[Editor's Note (9/7/2016): Apple has cut the price for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models with 128GB of internal storage both got a $50 price cut. Meanwhile, the 256GB model saw saw its price reduced by $100.]
The iPad Pro is an amazing tablet – but can you work on it? Let's cut to the chase: If you're used to working on a traditional laptop, the iPad Pro is probably going to feel like a step backward. The 12.9-inch tablet is a stunning piece of technology, but it has some major shortcomings as a laptop replacement. Its keyboard lacks a touchpad, which makes precision work feel cumbersome, and its restrictive kickstand allows for only a single awkward viewing angle.
There's a lot to like about the iPad Pro as a standalone tablet, though; the slate offers fast performance, long battery life and a really nice pen accessory for digital note-taking. But is that enough to warrant its steep $799 starting price?
The iPad Pro looks like every other iPad you've ever seen, just a lot larger. That's a big part of what makes the system suitable for work in the first place – it's 12.9-inch display feels a lot less cramped than what you get on a smaller iPad.
The tradeoff is that it's easily the heaviest iPad yet, weighing 1.57 lbs. without its keyboard attached, and 2.33 lbs. with the accessory included; the 9.7-inch iPad Air is about 1 lb. On the other hand, the iPad Pro is still light enough that I barely noticed it in my work bag as I carried it around, making it extremely commuter-friendly. Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 is actually slightly heftier, tipping the scales at 2.37 lbs. with its keyboard attached. Most slim laptops weigh more, as well; Dell's XPS 13 weighs 2.6 lbs., while Apple's MacBook Air is 2.38 lbs.
Of course, those laptops don't give you the option to detach the display when you want a tablet instead. The iPad Pro snaps easily on and off its magnetic keyboard dock, which comes in handy for using touch-screen apps, and it's great when you want to take notes with the Apple Pencil stylus (which, by the way, is sold separately for a whopping $100).
The size and weight of the system makes it hard to comfortably hold the system in the air, unless you're looking for a workout. You'll spend most of your time with the iPad Pro resting on a desk, or on your lap.
The iPad Pro's 12.9-inch display is the perfect size for mobile productivity, providing just enough room for screen-intensive tasks such as editing large documents or spreadsheets. Split-screen multitasking feels comfortable and is very easy to use – just slide your finger in from the tablet's right edge to launch a second app in a split-screen view.
Size aside, the iPad Pro's display is gorgeous to behold, pumping out rich colors and crisp text. The 2,732 x 2,048-pixel panel has an even higher resolution than the Surface Pro 4's display, though that slate has more pixels per inch since its 12.3-inch screen is smaller overall. Regardless, the iPad Pro sports one of the prettiest displays I've ever seen on any device.
The iPad Pro's biggest limitation as a productivity device is its keyboard. Apple's Smart Keyboard accessory snaps effortlessly onto the bottom edge of the device, transforming it into a compact laptop computer. But unlike the Surface Pro 4, which lets you adjust its kickstand to view the screen at any angle you want, the iPad Pro has just a single steep viewing angle. It's a decent angle for desktop use, but much too steep to view comfortably with the device on your lap.
You probably won't want to use the iPad Pro on your lap, though. Aside from the viewing angle issue, the slate tends to feel a bit unstable when balanced on my knees. The folding keyboard dock, which is made of a rigid fabric, just doesn't provide enough stability once you start typing. Again, the Surface Pro 4 is a bit better in this regard.
The typing experience is pretty good, but not great. You get decent key travel and snappy feedback on each stroke, which makes extended typing sessions comfortable enough. Some users might lament the lack of backlighting for low-light typing, a feature you do get on the Surface Pro 4's keyboard.
The biggest issue for workers is that the Smart Keyboard lacks a touchpad. That means you'll be reaching up to tap the iPad Pro's screen constantly, without the accuracy of a mouse cursor. Trust me – that makes a big difference for common work tasks like editing a document or spreadsheet. While typing up this review on the iPad Pro, I found myself feeling frustrated by the lack of precision after just a few minutes.
