Apple is so far ahead of the pack when it comes to tablets that it inadvertently invented an entire class of products of which it has never made a single one.
All those hybrid laptops, where the screen snaps off, for reasons largely unspecified, are the result of the technology industry shrugging its shoulders in defeat and attempting to recoup some of the money it spent developing tablets in the first place. Samsung’s Galaxy range is a solid enough alternative for those absolutely unwilling to deviate from the Android ecosystem, but for anyone else, there is scant alternative (seriously, who are the six per cent of people buying Huawei tablets?).
Still, every so often Apple plays about with the iPad format to maintain its position at the head of the pack. In 2012 – two years after the original 9.7 inch iPad – it released the iPad Mini (7.9 inches). Then in 2015 it released the gigantic 12.9 inch iPad Pro (my personal favourite). Now it has a new version of the iPad Pro, which it could have called the Reasonably Large iPad, or the Moderately Big iPad, or the Fairly Sizeable iPad, which measures in at 10.5 inches and will replace the 9.7 inch iPad Pro.
In the hand, it feels barely bigger than the old version: it’s slightly heavier (30g) but it gets most of the extra screen real-estate by shrinking the frame around the edges to around 1cm at the sides and under an inch at the top and bottom.
Beyond that, it’s aesthetically-speaking the iPad you know: it has the same physical Touch ID home button, the same aluminium chassis (available in the same gold, silver, rose gold or space grey), the same slightly extruding camera on the rear, the same beautifully bevelled edges. You could hand it to your mother who hasn’t seen an iPad since the first iteration, and within two minutes she’d be emailing you chain letters like it was 2010.
There are more striking differences, but you probably won’t notice them – at least not yet. It’s vastly more powerful, with a frankly ludicrous amount of hardware packed in. The screen is outstanding, with a wider colour gamut, incredible sharpness and the best brightness yet, making it just about useable in direct sunlight.
The A10X chip is a third faster than the previous model, which was already more powerful than most people needed. It’s able to multi-task seamlessly and run the most graphically intensive games. The battery, meanwhile, is brilliant, comfortably getting me through two day’s use before needing a charge. It’s also designed to get the best out of the new iOS 11 (coming in the autumn), which will make use of more intensive multi-tasking, as well as incorporating new augmented reality features.
Prices range from £619 for the 64GB model, £709 for the 256GB and £889 for the 512GB (all without cellular data); unless you’re a graphic designer or video editor storing huge files, you’re unlikely to need the top tier.
For years Apple has been claiming that this is the iPad that can finally replace your laptop, and for years this has been almost but not quite true. And it still is almost but not quite true. On the plus side, I’ve been using the iPad to edit images for City A.M.’s sister publication Living using Affinity Photo, which is close-as-dammit to Photoshop levels of usability. It’s hard to overstate how impressive this is; combined with the Apple Pencil, it’s a joy to use.
But, while it’s designed to do almost everything a laptop can, Apple can’t force third party companies to play ball. Case in point: I took the iPad on holiday with me, and needed to download a bunch of bank statements as a PDF. My bank, however, would only let me download them as a QIF file, whatever the hell that is. On a laptop, you have enough freedom to trick the machine into doing this (tell it to “print”, then export that as a PDF), but I couldn’t persuade the iPad to do the same. If you need a laptop, you should probably still buy a laptop.
In terms of accessories, anyone upgrading from the 9.7-inch version will have to buy a new case; there’s a great new leather option with a slot to hold your Apple Pencil. The smart keyboard (£159) is a must-have for anyone planning to type more than the most perfunctory emails. There’s also a “Pencil Case”, essentially a leather tube that costs £29, which might be the single most opportunistic thing Apple has ever made.
So is the iPad Pro for you? With the perfectly serviceable regular iPad starting at just £339, you should consider whether you really need the extra power before shelling out. Personally, with relatively limited funds, I’d buy the lowest rung MacBook Pro (£1,249) and the cheapest iPad, rather than spend £709 on the mid-tier Pro and another £159 for the keyboard. There’s no doubt that this is the best tablet out there – the problem is, it might be too good.