Friday, June 16, 2017

iPad Pro 10.5-inch Review

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad, he positioned it in between an iPhone and MacBook (literally). He argued that a tablet device had to do some key things better than an iPhone and MacBook in order for it to exist. Those goals were arguably achieved, and now Tim Cook and Apple envision the iPad outright replacing traditional computing devices for the everyday user.

Hardware-wise, I’ve felt the iPad has been a powerhouse since the iPad Air days. I remember being blown away at how fast the Air was—how I could fly in and out of every app with agility. That said, the new hardware in the iPad Pro is just jaw-dropping. From the insane interface fluidity thanks to the ProMotion display, to the ludicrous speed of the A10X Fusion Chip, Apple is making it harder not to replace your traditional ‘computer’ with an iPad. The only thing missing? iOS 11.

Table of Contents


The iPad design has remained largely unchanged since the iPad Air, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The form factor is tried-and-true, and unlikely to change until if and when Apple introduces edge-to-edge screens (rumored to be coming in the iPhone 8.)

Apple was able to reduce the side bezels of the 10.5-inch model to allow for a 20% bigger screen (compared to the old 9.7-inch iPad Pro). It’s a very nice change that doesn’t even take any adjustment to get used to. This also allows for a full size on-screen keyboard to be displayed when the iPad is in landscape orientation.

ProMotion Display

The display is centered around a core technology Apple is calling ‘ProMotion’. In essence, ProMotion is comprised of the features below.

120Hz Refresh Rate

This is a big one. The screen now refreshes itself twice as fast as any iPad before it. This equates to a fluidity unseen before in the iPad and mobile devices. Everything from scrolling to navigating between apps is just silky-smooth.

It’s a little hard to explain in words how much of a difference this makes to the iPad experience, but it elevates it to another level for everyone. Like all other reviews you’ve probably read, you just have to see it for yourself. In true Apple fashion, it will make every other display (including ones on Apple devices) feel instantly old.1

The display‘s refresh rate is actually adaptive. If there’s no motion on the screen, the display will reduce its refresh rate to reduce power consumption. Similarly, it will adjust to match frame rates of videos and games2 to make them look great as well.

Apple Pencil Precision

Due to the increased refresh rate of the screen, the Apple Pencil has seen a huge benefit. The Pencil has always been tracked at 240Hz, but until now, the display has been way behind at 60 frames per second (40 milliseconds of latency). In the new iPad Pro, the latency between the Pencil and display is practically unnoticeable (down to 20 milliseconds).

Apple used to tout this experience was the case before, but as a long-time handwritten notetaker with the old iPad Pro, writing on it wasn’t exactly like writing on paper. You could always feel the iPad was a tad behind the stroke of your Pencil. That is no longer the case. Writing on the new iPad Pro is like writing on paper. I cannot express how much of a difference the display’s refresh rate makes with the Pencil. And yes, this is with the exact same Pencil released in 2015. Artists and notetakers alike are going to love this.

I would be dumbfounded if this didn’t make it into the next iPhone models, as that is most likely the plan. If and when that does happen, it will be almost like the move from low-resolution screens to Retina.

True Tone

Not a new feature, but this is my first device with TruTone built in. I’m still getting used to it, but I’m liking it. Basically, it allows the iPad to adjust itself in order to make colors appear the same no matter on your lighting conditions. It’s easier to see in sunlight, as result, which is a huge plus.

Other Display Features

  • Wide color gamut.
  • Ultra low reflections.
  • 600 nits of brightness.
  • HDR video support.

A10X Fusion Chip

Apple’s latest chip is just ludicrous. The raw power built into these iPads rivals laptops (even the MacBook Pro). Featuring six CPU cores and twelve GPU cores, it’s 30% faster at processing data and system tasks, and 40% faster at processing graphics than its predecessor.

Bare Feats ran benchmarks on the new iPad Pros in comparison to the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the results were amazing. The iPad Pro is neck-and-neck with the MacBook Pro, and even pulls ahead in some cases (mostly on the graphics side.) Here’s a couple of the results produced by Bare Feats. benchmark.

