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 (although you can save some money with our look at the best iPad Pro deals, and the best iPad mini prices). 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 It’s Apple’s biggest iPad, although the 2018 model we've reviewed here has since been superseded by the 2021 iPad Pro packing Apple's desktop-class M1 chip. Still the 2018 model is still 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
Seeing as it's Apple's largest tablet, the iPad Pro 12.9 will set you back a hefty chunk of cash. You’re probably 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 entry-level configuration.
You do have several alternatives in 2021. The iPad Pro 11, with the same design but a smaller display, will save you some cash while offering a better processor, and the 2020 iPad Air balances productivity and price without 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, the iPad Pro 12.9 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 anyone 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-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 more affordable iPads like the iPad mini.
iPad Pro 12.9 (2018): Second-gen Apple Pencil
The second-generation Pencil is Apple’s revised attempt at a digital pen 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 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 magnetically 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 a 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.
Where the iPad Pro is truly impressive 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.
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 to 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.
However, as impressive as the 2018 model is, it can't keep up with the latest iPad Pro 12.9 from 2021. That's because this model comes with Apple's own M1 chip, a desktop-class piece of hardware that tears through anything you throw at it. On high-end tasks, such as editing 4K videos in LumaFusion, the M1 iPad Pro really pulls ahead.
Interestingly, though, in everyday tasks the difference is hard to tell. That's because the A12X Bionic in the 2018 iPad Pro is still so good that it can keep up with most things asked of it. If you don't need the absolute best chip for heavy-duty workloads, the 2018 model will still feel incredibly zippy.
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.
You can connect hard drives and memory cards to the iPad Pro and import your files directly, either using Apple's Files app or a third-party alternative. Keyboards and hubs are simple to plug in if you have a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter or other dongle, too.
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 an iPhone, mainly because the iPad isn’t moving around so much for false positives of our face. Animoji and Memoji are 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.
The 2018 iPad Pro 12.9 also works with Apple's Magic Keyboard case, which does offer a backlit keyboard, plus a spacious trackpad and a clever "floating cantilever" design. At $349, it's very expensive, but it is one of the best iPad keyboards you can buy.
The 2018 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 second-generation Apple Pencil, and constantly evolving apps – and it all connects in a way that no other graphic tablet does.
That said, it's not the latest and greatest large tablet that Apple offers. That accolade goes to the 2021 iPad Pro with M1 chip. That model is probably unnecessary for all but the most demanding of creatives, though, meaning the 2018 model still has plenty to offer if you can get it at a decent price.
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 this 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 Pro 11 (M1, 2021) review