10.5-inch iPad Pro feels like the future [Review]


The new 10.5-inch iPad Pro puts monstrous power at your fingertips.
Don't pay full price for a 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

I could be the poster boy for Apple’s “iPad problem.”

That problem, in a nutshell, is this: Even long-in-the-tooth iPads several generations old continue to work just fine for many everyday tasks. That, in turn, slows the upgrade cycle. iPad sales drop, and pundits pile on to declare that Apple is doomed. Again.

I’m one of those cheapskates who couldn’t be bothered to shell out for a new iPad over the past few years but a freak accident — and the surprisingly convincing unveiling of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro at last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference — finally coaxed me out of iPad complacency.

I’m thrilled I finally wised up. The new 10.5-inch iPad Pro is a beast of a machine that’s so fast, smooth and responsive that it makes me feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie interacting with a killer device that hasn’t been invented yet. It feels like the future!

10.5-inch iPad Pro review

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro (left) versus the 9.7-inch model.
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro (left) versus the 9.7-inch model.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ve muddled through with a hand-me-down iPad 4 ever since my wife bumped up to the iPad Air 2. It worked OK for streaming music, watching video or banging out the occasional blog post. But it felt kind of slow and didn’t look that captivating. Still, with a MacBook Pro, a perfectly serviceable PC, a Kindle Paperwhite and an iPhone 6 Plus (yeah, I’m a slow upgrader), I just never felt the need to upgrade.

However, a few months ago my aging tablet’s screen cracked as I simply picked it up off the table. Frankly, it shocked me that the device failed like that — it’s not like I’ve got the iron grip of a robot.

Rather than splashing out cash to fix the broken screen, I made plans to buy a new iPad. I balked at buying the latest “regular” iPad — thanks mostly to rumors that Apple would release a 10.5-inch iPad Pro. (Yes, Tim Cook is right — Apple rumors can hurt sales in the short term.)

I’m totally glad I waited.

10.5-inch iPad Pro: Computer of the future

Using the new iPad Pro is like trading in a beat-up Toyota Celica for a sleek Tesla roadster (or a serviceable shuttlecraft for a faster-than-light starship). And I haven’t even downloaded the iOS 11 beta, which unlocks even more cool iPad features.

Every action on the new iPad Pro feels buttery-smooth. There’s no lag, no matter what I try to make it do. Granted, I mostly use it for surfing the web, reading, watching videos, writing and editing blog posts. I love the way it handles dictation, too. It’s fast, accurate and a total wrist-saver. I find it far better than typing for almost any small text-input task, and it even works well for longer pieces. (Insert that old blogger’s chestnut, “In fact, I dictated this article almost entirely on the iPad Pro.”)

For the first time, the iPad feels to me like a fabulously functional part of my personal Apple ecosystem. It’s a joy to use for almost anything I need to do.

10.5-inch iPad Pro screen

2017 iPad Pro
Bask in the glow of the new 2017 iPad Pro.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

The form factor of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is not radically different from its 9.7-inch predecessor. The new tablet is slightly taller (9.8 inches versus 9.4 inches), wider (6.8 inches versus 6.6 inches) and heavier (1.03 pounds versus 0.96 pounds). The two models come in at exactly the same thickness (0.24 inches).

The space gray finish on the 256GB Wi-Fi-only model I bought makes it look quite similar to the previous edition. The understated look and feel is typical of Apple’s current lineup — sleek aluminum shell, shiny black Apple logo on the back. Only the thinner bezels really give it away. (That difference isn’t as prominent when the iPad’s off, since the space gray model’s black bezels blend in with the darkened screen.)

Smart Connector and A10X Fusion chip

As with other iPad Pro models, the Smart Connector frees the tablet from the vagaries of Bluetooth and cabling when it comes to external keyboards and other accessories.

Compared to my ancient iPad 4, which Apple released nearly five years ago, you would obviously expect better performance thanks to Apple’s latest A10X Fusion chip (with an embedded M10 coprocessor). But even if you’re currently getting by with an iPad that’s just a couple years old, you might be surprised by just how wonderful the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro feels in your hands — and how pleasing it is to your eyes. It’s noticeably faster than my wife’s original 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and that sucker’s no slouch when it comes to performance.

The Retina screen (2224 x 1668 resolution at 264 pixels per inch), which Apple humbly calls “the most advanced display on the planet,” looks truly fantastic and couldn’t feel more responsive.

Pulling up images shot on my iPhone during a recent trip to Italy let me relive a fantastic vacation with ease. Using the iPad rather than a computer feels far more intuitive for this task, and the new iPad screen looks rich and feels utterly natural.

Superior video and audio

Video looks sharp; colors look satisfyingly saturated. Apple’s ProMotion display technology, introduced with this iPad iteration, doubles previous screen refresh rates up to 120HZ — but also reduces the refresh rate when it’s feasible to do so, simultaneously increasing performance and battery life.

