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iPad Pro (2018) review

The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever. But don't sell your laptop just yet

iPad Pro (2018) review
iPad Pro (2018)
MSRP $799.00
“The iPad Pro is the most versatile computer you can own.”
  • Gorgeous 120Hz screen
  • Slimmed bezel design look great
  • Unrivaled performance
  • Apple Pencil attaches magnetically
  • Face ID works in all orientations
  • No headphone jack
  • Expensive
  • IOS can’t deliver desktop performance

Apple’s 2018 iPad Pro is an impressive workhorse of a tablet, with stunning performance and tablet-optimized iOS apps that make it a fantastic entertainment machine. As the “Pro” moniker suggests, this is undoubtedly a tablet for professionals, and most people will find the $330 iPad to be more than sufficient.

At a starting price of $799, the new iPad Pro attempts to cater to all your needs. Apple draws a ton of comparisons to laptops and desktop computers in its marketing materials for the iPad Pro, promising the tablet can successfully replace them. If you’re looking for a new laptop, the iPad Pro comes very close to being able to replace it, but quirks with iOS hold it back from being a true laptop killer.

The most beautiful iPad to date

Shrinking down the bezels around a screen is something we’ve been seeing for quite some time across all products, from TVs and smartphones to tablets. The new iPad Pro does exactly that, cutting down the edges for a more modern look, and it looks beautifully symmetrical.

There are two iPad Pro sizes: An 11-inch model, which is the same size as 2017’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro thanks to the shaved bezels; and a 12.9-inch model, which is 15 percent thinner with 25 percent less volume than the largest iPad Pro of old, despite having the same screen size. We are looking at the 12.9-inch model here, but both iPad Pro devices share the same features.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro feels massive in the hand, but it’s lightweight enough to become at least kinda manageable. The 11-inch is easier to maneuver – but we’ve fallen in love again with the 12.9-inch screen size. It’s a fantastic canvas, whether you’re drawing or watching a movie.

The flat edges help with grip, but the slimmed-down bezels do make it a little awkward to hold without touching the screen. The back has more of a matte texture now, and it’s much more pleasant to the touch.

Apple said it had to remove the headphone jack to keep the iPad Pro so thin.

One big change from slimming these bezels is the lack of a home button. All the new iPhones also cut it, so it’s hardly a surprise. Instead, you’ll navigate iOS with gestures akin to what you’ll find on the iPhone XS and iPhone X. It’s intuitive and easy to use, but more important is the new method of unlocking the tablet: Face ID.

Apple has brought over Face ID, and unlike the iPhone, the iPad Pro can unlock by detecting your face in any orientation it’s held. You won’t need to worry about keeping the iPad in portrait orientation or tilting your head sideways when the tablet is in landscape mode. It unlocks swiftly in any lighting condition, permitted your face is directly in from of the iPad. We’re quite satisfied with Face ID here, and we haven’t missed Touch ID or the home button at all (Apple is still selling the 10.5-inch iPad Pro if you do prefer the home button).

In portrait orientation, the volume rocker sits on the right edge with the power button up top. The same quad-speaker setup is still here, but there’s a crucial component missing — a headphone jack. While we’ve come to terms with the omission on the iPhone, we’re annoyed with its disappearance on the iPad Pro. Apple said it had to remove the headphone jack to keep the iPad Pro so thin, and the slimmer bezels didn’t leave a lot of room internally. It’s also Apple’s “wireless” philosophy, so it’s just the next step after taking it out of the iPhone in 2016. We think the headphone jack would still be a valuable option here, but if you have Bluetooth earbuds or headphones, you shouldn’t have any issues pairing them to the iPad Pro.

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Another change is the positioning of the smart connector that lets you attach the iPad Pro to Apple’s Smart Keyboard or third-party keyboards. The connector is now on the back of the iPad instead of being on the bottom edge. This doesn’t really change any functionality of the iPad, but it does mean the Smart Keyboard also got a revamp. There are now two viewing angles, but we’re still not fans of the typing experience. The keys don’t deliver a satisfying click, and the fabric-like material isn’t pleasant to touch. It does silently manage to get the job done, but it’s too expensive at $200 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($179 for the 11-inch). Take a look at alternative keyboard covers, though there aren’t many others available just yet.

If you want to use the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, that puts the total cost close to $1,000 for the smallest iPad Pro. Apple is pricing its tablet up there next with laptops, but we think it could work on two things to improve usability: Add mouse support to iOS, or add a trackpad and improve the Smart Keyboard. While we love the touchscreen, our fingers aren’t the most precise tool to complete tasks, and a trackpad or a Bluetooth mouse would go a long way in making us work faster on the iPad Pro.

