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Apple iPad Pro review: Excessive in the best way

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Apple’s iPad Pro 11-inch and 12.9-inch are over-the-top powerful and pack gorgeous edge-to-edge displays making them the ultimate version of the tech giant’s slate.

Apple’s (AAPL) iPad is the most popular tablet in the world. As of Q3 2018, the iPhone maker’s line of slates captured 27% of worldwide tablet sales, making it the market leader by a wide margin, market research firm IDC reports. But tablet sales have been slowing in recent years, and Apple isn’t immune to market trends. The company’s Q4 2018 tablet sales were down 6% years-over-year and 16% quarter-over-quarter.

Which is where the new iPad Pro 11-inch and iPad Pro 12.9-inch come in. Designed for use by artists, photographers, videographers and other professionals, hence the “Pro” monicker, Apple claims these big-screen iPads are powerful enough to rival many of the laptops on the market.

It doesn’t hurt that a more expensive iPad will also drive up Apple’s average selling price, and boy are these some seriously pricey iPads. The iPad Pro 11-inch starts at $799, while the iPad Pro 12.9-inch starts at $999.

These slates, which sport sleek new edge-to-edge screen designs, are the best of what Apple has to offer, and overkill in almost every sense of the word. And while I love a big screen as much as the next person, these slates aren’t meant for everyone.

Like holding a piece of glass

From a design standpoint, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch, which is the version I reviewed, and 11-inch, are virtually mirror images of each other. And their most striking features are their displays. That’s right, like the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, the new iPad Pros drop their Home buttons in favor of more screen real estate.

By doing so, Apple managed to reduce the volume of the 12.9-inch model by 25%. For the 11-inch, Apple simply stretched the screen of last year’s 10.5-inch model, leaving the 11-inch with the same roughly footprint as its predecessor.

The iPad Pro has a fantastic edge-to-edge screen.

Of course, the overall look of the slates are also completely different from last year’s versions. Apple has done away with the tapered edges of the prior generation of Pros and straightened them out. The result is a tablet that, if you squint hard enough, bears a surprising resemblance to the iPhone 4s.

The 11-inch Pro is more comfortable to hold than the larger 12.9-inch, though. If I were sketching or editing a photo, I’d rather have the bigger screen. Those screens, by the way, are absolutely stunning to look at.

Both models use the same Liquid Retina display LCD technology found on the iPhone XR, which allowed Apple to curve the screens at the tablets’ corners. The displays are nearly edge-to-edge because they do have a bit of a bezel around them. Before you jump down Apple’s throat, though, the bezel makes practical sense as a way to hold the tablet without interacting with the screen. It’s also where the LEDs that light up the screen are located.

The tablet’s top bezel is also where you’ll find the Pro’s new Face ID camera. Yes, like the iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, you can now unlock the iPad Pro with your face. And unlike the iPhone’s Face ID camera, the iPad Pro’s can be used in multiple orientations, so you can hold the slate in portrait or landscape mode and it will still work. It makes sense since you change the way you hold a tablet fairly often depending on what you’re doing.

The Pros also come with Apple’s ProMotion display technology, which means the screens’ refresh rates are set at 120Hz. That makes for a far smoother, more appealing experience whether you’re swiping across home screens or browsing the web. It really makes a big difference when you see it in action.

Raw power

Both iPad Pros come loaded with Apple’s all-new A12X Bionic. That’s one heck of a chip for a slate, and, frankly, a little overboard for what most people need.

Apple says that the Pro’s 8-core, 7-nanometer processor is 25% faster than last year’s chip in single-core performance and that GPU performance is up a whopping 1,000% versus the original iPad. The company even claims that the slate is more powerful than 92% of mobile computers on the market including those packing Intel’s high-powered Intel Core i7 chips.

The iPad Pro’s A12X Bionic processor is the most powerful chip Apple has put into a mobile device.

That’s one heck of a boast. And it holds up to a degree. Using the Geekbench 4 benchmarking tool, which is designed to give you a relative idea of a processor’s performance, the iPad Pro actually outscored my Core i7-powered MacBook Pro in both single-core and multi-core tests. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPad Pro will annihilate the MacBook Pro in every instance, but it gives you a good idea of how powerful the slate’s chip really is.

The thing is, is that there aren’t a hole lot of apps that will take advantage of that kind of power. Sure, it’s great for quick photo edits and some video editing, but for most people that power won’t be as useful as it would be on a Mac or PC. This is, after all, still an iPad. The slate’s processing power is incredibly impressive, but for now it’s more of a hedge against the tablet slowing down over time, rather than a means to use apps that are built for high-power iPads. That’s not to say those apps will come, though.

Those accessories

In addition to the iPad Pro, Apple has also rolled out a new Apple Pencil. The latest version of the stylus features one flat side that helps keep it from rolling off your desk, something that was a problem with the original Pencil.

More importantly, though, that flat edge is home to a wireless charger. To power up the Pencil, you magnetically connect it to the side of the iPad Pro, and you’re set. Only one side of the iPad works, though. Connecting the Pencil to the iPad also allows you to sync the stylus with your tablet, so you don’t have to go through any real setup process.

The lower portion of the Pencil is also now touch sensitive, which means you can double tap it to activate features and settings within specific apps. For instance you can switch between a pen or pencil and then double tap to quickly pull up your eraser.

The iPad Pro uses a new Apple Pencil with wireless charging and touch-sensitive edges.

Unfortunately, you can’t use your old Apple Pencil with the new Pro, and you can’t use the new Pencil with the old Pro, which is a serious bummer.

The Pro also gets a new folio keyboard case called … the Smart Keyboard Folio. The new cover wraps completely around the Pro protecting both its display and back panel, something the old Folio didn’t do.

Typing on it was also surprisingly comfortable. I wrote an article using just the iPad Pro and didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything thanks to the fact that the slate also supports multitasking.

Apple has also switched the Pro from the company’s proprietary Lightning connector to a universal USB C port. It makes a world of difference, as it opens up the iPad to even more accessories, such as a secondary display to mirror your work on the slate, or a camera. You can also charge your iPhone from the slate, which is a pretty nifty trick if you’re in a pinch.

Should you get it?

The iPad Pro is a high-powered slate with a fantastic design and almost extravagantly large near edge-to-edge display. The new Apple Pencil is a wonderful accessory for the more artistically inclined, while the Smart Keyboard Folio makes for a genuinely solid typing experience.

Above all, this is the perfect expression of the iPad: Powerful, stylish and capable. But for most people, that $799 or $999 price tag is likely too high. If you don’t need the power, or can get by without the new stylus or keyboard, and are more interested in a tablet for using basic apps, watching videos and playing games, then I’d suggest going with the 6th-generation iPad for $329.

But if you love excessive performance and screen real estate, the Pro is really the only tablet for you.

Correction: The iPad Pro’s GPU is 1,000% faster than the original iPad. This article initially misstated that fact.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowleyFollow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, andLinkedIn.