Review: Apple's iPad Pro stuns with its speed and beauty - but is it worth the hefty price?

Can the fastest tablet on the market convince an unconvinced iPad veteran to ditch the laptop?
Can the fastest tablet on the market convince an unconvinced iPad veteran to ditch the laptop? Photo credit: Newshub

Apple's super-quick M1 chip has been transplanted from the new generation of iMacs and MacBook Airs into iPads for the first time, giving the new iterations of the tablet a big speed boost.

The 12.9-inch version also has a Liquid Retina XDR display, delivering colours unprecedented for handheld consumer devices.

But they're not cheap, starting at $1349 for the non-XDR display 11-inch and $1849 for the 12.9-inch.

As a still unconvinced iPad veteran - I have a second-generation iPad Pro which is gathering dust because of the gorgeous MacBook Air I bought recently - can the US tech giant finally convince me to ditch my laptop for iPadOS?

I've been using the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro combined with the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil for a couple of weeks and here are my thoughts.

The good

There is so much to love about the latest iPad Pro that it's difficult to know where to start... actually, that's not true.

THE XDR DISPLAY IS MINDBLOWING. Yes, I just shouted that.

I've lost count of the sheer number of screens I've used over the years as a tech junkie and this beats them all by a distance. The expensive monitor I bought for my home office last year pales in comparison.

It's also better than the 55-inch 4K television that dominates my living room. Only the new Mini LED 8K television I'm currently trying out bests the handheld beauty of this iPad Pro.

Yes, it's that good.

During the review period I lay in bed and watched Pixar's Coco on the iPad.

As mesmerising a movie as it already is, the sharpness and quite brilliant colours on display had me ready to weep before the actual part in the movie where everyone cries. Everyone cries watching it, right? Right?

Anyway, it had me in thralls, and that's without even using the screen where it's designed to have massive benefits - the viewing and editing of HDR photos and videos.

Delivering 1000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1600 nits of peak brightness, you are not going to struggle to see the details on the screen, even in brightly lit areas.

And the speed? It's so impressive it makes you plainly aware that iPadOS 14 and the apps just aren't taking full advantage of the M1's capabilities. You are future-proofing for the long-term with this which is no bad thing, because iPads last a long time in my experience.

The 8-core M1 delivers, Apple says, up to 50 percent faster performance overall, and a 40 percent graphics performance improvement over last year's iPad Pro. A brief side-by-side comparison to my second-generation version felt like I had accidentally picked up Fred Flintstone's iPad by mistake.

One of the other standouts is a new feature called Centre Stage. It works with FaceTime (and other video conferencing apps) to ensure you're always the centre of attention. Finally, some recognition of my true place in this world!

Machine learning combines with the ultra-wide camera as you move around the room, keeping you in, well, centre stage. It worked perfectly when tested - and also can be switched off for those days when you just need to work from home in your underpants but have to dial in for that important meeting.

Drawing on the iPad with an Apple Pencil.
Photo credit: Newshub

And I haven't even begun to experience everything this iPad has to offer. My partner is a visual artist and the ability to not only create new artworks on apps like Procreate but to bring them to life on 3D models on our kitchen table using LiDAR and AR has the potential to be a game-changer.

This model also has 5G connectivity built in, which isn't too handy out in the sticks where I live but will pay dividends for those with great connections.

And it's pretty handy for gaming too. I plugged in my Xbox Series X controller and spent a happy few hours playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, listening to '80s music and riding around on a motorbike. 

But it comes into its own with Divinity: Original Sin II, a game that only works on a handful of the newer iPads. The graphics are outstanding and - as expected - there were no noticeable issues with framerates. A truly next-generation gaming experience on the iPad for, I think, the first time.

Throw in Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 support - meaning super-fast transfer of data to external devices as well as dock and display usage - and you have beauty, connectivity and functionality in one marvellous, if expensive, package.

Playing a game on the iPad
Photo credit: Newshub

The bad

Anyone who's read my reviews of laptops knows my preference for face unlocking of devices instead of PINs and passwords. Call it laziness if you must, but it just feels so much quicker and secure.

Thankfully Apple's FaceID works perfectly on my iPhone. And it works well here, too - when it can see my face.

Unfortunately that's not always, because the front-facing camera is in the wrong place. Nope, nothing anyone can say will ever convince me the best place for it is in the middle of the shorter end of the device.

The vast majority of the time I'm using the iPad it's in landscape mode, whether that's with the Magic Keyboard attached or not.

Games, photo editing, watching Netflix and Disney+, drawing, writing my trashy science fiction novel? All oriented landscape, which leaves the camera on the left hand side and me looking at it at a weird angle.

It means when I go to unlock the device or buy something from the App Store and press the button to confirm, my left arm seems to block the camera from seeing my confused face.

Cue sighs of exasperation and some arm yoga to ensure it's out of frame as I go for the second attempt.

The only portrait usage I can recall is when taking handwritten notes using the second generation Apple Pencil (which, incidentally, is so much better than the first generation I've been using in terms of feel and charging). And I didn't need the front-facing camera for that.

Perhaps it's a combination of being spoiled by just how good technology has become and my nearly-complete transformation into a grumpy, middle-aged man that it annoys me so.

My 10-year-old self, who used to play 8-bit games that took five minutes to load via a cassette recorder on his ZX Spectrum 48k, is looking at me with sad eyes and shaking his head. I'm sorry, 10-year-old me. I can't help it.

Besides the high price point, the other thing that stings is the necessity to pay for what I consider must-have peripherals. The Pro WITHOUT the hugely impressive Magic Keyboard and Pencil just doesn't have all the functionality necessary to make it worth it.

That means you're going to add another $239 for the pencil and a hefty $639 for the keyboard to your already large bill to get the most out of the device.

That puts it firmly in the 'luxury' category for home users and 'phew, this is tax deductible' for business users.

Carrying the iPad Pro.
Photo credit: Newshub

The verdict

There's absolutely no question the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the most powerful tablet ever released.

It's absolutely stunning and will do everything you expect from the latest iteration of Apple's top of the range model.

There's only a couple of minor quibbles - and an extra $878 - that stop this short of being the perfect device, in my opinion. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's for everyone.

If you haven't switched to an iPad (or other touchscreen device) by now, then I'm not sure you're going to benefit from all of the impressive features on display here. You need that usage case before you're going to spend the money necessary to get this.

But if you're an iPad diehard who wants as close to perfection as possible? Then this model is going to have you showing it around like a new baby - and being just as protective of it.

Me? I dug out my DSLR camera and started using the iPad Pro to edit my pictures on the go. And having seen all those brilliant colours watching videos while lying in my bed having a lazy day? I'm never going back.

Colour me convinced. Pun intended.

Newshub was supplied a 12.9 inch iPad Pro with 16GB RAM and 1TB of storage for this review.