A much-improved Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is one of our favorite parts of using the iPad Pro, though we believe only people who like writing handwritten notes or drawing should buy it. It’s not the best tool to navigate the operating system, but it finally does have a place to rest: Apple has added magnets to the top edge of the iPad Pro (in landscape), and the Pencil satisfyingly snaps into place when you hover it over. We’ve yet to see it get knocked off, but we have come close when fumbling around with the Smart Keyboard.

The Pencil charges wirelessly in its new home too, which greatly improves the user experience. It’s intuitive, elegant, and one less thing to worry about.

The Pencil itself is still one of the best drawing utensils for tablets. There’s little to no latency, it reacts quickly to pressure applied when drawing, and the matte texture makes it feel more like a pencil than ever before. It’s a joy to use, but there is a downside: If you have a first-gen Apple Pencil, it won’t be compatible with the new iPad Pro. Similarly, the new Apple Pencil won’t work with your old iPad Pro. It’s a shame Apple couldn’t expand compatibility.

The 2018 iPad Pro is the first tablet from Apple to use a USB Type-C port and we couldn’t be happier.

The new Apple Pencil also introduces additional functionality. You can now double tap the bottom half of the Pencil to swap to the eraser when drawing or writing (or the last used tool), and vice versa. This action is customizable and open to third-party apps, so expect to see developers adding support soon. We’ve found this feature genuinely helpful when drawing, as it reduces the time needed to swap to the last used tool or eraser.

Another nice touch is if you tap the screen of the iPad Pro with the Pencil, the Notes app will automatically launch, allowing you to quickly start writing or drawing.

These improvements come at a cost. The new Apple Pencil costs $30 more at $129. Yep. Another price hike, one that comes alongside a higher price for the iPad Pro itself.

USB-C versatility

The 2018 iPad Pro is the first tablet from Apple to use a USB Type-C port instead of Apple’s proprietary Lightning port, and we couldn’t be happier. USB-C makes the iPad far more versatile. We plugged it into a USB-C dock, which allowed us to hook up two external monitors to use with the iPad Pro. The lack of mouse support is a bit of a drag here, but it does allow you to access an even bigger screen.

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We were also surprised to see our USB-C to Ethernet jack work on the iPad Pro. We were able to sustain a faster internet connection by connecting the iPad to an Ethernet port, which can be handy if you’re uploading or downloading large files.

Being able to use the same USB-C tools we’ve been using on other laptops, phones, and tablets is a blessing, as it means fewer proprietary dongles to carry around. For instance, we were able to snap some photos, throw the SD card from the camera into a standard USB-C card reader, and plug the reader into the iPad Pro. Apple’s Photos app immediately launches, and we were able to import the photos to our iCloud library and then edit them in Lightroom or any other third-party app.

There are reports of some USB-C devices not playing nice, though, specifically external storage devices. This is because iOS has no native file management system. Apple said if the external storage device comes with an app available on the App Store, then it will work with the iPad Pro, as the app will allow you to interact with the files on the storage drive. We imagine more USB-C products will join the market soon for the iPad Pro, which will only further expand support, though it would be nice if iOS had some kind of native file system.

120Hz display, unrivaled performance

The iPad Pro’s display is breathtaking, using Liquid Retina LCD technology similar to the iPhone XR. The 12.9-inch offers 2,732 x 2,048 resolution, while the 11-inch model packs 2,388 x 1,668. ProMotion technology delivers a screen with a refresh rate of 120Hz, meaning you see incredibly smooth scrolling and an overall more responsive experience. It’s sharp, vibrant, and while blacks aren’t as deep as the OLED on the iPhone XS, this is still such an excellent display. We’ve had absolutely zero qualms with the screen in our testing; it’s fantastic for consuming and creating content.

Apple iPad Pro 2018
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone XS and XR have unrivaled performance thanks to the A12 Bionic processor. Apple has taken that up a notch with the A12X Bionic powering the new iPad Pro devices. There are eight cores, and the neural engine is present for speedy machine learning. Like the display, we’ve had no problems powering the latest games with the A12X Bionic, and it was able to perform intensive tasks like editing in Photoshop and Lightroom with ease.

Our benchmark test scores:

Geekbench 4 CPU: 5,029 single-core; 18,042 multi-core

These scores destroy the competition. The iPad Pro’s Android equivalent — the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 — scored 6,423 for its multi-core performance and 1,891 in single-core. That’s not to say the Tab S4 was slow, but the iPad Pro is leagues ahead in what it can do. You won’t run into any problems here.

Apple made a lot of comparisons to the Xbox One, saying the new iPad Pro could deliver better graphics performance than the console. While the list is growing, we’d like for Apple to focus on bringing more graphics-intensive AAA games to the iPad Pro to truly make use of its performance. There are certainly a lot of great games on the iPad — Civilization VI, for example — but there aren’t a lot that utilize the full power of the tablet.

