5:33 PM ET
For the most part, Apple has long kept its desktop and mobile experiences distinct from one another. Contrast that with Microsoft, whose Windows 10 software now runs across all manner of devices, from desktop computers to funky 2-in-1 hybrids.
But ever since it launched the gargantuan 12.9-inch iPad Pro in 2015, Apple has shown signs it's willing to somewhat rethink that strategy. With the launch of its new iPad Pro, Apple has a tablet that's more likely than ever to replace some of the functions of your laptop. Thanks to improved specs, a reworked form factor, and new software launching later this year, this is an iPad that's more capable than its predecessors.
The new iPad Pro models have a faster processor, a more responsive and brighter, more colorful screen with a higher refresh rate than their predecessors. The camera is taken straight from the iPhone 7. And the new iOS 11 software, which will be available in the fall, adds useful new multitasking features that mimic working on a "real" computer.
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After spending several days using the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $649 and begins shipping this week, I'm convinced this is the best tablet for productivity Apple has made so far. I appreciated the speed and power that came in the original 12.9-inch model, but it was way too cumbersome to use with one hand or stash in my bag. For those reasons, I was willing to sacrifice that extra screen space for the portability that the 9.7-inch version offered. But the new 10.5-inch Pro provides the perfect middle ground.
The difference between 9.7 inches and 10.5 inches doesn't sound like much on paper, but it goes a long way in practice. The new iPad Pro's screen is about 20% larger than the last, while the tablet itself is only slightly bigger. Apple achieved this by reducing the size of the borders around the display, a tactic companies like Samsung and LG have used to offer more spacious screens on their latest smartphones without making their devices bulkier.
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The design tweak is a much-needed change that not only makes web browsing and multitasking more enjoyable, but also gives the iPad a more sleek and modern look. Viewing apps in split-screen mode is also more comfortable on a 10.5-inch screen, as the extra surface area makes it easier to read text in apps that only occupy half of the screen.
The zippier A10X Fusion chip inside the new iPad Pro came to life during processor-intensive tasks like editing photos and using Touch ID. The 10.5-inch Pro smoked the 9.7 model when applying special effects to photos through the app Prisma, for example, and its fingerprint sensor was more responsive when unlocking the tablet. But don't expect to see dramatic changes in speed with simple tasks like launching apps, taking notes, and managing email.
The screen's higher refresh rate, which is now at 120GHz, subtly improves the overall iPad experience. Jumping between home screens to browse through my apps only required a swipe so slight it felt like little more than a tap, showing virtually no latency. Apple also says the new iPad Pro automatically adjusts its refresh rate depending on the task at hand to avoid depleting the tablet's battery too quickly.
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Speaking of battery life, Apple is claiming about 10 hours here, which was about right based on my testing. After using the new Pro for a bit over three and a half hours, I had about 75% of battery remaining, which means it should be capable of breezing past 10 hours of usage. That number will vary depending on how you use the Pro. I mostly used it for writing this review, playing games, watching Netflix, and doing some light photo editing. If you're exporting 4K video or cranking up the screen brightness, you'll probably see the battery drain more quickly.
Still, as impressive as the new iPad Pro's hardware may be, many of the tablet's improvements lie on the software side. The upcoming version of Apple's iPhone and iPad software, iOS 11, adds features like multitasking improvements, a bigger dock for pinning apps, and a file management system. But iOS 11 will also be available for older and less expensive iPads, making it tough to justify the cost of the new iPad Pro unless you truly need the horsepower it provides. Additionally, Microsoft's pricier Surface Pro and other Windows 10 tablets still offer some advantages over Apple's high-end tablet, like more ports for accessories and hardware customization options — and they work with mice, making them feel even more like actual computers.
But if you're committed to Apple, and you're looking for a tablet that can replace your MacBook for certain uses, the new iPad Pro can do the job. Between its high-performance new tablets and the multitasking-focused iOS 11, it's clear that Apple is finally serious about making the iPad a viable PC alternative. Now it just has to execute on that vision.