After all these years, what came as the biggest surprise while reviewing the “new” iPad Pro is that it was still a conversation starter. And not because of the pure white Magic Keyboard that really is a breath of fresh air (just keep it away from dusty air), but because with each iterative update to the iPad Pro, Apple packs in more horsepower and more multitasking abilities. And yet, there is more conjecture than ever about whether the iPad can replace the MacBook.
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (M2) review
Still the best, still a tablet
No one I’ve met has ever found the power of an iPad Pro lacking. Yet, just like clockwork, Apple keeps updating its flagship tablet year after year, bringing them closer to the laptops and in this case, plonking the M2 silicon under the hood. Yes, the same processor you’ll find inside MacBook Pros and Airs! As expected, this has upped its price proportionally, though the MY2023 iPad Pro seems like the mildest iterative update so far. Not necessarily a bad thing, considering Apple has been steadily refreshing the entire iPad family to the same form factor, varying only by bezel and screen size.
Apple has hit something of a sweet spot with this 12.9in Pro size and though the Magic Keyboard is almost hilariously still termed as an “accessory”. At a cool Rs. 33,900, it is as essential as a Pope in Vatican and that is just the holy truth. Besides the odd rarity of workflows where the iPad Pro is being used as a medical aid or remote monitor for filmmaking purposes, I don’t see any potential buyer not wanting..actually check that, NEEDING the Magic Keyboard. It really brings the iPad Pro closer to a traditional laptop than ever before without compromising its distinctive powers as a tablet. The trackpad which is optimised for iPadOS presents a cursory dot that makes it a doddle to select, resize and switch between windows. This is especially true with iPadOS 16.1 that puts the..er…spotlight on Stage Manager.
Apple’s big push towards true multitasking on the iPad Pro, Stage Manager also works on the iPad Air and is finally capable of multiple floating windows, all of which can be resized and moved around. But before you get as excited as Tom Cruise in a free falling jet, it’s not all sorted out just yet. It takes multiple gestures to arrange the windows the way you want them, even more so if you want them all in varying sizes. You can have up to four different apps open at a time and when you minimise them, they get stacked up on the side panel. As expected, the transitions are cool to watch, but depending on the app, closing an app doesn’t necessarily revert you to the other open app. You find yourself staring at the home screen suddenly, more often than not, adding to more gestures. There is also no gesture to drag a window into the side stack and you have to use the dotted option tab on the top of each window to minimise it. In essence, Stage Manager seems like a Beta project, especially while it awaits a lot of third-party apps to catch up. I like the option of having a floating window with previews of four other windows on the side, but these windows aren’t dynamic either. Meaning, they won’t keep showing you refreshed content, unless you drag them out or maximise them. More often than not, I found myself reverting to CMD+Tab to cycle through my active apps, much like a laptop. The dock of recent apps remains available at all times at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to bring more apps on to the main stage, but as you can tell, the big answer to the eternal “can it replace my MacBook” question is still eluded.
New app support is being added constantly to the iPad Pro to give it impetus as a “pro” device. The newest announcement has been the popular DaVinci Resolve colour grading app which is coming soon with four times the rendering speed on M2-equipped iPad Pros. Adobe InDesign, the defacto standard for publishing and page layout for magazines like ours is still unsupported, forcing me to circle back to my MacBook Air every now and then. A Google Drive link I received offered no option to download and save the video file on the iPad. Again, MacBook Air to the rescue. While this plays well in the hands of the Cupertino giant to sell more devices, by now it’s evident that Apple has always had a clear trajectory for both iPadOS and MacOS. Although they might be more communicative with each other than ever before, they don’t intend to cross paths, making the decision harder than ever for the consumer.
One thing that remains as true as Monday is the M2 processor’s ability to simply fly through tasks. Even app launching compared to the M1 iPad Pro is marginally quicker, but it’s when you get down to the hardcore processor-intensive tasks like 4K movie edits, RAW image editing and even graphics quality on Apple Arcade games, do you realise how effortlessly it handles it all. There’s barely any wait time and for all the apps I threw at it, it handled it all without protest or breaking a sweat. Benchmarks would be futile here because clearly, no amount of open apps or batch file processing have ever made the M1 iPad Pro seem slow either, so it’s a matter of perception. And differences will be noticeable only if you have both the 2021 and 2022 models side-by-side even with the two additional GPU cores in the M2.
What is truly exclusive to the M2 is the new Apple Pencil “hover” feature that lets you preview filters, enlarge app icons, view app options…all from a distance of 12mm above the screen, without touching it! Sure, it’s not as radical a technology as Apple would have you believe, but it differs from what Samsung is doing by being more inclusive of third-party apps. I’d like to see more apps being supported but ProCreate, Pixelmator and a lot of native apps already are on-board. Lightroom presets didn’t allow hover selection yet, but I'm sure it’s an update or two away.
Unlike the refreshed entry-level iPad, the Pro still doesn’t get a landscape mode FaceTime camera, although it does feature Centre Stage to keep you centered in the frame. Thankfully, FaceID works in any orientation now. Image resolution is crisp and detailed in broad daylight, but quickly gets noisy as the ambient illumination is reduced. Rear cameras on the iPad always seemed redundant, but with a ProRes workflow, it makes more sense than ever to have a decent cam suite now. The 12MP wide and 10MP ultrawide do a decent job of capturing accurate colours and textures, even under indoor lighting conditions, but still, beyond the Apple promo videos, it’s hard to believe any professional filmmaker actually using a 13in tablet to make a masterpiece.
What is truly astonishing is the Liquid Retina XDR display. With up to 1600nits of peak brightness with HDR content, it just brings images and video to life in away even reality cannot! But also with the Reference Mode, it can turn off True Tone, Night Shift and match the profile with an external Mac display via Sidecar. If you want the last word on accuracy and consistency, the iPad Pro has everyone else beat. Even in the brightest of outdoor daylights, I barely reached the max setting on brightness and the ProMotion 120Hz complements iOS16’s slickness so well, it’s hard to tell where the hardware ends and software begins.
Apple has also ensured that with the proliferation of 5G in increasing markets, the iPad Pro is equipped with the necessary hardware, as well as the latest gen WiFi 6E, if your router is already up to speed.
Battery life does take a hit and though Apple claims “all-day” or 10hr battery life, on a Google Meet call that lasted for 50 mins along with sundry apps and snacking on YouTube, it dropped 40% in about three hours. Depending on the intensity of the task, like transferring hi-res files, video editing and watching a movie with the built-in speakers fairly loud, the 10-hour mark seems like a tall order to achieve. It isn’t poor, but it definitely isn’t as long-lasting as an M2 on a MacBook Air, which I typically charge once in 2-3 days!
By now it’s clear as day that the MacBook can’t do what the iPad Pro can and vice versa. Make peace with this truth and you’re bound to enjoy every moment you’re working with the iPad Pro. The M2’s phenomenal processing power will always have headroom to spare no matter what you throw at it, it’s a genuine gaming machine, is absolutely the best device for photo editing and viewing and will be a supreme travel companion. Binging on the Crown or thrashing out emails in-flight has never been more fun or faster. The Apple iPad Pro then remains the world’s best tablet just like always and just like always, is still predominantly a tablet.
It’s getting old, but the iPad Pro still remains the best and the most powerful tablet money can buy, limited only by Apple’s iron curtain.
|Display:||12.9in Liquid Retina XDR 120Hz|
|Camera:||12MP+10MP (rear) 12MP (front)|
|Video Recording:||4K@60fps or ProRes 4K@30fps|