so well. It's stayed front and centre, a real alternative to notepads and movie watching alike.

However, the key thing here is how happy you are with the extra heft. It's identical to reviewing a Samsung Galaxy Note: it's a brilliant device, packed to the hilt with power, specs and extra accessories to augment the phone experience.

But it's expensive. And more cumbersome. It's something you have to actively want, rather than picking up and deciding instantly is the best thing ever.

If you're the kind of person that wants a device that can seamlessly switch from typing to sketching to playing loads of great games to enjoying the best possible experience on a tablet, then this is just perfect for you.

If you need to do more powerful things, like uploading photos while manipulating reams of text and having to refer to other information with a flick of the wrist, you'll struggle a little with the iPad Pro 12.9.

iPad Pro review

The score attached above is subjective. I rate the iPad Pro 12.9 above the five star iPad Air 2, but then again I really get a kick out of the extra accessories and screen size on offer - it fits what I'm after.

Others might see the extra size as an irritation, the power redundant, the extra cost unnecessary - and for them, a cheaper Air 2 or newer iPad Pro 9.7 makes more sense.

To anyone that wants an iPad with more power, a better media and reading experience and more abilities than ever before, there's no question here. Go for the iPad Pro and you'll love it, and will keep finding new ways to use it - as long as you want an iPad, rather than just ANY tablet 'laptop replacement'.

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