Here’s an example of ProMotion in action, courtesy of Twitter user Matt Gemmell:

Whether streaming video or scrolling through page after page of images in the Photos app, everything works just as smoothly as you would hope — it’s sci-fi fast, with nary a glitch. Battery life so far seems incredible.

The new iPad Pro sounds awesome, too. The new iPad Pro pumps out audio that’s surprisingly loud and clear, eliminating the need for a separate Bluetooth speaker when streaming movies or taking phone calls over your iPhone (Handoff makes this work like a dream, BTW).

The Apple Pencil is sharp

iPad Pro drawing Apple Pencil
Apple Pencil is apparently the finest stylus in the land.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

I’m no artist, but I still might buy an Apple Pencil. Using it with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro feels like scrawling on a piece of paper with a magic marker. I borrowed my wife’s to run it through some basic tests and came away intrigued by the possibilities.

While I’m not really stylus-savvy, it seems difficult to imagine a more effective writing utensil for the iPad Pro. Once again, there’s no lag to battle and plenty of performance to enjoy.

A variety of artists, from Pixar’s pros to graphic designers to passionate amateurs, vouch for the Apple Pencil’s advanced capabilities, so I’ll take their word for it. In fact, the only negatives I’ve ever heard about Apple’s stylus had to do with the less-than-imaginative name and the clunky charging mechanism.

iOS 10 is great, but iOS 11 will be even better for iPad

Running iOS 10, the new iPad Pro works magic on multitasking. I never get the feeling that the machine might be straining to pull off anything I ask of it in Split View or Slide Over.

My old iPad couldn’t even attempt those tricks, but on this blazing-fast beast of a tablet, everything feels completely natural. While surfing the web in Safari, I brought up Slack in Slide Over to answer questions from the Cult of Mac crew. I suffered no setbacks, no slowdowns, no annoying lags of any kind.

While streaming video, the Netflix app’s functions (for example, a 10-second rewind) executed instantaneously. Keeping the stream going in a Picture-in-Picture popup while taking care of some work-related business on the iPad’s superb screen posed no problem at all.

I typically don’t edit video, and haven’t had a chance to write any music with the new iPad Pro (hey, it’s only been out for a day). However, I’m certain this tablet will prove itself up to the task. I can feel the excess horsepower idling, just waiting for a real challenge. (I’ll update this post after I get a chance to really put it through its paces with more processor-intensive tasks.)

iOS means full integration

The way iOS 10 integrated the new tablet into my personal Apple ecosystem made the transition beyond easy. I set up the device as a “new iPad” rather than restoring from a backup because I wanted everything pristine. But I OS X magically imported so much information that switching to a whole new machine iproved far less irritating than you might imagine. Wi-Fi logins, the aforementioned photos — everything I want is there waiting for me, smooth as satin-finish aluminum.

I can’t wait to download the iOS 11 beta and see just how great all the new iPad-centric features really are. Watching Craig Federighi demo the new iPad capabilities — coming this fall in iOS 11 — during last week’s WWDC keynote reminded me of the effortless way citizens of the future interact with their ubiquitous devices in movies like Minority Report.

No, we’re not talking about holograms, but the simplicity of Multi-Touch, the intuitive features of iOS 11 and the next-level performance of the new iPad Pro seem like a portal into tomorrow’s computing paradise.

10.5-inch iPad Pro review: It’s all about the feeling

2017 iPad Pro
The new 2017 iPad Pro is fast — really fast!
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

It might seem strange to spend so much time talking about how the 10.5-inch iPad Pro feels. But any tablet lives or dies on its touch interface. That’s where power and performance meet to create a “user experience” that’s either annoyingly compromised or refreshingly refined. A bad touchscreen makes a machine seem like a brutish robot. A superior screen turns a tablet into something surprisingly human.

With this new iPad Pro, Apple delivers all the feels.

All that power doesn’t come cheap. The 10.5-inch iPad Pro starts at $649 for the 64GB Wi-Fi-only model, whereas the non-pro iPad starts at $309 for a 32GB model. Still, the midrange iPad Pro comes with 256GB of storage (a generous tier that’s not even available on the standard tablet) and the priciest one goes up to 512GB.

If you’re working with digital audio and video files, you’ll need the storage bump. Plus, go Pro and you get Apple Pencil compatibility, ProMotion and that screaming-fast A10X Fusion chip.

If you’re still clutching an aging iPad, waiting for an undeniable reason to upgrade, the overwhelming power and elegance of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro will convince you to step into the future. This is the iPad you’re looking for.

Price: Starts at $649 (64GB Wi-Fi only). $749 for the 256GB Wi-Fi-only model reviewed.

Buy from: Apple


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.