Apple iPad Pro 2020 REVIEW

Will the iPad Pro replace a MacBook? The jury is out

TOBY WOOLLASTON fought the impulse, but finally caved in and bought the shiny new iPad Pro. His iPad Pro review reports on his first two weeks with the covetable device.

The 11-inch iPad Pro is just small and light enough to carry around

My house is pretty much an Apple stronghold, much to the chagrin of my Android-loving teenage son. It’s not through some misguided blind loyalty to Apple. Rather, it just turned out that way after I purchased my first iPhone, and then a MacBook because they played so well together, and then an Apple TV, then AirPods, the watch, and so on.

A mismatch of tech brands is never a good idea and I had served my time dealing with the frustrations of a blended setup, forever pulling my hair out trying to get them to talk to each other. But I know, things have changed. The Samsung bubble, for instance, is probably just as good as Apple’s, but I’ve made my bed now, so sleep in it I must.

“I had served my time dealing with the frustrations of a blended setup”

Enter the iPad Pro 2020. My previous iPad was the first-generation iPad Air (released late 2013), so it’s been a while between drinks. This was mainly due to my sparkly new 2015 MacBook pushing my iPad Air into the dusty margins of my storage cupboard.

The new MacBook was doing the job perfectly: portable, powerful enough for my needs (I hung up my gaming shoes long ago) and gorgeous to look at. But the truth is I’ve always had a soft spot for the iPad, and with the MacBook now getting long in the tooth and the new line of iPad Pros being released, it felt the right time for a change.

iPad Pro review
The iPad Pro is powerful enough for everything except intensely graphic workloads

I could still hear the voice of reason telling me to stick with the MacBook. “You love that laptop, Toby. Save your money, Toby. Remember it’s portable, powerful enough, and gorgeous to look at.” But my decision to go back to iPad came from the unlikeliest of allies: a nagging daughter.

I’m a hand-your-Apple-device-down-kinda-dad (again, to the chagrin of my Android-loving son), and my daughter loves me for it. Once lock-down is over she’ll be proudly toting her “new” MacBook to the classroom, partly because it gives her tech-cred but mainly because her old MacBook Pro (circa 2012) is outdated and weighs the same as a fridge. And if I’m honest, the hand-me-down process also gives me the perfect excuse for an upgrade.

“The possibility of saving a few pennies and getting the older model was weighing heavily on my mind”

Compared to the 2018 iPad Pro, the 2020 model in this iPad Pro review doesn’t have a whole lot more to crow about. The CPU is essentially the same, adding another GPU core in the latter that gives bugger all real-world difference. The iPad’s rear camera (that you never use) has been upgraded, and the base model now comes with 128Gb of space rather 64Gb and 6Gb of RAM rather than 4Gb. It really isn’t much of an upgrade, so the possibility of saving a few pennies and getting the older model was weighing heavily on my mind. A prudent move perhaps? Nah, screw it. I’m going all in.

So, now that I’ve been using this sleek new piece of glass for a couple of weeks as part of my iPad Pro review, am I happy with it? Yep, you bet I am. Here are some positives:

The iPad’s cameras are overrated

The 2018 model’s welcome return to the svelte iPhone 5-styled square edge design has thankfully been kept with the 2020 lineup. The sizes are the same as well and come in the usual space grey or silver. I got the 11-inch version (NZ$1499), which is light enough to avoid feeling fatigued when holding it for long periods. I can’t say it would be the same for the 12.9-inch version, but at only 471 grams the 11-inch version feels fine in the hands.

“It’s light enough to avoid feeling fatigued when holding it for long periods”

And you will be holding it for long periods because the battery is genuinely an all-day affair. Apple’s touted 10 hours of battery life seems fairly accurate. Certainly, if writing, web browsing, and watching movies are your main gig, then you will be waxing lyrical about the battery life. If you are using it for more graphically intense applications, such as gaming, then the battery drops noticeably quicker, as it does if using outside where the screen brightness hits max.