The iPad Pro comes in a variety of storage sizes, from 64GB for the base model to 1TB. The price for the new iPad devices has jumped, and we think Apple should get rid of the 64GB option and make the 128GB the base size.

iOS 12 on the iPad Pro (2018)
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For work, iOS 12 is a setback

iOS is fantastic on the iPad Pro — when used in tablet mode. It’s largely a blown up version of iOS on the iPhone, but many apps are tablet-optimized so they show content in a more useful manner. There’s also the option to multi-task through split-screen view, and you can drag-and-drop content and files between apps. It’s easy to use.

The front-facing camera is great for video chat and selfies look good.

When we want to get work done and dock the iPad Pro into the Smart Keyboard, though, iOS can feel like it hampers workflow. As mentioned, mouse support or a trackpad would go a long way to ensuring we act more precise while working, instead of constantly raising our hand to do something on the screen.

Your mileage may vary, but there’s no getting around it: Our workflow is noticeably slower on the iPad Pro. Laptops just provide a greater degree of freedom and versatility that iOS can’t quite match at the moment. Even the Smart Keyboard and magnetic Apple Pencil can feel clunky when traveling, as they can sometimes slip off when you pull the iPad Pro from your backpack.

AR Camera

Apple didn’t say much about the camera in the iPad. Your phone camera is likely better, so you shouldn’t use the tablet to take photos. Still, it’s used for augmented reality applications, so it’s worth mentioning. It’s a 12-megapixel camera on the rear with a f/1.8 aperture, and it supports the new Smart HDR feature Apple introduced on the iPhone XS.

The 7-megapixel TrueDepth camera can be used to take Portrait Mode photos, so you can create and send Memojis and Animojis. Selfies look good here, and it’s a solid camera for video conferencing.

iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We’ve largely used the rear camera to try out AR, and there’s a healthy library of educational apps and games in the App Store. Plantale, for example, lets you look at the anatomy of a plant in great detail through augmented reality, and it even lets you create and nurture your own AR plant. It’s a great app for the kids, and there’s plenty of similar content on the App Store.

We had more fun checking out products in AR while shopping to see how they would look in real life — through sites like Magnolia — but finding websites that support this technology is hit and miss.

Battery life

Apple said the iPad Pro should last all day, and it easily does. Using it to watch about five hours of Netflix on a plane only dropped battery life to around 75 percent. While editing photos in Adobe Lightroom CC with the Apple Pencil, battery life didn’t take too much of hit, hitting about 60 percent after a few hours. We’ve managed to stretch battery life several days using the iPad Pro like this in a pocket of a few hours at a time. Longer usage — as in if you work eight or nine hours a day with this device — will definitely see you needing to recharge daily.

The iPad Pro does take quite some time to fully charge up, though. It took around two full hours to go from 26 percent to 95 percent. We wish it was faster.

Price, availability, and warranty information

The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999. That’s a big price jump considering the 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro cost $650. That’s without accessories like the Apple Pencil ($129) or the Smart Keyboard ($179+). Both sizes are now available for purchase from the Apple Store.

Apple offers a standard one-year warranty that covers manufacturer defects. You can purchase AppleCare+ for additional protection and an extended warranty.

Our Take

The new iPads are expensive, yes, but there’s so much you can do with them that they are worthwhile investments. They’re excellent for entertainment consumption, they are perfect slates for artists, and they can be used to get a good degree of work done, but we don’t think they can quite replace your laptop or desktop just yet. No matter what you use it for though, this is the most beautiful and well-designed iPad to date.

Is there a better alternative?

It depends. If you are looking for the best tablet money can buy, the iPad Pro (2018) is our top pick. If you must have an Android tablet, then you’ll be quite happy with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4.

If you just want a tablet you can use for consuming media, and some light work, consider the excellent, $330 iPad. It now supports the Apple Pencil too (first-gen), so it’s more useful than ever, and it’s definitely the tablet most people need.

If you’re planning on replacing your laptop with the iPad Pro, it will mostly work, but keep in mind there are better alternatives. The new MacBook Air will likely help you get work done much faster, and it has a similar price tag at $1,199.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is also an excellent Windows alternative for a great 2-in-1 that costs $900. While it won’t match the iPad’s tablet mode, it will undoubtedly make you feel more productive in desktop mode.

How long will it last?

The iPad Pro will last you four to five years, if not more, before you’ll want to replace it. Apple’s iPads have a lengthy lifespan as they are supported through software updates for a good deal of time.

The back of the iPad Pro is metal, but the front screen is covered by glass and it’s capable of cracking. It’s a good idea to get a case or cover if you are not springing for the Smart Keyboard.  There’s no water resistance here, so you’ll want to keep the slate away from pools.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The iPad Pro is undoubtedly the best tablet you can buy, though it will put a dent in your wallet. It’s close to becoming a true laptop replacement, but iOS doesn’t allow it to get there quite yet.

Editors' Recommendations

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
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