iPad Pro 12.9 (2015) review

The iPad Pro 12.9 took Apple's tablet strategy in a new direction

iPad Pro

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In years gone by, talking about new iPads has yielded very little to say in terms of real innovation - but here, we've both new features and accessories that change the way you'll use the iPad Pro 12.9 compared to other tablets, aside from the newer iPad Pro 9.7, which also has access to many of these tools.

Apple Pencil

The first one is the Apple Pencil - still a name that brings a smirk when you say it out loud. This is a smooth white plastic stylus that packs a rubberized tip at the end - but loaded with reams of sensors to let you sketch and write with force.

This means the angle you use it at or the pressure you exert will bring different results - although in terms of angles it's just straight down or side on - there's no subtlety in between.

It costs £79 / $99 / AU$165, which means it'll probably be the most expensive pencil you ever own, apart from those special mechanical ones that dispense lead forever that are made from silver and the tears of spiders or something.

The funniest thing about this device is the way you charge it - you pop the end off and stick it in the Lightning port of the iPad Pro. It looks like you're trying to scan for aliens above, but at least you'll have it charged in very little time, as it juices up smartly.

iPad Pro review

It does run out after about a couple of days with intermittent use though, so you'll need to keep an eye on that by using the widget in the notifications shade.

It's great to use. It doesn't quite mimic the feel of sketching on paper as it's just rubber on smooth glass, rather than the tactile feedback you get pushing lead or ink across a rough piece of paper.

Tim Cook claimed that 'if you sketch then [the iPad Pro is] unbelievable..you don't want to use a pad anymore,' in an interview with the Telegraph, but that's not quite true.

While the results using the Pencil are rather good (the latency when trying to take notes is great, for a start) it's not better than the feel of writing using the traditional implements - the same with sketching on a piece of paper.

I've found that I can take this into meetings, have the pencil out and sketch down notes with ease - without feeling like I'm writing on something impractical. The looks and sniggers I get from co-workers are another story though...

It's irritating that the iPad Pro 12.9 doesn't have any handwriting recognition though. Being able to write things down and have them appear as prose would be a nice trick - but clearly Apple couldn't get it to work well enough, else it surely would have been included.

With the Pencil / iPad vs traditional methods argument, it's the same as ebooks: you might appreciate the portability of having an entire library in your pocket, but you'll still miss the feel of a 'real' book. There's space for both, and Apple's efforts here are definitely going to appeal to creatives.

iPad Pro review

I've noticed that my crude attempts at drawing rude pictures has increased massively. I'm a guy, we can't help drawing one thing whenever we get hold of a pencil and paper - digital or not. And the iPad has helped me improve that already.

I've also been caught out twice in meetings, drawing everyone else in there with the Adobe Sketch app, using watercolors to create an impressionists look at people in the room. It's not good by any stretch of the imagination, but it's encouraged me to try.

I just wish there were apps that I could use to learn how to use these tools - even my Mum, who's an artist, found it was easy enough to use, but it didn't make her want to give up the easel and watercolors.

There are other rivals of course - Samsung's Note Tab range is a good example, and Microsoft's Surface range - but the iPad Pro has impressed me a lot.

The most irritating thing is there's nowhere to put the thing. I've nearly lost it three times since using it for the review, as there's no holder or clip - even with the Smart Keyboard cover. Feels like that's a missed trick from Apple, although it's rumored to be fixing that in an Apple Pencil 2 update with the power of magnets.

Smart Keyboard

If the iPad Pro is designed to be a great tool for creatives, it's equally pushed towards those that like word processing - or have to in order to earn a crust. The Smart Keyboard is both a dedicated text-entry mechanism and cover for the iPad Pro - it's good to have that protection, but it also adds a fair bit of weight to the mix.

The keys are covered in a fabric material that's easy to wipe clean, but it feels a little odd the first time you used it. I was really worried the first time I tried it out, as I really couldn't get up any typing speed, but after a couple of hours of use I found that I was in full flow, and that's something that's continued in the following weeks.

There's a lovely balance to it as well. Place it on your lap and you'll really struggle to overbalance the iPad Pro 12.9, which is a really useful feature for a tablet. Others, like the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet, are prone to tipping at even the slightest breath, so being well-balanced is a real, real boon for Apple.

iPad Pro review

That said, even with the nice accuracy I found with the lower-travel keys, I wasn't as fast as on a standard PC or Mac keyboard. There's something that's lost in trying to make this portable, and I was probably around 6-7 words per minute slower typing on the go.

It's not a bad start though, and the portability (and excellent balance) offered by the iPad Pro with keyboard was really useful. I'd absolutely take this out to do some writing with confidence.

There are even the same shortcuts as found on the Mac keyboard, so you'll be able to initiate search, flick between apps and jump around with the same key presses as before - although annoyingly there's no home button.

It uses the new Smart Connector Apple has created for the iPad Pro range, which lets you magnetically attach cases and sends data and power through them. This means the keyboard doesn't need Bluetooth to transmit, so no pairing or connection to worry about or battery pack inside to power (although this does seem to impact battery life somewhat).

It's a good device though - despite costing $169 / £129 / AU$269, which adds an even higher amount to the price of owning Apple's latest tablet. And - as of August 2016 - one of the big flaws was finally fixed as regional versions of the Smart Keyboard were released, meaning the currency keys will finally be in the right place for your territory.

Logitech Create

Apple's already opened up the Smart Connector to third party developers, and Logitech was the first in to create something that's a bit more powerful. A full case, with a more Mac-like keyboard, packing metallic keys that have a longer travel and an increase in the number of places to tap.

iPad Pro review

This means you've got a home button to play with, and the space between them offers a more accurate feeling. That said, I didn't notice much of a change in accuracy between the two keyboard, but the speed was slightly slower for typing on both.

It's also MASSIVE - it made me feel like I was carting a full laptop around in my bag, although it was better for protecting the iPad Pro 12.9. It's a nice addition, but there has to be a happy medium here.


Apple's done something it's not really done on a tablet or phone before with the iPad Pro: offered up a huge amount of sound kicking out the sides of the device.

Each corner has a powerful speaker that pumps out a scary amount of sound - scary because it's both very loud and surprisingly good quality. In fact, each is three times the volume of the iPad Air 2 - and it even re-balances the sound depending on which way you hold the iPad Pro 12.9.

iPad Pro review

You'd think using these small speakers at high volume would mean maximum distortion, but in reality it comes together really nicely. I found myself looking for places where I could use the iPad Pro without the need for headphones, as it was a more immersive experience than I was expecting. The output really is rather nice - although I enjoyed it more for movies than music.

That's not to say it's poor at pure audio, but the iPad Pro's large screen combined with enveloping sound was something that really caught my attention.

There's even something amazing in the way a device quivers under audio load that makes it compelling... I've just read that sentence back and man, it sounds so pretentious. But it's an accurate description, so I can only apologize.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.