The new iPad Pro is svelte

Also, I’m happy to report that the iPad’s LED-backlit display is as invisible as ever. What do I mean by that? Well, I figure if a screen doesn’t bring attention to itself, then it has done its job. At 264 pixels per inch, it’s well beyond my ability to see pixels. It has a deep colour gamut and has a 120Hz refresh rate, which eliminates screen jitter, all married to a powerhouse A12Z CPU (which Apple says is more powerful than most PC laptops and I’ve no reason, as yet, to doubt the claim) that makes visuals feel smooth and buttery.

The result is that I can enjoy content without being concerned that the screen isn’t up to snuff, and although it doesn’t offer the rich blacks of an OLED screen, it works perfectly for what I require.

iPad Pro review
Will the iPad Pro replace a MacBook? The jury is out

However, what is most remarkable is the sound that the iPad produces. Packing four speakers (two on either side – useful if your hand is covering one), the iPad does an exceptional job of giving a wide field of sound. Some movies had me turning my head to see if someone had walked into the room.

Likewise, playing music is a pleasurable experience and at a pinch, the iPad could be used to replace a Bluetooth speaker setup. It blows my mind how such an impressive sound can be had from such a thin setup.

“Playing music is a pleasurable experience and at a pinch, the iPad could be used to replace a Bluetooth speaker”

But it’s not all beer and skittles in Apple’s iPad bubble. The biggest upgrade over the 2018 model is perhaps its most “meh” component: the camera. Big deal. Who needs it. I can envisage some working environments where it might be useful. But for the vast majority of us, the camera on our phone is more important.

The iPad now has a large camera array (like the iPhone 11) that adds an annoying bulky protrusion to the rear of the device that seems to defy Apple’s fabled design ethic. I’m sure Steve Jobs will be turning in his grave. As well as a wide 12 megapixel (ho-hum) and an ultra-wide 10 megapixel (actually, not too bad) the backside’s black square of ugliness also includes a LiDAR sensor. A what?

It stands for “Light Detection and Ranging” and is used to detect objects and build 3D maps of their surroundings in near real-time. In hand-held devices, it is relatively new technology and many pundits are rating LiDAR to be the next big thing. Most likely something that will have a real-world use once it’s already in our phones, but for now, it’s a waste of space.

iPad Pro Review
The new iPad Pro can do whizzy art stuff

Ports. Yes, it has one. That’s it. One. Apple’s image-conscious design team is never generous when it comes to dishing out “ugly” ports on their tech. This is something that I don’t have a problem with, although I can understand how it could be annoying to some. For me, the single USB-C port is sufficient enough for those rare occasions that I need to plug in a corded peripheral. Certainly, a multi-port hub is something you’ll want to consider purchasing as the latest OS has opened up the iPad to a slew of peripherals that can now be used with it.

“The latest OS has opened up the iPad to a slew of peripherals that can now be used with it”

Indeed, the pairing of the iPad’s hardware with its OS is where things get interesting. With iPadOS 13.4, Apple has unleashed true laptop capabilities. I know, this is a path that competitors have already been down. However, in typical Apple style, they’ve put their late start to good use and done it right. Pairing a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad or mouse turns the iPad into a very serviceable desktop. Suddenly, the iPad can be used without touching the screen (as I write this, I am fully aware of the irony).

A vast array of MacBook-style swipe gestures can now be made from a trackpad and the mouse cursor cleverly adapts itself to what it is hovering over – disconcerting at first but it doesn’t take long to appreciate the reasoning behind their madness. It may seem like this isn’t a big deal, but when you’re ditching your old laptop for an iPad, it’s a game-changer.

iPad Pro review: Summary

Admittedly I’ve only been using this iPad for a couple of weeks in my iPad Pro review, and whether or not it becomes a permanent replacement will most likely rest on the success of Apple’s upcoming Magic Keyboard, with its built-in keyboard and trackpad, due for release in May. I’ll keep you posted.

Toby is currently a film reviewer for the New Zealand Herald and NZME’s regional media. A film enthusiast since Alien made him shit his pants as a nine-year-old, Toby recently completed a Masters thesis on the phenomenology of the cinema of Darren Aronofsky. So he is well qualified to tell you that phenomenology is a load of boring bollocks… but Aronofsky is quite interesting.

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