The iPad Pro 12.9 is the best tablet you can buy, with blazing speed, long battery life, improved cameras and trackpad support. But it’s not a great laptop replacement (yet).
- Fast A12Z Bionic performance
- Brilliant display
- iPadOS’s new and improved cursor control
- Magic Keyboard looks promising
- Long battery life
- Charging cord too short
- Some apps not optimized for trackpad
- Rear cameras can’t do portraits or Night mode
Up until now, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch has been a quasi-computer. It was really more like a tablet on steroids, beating a lot of laptops on speed and battery life but certainly not on computing comfort. That changes with the new iPad Pro, which for the first time fully supports cursor input, and a new Magic Keyboard (coming in May) that adds a trackpad.
The iPad Pro 12.9 also ups the ante in the performance department with a new A12Z Bionic chip with an 8-core graphics engine, a new dual camera system that includes an ultra-wide lens and a LiDAR scanner that offers a much more responsive augmented reality experience.
But make no mistake. As you’ll see in our full iPad Pro 12.9 review, the iPad is still a touch-first device, and it will take time for developers to optimize their apps for trackpad input. But this is the closest Apple has come to making a laptop replacement — and a true Surface Pro rival — yet.
iPad Pro 12.9 design
The iPad Pro is practically identical to its predecessor, and that’s not a bad thing. This 12.9-inch slab is almost all screen, with narrow bezels on all four sides, rounded corners and an ultra-slim profile.
The biggest visual difference is around the back, where you’ll find a square camera bump in the upper left corner that houses the dual cameras and LiDAR scanner. Aesthetically, it’s very much like the iPhone 11 Pro.
When viewed from the front in landscape mode, there’s still a magnetic strip on the top edge for attaching the Apple Pencil. The only port is on the right, a USB-C port for charging and plugging in accessories. Like the 2018 model, the iPad Pro houses a TrueDepth camera up front, which enables Face ID for quickly unlocking the device.
The new iPad Pro 12.9 measures the same 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches and weighs a bit heavier than the previous model at 1.41 pounds compared with 1.39 pounds for the 2018 iPad Pro. That weight goes up just a tad to 1.42 pounds for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the iPad Pro.
iPad Pro 12.9 display
The Liquid Retina display on the iPad Pro 12.9 continues to be among the best screens on any mobile device. It’s bright, colorful and leverages ProMotion technology for automatically adjusting the refresh rate up to 120Hz.
When watching the trailer for James Bond No Time to Die, the iPad Pro’s display rendered 007’s Aston Martin DB5 with exquisite detail as its twin machine guns popped out of the headlights. In another scene,Daniel Craig’s stern and battle-worn face stood in stark contrast to a gorgeous bridge he was throwing himself off of.
Based on our lab tests, the iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch display emits an average brightness of 559 nits, which is considerably brighter than the Surface Pro 7’s screen (395 nits) and the panel on the Surface Pro X (417 nits).
The iPad Pro’s screen also delivers a wide array of colors, registering 122.9% of the sRGB color gamut. The Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X hit 102% and 103% respectively. You can expect very accurate colors as well, as the iPad Pro turned in a Delta-E score of 0.34. A score of 0 is perfect on this test.
iPad Pro 12.9 mouse and trackpad support
A long overdue feature for the iPad is finally here with iPadOS 13.4, and that’s trackpad support. No longer relegated to being an accessibility feature, iPadOS now has a redesigned cursor that appears as a circle on screen. And this circle morphs into different shapes depending on what you are doing.
For example, on the Home screen the cursor disappeared as I hovered over various app icons and the icons themselves became bigger. And in the Photos app the circle highlighted the Share and Heart icons in a small box as I hovered over them. When you’re in a document, web page or email, the cursor becomes an I-beam for selecting text, and right-clicking works for copying text. Annoyingly, Google Docs doesn’t yet support selecting text, though.
Because Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which includes a trackpad, isn’t available yet, I tested it with Apple’s oversized Magic Trackpad ($129) instead. This accessory gave me a taste of what to expect, though you can also use third-party Bluetooth mice.
I swiped with three fingers up to go to the Home screen, swiped up with three fingers and paused to show the App Switcher and switched between apps with a three-finger swipe to the right. You can also pull up the dock by pushing the cursor past the bottom of the screen, activate Control Center by clicking the status bar in the upper right corner and pull up Notifications by clicking the status bar in the upper left corner.
iPadOS’ Slide Over and Split View gestures are also fairly easy to activate when using a mouse or trackpad. To split the display between two apps, you simply open an app from the dock and drag it to the left or right side of the screen.
iPad Pro 12.9 Magic Keyboard
Coming in May, the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro 12.9 looks like it will be a huge upgrade over the $199 Smart Keyboard Folio accessory, but it’s also a lot more expensive at $349. (The Magic Keyboard for the 11-inch iPad Pro is $299.) What do you get for that high price?
