Just as predicted by my colleague Mark Gurman, the iPad Pro became available to purchase today, making a rare simultaneous appearance in Apple’s online and physical stores without any preorder period. Consequently, it’s actually possible to walk into an Apple Store today to buy one — and if my experience today is any indication, there probably won’t even be much of a line.
If you’re still unsure as to whether you want an iPad Pro, I’ve put together this quick guide to some of the real-world things people will want to know about the new 12.9″ iPad before making a purchase — including some comparison photos and other hands-on details. Enjoy the details and galleries below…
1. How Big Is Big? How much space are you really going to save carrying an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? Not a lot, particularly if you’re also toting a keyboard around. Inside a keyboard case, the iPad Pro has a nearly identical footprint to the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (above), and is noticeably bigger than the 11.6″ MacBook Air. (Check out the gallery below to see a shot of the iPad Pro in a keyboard case dwarfing the smaller Air.)
2. This Is How Big It Looks Next To the iPad Air 2 and the iPhone 6s Plus. iPhone 6/6s Plus users typically stop using their iPad minis once their iPhones become nearly as big — some even stopped using full-sized iPads/iPad Airs. The iPad Pro creates another meaningful differentiation between devices; compared with the iPhone 6/6s Plus, it feels a lot bigger than an iPad Air. And even if you know what a 13″ laptop screen is like, the iPad Pro feels a lot different — more intimate, as Steve Jobs would have said — when it’s resting in your lap, or held in your hand. My strong advice: under no circumstances should you try placing it on an iPad dock.
3. The Extra Speakers Actually Do Make A Difference. The iPad Pro has four speakers — two on “top,” two on “bottom” — and they’re much better than on any prior iPad. Believe it or not, the iPad Pro makes the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro’s speakers sound weak; they’re remarkably a step louder, noticeably clearer, and decidedly wider in frequency, better in both treble and bass. Apple’s promised stereo separation feature works seamlessly, too, properly switching the “left” and “right” channels over to the correct speakers as you rotate the iPad Pro around.
4. Multitasking With The Virtual Keyboard Is Less Weird But Still Weird. Typing has become wonky on all iPads since the introduction of split-screen multitasking, and rather than going away, the weirdness just changes with the iPad Pro. On a positive note, you get a little more screen space for your apps above the virtual keyboard, which managed to grow in height and width by replicating more keys from a regular keyboard. Now you get half-height number keys alongside a weird half-height delete key, while losing the ability to split the keyboard in half for edge-of-screen typing. But you still have the ability to undock the keyboard from the bottom of the screen, sliding it up and down to your preferred position. I’ve never seen a use for this, but maybe you have one.
5. Most Of The Time, It Doesn’t Feel Materially Faster Than An iPad Air 2. Most apps, including Apple’s, feel like they’re running at the same speeds once you get them open, though the iPad Pro can and will load apps a little faster. As between the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro, you’re more likely to notice Internet/wireless retrieval delays than CPU or GPU performance issues at this point. Oddly, Geekbench’s benchmarking tool shows a lot of variation between results. It consistently reported a gigantic jump in single-core scores from the iPad Air 2 (as wide as 1836 to 3146), but versus the iPad Air 2’s 4605 multi-core score, the Pro’s scores ranged from a barely better 4859 to a higher score of 5324. I’m guessing Geekbench needs an update, but there might be under-the-hood power management reasons for the benchmark differences.
6. Display Zoom + AirPlay Mirroring. Hey, did you know the iPad Pro has a Display Zoom feature, like the iPhone 6/6s Plus? When activated, it effectively transforms the Pro’s 12.9″ screen into the UI equivalent of the iPad Air, with much larger icons and text at a 2048 x 1536 resolution. The zoomed display could be a boon for users with limited vision seeking a larger canvas for the existing iPad experience. Additionally, though the iPad Pro’s screen is normally 2732 x 2048, it continues to look way lower-res — basically 1024×768-equivalent, the same as other iPads — when AirPlay Mirrored to an HDTV.
7. Expect A Lot Of Upscaling and Weird Proportions. Most of the iPad Pro experience right now is… a work in progress. Click on most apps and they’ll look like iPad Air apps upscaled to a larger screen, and in some apps, you may (gasp) notice visible pixels for the first time since Apple switched to Retina displays. Also, apps that have been upscaled (including Apple’s integrated iOS apps) don’t necessarily look optimally balanced for the new screen size. It’s really time for Apple to re-evaluate whether iPad apps like Clock really need to occupy the entire screen with white space for most of their tabs — now that multitasking is here, some apps might be best off running in less-than-full-screen windows.
8. Also, You Probably Should Stop Running Those Last Few Upscaled iPhone Apps Now. Sorry, Instagram users. iPhone app upscaling to the iPad was always a little iffy, but on the iPad Pro, it’s downright silly. 1X mode is tiny, and 2X mode no longer fills the screen, remaining closer to the size of an iPad Air screen with tons of black space on the Pro’s display.
9. Old Power Is All Good. The iPad Pro comes with and prefers Apple’s previously-released 12w iPad Power Adapter, but it doesn’t complain if it’s connected to older 10W iPad adapters or even 5W iPhone adapters. Those fearing a “Not Charging” notice will find the Pro works like other iPads when it comes to compatibility with Made For iPad power accessories.
10. Apple’s Smart Connector May Become A Game-Changer. For the first time in iPad history, the iPad Pro can actually connect to two wired accessories at once — one with Lightning, one with the Smart Connector. If this wasn’t obvious before due to the volume buttons’ placement, the Smart Connector now defines the “correct” way to use the iPad Pro in landscape mode: with the Home Button on the right side of the screen. It’s going to be really interesting to see how and whether most cases handle the new Connector, as no one knows yet whether it will be useful for things beyond (certain) keyboard docks. Since it was the first thing to show dirt on my Pro after it was unpacked, protection of some sort doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but accessing the port may wind up being challenging if it’s covered…
Here’s a quick gallery of additional iPad Pro images: