Just as important, the Create has a Function row up top with buttons for all the most important controls -- brightness, volume, play/pause, rewind, fast forward, keyboard backlighting and screen lock. There's also a hotkey that takes you back to the homescreen without you having to press the physical home button. It partially makes up for the lack of a mouse -- not totally, anyway, but somewhat.
If I have one complaint, it's that Logitech's plastic keyboard (available in several colors) is bulkier than Apple's, and that propping up the tablet requires you to snap the iPad into a hard case, which I still haven't gotten the hang of. Oh, and removing the tablet from the case isn't much easier.
Aside from its size, what makes the iPad Pro distinctive is its optional pen -- excuse me, Pencil. While many people won't need this $99 accessory, it's worth it for someone in a creative field, or even folks who still prefer hand-written note-taking. Like many tablet pens, including the one that comes with the Surface Pro and Surface Book, the Apple Pencil is pressure-sensitive, which is to say, the markings will look different depending on how hard you bear down. Apple also included sensors that allow the Pencil to detect when you're tilting it. This enables the user to tilt the implement on its side and shade as you would with a real pencil.
Suffice to say, it works very well. The implement itself has a nice weight and thickness that makes it feel analogous to a real pencil. And, as trite as this sounds, it really does do a good job of mimicking the feel of pen to paper. The screen has just enough friction that it feels like you're drawing on something resembling paper, as opposed to a slippery piece of glass. At the same time, though I throw around words like "friction," that doesn't mean there's any latency -- far from it. Ink appears on the page as you pull the pencil across, and the feedback is not just instant, but precise: I can't remember ever attempting to make a marking and coming up empty.
As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time dicking around in drawing apps like Adobe Photoshop Sketch, Canva, Autodesk Sketchbook and Zen Brush 2, but art therapy isn't the only thing the Apple Pencil is good for. The Pencil also works well in various note-taking programs, including Evernote, Paper and Apple's newly redesigned Notes app. Microsoft also updated its iPad Office suite with Pencil support, while Apple's native Mail app lets you use the pencil to mark up attachments.
Apple says the Pencil will last 12 hours on a charge. In the event it dies on you, you can flip off the Pencil's cap to reveal a male Lightning port, which you then plug into your tablet. If you can spare just 15 seconds, you'll get another 30 minutes of use, though you'll need about two hours to reach a full 12-hour charge. Just keep in mind that while the pencil is easy to charge, it's also easy to lose; you can't store it anywhere on the tablet, as you can with Microsoft's Surface Pen. Ditto for the cap: It fell off once in my testing and I've since been vigilant about making sure I reattach it firmly after charging.
Performance and software
The iPad Pro is fast. Whether it's as fast as a laptop is a question I probably won't settle with this review but either way: It's fast. In particular, Apple claims the Pro offers nearly double (1.8x) the performance of the iPad Air 2 and twice the graphics performance. As Apple's third-generation 64-bit processor, the Pro's A9X chip brings a new memory architecture boasting increased read/write speeds. It also makes use of the same Metal graphics framework that already powers the iPhone and the latest version of OS X. Lastly, like the A9 chip inside the new iPhones, the A9X makes use of the M9 coprocessor, which continuously pulls in data from various sensors including the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. This is important because the M9 does this more efficiently than the main chip would, according to Apple, which has implications for battery savings.
With all that technical context out of the way, I generally enjoyed snappy performance in both basic and heavier-duty apps. I downloaded AutoCAD 360 — a program I don't actually know how to use — mostly so that I could spin models around with my finger and quickly zoom in and out. I eventually grew bored of trying to make the system stutter. Games also ran smoothly, not that they were prone to stuttering on the Air 2 either. All this graphics power is borne out as well in synthetic tests, with significant gains in 3DMark and GFXBench. (You'll see similar leaps in web benchmarks too.)
In basic use, it was mostly smooth sailing. Apps loaded quickly and the system was also quick to respond when I either double-pressed the home button to switch apps or used iOS 9's "Slide Over" feature to swipe in from the right side of the screen to peek into another program without leaving the one I was in. There were, however, a couple small exceptions. There was a point during my testing where I was writing this review in Pages and flipping back to Twitter in Slide Over and Google Drive in a separate window. Every time I returned to Pages, I noticed some tiling on the screen before my words appeared. There was another time too when I tried to open Pages and it crashed. Come to think of it, all of my issues have been related to Pages, so maybe the app simply needs a stability update. Also, for what it's worth, my colleague Chris Velazco is also testing the iPad Pro and hasn't encountered a single hiccup or crash after a week of use.
Other than that, the iPad Pro did a good job keeping up with my workflow, which includes Gmail, Chrome, Slack, Twitter, Facebook, Mint, OneDrive and the New York Times crossword in the evening. And let me tell you something: I actually see more performance hiccups on Apple's new iMac, which comes standard with a Core i5 processor and piddly 5,400RPM hard drive. I routinely wait for apps to load, I wait to regain control of the desktop after startup, and I wait even when I want to switch from tab or window to another. The iPad Pro's OS and lack of mouse support might make it an impractical choice as a laptop replacement, but speed was one problem I didn't have.