For starters, a keyboard that’s not terrible. Instead of the fabric-like feel and membrane keys on the Smart Keyboard Folio, the Magic Keyboard uses the same scissor-style mechanism as found on the new MacBook Air and 16-inch MacBook Pro. And you get a pretty solid 1mm of travel along with a backlit layout.
Just as important, Apple includes a trackpad on the Magic Keyboard for true cursor control and supporting various gestures now available in iPadOS. Other highlights include a floating design that lets you adjust the angle of the iPad Pro from 90 to 130 degrees, compared to the mere two positions offered by the Smart Keyboard Folio. And the Magic Keyboard has its own USB-C port for charging, which keeps the iPad Pro’s own USB-C port free for plugging in other devices.
We look forward to testing out the Magic Keyboard once it becomes available, but right now it looks like a must-have accessory for those looking to ditch their laptops.
iPad Pro 12.9 performance
The iPad Pro 12.9-inch includes a new A12Z Bionic processor that offers an 8-core CPU and a new 8-core GPU that’s designed to provide a big boost in graphics performance.
On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the iPad Pro 12.9 scored 4,720 on the multi-core portion and 1,126 on the single-core test. That’s a mild improvement over the last iPad Pro with the A12X Bionic chip, which turned in respective scores of 4,635 and 1,114.
By comparison, the Surface Pro 7 scored a lower 4,443 on the multi-score Geekbench 5 test and a higher 1,241 on single core, and that’s with a 10th gen Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. The Surface Pro X, which has an ARM-powered Microsoft SQ1 chip, couldn’t run Geekbench 5.
You should expect fast real-world performance as well. The iPad Pro 12.9 took only 34 seconds to export a 4K video to 1080p after applying a color filter and transition in the Adobe Rush app. The iPhone 11 Pro needed 46 seconds to complete the same task.
The iPad Pro does deliver more graphics muscle via the A12Z Bionic. On 3DMark Slingshot, the new iPad Pro 12.9 notched a score of 9117, compared to 8911 for the previous iPad Pro. We’re in the process of running other benchmarks, some of which are not yet optimized for iPadOS 13.4, so stay tuned for updates to this review.
iPad Pro 12.9 cameras
The iPad Pro 12.9 is a bit heavy to carry around as a camera, but it’s now more capable, thanks to the addition of a 10MP ultra-wide camera that complements the standard 12MP wide camera. Two switch to the ultra-wide view you simply press on the zoom button to switch from 1x to 0.5x.
Based on the shots I captured, the iPad Pro’s cameras deliver fairly sharp and colorful results, even if they’re a step behind the iPhone 11 Pro. In this shot of cherry blossoms in bloom, the iPad Pro 12.9, the white flowers in the center look clear but the left side of the frame looks somewhat blurry. The magenta and the light olive green of the filaments in the flowers stand out. The petals are a nice off white, but not so white that they’re excessively blown out.
I also snapped this photo of a bird house, and the iPad Pro did a fine job capturing the bright yellow roof, the pink ornamental flower and a yellow-and-blue butterfly decoration. I could also make out the birdseed really well, and there’s a fair amount of detail in the nearby tree bark.
Indoors, the iPad Pro captured a well-balanced pic of a candle, and it’s nice to see that the wick didn’t get blown out. The surrounding table runner is a bit fuzzy but overall it’s a fairly good shot.
The iPad Pro 12.9 also shoots up to 4K video. I shot a quick clip of a residential neighborhood, and the tablet did a fine job rendering little details, including a leaf blowing by and a small American flag waving in the wind. Even as I panned around the footage didn’t stutter.
I do have some complaints about the camera. First, the Portrait mode only works with the 7MP TrueDepth front camera. Second, the iPad Pro doesn’t offer a Night Mode like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro do. The iPad Pro does offer good exposure in low light, but it’s not as good as a true Night Mode with Apple’s computational photography assistance.
iPad Pro 12.9 LiDAR scanner and AR
The iPad Pro 12.9 has a feature we’ve never seen before on any Apple device. It has a LiDAR scanner on the back (also known as time-of-flight sensor) that measures the time it takes to reach an object and reflect back. The goal is to enable developers to build more compelling augmented reality apps, though I already notice a big difference with existing apps.
