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2018 iPad Pro In-Depth Review: Not Quite a Laptop, More Powerful Than One

iPad Pro 2018

from S$1,199
8.7

Build/Design

8.6/10

Connectivity

8.6/10

Sound Quality

9.3/10

Other Features

8.2/10

Value

8.7/10

Pros

  • Processing Power
  • Battery Life
  • Flexibility of use
  • Great for media consumption

Cons

  • Limited data transfer options
  • Limited data management options

Tech media pounced on the iPad Pro the moment it was launched weeks ago, during which, Apple made a claim that the iPad Pro will essentially be a “laptop replacement”. Followed up with a chart showing the iPad outstripping sales by traditional computing brands like HP, Lenovo and Dell, Apple’s bold statement was too attractive for PC apologists and journalists alike to not dissect.

 

 

 

That’s not the first time Apple’s stepped all over the feet of sanctimonious PC folk: recall the infamous “What’s a computer?” ad.

Most present claims that the iPad Pro 2018 isn’t exactly a laptop replacement are entirely valid. Plenty of features are missing due to the limitations imposed by Apple’s decision to stick to the iPad running the touch-based iOS platform. As a result, many frustrations users would otherwise overlook on their iPhones are unforgivable transgressions for the “laptop replacement” iPad Pro 2018. We’ll run through some of them we encountered during our extensive use, and also why they don’t matter as much as it seems

The iPad Pro is available in 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes and in Space Grey and Silver. Storage options start at a baseline 64GB and run through 256GB, 512GB and 1TB capacities. Here we review the iPad Pro 2018 11-inch 1TB, in Space Grey. That’s twice the memory space of my current daily driver: the 2016 MacBook 12-inch with 512GB storage. We were provided with the test unit, along with the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) and the new Smart Keyboard Folio.

I’ve ditched my laptop for the new 2018 iPad Pro since its launch, and have done everything I normally do on my laptop (a Macbook 12″ 2016) and desktop (a fully-specced Mac Pro with dual displays) on the device instead. This includes everything from web browsing to intensive text editing, along with image and video manipulation.

Image: Apple

iPad Pro 2018: Form Factor & Ergonomics

The iPad Pro 2018 and the Apple Pencil are clad in Apple’s all-new easy-strip plastic cling wrap – just one pull and it falls off. No faffing about with sharp, pointed things. The Folio didn’t have that privilege, however, and took a little more coaxing. The pencil and folio came only with simple documentation and instructions, while the iPad Pro also came with its new foldable British Standard plug. It supports power delivery with 5V 3A or 9V 2A. This paired with the USB-C to USB-C charging cable to fit the iPad’s new USB-C port. There’s some stickers and a SIM tool for the LTE version, but that’s all you get in the box.

With an all-new design, the new 2018 iPad Pro looks very much like the tablet of the future we’ve always dreamt of from the very start. Impossibly slim, sleek and angular, the flat aluminium surfaces around its edges and back hearken back to the iPhone 5s. That is – until you turn on the device. With uniform, slim bezels all around, the 2018 iPad Pro maintains just enough bezel space for conducive hand-held usage while reading or watching videos.

The power button and volume controls positioned like those found on the iPhone – at the top and top right edge. I did accidentally power off the device once while balancing the iPad on my torso while binging Netflix in bed, but that’s no big deal.

Pixel masking, anti aliasing and all the technology used on the iPhone XR’s Liquid Retina make a return on the iPad Pro. Image: Apple

iPad Pro 2018: Apple Pencil (2nd generation), new Smart Folio Keyboard

These flat surfaces on the iPad come into play when it comes to its peripheries. The Smart Keyboard Folio snaps like magic into place with a multitude of cleverly-positioned, hidden array of magnets on both surfaces. Attached, the Smart Keyboard Folio communicates with the iPad through a three-pin connector near its bottom. The magnetic design allows for close contact between the second-generation Pencil and the plastic-filled that allows the induction charge to pass through the metal case.

Plenty sturdy, but magnets are magnets. Image: Apple

While sleek and convenient, the magnetic design of the Folio case leaves some security to be desired. Just days into my dedicated usage of the iPad Pro, a passer-by at a cafe knocked the top corner of my iPad as it sat in the folio case while balanced on my lap. Without a secure purchase around the chassis of the iPad, the back of the Folio Case easily slipped on its back. The rest, as they say, is gravity.

Thankfully, it was a very short fall that was cushioned by my tibia and the carpeted floor anyway.

I did also wish for the row of function keys on the Smart Folio Keyboard to allow me to easily control access controls from my fingertips. It was mighty convenient to have volume, pause/play and forward/rewind, along with screen brightness controls at my fingertips, but accessing the control panel with a swipe down from the top right of the screen granted access to these options, along with much more.