The keyboard is so technically optional, it's sold separately for $170 extra. If that sounds like a lot to pay for a tablet keyboard, it is – especially considering that the Surface Pro 4's superior Type Cover keyboard costs $50 less.
One feature that sets the iPad Pro apart from non-pro models is its excellent pen support. The tablet comes with a pressure-sensitive display, which is something the iPad Air lacks entirely. That turns the Pro model into a very good note-taking tool for workers.
Writing and sketching with the Apple Pencil feels incredibly smooth. The pressure-sensing screen allowed me to taper my strokes with a flick of the wrist, just like you would with a real ink pen. You can even tilt the pen to get broader strokes, which could be handy for drawing diagrams in addition to its obvious artistic uses. Apple's excellent Notes app comes pre-loaded on the iPad Pro, so you can get started right away without any extra software.
I have two complaints, though. First, I longed for an eraser while using the Apple Pencil. While the Surface Pro 4 lets you flip its pen over and use the back end as an eraser, the Apple Pen lacks that functionality. Instead, you'll need to tap an eraser icon inside your note-taking app to enable the eraser, then switch back when you're done. Over time, that can get a little annoying.
My second complaint is that there's nowhere on the iPad Pro to stow the Apple Pencil when it's not in use. Workers will have to be extra careful not to lose it, considering that the pricey accessory costs $100 extra. The Surface Pro 4 comes, in comparison, comes with a pen out of the box.
Security-minded workers will appreciate the iPad Pro's Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which comes embedded in the slate's circular home button. Setup takes just a few minutes, and the scanner felt extremely responsive, whisking me away to my home screen with one quick touch. It's a nice option for workers who want to keep their device locked down without fussing with a password screen every time you turn the screen on.
Frequent travelers will really benefit from the iPad Pro's epic battery life. The tablet ran for a seriously impressive 10 hours and 4 minutes on our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That far outpaces the Surface Pro 4's 6 hours and 5 minutes. In other words, the iPad Pro will easily last through a long business flight.
Performance is equally impressive for a device this svelte. The iPad Pro comes equipped with Apple's A9X processor, which provides enough power to edit two 4K videos side-by-side, without a hint of lag. Basic multitasking, meanwhile, felt lightning quick, without any slowdown while switching between applications.
The iPad Pro racked up an impressive score of 5,295 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's in the ballpark of the average ultraportable laptop – pretty impressive for an iPad. It outperformed Asus' Core M3-powered ZenBook UX305 (4,623), but Microsoft's Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro 4 gives you a bit more muscle with a score of 6,811 on the same test, though.
The baseline iPad Pro costs $799, and comes with 32GB of internal storage. The keyboard is sold separately for $170, and the Apple Pencil is sold separately for $100. You can upgrade to 128GB of storage for $949 (without accessories), while the top-end model offers both 128GB of storage and LTE functionality for always-on internet access, for $1,079 by itself.
It may be called the iPad Pro, but most professionals won't really want to work on this device. Even when paired with its Smart Keyboard, it lacks some basic features you'd expect from a laptop. The lack of a touchpad might be its biggest failure, since it turns simple tasks such as editing a document into an exercise in frustration. And the fact that the restrictive kickstand offers only a single steep viewing angle feels unforgiveable for an accessory that costs an extra $170 on top of the tablet's $799 base price.
The iPad Pro is a better pick for artists and creative types, who can take advantage of the excellent Apple Pencil stylus for visual work. But even then, the pen-equipped Surface Pro 4 is nearly as good for those jobs.
There's plenty to like about the iPad Pro, which is a speedy slate that offers epic battery life and a huge ecosystem of excellent productivity apps – including full-featured versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. But, ultimately, most workers would be better off sticking to a traditional laptop or Windows-powered 2-in-1 for on-the-go productivity.