The 2017 iPad Pros

I’ve spent the last week using a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and this is, in many ways, the easiest product review I’ve ever written. There are several significant improvements to the hardware, and no tradeoffs or downsides. There is no “but”.

  • Display: The new iPad Pros have the best displays of any computer I’ve ever seen. True Tone plus ProMotion is simply terrific. (The first generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro didn’t have True Tone; with these new models, the only noticeable difference between the 12.9- and 10.5-inch models is the size.) You really do have to see the 120 Hz refresh rate in person — and play with it while scrolling content on screen — to get it. You can actually read text as it’s moving during a scroll. It’s not as significant as the jump from non-retina to retina, but it’s in that ballpark.

  • Pencil: The latency of the Apple Pencil on a first-generation iPad Pro is the best I had ever seen for any stylus on any device at any price. The latency of the Apple Pencil on the new iPad Pro is so much better — so much closer to ink-on-paper imperceptibility — that you have to try it to believe it. It’s the one thing that really makes the first-gen iPad Pro feel “slow”.

  • Size: The increase in size is perfect. The footprint for a “regular” iPad has, until now, remained unchanged since the original iPad in 2010. That 9.7-inch display size was nearly perfect. This 10.5-inch display size is better though. Apple said during the keynote that typing on the on-screen keyboard is surprisingly better given just a bit more room, and I agree. And typing on the Smart Keyboard cover is way better than on last year’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro. In hand it doesn’t feel bigger at all. It feels like there were no trade-offs whatsoever in increasing the display size and overall device footprint. Part of that is because the weight has remained completely unchanged. I have had zero problems — not one — with the decreased bezel area. Apple’s inadvertent touch detection game is on point.

  • Battery: Battery life is great, as expected.

  • Performance: Apple’s in-house chip team continues to amaze. No one buys an iPad because of CPU benchmarks, but the new iPad Pro’s CPU performance is mind-boggling. Forget about comparisons to the one-port MacBook — the iPad Pro blows that machine out of the water performance-wise. The astounding thing is that the new iPad Pro holds its own against the MacBook Pro in single-core performance — around 3,900 on the Geekbench 4 benchmark for the iPad Pro vs. around 4,200–4,400 for the various configurations of 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros.1 Multi-core performance has effectively doubled from the first generation of iPad Pro. That sort of year-over-year increase just doesn’t happen anymore, but here we are. The new iPad Pro gets a multi-core Geekbench 4 score of around 9200; the brand-new Core M3-based MacBook gets a multi-core score of around 6800. Again, this isn’t why people buy iPads — the iPad took off like a rocket in 2010 back when it was way slower (way way way slower) than even the slowest MacBook — but I think it is vastly underappreciated just how significantly Apple’s chip team is pulling ahead of the industry, especially Intel.2

All that said, the real story of these new iPad Pro models can’t be told today, because that story is iOS 11. I think iOS 11’s iPad-focused features are the entire reason why Apple waited until WWDC to unveil them. They could have held an event for them back in April, when they released the new starting-at-just-$329 9.7-inch iPad, but if they did, the only new software they could have demoed was Clips. I love Clips, but it’s just a fun little tool and doesn’t show off anything particular to iPad compared to iPhone.

Again, the new iPad Pro hardware is almost too good to be true, but the iPad story Apple unveiled last week is iOS 11.

It’s not fair to review a product running a developer beta of the OS — let alone the first (and generally buggiest) beta. So let’s stop the “review” right here: the new iPad Pros running iOS 10.3.2 are the best iPads ever made. You shouldn’t hesitate to buy one today, and if you do get one now, you should wait until iOS 11 ships in the fall to upgrade, or at the very least wait for a non-developer public beta of iOS 11 this summer before upgrading.

But if you are reckless enough to install the iOS 11 beta on the new iPad Pro? Holy smokes is this better. I used the iPad Pro for a full week with iOS 10.3.2 because that’s the product that’s shipping, but after upgrading to iOS 11 beta 1 this morning and using it to write this entire review,3 I’m just blown away by how much more useful this machine is, and how much easier it is to work with 5 or 6 apps at a time.

I would never recommend running a beta of any OS on any device that’s used for production purposes, so don’t take this as such, but for me personally, I can’t see going back to iOS 10.3.2 on any iPad that can handle it. It feels like a hand has been untied from behind my back, and this amazing hardware has finally been allowed to run free.

  1. You can browse Geekbench’s database of results for Mac and iOS↩︎

  2. Apple’s A10X chip is so high-performing that I think it’s put Apple in a slightly uncomfortable position marketing-wise. They can’t brag about it fully without making Intel (and by implication, their own MacBooks) look bad, and Intel remains an important partner for Apple. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most impressive iPad demo during the keynote (and the one that contained the most bragging about its performance compared to PCs) was done by a third-party developer — Ash Hewson of Serif, demonstrating Affinity Photo — not Greg Joswiak or anyone else from Apple. ↩︎︎

  3. Full disclosure: I went back to my Mac to write these 3 footnotes. That’s due more to the byzantine way I mark up footnotes than any limitation inherent to iOS vs. MacOS. But it feels worth noting. ↩︎︎