Without function keys, all settings on the iPad Pro 2018 are controlled via iOS Control Centre. Image: Apple

The Apple Pencil (2nd generation) is what the Apple Pencil should have been from the start. No complaints about the design, except perhaps that it is still a centimetre or two (about half an inch) longer than my usual writing implements, even with their caps posted.

The Apple Pencil slaps into place only on the right long edge of the iPad (the top when used with the folio). The first time it pops into place, an image of the Apple Pencil appears at the top of the screen, asking if you would like to pair. Thereafter, it just works, even with the battery flat. Inductive charging for the Pencil only enables Bluetooth for its single input – a double tap on its barrel. It is worth noting that the double tap works anywhere around its circumference.

I would have prefered more inputs – perhaps a tap on the rounded base of the pencil to switch back to the last tool used, or a two-fingered double-tap on the barrel for undo. Whatever the case, the double tap function works just well. By default, on the Notes app, this accesses the eraser. This can be customised on several other apps. It’s far more useful than button-style inputs on competing styluses like that from Wacom, since you don’t have to hold the stylus in a particular way, nor have to break concentration to locate the buttons. The double tap works all around the circumference of the pencil, from the lower third of the barrel to right before where it tapers to the tip. In my use, it did trigger unintentionally plenty of times, but it is trivial to repeat that action to get back to where I was.

The Apple Pencil Gen 2 now docks, charges, and pairs magnetically on the long side of the iPad. Image: Apple

iPad Pro 2018: Better-Than-Class-Performance

On all benchmarks, the iPad Pro 2018 with the A12X Bionic chipset is the best performing iOS device, but that’s the very least of what’s interesting. It also manages to outstrip most of the Mac lineup, and most of the Android and Windows competition, too – whether tablets, laptops or even desktops.

On Geekbench 4, it obtained a single-core CPU performance score of 5,009, and a multi-core score of 18,127. For reference, the iPhone Xs Max has a single core CPU score of 4,806, and a multi-core score of 11,431. Apple’s Mac computers weren’t far ahead – the fully-specced 2018 MacBook Pro 6-core i9 scored in at 5347 for single core performance.

Graphics on 3DMark stood out with a score of 6,387 as compared to 3,599 on the iPhone Xs Max, too.

Outside of the iOS ecosystem, the top-tier Android tablet Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 clocks in with a 1,895 single core score and 6,362 multi-core on Geekbench 4. The Surface Book 2, which is a much larger laptop with detachable tablet screen edges it out with 5,125 single and 14,951 multi – but that’s with its laptop-grade innards. Removing the screen for use as a standalone tablet would also mean big reductions in performance.

With 6GB of RAM (4GB on entry models), 1TB of storage, the 2018 iPad Pro’s main weapon is the A12X Bionic. The A12 Bionic on the iPhone Xs and XR has been a whopper, but the X version outdoes the six-core CPU and four-core GPU for an eight-core CPU and seven-core GPU. This magic is behind Apple’s claim that the new iPad Pro is able to outdo 92% of portable PCs sold last year.

iPad Pro 2018: Usage

The iPad Pro 2018 is great at the things the previous iPads Pro have been good at. The dialled-up power made applications like LumaFusion feel smoother, but that might probably also be due in large part to the iPad Pro’s ProMotion display.

But before we talk about its performance, we have to address the elephant in the room: is iOS is this powerful device’s Achilles heel? The short answer: yes, it is. The long one: there’re ways around it, and it’s all about the apps. Almost all the shortcomings we’ve heard about the iPad Pro can be solved with third-party applications. While the obvious solution to many of the issues is to rely on cloud services (like iCloud, or Google Drive) to store, export and transfer most of your needs.

But that’s expensive, and not the best solution for most users. External drives do not work at all, which means a huge headache if you’re exporting to a non-iOS or non-MacOS device, especially when dealing with large batches of files or video clips. However, in a completely Apple environment, the limited physical transfer options (via wire) on the iPad Pro was circumvented with Airdrop, which is blazingly fast.

But its not just the transferring of files that is difficult. On iOS, there’s no way of telling file sizes or other details, an absolute no-go especially when creatives might create several versions of the same project for different purposes. There’s an app workaround for this. Another issue I struggled with when I chose to use the iPad Pro as my sole mobile productivity device was the absence of Preview and its conveniences. On my MacOS devices, it was trivial to preview multiple documents in rapid succession, open images and manipulate resolution for web use. But iOS is unrelenting. At least for the latter, there’s still app workarounds.

