The new 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro ($799 for 64GB) maxes out its operating system. As the biggest, most expensive member of Apple's tablet family, it's ready for true pro-level multitasking, including the new multi-window and drag-and-drop features that are coming with iOS 11. I suspect though, that most folks who are used to working on laptops, with laptop operating systems, will find adapting to the iPad frustrating. But if you want a simple, malware-free laptop-like experience, there's a good argument for the big iPad Pro.
//Compare Similar ProductsCompare
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has almost the exact specs as its smaller $649 10.5-inch sibling. You're essentially paying $150 more for a bigger screen. Read our review of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro for more details about the operating system, hardware, and performance. This review is mostly about the differences inherent in the larger form factor, and which size tablet is right for you.
Size and Screen
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is really big. It's 12.04 by 8.68 by 0.27 inches and about 1.5 pounds; it weighs a few ounces more with the almost-mandatory $169 Smart Keyboard case. The difference in size between the 10.5- and 12.9-inch models genuinely changed how I used each tablet in testing. The big tablet feels most at home propped up on a desk, or flat on a table being used with the $99 Apple Pencil stylus. Carrying it around in the crook of my arm is a bit unwieldy, and it looks downright ridiculous being held up to take photos with the rear camera.
The extra 2.4 diagonal inches of screen gets you an additional 1.9 million pixels of real estate, at the same 264 pixels per inch that all modern iPads display. That's especially useful for dual-window—or, with iOS 11, triple-window—multitasking. In addition, the True Tone display is supposed to optimize color temperature to be more compatible with ambient light, though to me it makes everything look yellow. The iPad Pro is also the first tablet with a 120Hz refresh-rate display, which is supposed to make everything smoother and more fluid. Many people out there are happy about this, but I can't really tell the difference.
Specs and Performance
Benchmarks on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are even better than we saw on the 10.5-inch model; this is simply the most powerful iOS (or Android, for that matter) device we've ever seen. The Apple A10X processor is not only nearly twice as fast as the 2017 iPad, it gets web browsing benchmark scores that almost triple the Samsung Galaxy S8's. This is absolutely, positively laptop-grade hardware.
Like the 10.5-inch Pro, the 12.9-inch model comes in 64GB ($799), 256GB ($899), and 512GB ($1,099) storage models, with only about 8GB used by system files. Also similar to the 10.5-inch Pro, there are almost no ports, just a headphone jack and a Lightning port, which will drive most laptop users insane. You'll need to get used to working in the cloud.
Battery life is shorter than other iPads, which typically score in the five-to-six-hour range with their screen brightness turned all the way up. The 12.9-inch model clocked in at four and a half hours, because the screen is so large. (As always, double those numbers if you use the screen at half brightness.)
The 12.9-inch Pro has the same cameras as the 10.5-inch model—a 12-megapixel rear camera and a 7-megapixel front camera. Their uses become subtly different than on the 10.5-inch model. As I said, holding up a 12-inch tablet to use its camera is awkward, so photography and augmented reality are less usable here than on the smaller model.
The bigger iPad is terrific for video conferencing, though. You can have a full-sized FaceTime window and a document window open side by side, for instance, or do multi-party video conferencing with apps like ooVoo. You can do that on the 10.5-inch model as well, of course, but the additional screen real estate here makes everything a lot more comfortable.
Can iOS Go Pro?
Ostensibly the iPad Pro is a laptop replacement, for folks who are avant-garde enough to adopt an iPad workflow in their daily lives. I say that because iOS just isn't up to the kind of tasks that many more experienced, professional users are accustomed to from 30 years of multi-windowed operating systems. Image and video editing programs tend not to support as many tracks and layers as desktop editing programs do, and tend not to support the same extensions and filters as desktop versions.
The lack of a cross-application file system means working on a document in multiple applications, for instance one to edit and one to transcode, can be tricky. And the lack of mouse support leaves you frequently reaching for the screen to tap interface elements, which can be ergonomically awkward.
But iOS on an iPad is much less likely to mysteriously slow down or crash than a Windows tablet, is easier to configure, lacks malware, and can provide a much more focused experience for single-window word processing or drawing applications.
Big or Little?
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a niche product. The $329, current-generation 9.7-inch iPad is the right tablet for the vast majority of people who intend to use traditional iPad apps. Even if you run a business that relies on iOS apps, the $329 iPad has sufficient power to get the job done.
As a laptop replacement, sitting on your desk, however, bigger can be better. And the 12.9-inch Pro's ability to show two full-sized app windows side by side makes it even more productive in a laptop context than the 10.5-inch model is.
The 12.9-inch model is also a viable alternative to the Wacom Cintiq 13HD ($799.95) and Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 ($2,499) for pen-oriented creative work. You get similar surface area, but add portability and a much higher screen resolution. You'll probably still have to offload your art onto a real Mac or PC for finishing, however.
To make the most of the 12.9-inch Pro, you're going to pay a lot of money. The 256GB Wi-Fi-only unit with keyboard costs $1,068. Shop around a bit, and you can find a 2015 MacBook Pro for around that price—admittedly with 128GB of storage, but with an SD card slot, ports, and the Mac OS.
The iPad Pro is an expensive device, and I can't recommend upgrading from last year's model unless you're infuriated by what you feel is laggy scrolling or Pencil responsiveness and your life would be greatly improved by the higher refresh rate of the ProMotion display. If that's the case, I wouldn't criticize you.
If I squint a little, I can see the folks who the 12.9-inch Pro is right for: my father, for instance, who doesn't want to have to deal with configuration or malware on a "real" laptop, could benefit from a larger screen, and is willing to pay the high price. Or architects or contractors who gather around looking at layouts and blueprints. If you're ready to adopt iOS into your daily workflow and want the biggest screen possible, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro might be right for you.
But by and large, most iPad buyers should go for the $329 non-Pro model. If you just want a thousand-dollar ultraportable laptop, meanwhile, should take a look at the Razer Blade Stealth, the new Microsoft Surface Laptop, and the older, but still viable MacBook Air.