Update: This review is the the iPad Pro 12.9-inch 2018 version. Look out for a review of the 2020 model in the coming weeks.
The iPad Pro 12.9 is Apple’s biggest tablet on a diet – one that has a bezel-reduced display and slimmer form factor than the previous generations, all while keeping the large digital canvas size we love to sketch on using the best iPad Pro apps.
It’s a tremendous upgrade at an equally tremendous price. But serious creatives will appreciate the value of an immersive screen, fresh second-generation Apple Pencil tricks, and a USB-C port for easier transferring of photos and faster charging. It’s Apple’s biggest at its best, and a threat to your laptop’s existence (although we still think there are some great laptops around, see our list of the best laptops for graphic design).
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Price
The iPad Pro 12.9 costs just as much money as a brand new iPhone XS, meaning you’re going to have to be a serious creative in order to get the most value out of this tablet. You’re also likely to spend more money on storage upgrades and accessories – the second-generation Apple Pencil is a separate purchase and the Smart Keyboard Folio, while truly awesome, is itself 1/5th the iPad Pro 12.9 price. And this is all for just the wimpy 64GB configuration.
You do have several alternatives in 2020. The iPad Pro 11, with the same design but a smaller display, will save you some cash, while the new iPad Air (2019) balances productivity and price without too much compromise. The iPad mini (2019) and entry-level iPad 9.7 are the most affordable iPads. But for true creatives bent on having the best, this is the one to budget for.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Display and design
The iPad Pro 12.9 acts as Apple’s answer to everyone insisting on a touchscreen Mac. You can sketch on this bright and beautiful 12.9-inch touchscreen and never feel at a loss for room. The digital canvas hasn’t shrunk, but its new squared-off frame is smaller than previous generations. The traditional home button is gone in favor of iPhone XS-like gesture controls and so is much of the infringing bezel around the border.
While we also liked the iPad Pro 11 for its similarly bezel-reduced borders, this version feels like so much more for artists. There’s less of a need to pan or pinch-to-zoom to see your work and get down to business with the Apple Pencil. Everything is on the screen. It’s the size of a 13-inch 2-in-1 laptop with the versatility and weight of a large tablet.
The wide P3 colour gamut makes the iPad Pro 12.9 ideal for professional illustrators and photo editors who benefit from the expanded colour spectrum, and the refresh rate has been improved to an adaptive 120Hz for video editors. Anyone who appreciates silky smooth frame rates will like Apple’s Liquid Retina Display, something you won’t find on the middle-of-the-pack iPad Air.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Second-gen Apple Pencil
This is the reason to buy the newer iPad Pro over other iPads. The second-generation Pencil is Apple’s revised attempt at a stylus and it’s far superior to the first-gen, barrel-shaped Apple Pencil is every way: it’s smaller, lighter and has a flat side so it doesn’t always roll off a table.
It feels more natural to sketch with this Apple Pencil than the previous version and it comes with handy gestures controls. We could switch brushes in Procreate by tapping on the flat side of the Pencil and wake the iPad screen by double tapping on the display. It lends itself to be an artist’s tool more so than the original Pencil, even if the levels of pressure and tilt shading feel similar to the first Apple Pencil.
We also finally have a spot to carry the new Apple Pencil when it’s not in use. It magicantically attaches to the frame of the iPad Pro, which also happens to be how it charges. Gone is the need to stick it in the Lightning port for awkward charging to recharge the Pencil. Apple gave us the Apple Pencil wireless charging and a strong, magnetic spot to put it. It’s the most convincing reason to upgrade to the new Pro over any other iPad.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Power and performance
Apple isn’t bluffing when it markets the iPad Pro as a computer for a new generation. We found that it beats Intel Core i7 laptops with serious grunt behind its A12X Bionic chipset, and that’s an important factor for anyone who is constantly editing photos or video on a tablet.
You’re not going to see day-to-day slowdown on the also-impressive iPad Air (2019), either, but where the iPad Pro is truly impress is dealing with multi-layered canvases and rendering video files. We used Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Rush the most when testing the iPad Pro 12.9, and neither app flinched when it came to saving and rendering files. We’re anticipating the same from Adobe Photoshop for iPad and the promising sketch app Adobe Project Gemini soon.
The iPad Pro 12.9 benchmarks tout a tablet-dominating multi-core score of 18,104, and in our real-world tests, while Lightroom was snappy, the most impressive stat came from Adobe Rush. It took half as long to render video files using Adobe’s software on the iPad compared when we used the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. The iPad Pro 12.9 is expensive, but an invaluable time-saver when those who require raw power in their workflow.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Features
The iPad Pro 12.9 is chock full of important-to-highlight features that lends this tablet to creative professionals, and that starts with the USB-C port in lieu of the traditional Lightning connection. It’s easier to connect digital cameras and 5K monitors via USB-C, which is quickly becoming the new standard among ports. Bonus: this iPad supports HDR10 and Dolby Digital Plus on external monitors, and has the easy-to-overlook ability to charge other devices including your iPhone.
There are limitations to what iOS 12 allows. So far, you can’t get full access to flash or hard drive files. Like with digital cameras, you’re going to have to import photos and videos to the camera roll first. There’s no way to bypass this yet. Luckily, everything else works fine: keyboards and hubs are simple to plug in if you have a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter.
You won’t find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPad Pro 12.9, though you will appreciate its four speakers that deliver impressive sound from both ends of the tablet. The best solution to having personalised audio on the go, according to Apple? AirPods, of course.
Also missing is the Touch ID home button, as authentication now happens through Face ID via the front-facing TrueDepth camera. We found unlocking the iPad via Face ID less problematic compared to our iPhone XS Max, mainly because the iPad isn’t moving around so much for false positives of our face. Animoji and Meemoji are just bonuses.
We found that Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio adequately protects both sides of the iPad Pro and converts this tablet into a true 2-in-1 laptop challenger. The vinyl fabric keys are more spacious on this 12.9-inch version of the keyboard than the smaller models, though it still doesn’t light up when we’re working at night. That’s the innovation we want to see next.
This iPad Pro’s 10-hour battery life seems to hang over forever on certain days, and drain more quickly on others. It’s been inconsistent for us, but mostly down to which heavy-duty apps we’re running. Standby battery is great, while Lightroom is taxing. We also found ourselves quickly filling up more than 64GB; luckily, we realised we had access to the 1TB version. If you’re someone who is always juggling multiple projects, spring for the larger 256GB version at least.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Should you buy it?
This is the iPad Pro to buy simply because of its tremendous size – if you can afford it and make room for it in your life. It has an immersive 12.9-inch display, cleverly designed Apple Pencil Gen 2, and constantly evolving apps – and it all connects in a way that no other graphic tablet does in 2019.
We found the extra screen real estate makes a meaningful difference compared to the iPad Pro 11, giving you a laptop-like screen size you can get lost in. And its performance is also a threat to your laptop. Apple’s post-PC ambitions are clear with the amount of work it’s put into the redesigned iPad Pro 12.9. It’s the digital canvas you want at the size you need if your budget and creative talents are equally substantial to justify this tablet juggernaut.
Read more: iPad Air (2019) review