Normally when you fire up an AR app like IKEA Place, you have to spend a few seconds scanning the floor or surface in order to start using the app. Thanks to this LiDAR scanner, which works in close concert with the A12Z Bionic chip and Apple’s Neural Engine, AR placement is now instantaneous.
I was able to place Ikea’s Symphonisk table lamp on a table right away on a table in my living room and get a close-up view without lag. I also enjoyed playing a round of Angry Birds Isle of Pigs in my home office; the 3D game board appeared on my floor instantly and I then started flinging birds into TNT and nearby pigs with abandon.
The next step is for developers to get their hands on Apple’s new ARKit 3.5, so they can take advantage of new capabilities, such as being to create a topological 3D mesh of a room and object occlusion, which means that AR content can pass behind and in front of large objects or even people.
iPad Pro 12.9 Apple Pencil
The iPad Pro continues to support the second-generation Apple Pencil ($129), which lets you draw, take notes and mark up documents.
The accessory also lets you double tap on the Pencil to toggle the eraser on and off. And it’s just as easy as before to charge the Apple Pencil; you magnetically attach it to the top of the tablet and it automatically begins charging.
I like that you can wake up the iPad Pro’s display with the Apple Pencil and go right into the Notes app. However, I think this add-on is best suited for artists or anyone who needs to sign documents on a regular basis.
iPad Pro 12.9 battery life
The iPad Pro 12.9 is rated for 10 hours of wireless web surfing. We’re in the process of running our battery test, but in everyday use the iPad Pro has delivered strong endurance. I have started my workday unplugging at 7 am and have used the tablet for streaming video, taking photos, word processing and checking email, and it was down to 39% by 4pm, so the iPad Pro should be able to last you through most days.
The new iPad lasted 10 hours and 16 minutes on the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi on 150 nits of screen brightness. We will be running the test a few more times to arrive at an average, but this result looks promising versus the Surface Pro 7 (just 7:30) and Surface Pro X (9:45).
My biggest overall gripe with the iPad Pro is its short 1-meter USB-C charging cable. It wasn’t long enough to reach from my wall to my dining room table, and even on my home office desk it was a challenge to charge the iPad Pro without taking the surge protector off the floor and placing it on my desk. Apple really needs to include a longer cable, though you can buy a 2-meter cable for $19.
iPad Pro 12.9: Can the new iPad Pro replace a laptop?
This is a complicated question to answer. I do think the iPad Pro can replace a laptop for some, especially those who want to travel very light and creative pros who want to do content creation and editing on the go.
Based on my own experience, though, I wouldn’t replace my MacBook Pro with the iPad Pro 12.9. The biggest reason is that the Chrome browser isn’t optimized for iPadOS — at least not yet. I spend a lot of time in Chrome on a daily basis, bouncing between email, real-time traffic reports and Google Docs, and not having a bookmarks bar that’s always visible is a dealbreaker for me.
In addition, I’m someone who jumps from tab to tab in the browser and just expects to start editing documents in Google Docs; on the iPad Pro, you have to open a separate app and even then you can’t start editing until you tap the pen icon.
I also expect iPadOS to be smart enough to recognize when a keyboard is attached and to respond accordingly. For example, if you’re on the Home screen and start typing, nothing happens. I would expect Spotlight search to come up so you can just type in the name of an app and go. Fortunately, you can just hit Command + Space Bar to launch search. Same thing with the App Store; you should be able to just start typing without having to tap the search icon.
To be fair, iPadOS has only been around as its own thing since September, but I would like to see developers start better optimizing their apps for cursor and keyboard support without sacrificing the iPad Pro’s touch-first approach.
iPad Pro 12.9 review: Verdict
The iPad Pro 12.9 represents an important milestone for the iPad. By offering a real keyboard with touchpad, it’s a much closer competitor now than ever before with the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X. And the iPad Pro gives you snappier performance and longer battery life for your money. You also get better cameras with the iPad Pro and the ability to run a new class of AR apps, two areas where the Surface Pros are far behind.
However, it’s clear that developers have not yet optimized their apps for the new cursor control powers in iPadOS, and Apple and its partners should push the platform even further to make the iPad more touchpad- and keyboard-friendly. I also wish Apple included a larger charging cable; yes, you get a lot of endurance from this tablet, but the length of this cord now looks like a joke given the bigger ambitions of this device.
Overall, I highly recommend the iPad Pro 12.9 for those who want a tablet first and a laptop second, but if you’re thinking about doing a lot of typing on this slate I would wait until May when the Magic Keyboard ships. We will update our review as soon as we’re able to test what appears to be a game-changing accessory for the world’s most versatile tablet.