Perhaps one of the most revolutionary improvements to the iPad: USB-C. Image: Apple

But that’s that – just workarounds. That means additional steps that distract from the otherwise seamless workflow and interface Apple had built around iOS 12, and it can be unpleasant.

The bundled keyboard isn’t the most ideal for writers like myself, but it’s a very reasonable compromise given the constraints on size. The pencil, like I mentioned is slightly long and therefore unwieldy for tiny hands like mine, but the main issue is the lack of compatibility with mice. I guess like many before me, “laptop replacement” had primed us not just for a world where the iPad could do exactly what we could do on our laptops – it made many of us anticipate the conveniences, functionality and workflow from the MacOS MacBook lineup on the iPad.

Mouse compatibility would be great, pecking on screens can be fatiguing after a while. The Smart Folio Keyboard is sturdy enough, and the display bouncing with each touch input just wasn’t a problem otherwise prevalent on other two-in-one systems. The other unavoidable issue is shoulder strain with prolonged usage of the iPad with its touch or Pencil-only interface. For quick on-the-go productivity, it was unnoticeable. For hours-long editing sessions, it was vaguely uncomfortable.

The display is nothing short of amazing. With ProMotion and TrueTone packed on board like last year’s pro models, the 2732 x 2049p Liquid Retina LCD at 264ppi on the iPad Pro 2018 will appeal for pro usage in graphics-intensive creative applications.

Most of its features were evident when I forced myself to use it as my sole productivity device on a work trip – MacBook snug at home.

Battery life has been very convincing. With an advertised 10 hours usage, the iPad Pro held out when it was most needed – on a six-hour Singapore to Beijing flight, and then three more unintended hours of mobile LTE usage as I worked on the commute to the hotel and in the lobby as I was made to wait two hours for the room to free up when I got there. Even so, I had a healthy 25 percent of juice left as I heaved into my room.

Graphics design assignments poured in, and I struggled to find an application that could handle Adobe Illustrator-style image manipulation. No luck there, probably until the full Photoshop for iOS shows up, but regular image tuneups and photo editing remains great with many options.

Most notably, I tried my hand at iPad video editing via LumaFusion. 4K footage scrubbed beautifully, and there was plenty of options in way of transitions and effects. Definitely not as fully-fledged as my Mac Pro mainstay Final Cut, but does great for run-and-gun editing. Having the AirPods handy was useful with the removal of the headphone jack, and there was no latency between the clips and track whatsoever in the finished product.

Unlocking worked almost all the time, except when i was gripping the camera edge of the device. It worked in all orientations, even upside down! Now I wish my iPhone was able to do that, since I do pick up my phone in landscape ready to game sometimes.

The gestures on the iPad Pro 2018 are exactly the same as on the iPhones from the X onward. Swipe up to get home, Swipe up and hold to access open applications. With such a big screen, open applications are arranged as tiles instead of as a cascade as on iPhone.

Gesture navigations makes a debut on the iPad. Image: Apple

Multitasking is performed by simply long-pressing applications on the dock and dragging them to the edge of the screen. This only works with Apple-made applications like Safari and Pages, though applications like Chrome support it, too (Gmail doesn’t, infuriatingly). There’s only three adjustable options at 25%, 50%, and 75%. There’s also an option to drag down the second application as a “window” within the first application, which is also what happens when the first application is incompatible with the split screen function. Users are unable to open two of the same applications side-by-side.

For some reason, Gmail and Spotify still have not updated their applications and black bars remain on either side of the window.

iPad Pro 2018: Should I Get It?

That iPad Pro is a convincing buy for those deeply steeped in the Apple ecosystem. If you’ve got a main MacOS device you work on and are looking for a more portable satellite to bring around daily, the iPad Pro is a reasonable choice, especially if you already have, or are keen on upgrading your iCloud to a sizeable subscription. Added bonus if you’ve got real creative applications like photo or video editing.

If you’re impressed by benchmarks and intend to get the iPad Pro 2018 as your first or first few iOS/MacOS products, it gets difficult to justify. Starting at SGD 1,199 for the 11-inch 64GB model, and shooting all the way up just shy of 3 grand at SGD 2,839 for the 12.9-inch 1TB LTE option, you’ve still got to tack on SGD 189 for the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) and SGD 269 / SGD 299 for the Smart Keyboard Folio (3rd Generation) for the 11- or 12.9-inch variants respectively. Not just that, you’ve got to factor in Bluetooth audio options if you don’t happen to own any (the Apple AirPods retail at SGD 238).

Slap on iCloud storage if you want media from your iPhone to seamlessly appear in your iPad, too.

Don’t forget Apple Care, since the iPad Pro 2018 has proven to be particularly fragile.

 

Ian Ling
http://uncommontragedy.com
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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