Source: Bare Feats benchmark.

Source: Bare Feats

Storage & Memory

In terms of storage, the base models get a boost to 64GB, up from 32GB. This renders the base models more viable than before.

Both sizes also offer 4GB of RAM, allowing you to run three apps at a time on the screen once iOS 11 drops. Thanks to iOS’s finely-tuned memory management, the iPad Pro gets by with ease on 4GB of RAM.

iPad Pro running three apps on screen with iOS 11.

iPad Pro running three apps on screen with iOS 11 – Safari, Tweetbot, and Music (slideover mode).

Camera System

Both iPad Pros feature the same camera system as the iPhone 7 (12MP rear, 7MP front)—so you know it’s great. It features optical image stabilization and wider color capture.

Battery Life

You’ll find the same 10-hour battery life here. I don’t think Apple is in a rush to push the iPad’s battery too much further, since 10 hours works for most people just fine.

Comparison to 12.9-inch iPad Pro

I owned the previous generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro 3, and it was monstrous. It had an amazingly big screen, but it was monstrous nonetheless. The great thing is: no matter which you choose, you’ll end up with the same exact internal components.

There was a weird gap in the previous generation, where only the replaced iPad Pro 9.7-inch had second generation Touch ID 4 a better camera and True Tone display, whereas the 12.9-inch did not. Hopefully Apple keeps this parity moving forward, because it makes the choice for customers easy—just choose a screen size.

Get the 12.9-inch if…

  • You are an artist and anticipate using the Pencil a lot, simply because you’ll have a bigger canvas.
  • You use the iPad for graphic design, for similar reasons.
  • You want a very large screen for movies, games, or running multiple apps at a time in split view.
  • Care a little less about portability, even though it’s still very portable.

Get the 10.5-inch if…

  • You want to use the iPad for note-taking. This is the perfect size for that.
  • You want the same power in an extremely portable size.

I used the 12.9-inch for all the typical stuff, but using it for handwritten notes just felt a little too unwieldy. The new 10.5-inch size hits a great sweet spot in this regard. It’s got a perfect paper-notebook-sized screen.

Summary and iOS 11

After owning the original iPad, iPad 3, Air, Mini 2, and original iPad Pro 12.9-inch, I can safely say this is the best iPad Apple has ever made.

6/17/17 at 2pm Pacific

Did I mention it has the second generation Touch ID sensor, so it recognizes your fingerprint with lightning speed?

One thing that feels funny, though, is the lack of a static home button and 3D Touch. After having the iPhone 7 for a while, the iPad Pro’s home button feels kinda mushy. I imagine this may be due to the sensing layer required for the Apple Pencil. As a result, I don’t think we’ll see 3D Touch in the iPad for a while. For now, Apple is forced to replicate certain 3D Touch features on the iPad via long presses.5

The new iPad Pros are fantastic pieces of hardware, only longing for iOS 11. It’s curious to me that Apple didn’t wait until iOS 11 is released in the fall to also release these new models in tandem. Apple has been known to release things ‘when they’re ready’, but if you don’t want to run the Public Beta of iOS 11 coming later this month, your software experience is largely going to be the same.

iOS 11 is transformative for the iPad. Just go to the official iPad Pro page and see how many times they make mention of iOS 11’s features which are not yet available. I’m so thrilled Apple is taking their promise of replacing the traditional computer seriously. There will still be a ways to go in this regard, but with this new iPad Pro and iOS 11, more and more people will start to see the path.

  1. I’m looking at you, iPhone 7. 
  2. Some games may require an update to properly account for the ProMotion screen’s new refresh rate. 
  3. A.k.a. ‘Gargantua’. 
  4. iPad Pro 9.7” only had the original Touch ID sensor. Thanks to yegon on reddit for pointing this out! 
  5. ‘Certain’ meaning things like the Control Center submenus or accessories in the Home app. You still cannot 3D Touch app icons on the home screen for contextual functionality. I wonder if Apple will address this down the line or leave it as an iPhone-only feature (whether they want to or not).