With the iPad Pro, Apple is also introducing two new accessories, and one of them is the Apple Pencil. Apple calls it “revolutionary” and we are inclined to agree. To make a long story short, it is the best stylus we have ever used for any iPad. And the reason the Apple Pencil is so good is because the iPad Pro was designed from ground up to work with the Apple Pencil.
The Apple Pencil was designed to be intuitive and natural to use, and there’s three things that needs to be accomplished for this. Firstly, it needs to look and feel like a regular pen. With the exception of its slightly long length, the Apple Pencil feels like a premium ballpoint pen in my hands. It’s slightly heavy, but it feels nice to hold. Secondly, the Apple Pencil must have very little latency. Latency refers to the amount of time it takes users’ strokes to be registered on the display. And finally, inputs need to be accurately and precisely captured.
Remember that we mentioned that the iPad Pro has a new multi-touch system? It now scans the display a staggering 240 times per second whenever it detects the Apple Pencil in the vicinity. This high sampling rate allows users to use the Apple Pencil with great accuracy and precision. Furthermore, the iPad Pro incorporates its own predictive algorithms to estimate where your strokes will be. This all means that the iPad Pro can detect and display your outputs in the shortest time possible. And since the older iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 do not have this new multi-touch system, it means that the Apple Pencil will only work with the iPad Pro.
In my use, I found the Apple Pencil to be the best stylus I have used on any iPad. My inputs were quickly and accurately recognized, and there’s only a small amount of lag when I was writing quickly. But perhaps more impressive is how good the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is at ignoring palm inputs. Even with third-party styluses like the Adonit Jot Script Evernote Edition that comes with palm rejection technology, I found it to be quite iffy. There were no such issues with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, I could rest my palms on the display and write naturally, like I would using a traditional pen and paper.
On top of this, the Apple Pencil also features sensors in the tip that measures the amount of pressure, allowing you to draw wispy lines or thicker, harder lines simply by adjusting the amount of force applied. Additionally, tilt sensors in the Apple Pencil can calculate your orientation and angle to create shading effects, just as if you were using a traditional pencil. These little details allow the Apple Pencil to be used naturally by artists to draw. Another nifty thing is that if your Apple Pencil is ever running low on battery, a quick 15 seconds charge is sufficient to give it enough to juice to run for an additional 30 minutes.
The Apple Pencil retails for S$148, which is quite a bit of money for a stylus. But it is the best that I have used, and my colleagues concur. That said, the investment will only pay itself off if you do intend to use the iPad Pro extensively for drawing, sketching or note-taking.
The other accessory Apple is introducing for the iPad Pro is the Smart Keyboard, a cover and portable keyboard for the iPad Pro all rolled into one. The Smart Keyboard connects magnetically to the iPad Pro via the Smart Connector and not via Bluetooth. It also draws power directly from the iPad Pro through the Smart Connector, so it can be used on demand without worry of it running out of juice or its last charging state.
The Smart Keyboard has full-sized keys and the keys have a comfortable amount of travel, despite the Smart Keyboard being just 4mm thick. The keys are also completely covered by highly durable custom-woven nylon fabric, which also holds the keys in place and provides the spring-like tension for each key, thus negating the need for conventional key mechanisms. The fabric is also spill and stain resistant.
In my use, I found that it feels like typing on Apple’s new MacBook but with softer keys. I used the Smart Keyboard to compose certain parts of this review and it’s pleasant to type on, even for extended periods. It definitely beats using the on-screen keyboard, especially if you are trying to compose a long email or using Pages to work on a word document. And when you are done typing, all you need to do is to fold it up and the keyboard transforms into a cover for the iPad Pro and protects its display.
One thing to note is that there’s no touchpad, so you’ll need to use the display if you are typing, for example, and you want to move the cursor to work on another paragraph. Also, the Smart Keyboard doesn't adjust for tilt and only offers a single fixed angle for users to work on with their iPad Pros.
At S$268, the Smart Keyboard is again pretty pricey, considering Microsoft’s own Type Covers for its Surface tablets are priced at less than S$200. However, I think it’s definitely a worthwhile investment for users who intend to use the iPad Pro as a productivity tool. The on-screen keyboard is usable, but there’s no beating the feeling of typing on a proper tactile keyboard.
