Should You Buy an iPad Pro?

The iPad Gets the "Pro" Treatment. Does It Finally Surpass the Laptop?

The iPad Pro supports the all-new Apple Pencil, a stylus created the Apple way. Image © Apple, Inc.

After months of speculation and over a year of rumors, Apple finally unveiled the "iPad Pro", a laptop-sized version of their popular iPad tablet. But the iPad Pro isn't just a bigger iPad, it is a "better" iPad, with a faster processor, higher resolution and new features like (gasp!) a keyboard and a stylus. So how does it all stack up? Should you run out and buy one?

It depends.

The iPad Pro is clearly designed with the enterprise in mind, a fact never more apparent than when Microsoft walked out onto Apple's stage to preview Microsoft Office on the new tablet. And it didn't take long to see how well the iPad Pro will perform in a work environment. The Split View multitasking, which will also be available on the iPad Air 2, makes working in multiple Office apps as seamless as it is on the PC. With a tap on one side of the screen and a tap on the other side of the display, you can take a chart from Excel and easily paste it into Word or PowerPoint.

Taking that a step further, you can use your finger or the new Apple Pencil stylus to either draw markups on the screen when editing or draw rough symbols like an arrow sign that will be translated into sharp clipart without ever having to browse a clipart library. And the seamless marriage between the touch interface and the multitasking capabilities was really on display when Adobe demonstrated how easy it is to draw a page layout, insert a photo using extensibility, and then move into side-by-side multitasking to touch up the photo.

Let's Get to the Good Stuff: iPad Pro Specs

As you might expect, the iPad Pro comes with more power under the hood. The A9X tri-core processor is 1.8 times faster than the A8X in the iPad Air 2, which makes it faster than many laptops. In fact, Apple claimed it ran faster than 90% of the current PC laptops being sold, though this won't be actually verified until we are able to do some benchmarks on it.  The iPad Pro also ups the amount of RAM available to applications from 2 GB in the iPad Air 2 to 4 GB in the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro also sports a 12.9-inch display with a 2,734 x 2,048 resolution. To put that in perspective, the nearest MacBook equivalent is the MacBook Retina (2015), which has a 12-inch display and a screen resolution of 2,304 x 1,440.  This puts the iPad Pro slightly ahead in both departments.  The iPad Pro's display is also designed to use less power when there is less activity on the screen, which helps it maintain that legendary 10-hour battery life.  

Apple also introduced a 4-speaker audio system that detects how the iPad is being held and equalizes the sound accordingly. It has an 8 MP iSight camera, similar to the iPad Air 2, and includes the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. But what really puts the bullseye on the laptop market are two new accessories: an attachable keyboard and a stylus.

The Smart Keyboard is connected using a new three-dot port on the side of the iPad Pro. This means the keyboard won't use Bluetooth to communicate with the keyboard, so no need to pair the two, which is required when using a wireless keyboard with your iPad Air. The iPad also supplies power to the keyboard, negating the need to charge it. The keyboard doesn't have a touchpad, but it does have cursor keys and shortcut keys that will facilitate operations like copy and paste.

Unfortunately, the Smart Keyboard comes in at $169, so you may just want to buy a cheap wireless keyboard instead. (Or even plug in an old wired keyboard you may have lying around the house.)

And if you like drawing on the iPad, you are going to love Apple Pencil. Essentially, it is a stylus that has been given the Apple touch. Inside the tip of the stylus are complex electronics that will both detect how hard you are pressing and if you are pressing straight down or at an angle. This information is passed to the iPad Pro, which can then use the signal to change the type of brush stroke if used inside a drawing app, or carry out other operations depending on the app.

So who should buy an iPad Pro?

The iPad Pro is positioned for the enterprise, but it is also aimed squarely at those who would love to dump their laptop. The new tablet is as powerful as most laptops on the market, and when you include the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, it will give you just as much control as a laptop. In fact, the iPad can actually do a lot of things the traditional laptop cannot, so the iPad Pro may leave your old PC in the dust.

But the key here is really in the software. Now that Microsoft is jumping on the iPad bandwagon by delivering an excellent version of Office, it has become easier to dump the laptop for the iPad. But if you have a Windows-specific piece of software that you absolutely must use, you may be tied to your laptop for a little bit longer. (Or, you could always just control your PC with your iPad, allowing you to at least feel like you've left it behind.)

The iPad Pro is priced at $799 for the 32 GB model, $949 for the 128 GB model and $1079 for the 128 GB model that includes cellular data.