Apple would eventually run out of ways to improve the iPad. It long ago made the processor faster than anyone needs. You won’t find a sharper, more accurate, more responsive screen on a tablet. The battery lasts days, plural. And really, what else matters? Sure, the speakers suck, but chalk that up to the limitation of air-blowing physics.
APPLE IPAD PRO (10.5-INCH)
More screen is always a good thing, and this one’s both faster and more responsive. Battery still lasts for days, processor still runs great. iOS 11 turns the iPad into a real computer.
$650 is a lot for an iPad, and that doesn’t include the Pencil and keyboard. Until the new software shows up, more screen doesn’t change much.
What makes the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro so intriguing, then, is just how many things Apple made noticeably better. Apple and iPad buyers alike considered the 9.7-inch, one-pound model the perfect size, and yet Apple managed to pack even more screen into the same body. And then it improved that screen, in ways no one asked for but everyone will notice. It also upgraded the processor—not for Netflix, but for the coming age of AI and AR.
I absolutely loved last year’s iPad Pro, and considered it the best tablet ever. This one? Even better. Granted, tablets have reached the point where you don’t need to replace them every few years, because the improvements aren’t revolutionary. But when you do need one, it looks like Apple plans to always offer you something meaningfully better.
Apple laid lots of spec upgrades on the new Pro, some important but invisible (the crazy fast chip now runs even faster) and others subtle but striking. Take the screen: The iPad already featured a crisp, bright, non-reflective panel everyone found easy to read in the dark. Apple made it better. Allow me to nerd out on screen refresh rates, because they matter more than you think.
The iPad Pro’s display now runs at 120Hz, meaning it refreshes the image 120 times a second. The higher the number, the smoother everything looks. And in this case, everything looks smoother than butter. Swiping homescreens, playing games, or just scrolling through WIRED feels like you’re actually touching the things you see, not just whacking pixels on a screen.
The Apple Pencil also benefits from the improved hardware. My (lousy) drawing and (hasty) note-taking feel more immediate. Chalk that up to the screen improvements, and the processor’s ability to predict your next move. Everyone’s handwriting tends to slope in the same direction, and everyone’s writing tends to slow at the same rate as they approach the end of a line. Apple uses this knowledge to guess your next move—and quickly correct when it gets it wrong. It makes using Pencil on the screen feel remarkably like using a pencil on paper.
As for that screen, it turns out 10.5 is the magic number. The pixel-density math of the 2224 x 1668 display frees developers from rewriting their apps or risking blurry images because the ratios remain the same. The size also provides just enough room for full-size keyboard spanning the width of the display or sitting tidily in an accessory underneath. While the on-screen keyboard works better than before, I still find tapping on the glass in landscape mode odd. I prefer the Smart Keyboard attachment (and similar accessories from Logitech and others).
Besides making way for more pixels, the shrunken bezel is among the least meaningful changes. It looks great, don’t get me wrong, and I definitely notice the increased screen size. But still. The new iPad Pro marks the point midway between the way things were (Bezel? Yuck!) and the way they soon will be (Nothing but screen. Yay!). On the other hand, Apple’s latest move toward that glorious day brings zero downsides. The Pro never mistook my gripping palm for a touching finger, and it never felt like my grubby mitts got in the way. More screen means more fingerprints, sure, but every iPad gets disgustingly grimy after just a few minutes.
A Tablet and a Computer
Apple provided a nice surprise at last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference when it announced ARKit, a set of software tools that help developers build augmented reality experiences. As execs showed off an awesome AR game, and built a Star Wars scene on stage, almost everyone involved held an iPad. A screen this big, executives later told me, provides a perfect window for the AR world. That’s why the iPad Pro now sports the same camera module as the iPhone 7—no, not so you can take slightly better photos while irritating everyone behind you at the Pitbull concert, you monster, but so you can get a better, more accurate look at the world on the other side of your iPad, then augment it.
Of course, Apple’s software crew lags a few months behind the hardware team. This iPad—all iPads, really—will only be made whole by iOS 11, coming this fall. The new OS promises lots of new features, many of them featuring words never once used in the same sentence as “iPad.” It features a files app, for one thing, and the ability to drag and drop within and between apps. A larger dock means you can cram more icons onto that bigger display. Such things are much more important than a new iPad, especially if you like the idea of using a tablet as your only computer. When iOS 11 does drop, I suspect you’ll want the biggest screen you can get.
For now, though, a little extra screen doesn’t change much. The form factor alone won’t inspire you to new iPadding heights, or change what you do and how. But wait until you use iOS 11. I’ve spent a few minutes with it, and can say it feels like a big step toward the iPad becoming the Everything Computer that Apple always wanted it to be.
And this brings me to the part of my iPad review where I say the same thing I say in every iPad review: Should you buy it? If you need an iPad, sure! It’s a terrific tablet, certainly the most versatile Apple has ever made. The 12.9-inch model works great, but it’s more desktop than handheld. The iPad mini can’t last much longer, so don’t buy one. If you have an iPad that works, keep it. But when your apps won’t update anymore, or your screen cracks, or you just can’t look at that bezel anymore, you can buy the $329 iPad, which is perfect for watching movies and playing games, or pay twice that for the Pro (plus another $200 for the Pencil and keyboard accessories) and get ready to live your best tablet life. Either way, the iPad’s been great for a long time, and the best tablet on the market even longer. But against all odds, it just keeps getting better.