Sometimes, the littlest things have the biggest effects and that saying holds true for the iPad Pro. On paper, the iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch display measures just over three inches larger than iPad Air 2, but it’s that three inches that makes all the difference.
As I mentioned earlier, the specifications can be misleading and that extra three inches in diagonal length actually translates to over 70% more screen real estate. In fact, the iPad Pro’s display is large enough to comfortably fit two IPad Mini 4s. This should give you an idea of just how much more pleasant it is to multitask on the iPad Pro - it’s like having two iPad Mini 4s to work with.
The larger display aside, the iPad Pro is also one of, if not the most powerful tablet in the market today. Its scores on the SunSpider and 3D Mark benchmarks were nothing short of stunning, and were also far beyond any other tablet in the market today. In the real world, the iPad Pro works fluidly and showed little signs of slowing down even with multiple apps opened, multiple tabs running, or when multitasking. It’s a beast of a tablet.
However, with prices beginning at S$1,188 for the basic 32GB Wi-Fi only model, and topping out at S$1,648 for the top-of-the-line 128GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model, the iPad Pro commands a significant premium over the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4. In fact, S$1,188 for the basic 32GB iPad Pro can get you a fully-decked out iPad Air 2 with 128GB of storage and cellular connectivity. And while there’s no doubt that the iPad Pro is an extremely capable tablet, the question of whether or not the premium is worth it depends very much on your own needs.
You really have to think quite hard about this because the price of an iPad Pro could quite easily get you a very decent ultraportable notebook (like the S$1,398 ASUS ZenBook UX305) or even the MacBook Air. Let’s not forget that the price quoted above does not include accessories like the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, which are sold separately and are quite pricey themselves. With the 128GB Wi-Fi + Celluar model plus the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, you are looking at a final sticker price of S$2,064.
That sum can easily get your the new Macbook or even the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and also a good number of other ultraportable notebooks, including Microsoft's upcoming Surface Pro 4. Nevertheless, even with its high price, I feel that the iPad Pro is worthy of consideration.
As a media consumption device, iPads are hard to fault and the iPad Pro is arguably even more adept at this role. The larger display and upgraded audio systems make reading, browsing the web, and watching movies a much more immersive experience. It also makes sharing with friends and family a much more pleasant experience. Prop the iPad Pro up on a table and three or more people can watch a movie in relative comfort. You can't say the same for the regular iPad, much less the iPad Mini.
However, the iPad Pro will probably appeal most to professionals who rely heavily on certain iOS apps. Doctors who use Complete Anatomy to explain to patients about their bodies will certainly appreciate the iPad Pro's large and sharp display. Architects who use AutoCAD to refer to blueprints and schematics will love the blazing performance that the iPad Pro offers, and also benefit from the larger display that will allow them to review their files more clearly. Digital artists who use Autodesk Sketchbook will love the large display which provides more working area, and also the responsiveness and intuitiveness of the new Apple Pencil. And writers who have adapted to using iPad and Pages as part of their workflow, will appreciate the iPad Pro and its multitasking capabilities. In a nutshell, the iPad Pro is great for iOS power users.
All this said, the iPad Pro is not without its shortcomings. To begin, battery life is a tad disappointing at just over 4 hours, especially when you consider that the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 can last over 5 and 6 hours respectively. And as helpful as multitasking is, it only works for compatible apps, and though we fully expect the list of compatible apps to grow, it’s a pretty limited list at this moment. Not to mention, there are only limited number of apps that are re-worked for full compatibility with the iPad Pro's massive screen resolution upgrade. And even though it's really slim and light, there's no getting around the fact that the iPad Pro is less portable than the other iPads due to its sheer size. Add the Smart Keyboard and it becomes as bulky and heavy as the new MacBook. And did I mention that the iPad Pro and its accessories are really pricey?
But at the end of the day, the plus points of the iPad Pro far outweighs its cons for some prospective users - especially if you're deeply rooted in the iOS ecosystem. The display is gorgeous, overall performance and usability is brilliant, plus it's really thin and light despite its size. There’s no doubt that it’s a great tablet and it will be interesting to see how consumers react to it.
When the idea of a super-sized smartphone was first pitched, many thought that it would be ridiculous to carry such a large phone, but look at how phablets have taken off. Could we see the same for the iPad Pro? It’s a possibility if not for the steep price it commands.