How the 2018 Apple iPad Pro 12.9 stacks up against the 2017 and 2015 versions

You can hardly fail to be impressed by the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Apple has shaved down the bezels, packing even more processing power into a slimmer body without shrinking down the beautiful display. At first glance, the only thing that isn’t more appealing about this year’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro compared to previous models is the price.

We decided to dig a little deeper and pit the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro against the 2017 and 2015 versions to find out precisely what has changed. If you’re wondering whether you need to upgrade, or are looking to save a few dollars by buying the older model, we have all the answers you need right here.

Specs

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2017) Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2015)
Size 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9 mm (11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches) 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm (12.04 x 8.69 x 0.27 inches) 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9 mm (12.04 x 8.69 x 0.27 inches)
Weight 631 grams (22.24 ounces) 677 grams (23.88 ounces) 713 grams (25.15 ounces)
Screen size 12.9-inch Liquid Retina IPS LCD display 12.9-inch IPS LCD display 12.9-inch IPS LCD display
Screen resolution 2,732 x 2,048 (264 pixels-per-inch) 2,732 x 2,048 pixels (264 pixels-per-inch) 2,732 x 2,048 pixels (264 pixels-per-inch)
Operating system iOS 12 iOS 10 (upgradable to iOS 12) iOS 9 (upgradable to iOS 12)
Storage space 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB 32GB, 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD Card slot No No No
Tap to pay services Apple Pay Apple Pay Apple Pay
Processor A12X Bionic A10X Fusion A9X
RAM TBC 4GB 4GB
Camera 12MP rear, 7MP front 12MP rear, 7MP front 8MP rear, 1.2MP front
Video 2,160p at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2,160p at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps 1,080p at 30 fps, 720p at 120 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2 Bluetooth 4.0
Ports USB-C Lightning, 3.5mm audio jack Lightning, 3.5mm audio jack
Fingerprint sensor No Yes (front) Yes (front)
Water resistance No No No
Battery 36.71 Wh 41 Wh (10,891 mAh) 38.8 Wh (10,307 mAh)
App marketplace Apple App Store Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors Silver, Space Gray Space Gray, Gold, Silver Space Gray, Gold, Silver
Price $1,000 plus $650 plus $600 plus
Buy from Apple Amazon Discontinued
Review score Hands-on News 4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apple has packed a new octa-core A12X Bionic processor into the latest iPad Pro, which it says is capable of delivering graphics at twice the speed of its predecessor. The 2017 model had a hexa-core A10X Fusion chip inside, while the original had the A9X. Last year’s iPad Pro was already a speed demon, so it’s tough to say how much of a difference you’ll feel, but if you’re upgrading from the 2015 model, then you’ll notice the speed boost. If you’re in the habit of editing large images or playing a lot of graphically intensive games, then you’ll want the new iPad Pro for sure, if you’re just watching Netflix and browsing the web, then all this power may be overkill for you.

The battery in this year’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro appears to be smaller, but improvements in efficiency should make up for the shortfall. Apple suggests 10 hours of battery life from a single charge, or 9 hours if you opt for the cellular version, which is exactly what it said about the 2017 and 2015 versions. The new iPad has made the switch from Lightning port to USB-C, which gives you more choice for accessories and enables you to connect your iPhone and charge it from the tablet.

Winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Design and durability

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Probably the most striking difference between this year’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro and previous versions is the design. While the 2015 and 2017 versions look identical, there’s no way you’d mistake the latest because the new iPad Pro is a lot more attractive. Apple has packed the same size display into a much smaller body, shaving millimeters off in every direction. The bezels are slimmed way down, the home button is gone, and the recycled aluminum frame is squared off. The 2018 iPad Pro is still very big and not the easiest device to handle, but it’s a big improvement over its predecessors.

We’re also pleased to see Apple adopt USB-C in the new iPad, instead of sticking to the proprietary Lightning port you’ll find in the old ones. The only thing that may be construed as a design disadvantage for the newer iPad Pro is the fact that Apple has ditched the 3.5mm audio jack.

You’re definitely going to want to invest in a case whatever iPad Pro you have. There’s no water resistance and nothing much to divide these tablets in terms of durability.

Winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Display

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

All three 12.9-inch iPad Pros feature IPS LCD screens with 2,732 x 2,048-pixel resolutions. They are plenty sharp with a 264 pixels-per-inch density. The newer models feature a variable refresh rate that goes up to 120Hz and shifts automatically based on the content you are looking at to maintain a smooth look. The same TrueTone tech adjusts the brightness for readability indoors and out. Apple has dubbed the screen in the new iPad Pro “Liquid Retina”, just as it did with the iPhone XR, but that’s largely marketing speak. We don’t think there’s actually any difference between the 2017 and 2018 models here, but they’re both slightly better than the original.

Winner: Tie

Camera

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Taking photos with tablets is uncomfortable, especially when they’re this big. However, the iPad Pro does offer some intriguing augmented reality content, so it does need that 12-megapixel camera on the back. There’s also a 7-megapixel front-facing camera that’s ideal for FaceTime calls. The latest two versions have the same cameras on paper, but only the new iPad Pro has Face ID, which replaces Touch ID, enabling you to unlock your tablet by looking at it. With the same TrueDepth sensors as the iPhone X and XS lines, the new iPad Pro can also handle Portrait mode, Animoji, and Memoji. The original iPad Pro lags way behind with an 8-megapixel main camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera.

Winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Software and updates

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While the 2017 iPad Pro originally came with iOS 10, and the original came with iOS 9, they have since been upgraded to the latest iOS 12, which is also what you’ll find on the new iPad Pro. The software experience on these tablets is virtually identical, but as we mentioned in the last section, only the new iPad has Apple’s TrueDepth technology which allows it to scan your face to unlock and for purchases, but also to use fun Animoji and Memoji. The fact that the newer iPad is more powerful also means it will likely continue to get updates for a little longer than the older versions.

Winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Special features

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The optional extras for the iPad Pro are expensive, but Apple has made some improvements to the Smart Keyboard and to the Apple Pencil. Both attach easily, thanks to a system of magnets, and they charge up automatically once attached. The old Apple Pencil had to be plugged in to the Lightning port to charge, so wireless charging is an improvement. There was also nowhere to store the Apple Pencil with the old iPad Pros, so if it’s a feature you’re interested in, the new magnetic attachment is going to be pleasing. Sadly, it doesn’t come with the tablet, and you’ll need to pay an extra $130 to enjoy it.

Winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Price

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 for the 64GB Wi-Fi-only version and goes all the way up to $1,899 for the 1TB model with cellular support. If you want a Smart Keyboard that’s another $200 and the new Apple Pencil is $130. The second-generation 2017 model started at $799 and so did the original. They’ve both been discontinued now, but you might still find the 2017 version in stock at some retailers or you can pick up a refurbished one for close to $600. You may spot deeper discounts in the next few weeks.

Overall winner: Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

There’s no doubt that the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is superior. It boasts a much slicker design, more processing power, and a few other extras including Face ID, USB-C, and better accessories. The big stumbling block is the price. It’s a lot more expensive than its predecessors and not everything has been upgraded. The display, camera, and battery life are much the same. If you already have the 2017 model it’s going to be tough to justify the upgrade, but owners of the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro will want to bite.

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