That said, though the iPad Pro is fast, and really shines with certain intensive apps, the tablet will only ever feel as fast as its operating system and indeed, iOS 9 is no match for OS X or Windows 10 when it comes to multitasking. To be fair, iOS has come a long way. Starting with the release of iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2, users could run two apps side by side, as well as view video as a picture-in-picture. There's also a "Slide Over" gesture that allows you to quickly peek at another app without leaving the one you're in. Once you get the hang of it, it's more efficient than double-pressing the home button to cycle through open apps. Finally, there's a handy back button inside apps that returns you to whatever app you were using last. All of these things are welcome improvements, but after a week of use, I still found myself missing some certain things about OS X and Windows 10, including pinned browser tabs and the ability to dock programs at the bottom of the desktop.
Apple rates the iPad Pro's 38.5Wh battery for up to 10 hours of use (make that nine if you're on LTE). As with other Apple products, that turned out to be a conservative estimate: The Pro actually lasted through 10 hours and 47 minutes of video playback in our tests, with WiFi on and the brightness fixed at 50 percent. And mind you, that was with auto-brightness off, which I'd normally keep on to help conserve battery life. With that setting enabled, I'm sure you could eke out even more runtime.
As for connectivity, the cellular-enabled model supports 20 LTE bands, with promised speeds of up to 150 Mbps. The 802.11ac WiFi radio, meanwhile, is rated for theoretical download rates of up to 866 Mbps. It's a useful stat, but one I ultimately decided not to test: With support for all the major US carriers, plus many more around the world, your mileage is almost certainly going to vary.
The iPad Pro starts at $799 with WiFi only. For the money, you get more storage in the base-level model than you would on a regular iPad: 32 gigs instead of 16. From there, Apple sells a 128GB version for $949 as well as a souped-up model that for $1,079 offers both 128GB and an LTE radio.
That's not counting all the accessories. Apple's own Smart Keyboard costs $169, while the Apple Pencil sells for $99. Additionally, the company sells a keyboard-less Smart Cover for $59, as well as a $79 silicone case that covers the tablet's back side only (it's the same design as the silicone case for the new iPad mini 4). As for LTE, though the iPad Pro supports AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile out of the box using a so-called Apple SIM, Verizon customers will need to instead opt for a VZW SIM when configuring the device online.
All of this means that the iPad Pro could cost as much as $1,347 with the Pencil and first-party keyboard, and that's not counting the $99 AppleCare+ plan that extends the warranty and phone-support period to two years. For the money, you could get a nice laptop.
Since Apple seems to be suggesting the iPad can replace a laptop, it's tempting to call the company's bluff and compare the product to traditional notebooks. I don't think that's a smart use of our time, though. Because despite what Apple claims, the iPad Pro does not have good enough input options to replace a laptop, and its operating system isn't as adept at multitasking as OS X or Windows 10. Besides, I suspect that anyone who's considering the iPad Pro wants a tablet first anyway -- preferably one that can be used with a pressure-sensitive pen.
That leaves us not with clamshell notebooks, but laptop/tablet hybrids, including the one that defines the category: the Surface Pro 4. Microsoft's tablet starts at a higher price of $899, but that includes 128GB of storage and a pressure-sensitive pen, which basically cancels out the price differential with the iPad Pro. Because Microsoft has been at this for several years now, its keyboard is more comfortable than Apple's, and it's cheaper too, at $130 (though by now Microsoft should really be building it into the base price). At its most tricked-out, the SP4 comes with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, so I'm not concerned about its ability to compete with the iPad Pro on performance. And because it runs full Windows, I don't worry about the selection of professional apps either. I can't promise, though, that they'll all be as finger- and pen-friendly as software designed for the iPad. Battery life is shorter too: We got a little over seven hours of video playback, compared to nearly 11 on the iPad Pro.
Then there's the endless stream of Surface knockoffs, including the HP Spectre X2 ($800 with the keyboard), the Dell XPS 12 ($999, keyboard included) and the Lenovo Miix 700 ($699, not shipping yet). In short, you have plenty of options.
The iPad Pro is not for someone like me. As a professional writer and editor, I found it frustrating to replace my trusty laptop with a cramped tablet keyboard (and no mouse!). Though iOS is better at multitasking than it used to be, I still missed desktop features like pinned tabs and a taskbar. And in my capacity as a couch potato, I'm not sure the extra screen real estate makes a big enough difference with basic apps that I could justify that $799 starting price.
But that just means the iPad Pro isn't for me. Though it might not have the mass appeal of an iPhone or smaller iPad, I do believe there are people who will find use for this. Specifically, professionals and in particular, those who might otherwise have some difficulty getting work done when they're on the go and away from their primary computers. I'm thinking medical professionals, designers, engineers -- jobs where having a precise writing implement matters more than having a comfortable keyboard, or even a trackpad. And, of course, there will be some early adopters -- the sort of people who read Engadget -- who simply want a big, powerful iPad, and are willing to pay a premium for it. For those people, the iPad Pro won't replace a laptop, but it comes closer than you might expect.Chris Velazco contributed to this review.